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Trump’s Secretary of Everything: Jared Kushner

(CNN)As Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, descended into Baghdad on Monday, the highest-profile passenger aboard his military aircraft was neither a seasoned Iraq hand nor even someone who’d visited the country before.

It was Jared Kushner, the 36-year-old commercial real estate magnate, whose marriage to President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter has thrust the otherwise inexperienced diplomat into the center of US foreign relations — and seemingly every top issue facing the administration.
Kushner was visiting Iraq at Dunford’s invitation to receive briefings on the military campaign against ISIS, and planned to meet with US and Iraqi officials. Iraq is now the latest portfolio handed to Kushner, whose role as Trump’s senior adviser appears to be growing by the day, and whose influence over his father-in-law now extends into nearly every area of government.
    In some instances, Kushner’s involvement in his father-in-law’s administration has raised ethical questions, given the vast property and business holdings Kushner managed in his time running his family’s real estate empire. His ties to Russia during the presidential transition have also drawn scrutiny, and he’s due to answer questions from Senate investigators soon.
    “I said, ‘Hey, next time I go to Iraq, if you’re interested, come and it’d be good,’ ” Dunford told reporters on the flight to Iraq, according to Reuters. He said he’d invited Kushner weeks ago.
    Multiple White House and administration officials say Kushner has now eclipsed nearly all of Trump’s West Wing and Cabinet advisers in terms of influence, establishing himself as the key envoy for those outside the administration — including foreign diplomats, business executives and even some members of Congress — to direct their bidding. He’s also, by the way, running a government reform effort and spearheading criminal justice reform.
    The elevated position has caused some annoyance at the agencies and departments more typically tasked with carrying out American foreign policy. One ally of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the top diplomat as frustrated with Kushner’s diplomatic exploits. Officials said Tillerson intervened last month to delay a White House meeting with top Saudi officials over a plan to combat ISIS because he felt there was not enough planning for it.
    Other allies and aides deny any tension between the two men and say Kushner has been very helpful both in getting the secretary’s input and focusing the President’s attention on issues important to Tillerson.

      Source: Meeting was to ‘engage with’ Russia


    Speaking Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Kushner was working jointly with the State Department to manage the administration’s foreign affairs.
    “There’s a lot of relationships that Jared’s made over time — Mexico being one of them — that are going to continue having conversations with him,” Spicer said. “That doesn’t mean by any means it’s being done without the coordination with the State Department. It’s quite, in fact, the opposite. He’s continuing to work with them and facilitate an outcome. But he brings a perspective to this, and began doing that during the transition. But again, it’s not a binary choice where he’s doing this at the expense of somebody else.”
    During last year’s presidential campaign, and later during the transition, Kushner was identified by Trump’s team as the principal point of contact for foreign governments looking to either congratulate the new US leader or begin diplomatic talks.
    The role has gained Kushner scrutiny in recent weeks when it was revealed he met with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, as well as the head of a Russia state-owned bank, Sergey Gorkov, in December. According to a source familiar with what transpired, Kushner’s interactions with Russians during the transition as a point man “looking for the right person to engage with on Russia,” further reflection of his elevated status within Trump’s sphere.
    Senate investigators are planning to question Kushner about the meetings as part of a larger probe into Russia’s influence in last year’s contest.
    As Trump enters his eleventh week in office, Kushner’s role has expanded to include a globe-spanning collection of foreign assignments — North America, the Middle East and China included. Even as Senate-confirmed foreign policy aides work to cement their influence within the administration and in foreign capitals, Kushner’s already established role has grown to include duties typically assigned to a national security adviser or even a secretary of state.
    Before his surprise trip to Iraq, Kushner had been preparing intensively for Thursday and Friday’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which will take place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Kushner has acted as a key conduit between the Chinese government and the White House in the lead-up to the two leaders’ talks, which Xi’s representatives requested take place at Trump’s Florida estate.
    In discussions with China’s ambassador in Washington, Kushner has sketched the agenda for the meetings and dictated some elements of the Palm Beach summit, according to people familiar with the planning.
    Kushner is seen as a moderating voice on US-China ties, which are becoming both more complicated and more vital as Trump begins his presidency. His daughter, Arabella, has played an unlikely role as well in softening Trump’s approach; video of the five-year-old presidential granddaughter singing in Chinese at a New Year’s celebration in Washington went viral in China.

    Arabella singing a song she learned for #ChineseNewYear. Wishing everyone an amazing year to come during these days of celebration.

    A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

    But Kushner’s close involvement in planning the Chinese visit has also raised ethical questions. His family’s real estate company was recently in talks with China’s Anbang Insurance Group to redevelop a flagship property in Manhattan; the talks were recently called off after scrutiny from ethics watchdogs and Democratic lawmakers.
    Disclosure reports released by the White House Friday showed Kushner, along with his wife Ivanka Trump, could be worth more than $700 million. At one point he held a position in 267 separate entities, ranging from the Trump transition team to dozens of property holdings in New York and New Jersey, meaning more potential conflicts are likely to arise, even after Kushner has resigned from his business positions.
    His expansive responsibilities don’t end at foreign affairs. Last week the White House announced Kushner would lead a presidential office tasked with reshaping the federal bureaucracy. He’s preparing to meet with lawmakers to discuss criminal justice reform. And he’s taken part in discussions to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs and tackle the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic.
    As Kushner list of responsibilities grows, the limitations on his time are also becoming evident. As he traveled to Iraq Monday, Trump was preparing to welcome Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House for talks, a session Kushner would likely have attended if he wasn’t overseas on another assignment.
    White House officials said the meeting was likely to include a discussion of Middle East peace, another area Trump has charged Kushner with overseeing. Kushner, an observant Jew, has known Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for decades, and Trump has expressed rampant optimism at his son-in-law’s ability to broker an agreement.
    So, too, has Trump lent his support to Kushner’s attempts at managing friendlier ties with Mexico, even as the President continues his controversial plan to construct a border wall.
    The two men at times have seemed at odds; in February, as Kushner was meeting with Mexican officials in Washington to arrange a visit by President Enrique Pea Nieto, Trump tweeted: “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
    Pea Nieto ended up canceling his visit.

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    Ivanka and Jared’s millions won’t help them govern

    (CNN)Beset by controversy in his still-young presidency, Donald Trump is making a characteristic move: betting on family. But is it the right strategy for turning around a troubled White House?

    Throughout his career, Trump has expressed his faith in genetically-conferred talents — especially his own — and the extreme loyalty of family. As President, he is acting true to form as he makes his daughter Ivanka an official White House employee — with security clearances and a West Wing office — and heaps responsibilities on his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
    As a senior advisor to the President, Kushner will be involved in trade, government operations and the highly delicate work of diplomacy in the Middle East. This last responsibility is said to include seeking a permanent peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, an end that has eluded presidents and diplomats for nearly 70 years.
      Trump’s turn toward family makes some sense viewed in the context of his life experience. He has always operated with a small number of trusted partners and, from the moment they became adults, his children occupied that circle closest to him — and came to adopt his approach to business (and now, government). Ivanka and Jared in particular mirror the elder Trump in entering public service under a cloud of potential conflicts of interest. But unlike the President, they will be subject to all the laws and regulations governing federal officials.
      With a broad-based fortune estimated to be worth as much as $740 million, the couple could benefit from actions taken by any number of corporate titans or foreign officials who visit the White House. Kushner holds lines of credit from Deutsche Bank and Citigroup, for example, and his family’s businesses have sought investments around the world. Ivanka Trump has long used Asian factories to manufacture fashion items her company sells in America.
      Consider the situation from President Trump’s perspective and you can imagine why he’s pulling family close. He tried to invest some confidence in an outsider, appointing Michael Flynn to be national security advisor, only to see him driven from office in a matter of weeks. Next came the drip-drip-drip of reports of a myriad of contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
      Another President who felt betrayed by aides and bureaucrats might turn to seasoned and respected elders — think James Baker in the Reagan years — to provide some stability. Trump’s solution is to invest trust and power in a couple whose youth, inexperience and lifelong isolation in the extreme precincts of family wealth make them unlikely saviors for a President and a nation in crisis.
      Ivanka and Jared were both born in 1981. Together they can claim little meaningful experience in government, politics, national, or world affairs. Both attended posh private schools and earned degrees from elite universities.
      With minor exceptions, the two of them have spent their entire working lives inside family-run companies where they claimed leadership positions as their birthright. Ivanka became a more-polished female version of her father, fashioning her lifestyle into a commercial brand that she promoted through mass media. Even her most substantive policy ideas about childcare — highly touted by her father and other Republicans — have garnered intense criticism for their lack of attention to some of the women who don’t share her privileges.
      In Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump married a man much like her father. Like the elder Trump, Kushner comes from a family that got very rich in real estate adjacent to Manhattan. The Trump fortune was built on the construction and leasing of thousands of outer-borough apartments. The Kushners pursued the same wealth-building strategy in New Jersey.
      As the ambitious face of a new generation, Kushner, like Trump, sought to make a splash in Manhattan. He achieved this goal with the purchase of the skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion.
      In New York real estate circles, Jared is best known for that building. According to Bloomberg View editor Tim O’Brien, occupancy rates fell and Kushner needed outside investors to keep the operation afloat.
      Around the time that his father-in-law sewed up the Republican nomination, notes O’Brien, Kushner began talking to the Anbang Insurance Group of China about investing billions in the building, a move that would have compromised the country’s diplomatic relations with China. A spokesperson for Kushner Companies said last week that the two entities had “mutually agreed” to end talks about such a deal.
      It takes a good deal of chutzpah to court investment from a company with ties to the Chinese government when your father-in-law is one of two people competing to become President of the United States. It seems Kushner’s audacity rivals the nerve Trump himself has exhibited throughout his life. (Trump’s continuous claim to be an excellent businessman despite his four bankruptcies is Exhibit A of that attitude.)
      But Trumpian nerve may not be the only flaw Kushner shares with his father-in-law. Like Trump, Kushner appears to lack the sense of propriety that would help him steer clear of people and situations that could cause trouble in the future.
      Despite the enormous controversy swirling around Trump and Russia, Kushner met with both the Russian ambassador and a Russian banker in the weeks after the election. The banker was appointed to his position by Vladimir Putin and is a graduate of the school that trains Russia’s intelligence officers.
      The groundwork for Kushner’s contacts with the Russians was set in 2015, at a time when Trump was discussing with his family the idea of seeking the presidency. At that time, Kushner Companies bought part of the former New York Times building in Manhattan from a firm owned by an international developer, Lev Leviev, in a deal worth $295 million. Born in the former Soviet Union, Leviev has described Putin as a “true friend.”
      It’s clear that little in Kushner’s life prior to Trump’s inauguration indicates that he could supply the kind of wisdom and counsel a president needs. His decision to go skiing with his family with a key vote in Congress on the line suggests he may not have learned much during his father-in-law’s first weeks in office, either.

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      Where he and Ivanka can be helpful, however, is in matters of style. They speak with poise and don’t send out controversial tweets. They have a history of supporting (and meeting with celebrities who support) more center-left causes. They could, in other words, help the President be more effective in dealing with the strong personalities he’ll need to cultivate if he wants to get things done in Washington.
      A besieged president and a country riven by Trump chaos needs more than the discretion of a daughter and a son-in-law, however. To succeed, Trump requires the wisdom of those who have been tested in government and politics before, who can demonstrate the integrity suited to serving the Constitution and the rule of law as well as the man in the Oval Office.

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      The ‘Something To Wrestle’ podcast sparks nostalgia for old-school WWE hilarity

      By conventional podcast standards, Something To Wrestle with Bruce Prichard should not be a hit. The episodesoften shoot past the three-hour mark. The topics sometimes are the kind of minutiae only hardcore wrestling fans from 30 years ago would remember. And the hosts arent household names—Prichard was a memorable WWE, then known as WWF, character in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but spent most of his wrestling career behind the cameras. Co-host Conrad Thompson owns a mortgage company in Alabama.

      But somehow, the two have sliced open a vein in wrestling fans conscience, and though the podcast is only eight months old, close to a million people are downloading Something To Wrestle every week.

      There are no stars. There are no guests. There are no short shows. Why, then, does this podcast work so well, even when it probably shouldnt?

      People arent as interested in star power as they are in content, Thompson, who owns 1st Family Mortgage Company, told the Daily Dot. Maybe its enough to start a podcast. But is it going to be enough to bring them back? Contrast that with our show. Weve involved our listeners. Its because of our inside jokes, its because of our chemistry, its because of Bruces storytelling. Its as close as anybody is going to get to being inside Vince McMahons head.

      The mind of the WWE CEO is still real estate people want to explore. Pro wrestling is that way, in general, especially if you grew up watching Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant or Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, or John Cena. Prichard and Thompson have no problem feeding listeners with oodles of information—some of it arcane, some of it absolutely essential—about a variety of topics in yesterdays world of pro wrestling.

      Its a world the two have been obsessed with for decades. Thompson grew up watching the WWF in Huntsville, Alabama, and he continues to be a fan. He also co-hostsWhat Happened When, a podcastthat is focused on the disbanded NWA/WCW promotion with former commentator Tony Schiavone.

      Prichard is a lifer in the business. He started selling posters for the Houston Wrestling promotion when he was 10 years old, and as he says, if something in the company needed to be done, Prichard was the one to do it. By 12, he was the assistant director of the promotions local TV show. By 14, he was announcing matches. Two years later, he was a referee, and by 18 years old, I was running the place, he said.

      Prichard was passionate about the business and hungry to learn as much as he could. He listened to the stories of old-time wrestlers. He asked questions. He learned something new every day. He wasnt interested in becoming a full-time in-ring performer. He wanted to stay in the shadows and have a hand in controlling the entire thing.

      You can go out and be one character, or you could be behind the scenes, create many characters, and develop all of them, Prichard told the Daily Dot. I got to be everybody.

      By his mid-20s, Prichard had joined the WWF, and eventually, he would become one of the most important people in the front office, helping write storylines, produce promos, engage in talent relations, and run the TV shows. Oh, and he got to perform in front of thousands of people as Brother Love, the fake televangelist with a bright red face who had a penchant for telling everybody (in his smarmy way) that he loved them.

      Perhaps the main reason Something To Wrestle works so well is because Prichard has an uncanny ability to remember most everything that happened around him during his 22 years in the WWF/WWE. Thompson asks him a question about minor details from a match that happened in 1997, and most of the time, Prichard can answer him with precise description.

      Still, Prichard originally wasnt sold on participating in a podcast. He didnt think people would care about the memories of an old wrestling hand, and he didnt realize the appetite fans had for nostalgia. He met Thompson through wrestling legend Ric Flaira few years back, and they became casual friends, then co-workers in Thompsons mortgage business. Prichard would tell Thompson old wrestling stories, and one day, after Prichard recounted the tale of how a group of WCW wrestlers, known as the Radicalz, jumped to the WWF in 2000, Thompson looked at Prichard and said, This is a podcast.

      Prichard laughed it off—he wasnt keen on sharing his stories, because they were his stories and because he didnt think anybody would care.

      I guess I was wrong, Prichard said.

      The first podcast, which told the tale of Dusty Rhodes in the WWF, garnered about 60,000 downloads. Eight months later, on theWrestlemania 13 episode, it scored400,000 downloads in the first 24 hours.

      Thompson thought a podcast could work, because instead of recapping the latest WWE TV shows and storylines, this would be a longform discussion on a singular topic from the past. The podcast has stayed true to that initial idea, but its also morphed into something more.

      Theres an undeniable chemistry between Thompson and Prichard—they yell at each other and insult each other, though its also clear the two are great friends with a bevy of inside jokes that seem to never stop being funny—and Prichard has a talent for impersonating the wrestlers and characters with whom he worked. Those caricatures have become a highlight of every episode, especially when Prichard goes into an impression of McMahon, Rhodes, Macho Man Randy Savage, or former wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett. (Prichards impersonation of Jarrett explaining to a waiter how to make chicken salad might be the top moment in Something To Wrestle history.)

      Thompson and Prichard want to make their listeners feel like part of the family—as Thompson said, its not unlike the way Howard Stern built his enormous fanbase—and for pro wrestling fans who already are trained to love these kinds of insider gags and lingo, its a godsend.

      I realized there was an appetite for it, Prichard said. That people were interested in the business. They love the business, and they wanted more. They wanted to feel more a part of it. They were longing for an opinion from someone other than somebody who had never been there and who had never done it.

      And people stay and listen. Though Prichard and Thompson were told they shouldnt run over 90 minutes on each podcast episode—that the audience would lose interest and hit the stop button—the opposite has happened. If a podcast is less than three hours in length, Prichard and Thompson hear complaints. Not only that, but they said their research has shown that 86 percent of people listen to the podcast all the way through, a statistical anomaly in the podcasting world.

      Said Prichard: Weve broken the rules on everything.

      Theyve also introduced innovative marketing ideas. Whenever a fan buys a shirt from Prichard on Pro Wrestling Tees, Prichard makes sure to give that person a phone call to chat for a few minutes and to say thank you. But even more inclusive is the fact that the podcast listeners get to choose the topics of the next show. The show posts new episodes every Friday, and on that same day, Thompson and Prichard unveil a poll to the @PrichardShow Twitter account. Whichever topic gets the most votes wins for the next week.

      Said Thompson: Its sales 101. In sales, you should ask the buyers, ‘What are you in the mood to buy?’ Rather than us playing darts in the dark.

      The two also implemented a strategy to procure iTunes reviews—which has helped make them one of the highest-ranked and best-rated wrestling podcasts around. If they could get 1,000 reviews, they tell viewers theyll post a bonus show. For 1,500 reviews, theyd post another bonus show. And for 2,000 reviews, theyd post a show detailing why and how Prichardwas twice fired by the WWE. As of this writing, Something To Wrestle has nearly 2,500 reviews.

      But the podcast also eats up plenty of Thompsons time. One reason the show works so well is because Thompson asks such probing questions about the tiniest details. The reason Thompson knows to ask is because he spends about eight hours per episode researching the topic, which involves re-watching old pay-per-views, reading archived wrestling newsletters, and skimming through wrestler autobiographies.

      There are no restrictions on what Thompson can ask, and unless the query is about the amount of money earned by specific wrestlers, Prichard answers just about everything. That kind of honesty on this kind of show has also led Prichard back to the wrestling ring. He was released by the WWE for the final time in 2008, but after seeing the impact of Something To Wrestle, Impact Wrestling (basically, the second most important wrestling promotion in the U.S. today) hired him last month as a consultant (probably in part because Prichards show attracts exponentially more listeners than Impact does for its TV shows).

      On Sunday, the WWE will present Wrestlemania 33 on its biggest day of the year. Prichard and Thompson will have already completed their first live show, an event in Orlando, Florida, the night before that sold out within a few weeks of it being announced. Fans will watch the current-day wrestlers win titles and take crazy bumps and try to make themselves legends.

      But next week, when the wrestling world goes back to normal, nearly a million people will download the latest episode of Something To Wrestle and journey back to a time when Hulk Hogan ruled the world and when fans chanted for Austin and the Rock all night long. Prichard and Thompson will trade insults, gags, inside jokes, and impersonations. People will listen for three hours.

      Then, theyll wait hungrily for more.

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      ‘Python fever’: Hunting for snakes in the Florida Everglades

      Homestead, Florida (CNN)Donna Kalil couldn’t hear a python slithering in the grass with the wind blowing. But spotting a tunnel-shaped snake trail, she disappeared into the cattails hunting for one.

      The Kendall, Florida,resident carried a stick. A knife and 9 mm handgun were attached to her belt.
      A real estate investor-turned-amateur python hunter, she spotted a ribbon snake clinging to a leaf. She hoped it was a harbinger of success in her quest to find a Burmese python in the Florida Everglades.
        Kalil, 54, was among a group of python hunters Thursdayworking to rid Everglades National Park and surrounding areas of the non-native species of pythons that eats vegetation and preys on wildlife.
        The 25 hunters selected from 1,000 applicants will be paid to euthanize pythons under a $175,000 pilot program by the South Florida Water Management District. The two-month hunt ends June 1.
        The district hopes the hunters kill many pythons. But if Kalil finds a python, it would be the first snake she will have ever killed. “I’m not really happy about it,” she said. So, what’s a python hunter to do?

        Hunters the best solution

        The pilot program follows python challenges run by another agency that led to the capture and killing of more than 174 Burmese pythons across Florida in monthlong competitions in 2013 and 2016. Hunters from the Irula tribe in India also separately caught many pythons.
        The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia. It was first discovered in the Everglades in the late 1970s and began appearing on water management district land in 2005, said LeRoy Rodgers, an invasive species biologist with the water management district.
        The snakes, which have no natural predators in the region, were likely introduced into the Everglades after a significantrelease, he said. That release was either accidental or intentional, University of Florida researchers say.
        The Everglades, known as the river of grass, is a vast area with a climate perfect for the pythons to hide and thrive. There are no precise population figures, but there are believed to be thousands living in the ecosystem in Miami-Dade County, Rodgers said.
        A 2012 study by Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the US Geological Survey found that pythons caused the populations of rabbits and foxes to vanish and the numbers of raccoons, opossums and bobcats to drop by as much as 99% in the Everglades.
        The giant constrictors have alsobeen discovered farther north in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
        The water district has tried to cull the population in a several ways, including dedicating a staff member to hunting the pythons since 2006, Rodgers said.
        “We really haven’t found any tool that works better than human hunters going out in the field looking for them,” he said of the snakes that can grow to about 17 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds.

        Not in it for the money

        The water district program will pay $8.10 an hour for up to eight hours of hunting a day. A python measuring 4 feet fetches an additional $50. Each additional foot will draw $25 more. Hunters can make an extra $100 if they kill a python guarding a nest.
        Kalil planned to use her earnings for gas money and to buy gadgets for python hunting such as a drone and spotlights for her sport utility vehicle. But she’s not in it for the money, she said.
        “It’s about getting out there and trying to make a difference to the wildlife that we find,” she said.
        Kalil wore camouflage pants and rain boots. A slender woman, she hoped the Velcro wrapped around a wooden stick from Venezuelaused to herd cattle would give her an edge.
        “Maybe he’ll grab a hold of that and get stuck,” she said. “And then I could grab him.”
        Kalil would then hit the snake over the head and stab it in the brain, as if she were spearfishing.

        Reliving a childhood playing in the woods

        She walked over sunbaked rocks, crouched and crawled through hardwood hammocks. She poked the brush and thrusted the stick in holes in tree trunks.
        She marveled at a black swallowtail butterfly and an endangered American crocodile in brackish water.
        “This is reliving my childhood. I used to live in the woods as a kid,” she said. “After school, I’d just come and climb through the hardwood hammock. This is my favorite ecosystem.”
        Kalil grew up in northern Miami in a family of Air Force veterans. She admired her brothers — “all-out boys, running around trying to catch stuff” — and wanted to be like them, she said.
        She recalled playing with their venomous tigra mariposa as a child when her father was stationed in Caracas, Venezuela. Her panicked nanny saw her with the reptile and pummeled the snake.
        “The image is, unfortunately, seared in my memory. I felt sorry for the little guys since then,” she said.
        Her brothers taught her how to hunt snakes, and she has been hunting them since.
        Kalil kept pet snakes, too, and once had a boa constrictor.

        ‘Go get a snake’

        Recently, Kalil took part in the python challenges, bringing family and friends to hunt with her. She found a dead python each time — a 9-foot one and then a 10-foot snake with its head chewed off.
        She barbecued one, and had purses, wallets and key chains made from the skin. She had the python bone attached to existing snake-shaped earrings. It was a good luck charm. But more than two hours into Thursday’s hunt — even with the earrings — she hadn’t found any pythons. Neither had most hunters.
        The mild temperatures at night, and the wind and lack of humidity, weren’t ideal conditions.
        “It’s always a good day to be out in the Everglades. However, it’s a better day to be out there getting pythons,” said Tom Rahill, founder of the Florida-based Swamp Apes, an organization dedicated to taking veterans out on wilderness adventures to help them transition to civilian life.
        Rahill said he has captured 400 pythons; he struck out on Thursday, too.
        But he serenaded Kalil with a baritone pick-me-up tune.
        “Oh, Donna is amazing. Oh, Donna’s a friend of mine. Go get a snake,” he sang.
        “You can do it. You can do it,” Rahill said.

        ‘Look on the bright side’

        Two days earlier, a Swamp Apes member killed three pythons. One measured nearly 13 feet long.
        Encouraged, Kalil set off again after Rahill’s song. But after about an hour, she came up empty.
        She didn’t want to stop. “Got the python fever, I guess,” she said before wrapping up.
        She didn’t worry about prolonging the inevitable: killing her first snake.
        “I live in the moment. When it comes and I have to do it, I’m sure I’ll have an issue with it,” she said.
        But she said she’ll save the life of another animal with every python kill.
        And maybe that’s how she will get over it, she said.
        “Look on the bright side,” she said.

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        Aide asks voters to unseat Republican congressman critical of Trump

        White House director of social media called on voters to defeat big liability Justin Amash in new sign of division between the president and the party

        A top aide to Donald Trump has called for a primary challenge to a Republican member of Congress.

        In a tweet on Saturday, Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media, called on voters to defeat congressman Justin Amash of Michigan.

        Scavino wrote: @realDonaldTrump is bringing auto plants & jobs back to Michigan. @justinamash is a big liability. #TrumpTrain, defeat him in primary.

        The libertarian-leaning Amash, who was first elected to the House in 2010, is a member of the hardline Freedom Caucus and has long been critical of Trump.

        The direct intervention by Scavino, who has worked for Trump since caddying for the then-real estate developer as a teenager, is however a new sign of division between Trump and congressional Republicans.

        The president this week used Twitter to criticize members of the Freedom Caucus for their role in blocking the American Health Care Act, the House bill that aimed to replace Barack Obamas healthcare reform, the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

        The AHCA was pulled from the House floor shortly before a scheduled vote, due to insufficient support from all corners of the Republican party.

        Many members of the Freedom Caucus thought the bill, which was widely criticised for its likely removal of insurance from millions of Americans, in fact left government with too prominent a role in the provision of healthcare.

        In a reference to rightwing descriptions of supposedly self-serving Washington DC, Amash derided the AHCA as Swampcare.

        In tweets on Thursday, Trump criticized three members of the Freedom Caucus: chair Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Ral Labrador of Idaho.

        Meadows and Labrador stumped for Trump in 2016, and Labrador was considered for a cabinet post.

        In a tweet of his own on Thursday, the Idaho Republican wrote: Freedom Caucus stood with u when others ran. Remember who your real friends are. Were trying to help u succeed.

        Trump has yet to criticize Amash by name. The maverick Michigan Republican is however used to primary challenges. In 2014, he fended off a self-funding establishment Republican who was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.

        However, a competitive primary in Amashs district, which includes the city of Grand Rapids, could have political consequences. Obama won the district in 2008 and Trump ran 8% behind Amash there in 2016.

        Spokesmen for the White House did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Scavinos tweet.

        However, Amash tweeted in response: Trump admin & Establishment have merged into #Trumpstablishment. Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers.

        Justin Amash (@justinamash)

        Trump admin & Establishment have merged into #Trumpstablishment. Same old agenda: Attack conservatives, libertarians & independent thinkers.

        April 1, 2017

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        How to explain the TrumpRussia controversy without sounding like a liberal conspiracy theorist

        President Donald Trump‘s first 10 weeks in officeyes, it’s only been 10 weekshave been embroiled in scandal, controversy, failed legislative efforts, and sinking poll numbers.

        None of these is more baffling than the ongoing investigations intoRussia’s attempts to sway the 2016 election and potential collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives.

        Amid an endless barrage of headlines and 24-hour news coverage around Trump, Russia, and its dizzying array of moving parts,Trump’s supporters see an outsider commander-in-chief besieged by a hypocritical political and corporate media establishment hell-bent on destroying the one leader with the guts to shake up the status quo and return America to its elusive greatness. All this Russia talk is a deliberate distraction and an impediment to what really matters: Jobs, security, law, and order.

        Trump’s critics, meanwhile, have watched with growing morbid glee over the possibility that their worst suspicions about America’s 45th president are realthat he’s the dumb, tactless gangster-traitor theythought he was from the beginning.

        On both sides, the temptation to hunker down in partisan bunkers stocked with wild tales of conspiracy is all too real.

        There’s good reason for this unraveling view of reality: The TrumpRussia controversy is very, very weird. Historically weird. And given this weirdness, it’s hard to talk about what’s going on without sounding like you’ve jumped ship for Nonsense Land.

        Here is my attemptand it will probably failto explain what’s happeningwith regards to Team Trump and Russia without diving into speculation, exaggeration, or willy-nilly dot-connecting.

        Russia’s election meddling

        This is where it all begins.

        The U.S. intelligence communityconcluded in a 25-page public report released on Jan. 6 that operatives working for the Russian government attempted to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. The efforts, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), included stealing emails from Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, then leaking the emails to WikiLeaks, spamming the internet withanti-Clinton messaging, and engaging in other influence campaigns.

        ODNI’s report found that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved, and the primary goal was to hurt Clinton.

        Trump maintained that the focus on Russia’s election hacking, as it confusingly came to be knownMoscow is not accused ofliterally hacking voting machines, but is instead accused of doing things to influence American voterswas simply part of a political witch-hunt and he consistently downplayed Russia’s was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines, Trump said in early January, prior to the release of ODNI’s report.

        The House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are all investigating what happened and who was involved. FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that its investigation includes looking into ties between Trump associates and Russia.

        The White House, meanwhile, maintains that leaks of classified informationnot Russia, which Trump called fake newsis the real story, as the president once put it.

        That’s basically where we’re at as of the beginning of April 2017: Some concrete information about Russia’s efforts to screw with the presidential election, a lot of investigating, and the Trump administration’s efforts to deflect the conversation.

        Trump’s ties to Russia

        President Trump’s connections to Russia date back to 1987, but the president himself is generally at least one step removed from most of the activities people are talking about when they say Trump’s ties to Russia. (Yes, including me right here. See, I’m already failing.) However, no fewer than 14 people in Trump’s administration or inner circle have known connections to Russia, to one degree or another.

        Three former Trump adviserscampaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynnall resigned due to various improprieties involving Russia and its interests. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now head of the Department of Justice and national security adviser on Trump’s campaign, recused himself from all investigations involving Russia and Trump’s teamon March 2 after reports revealed that he lied during his confirmation hearing about meeting with Russian officials prior to the inauguration. (A former U.S. senator from Alabama, Sessions met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during the 2016 campaign season.) Other Trump associates linked to various Russian officials or oligarchs include: Son-in-law Jared Kushner, son Donald Jr., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, friend and adviser Roger Stone, former campaign adviser J.D. Gordon, campaign adviser Michael Caputo, Manafort business associate Rick Gates, and Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

        For a detailed overview of how these Trump associates are linked to Russia, check out the Washington Post‘s excellent explainer.

        Trump’s treatment of Russia and Putin

        Amid Russia’s hack of the DNC and Podesta, WikiLeaks publishing their stolen emails, and multiple Trump advisers resigning for Russia-related scandals, Trump maintained a friendly view of Russia and Putin, whomhe’s called both a really, really bad guy and a strong leader. When Putin praised Trump in 2015, Trump said it was a great honor. To see everything Trump has said about Putin and Russia over the past few years, check out CNN’s thorough timelineit’s worth the read.

        Trump has also spoken out repeatedly against the NorthAtlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an international military alliance formed after World War II that Russia’s government opposes. And the Republican Party under Trump changed its official platform during the party’s convention in July 2016 to water down the GOP’s stance on defending Ukraine from Russian aggression.

        When asked to explain why he departed from the GOP’s historically hardline stance on Russia, Trump simply says that it’s better to for the U.S. and Russia to work together than to be enemies.

        The Nunes twist

        Everything up to this point is well-trod territory, and a reasonable person can write off all of the above as the byproduct of a longtime real estate mogul with a knot of international business ties and no prior political experience running for president.

        Enter Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

        Before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees began their investigations, Trump accused former President Barack Obama of having his wires tapped at Trump Tower ahead of Election Dayan explosive allegation of political corruption.To date, neither the White House nor Trump himself offered evidence that this is true. Instead, they called on Congress to investigate.

        Soon after Trump accused Obama of spying on him, the House Intelligence Community began its investigation into Russia’s election meddling. On the first day of the hearing, March 20, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the bureau was investigating Russia’s activitiesand that the investigation includes any links between the Trump campaign and an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

        Two days later, on March 22, Nuneswho, remember, is leading the House Intelligence investigationannounced thatthe intelligence community had incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition, potentially including Trump himself. He said that this was not the wiretap of Trump Tower that the president mentioned, and that he believed the incidental surveillance was obtained legally but that it was not connected to Russia. However, he also mentioned that the names of American citizens, which are usually redacted from surveillance of foreign targets, had been unmasked,meaning they were uncensored for some reason. Why they were unmasked is part of what Nunes wanted to find out.

        Nunes also said, in response to a reporter’s question, that the administration isnt aware of this, so I need to make sure I go over there and tell them what I know. Because it involves them. Nunes later told a Bloomberg reporter that his sources did not work in the White House.

        After the press conference, Nunes went to the White House to do just thatand he did all this without first briefing other members of the House Intelligence Committee.The surveillance of Trump associates and their unmasking would become the issue pushed by the White House as the most important.

        Turns out, Nunes viewed the classified intelligence documents on the White House grounds(likely at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) on the night of March 21, and his unnamed sources, according to the New York Times and Washington Post, were, in fact, White House staffers.

        Nunes’ sources reportedly includeMichael Ellis, a White House attorney who used to work with Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee, andEzra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director of intelligence on the National Security Council (NSC), which serves the president. Ellis is the person who reportedly met with Nunes. Cohen-Watnick, who was brought on by Michael Flynn, is notable becauseNational Security Adviser H.R. McMaster attempted to fire him but Trump wouldn’t allow it afterCohen-Watnick got the support of Kushner and Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. According to thePost, Cohen is the person who gathered the intelligence materials, which he reportedly discussed with top NSC attorney John Eisenberg.

        This is where things get tough for us non-conspiracy theorists.

        So, let’s just sum up what we know, assuming the relating reports are accurate: Nunes went the White House grounds, got handed classified intelligencecompiled and shared by White House officials, held a press conference about what he found out without telling members of the House Intelligence Committee first, went back to the White House to brief President Trump on what the president’s own staff had revealed to him, and repeatedly lied to reporters about the sources of his information.

        Oh, and right around the time that theTimes andPost unveiled Nunes’ alleged sources on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Flynn would testify before the House, Senate, and FBI if he received immunitya move even Trump believes implies guilt.

        This is where we stand as of Saturday. The House Intelligence Committee investigation has all but fallen apart as critics call for Nunes to recuse himself, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation is ongoing, as is the FBI’s. Where this all leads next, well, we’ll just have to watch and see.

        Read more:

        Living under a tarp next to Facebook HQ: ‘I don’t want people to see me’

        The sprawling Silicon Valley campus has cafes, bike repair services, even dry cleaning. But across the road a homeless community epitomizes the wealth gap

        In a patch of scrubland across the road from the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley, a woman named Celma Aguilar recently walked along some overgrown train tracks. She stopped where a path forked into some vegetation, just a few hundred yardsfrom the tourists taking photos by an enormous image of a Like icon at the campus entrance.

        Welcome to the mansion, Aguilar said, gesturing to a rudimentary shelter of tarps hidden in the undergrowth.

        About the series

        The campsite is one of about 10 that dot the boggy terrain, and are a striking sight alongsidethe brightly painted, low-slung buildings housing the multi-billion-dollar corporation. The contrast epitomizes the Bay Area wealth gap.

        Harold Schapelhouman, a fire chief whose department has dealt with conflagrations on the land, said he was struck by the disparities. Their employees are very well taken care of. They have on-site medical facilities, dry cleaning, bicycle repair, they feed them and there are restaurants that are there. Its amazing what Facebook does for its employees. And yet within eyeshot it really isnt that far there are people literally living in the bushes.

        Schapelhouman said he was not blaming Facebook, though it is true that the success of technology companies has driven up real estate prices in the area. As a whole, California is one of the lowest-ranking US states for the availability of affordable housing, and has one-fifth of Americas homeless population. Irrespective of the utopianism that imbues Silicon Valley culture, the tech campuses are not immune to these broader social problems.

        An aerial view of the Facebook campus on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The land that the homeless encampments are on lies across the main road. Photograph: Noah Berger / Reuters/Reuters

        Aguilar, 44, said she was aware of the Facebook HQ, though she wasnt quite sure what happened there as it always seemed so quiet. Can I get a job there? So I can get out from here.

        The land where the encampments are located belongs largely to the state and private owners, and it takes 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Aguilar pointed out a pond, covered with scum, at which she said she sometimes washed. One campsite spills out from a huge clump of marshy greenery. Another is reached via a railway sleeper slung across a strip of water where a number of bike frames are submerged.

        Salvadorian by birth, Aguilar said she once worked in nursing homes and at Burger King, and had four children. She said she had been homeless for about three years as a result of a crystal meth addiction, and thought she suffered from mental illness. Can you see how the trees move? she said as she sat on the rusted train tracks. I like to think theyre talking to me.

        Friend requests and instant messages presumably zing back and forth on the other side of the street christened Hacker Way, but Aguilar said she had lost her Facebook password. No matter what I do they dont want to give it back to me.

        A man named Rafael Barajas Ortiz, living in a lean-to amid mud and trash, said that, like Aguilar, he had no phone. Another resident opened the door of his shelter, which was blocked off by fencing made of woven branches, and said I dont use Facebook, before declining to be interviewed further.

        Passing by on his bike, a local named Jesus said he did log on to the site, but he faced a problem familiar to many homeless people: he had nowhere to charge his phone. (He showed the Guardian his profile. The public pictures offered no hint he was on the streets.)

        A homeless encampment near Facebook headquarters. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

        Although it is not widely known, phone ownership and even social media usage are relatively common among homeless people, even if not those living next to Facebook. One Bay Area survey of around 250 homeless people found that 62% had phones. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles indicated that more than three-quarters used social media.

        Devices and service plans are readily available because the federal government offers subsidized cellular service to low-income Americans. It is known as the Obamaphone program both to its users and its rightwing critics, but in fact it originated as a landline subsidy during the Reagan era. The minimum standards specify 500 minutes per month of talk time or 500 megabytes of 3G data, and consumers can get a combination of them.

        They use the phone for exactly the same reasons we use it, said Allan Baez, who launched a program that involved giving hundreds of free, Google-donated phones to homeless people. The cameras are particularly popular. They are individuals, they have kids, they have friends, they have good moments, and you take pictures.

        A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the encampments, though he noted that the companys investments in local affordable housing include an $18.5m commitment announced late last year. Otherwise, the county provides an array of homeless services, and its homeless numbers have dipped a moderate amount, according to a 2015 count.

        The sign welcoming visitors to Facebooks campus. The company recently said it would invest $18.5m in local affordable housing. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

        Standing amid waving grass near a campsite, Gonzalo Apale, in a filthy jacket and work boots, described social media access as almost a marker of his progress in life. Ill try to get a telephone very soon, Ill use Facebook again, he said with optimism.

        Still, he tries to avoid walking on the same side of the road as the Facebook campus because I dont want people to see me like this, he said. Because they are clean and everything.

        Towards sunset, Aguilar took a path that spiraled up a small hill to a clearing littered with detritus.

        Im going to make my house here, she explained, gesturing at a partially unfurled tent. The Facebook campus was visible through the tops of the bushes. Preferably, she said, it would not be.

        The trees will grow and no one will see me.

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        Orkney tops UK rural quality of life survey – BBC News

        Image copyright Gavin Maclean
        Image caption Orkney climbed to the top of the quality of rural life survey, after finishing 46th last year.

        People living in Orkney enjoy the best quality of life of any rural area in the UK, according to a new survey.

        As well as stunning scenery, researchers found that the islanders benefit from low crime rates, quiet roads – and a good choice of pubs.

        It is the first time that the islands have topped the Bank of Scotland’s rural quality of life survey, having jumped from 46th last year.

        It beat Wychavon in the West Midlands into second place.

        And it comes four months after the same islands were rated the second-best place to live in the UK.

        Image copyright Mervyn Rendall
        Image caption Islanders benefit from low crime rates, quiet roads – and beautiful scenery

        Graham Blair, mortgage director at Bank of Scotland, said: “The Orkney islands is a stunning part of Scotland with some beautiful scenery.

        “Pair this with one of the lowest population densities and traffic levels in Scotland, as well as the lowest levels of anxiety and highest life satisfaction ratings, and it’s not surprising that the Orkneys offer a quality of life that is unmatched elsewhere in rural Britain.

        “The Shetland Islands and Western Isles continue to dominate the Scottish rural quality of life top three for another year, ranking well in a lot of similar categories to Orkney.

        “If it’s a rural life you are after, then nothing beats being up north on one of Scotland’s many islands.”

        Shetland was ranked second in Scotland for quality of life (15th in the UK), while the Western Isles was third (50th overall). The Scottish Borders and Perth and Kinross finished third and fourth respectively.

        Image copyright Elke Zschippang
        Image caption Orkney finished above Wychavon on the West Midlands and the Derbyshire Dales

        The top rural areas with the best quality of life

        1. Orkney Islands, Scotland;
        2. Wychavon, West Midlands;
        3. Derbyshire Dales, East Midlands;
        4. Hambleton, Yorkshire and the Humber;
        5. Purbeck, South West
        6. South Cambridgeshire, East of England;
        7. Chiltern, South East;
        8. West Oxfordshire, South East;
        9. South Hams, South West;
        10. South Oxfordshire, South East.

        The quality of life survey rates locations based on a variety of factors, including its employment rate, quality of education, and levels of anxiety.

        This year, two new categories have also been added to survey – rating the number of pubs and the availability of health clubs and leisure centres.

        Among the benefits of living on Orkney, where the population stands at just over 20,000, it listed:

        • A large number of pubs to choose from – there are 20 pubs for every 10,000 adults;
        • The lowest crime rates in Britain – a burglary rate of 2.3 per 10,000 people compared with a Scottish average of 27.2;
        • Low levels of traffic, with just 142 cars per square kilometre. The British average is 9,617;
        • The employment rate (87.6%) is significantly higher than the rural average (77.4%);
        • An overwhelming majority of adults (96.6%) reported being in good health, compared to the British average of 94.6%.
        Image copyright Alan Guthrie
        Image caption It is the fourth year running that Orkney has topped the Scotland-wide poll on rural quality of life

        Read more:

        WH financial disclosures: Kushner, Ivanka Trump could exceed $700M in worth

        Washington (CNN)The White House is stacked with advisers who raked in millions of dollars last year, including the President’s daughter, Ivanka, whose assets combined with her husband’s could exceed $700 million.

        Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner, collected about $195 million in income, according to a new financial snapshot of about 180 of the men and women serving in Donald Trump’s White House.
        Other Trump aides with lucrative histories include Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, the former president of banking giant Goldman Sachs, who netted up to around $75 million in the previous year. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made up to $2.5 million.
          The financial background of President Donald Trump aides such as Kushner, Bannon and Cohn are detailed in new forms that disclose the assets that those aides held when they walked in the doors of the White House — before administration counsel advised them to resign from various postings, divest certain holdings or recuse themselves from future decisions. But the documents will nevertheless offer a portrait into the lives of several key White House aides, especially those who came from Wall Street or have other ties to the financial industry.
          Kushner, like Trump, a prominent real estate titan, held a position in 267 separate entities, ranging from the Trump transition team to dozens of property holdings in New York and New Jersey.
          Ivanka Trump, who just this week formally said she would join the West Wing after serving as an informal adviser to her father, has yet to file her own disclosure forms. But the White House said earlier on Friday that her documents would look largely similar to her husband’s.
          Bannon’s forms reveal numerous ties to various conservative organizations and sources funded by the family of influential Trump donors Bob and Rebekah Mercer, such as Breitbart News, which he led, along with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm used by many Republican clients. Other income sources for him are Bannon Strategic Advisors, a consultancy firm valued at as high as $25 million, along with Affinity Media Holdings, which could have awarded him capital gains of as high as $1 million last year.
          Bannon is also in the process of selling some of his stake in Cambridge Analytica and Glittering Steel, another Mercer-backed entity, according to the forms.

          Read more:

          She Thought She Was Just Seeing A Refurbished House — Then He Told Her This

          One of the best things about having parents is knowing that even if you screw up, they’ll still be there for you.

          Despite being an admittedly troubled youth, realtor Josh DeShong always had his mom Vickie’s support. In addition to raising him as a single mom, DeShong says that at times she was the only person who didn’t doubt him, including when he started his career in real estate about 10 years ago.

          When Vickie lost both her mom and sister in the last six months, DeShong knew it was time to repay her kindness and give her something to smile about. He had spent some time refurbishing an old house and told his mom that she could stay there while looking for a new apartment — but when they went to look at the changes together, he surprised her in the most incredible way.

          “A huge goal of mine was to give back to the person who gave up so much and did so much for me to become who I am today,” he said. How he did that brought her to tears.

          (via Little Things)

          Read More: She Pointed At Her Mother’s Stretch Marks. How Mom Responded Is So Important.

          It must have felt so great to be able to do that for his mom, who clearly deserves such a wonderful gift. Share this heartwarming video if you think he’s an amazing son!

          Read more:

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