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President Trump vs. American landowners on the border

Brownsville, Texas (CNN)Before Donald Trump can build his promised wall between the US and Mexico, he will have to take private property from thousands of US citizens – a land grab that is expected to prompt years of legal battles, cost tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and delay construction.

A CNN analysis of lawsuits filed the last time the government seized land to build a border fence in 2006 found that property owners who fought to keep their land always lost and that the government often offered them thousands of dollars less than the land was worth.
Many court battles dragged on for years, stalling construction at times, according to the review of more than 400 federal lawsuits. In scores of cases, the litigation continues today.
    The government’s land acquisition was also costly. More than $78 million was spent on some 600 parcels, according to US Customs and Border Protection officials. An additional $25 million is expected to be paid to settle unresolved real estate transactions and for litigation expenses, the agency said.
    And that money covers only 654 miles of sporadic fencing that lines the 2,000 mile border.
    If President Trump builds a “great, big beautiful wall” over larger portions of the border as he has vowed, there will likely be hundreds, if not thousands more landowners going to court to stop the take-over or to get a better price for their land, experts say.
    Joseph Hein, whose 580 acre ranch has been in his family for nearly 100 years, says he’s against a border wall, especially if it runs through his property.

    “I would fight this,” said Hein, standing on a ridge overlooking the Rio Grande River, south of Laredo, Texas. “A lot of us would fight.” The previous fence never got as far as Hein’s land.
      “This is so wrong, you know, this is being done based on ignorance and fear and misinformation and assumptions,” he said.
      Residents of the River Bend resort and golf club in Brownsville, Texas are also bracing for a fight. More than 300 residents live in tiny RV mobile homes or brick houses placed neatly around the golf course. While not wealthy, most are over 65, and enjoying retirement.
      “Someone asked me what heaven would look like? And you know what I said? River Bend.” said Pat Bell, who moved there from Kansas two decades ago.
      When the government built the border fence years ago, the resort presented a thorny problem, the results of which can be seen today: The fence goes right up to the edge of the resort on both sides, but leaves a large gap in-between.
        The fence would have bisected the resort.
        “If it did that, 70% of our property would be on the south side of the wall,” said Jeremy Barnard, general manager of the resort. “That would affect 15 of our 18 holes of the golf course and over 200 residences.”

        Resident Bell said she’s a Trump supporter, but thinks his policy is misguided when it comes to the border. Fences and walls, she said, don’t work. And, she’s willing to go to court over her property.
        “You hate to say it,” she said, “I will get a lawyer if it comes to that.”
          The US Department of Justice said in a statement to CNN that acquiring land for the border wall was part of the nation’s “security policy” and that property owners would receive “fair market” compensation in exchange.
          Former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham, who oversaw some of the fence construction under the Bush administration, said officials often tried to negotiate with land owners to come up with unique solutions when the fence bisected their property, such as constructing gates so their livestock could pass through, which he said caused some construction delays.
          “You had to deal with the property owner and work out an arrangement that made sense for both,” he said. “But when we just could not come to an agreement, then other measures had to be taken.”
          The current border fence runs in stretches with significant gaps in places. That is especially true in the Rio Grande Valley, where the government took land from many property owners.
          The reasons for the gaps are varied, experts said. Often topography dictated exactly where the fence could go. There were also concerns for hydrology, flooding or other environmental reasons. In some cases, federal officials decided to use other methods, such as surveillance technology and increased patrolling, to deter illegal border crossings in areas that posed construction challenges.
          Barnard said he was told the River Bend golf club was bypassed because authorities at that time had other priorities and didn’t want to grapple with all the residents. Funding for the fence construction ultimately was frozen before the stretch of fence at the resort could be targeted.
          In the 442 lawsuits reviewed by CNN, property owners always lost their land. Ninety-three cases remain open. The suits involved at least 678 property owners.

          The litigation in each case started after federal authorities invoked its “eminent domain” power, which under the US Constitution allows for the seizure of private land for public use only if property owners are fairly compensated.
          In most cases, property owners have little recourse to prevent their land from being taken. The litigation typically centers on whether they were offered a fair price.
          On the campaign trail, President Trump suggested property owners are paid “a fortune” for their land. Experts who have studied eminent domain dispute that.
          CNN’s analysis of the litigation found that in about a quarter of the cases a judge ordered the government to pay more to those who challenged the initial compensation offer. And, the number is likely higher because the government reached out of court settlements in many cases.
          Norton Colvin, a trial attorney in Brownsville who has represented many landowners, said those who don’t have the financial means to go to court can “get steam-rolled” by the process.
          It’s rare, he said, for landowners to get a check from the government for what their property’s worth. “It’s a struggle all the way to get anything close to fair compensation,” he says.
          Experts say Trump’s plans for the border wall is likely to result in significantly more litigation than the border fence prompted a decade ago.
          Only about a third of the border property is owned by the federal government, according federal authorities.
          Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), whose constituents own property in the projected path of a border wall, said many people are on edge and bracing for a fight.
          “The citizens and local government are going to put up tremendous resistance,” he said. “It’s a costly logistical nightmare for both sides. If they want to put this [wall] on private property, there will be lawsuits and delays.”

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/03/us/eminent-domain-border-private-land-cases/index.html


          ‘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.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/01/us/florida-burmese-python-hunt/index.html


            Mark Zuckerberg Fast Facts

            (CNN)Here is a look at life of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

            Birth place: Dobbs Ferry, New York
            Birth name: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg
              Father: Edward Zuckerberg, dentist
              Mother: Karen (Kempner) Zuckerberg, psychiatrist
              Marriage: Priscilla Chan (May 19, 2012-present)
              Children: Maxima
              Education: Attended Harvard University, 2002-2004
              Other Facts:
              Is red-green colorblind.
              Captain of his high school fencing team.
              In high school, co-created a program called Synapse that recommended music.
              Met his wife, Priscilla Chan, at Harvard.
              Timeline:
              2003 –
              Creates Facemash at Harvard, a website that pairs photos of Harvard students and has users vote on who is more attractive. The pictures were taken from a protected area of Harvard’s computer network. Harvard forces Zuckerberg to take the site down.
              November 2003 – Harvard seniors, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra enlist Zuckerberg to work on their website ConnectU.
              February 4, 2004 – Zuckerberg, roommates Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz, and friend Eduardo Saverin launch Facebook, an online directory to connect people at college, from Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room.
              March 2004 – Thefacebook.com expands to Stanford, Columbia and Yale.
              May 2004 – ConnectU launches and contains many of the same features as Thefacebook.
              September 2004 – The Winklevosses and Narendra file a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, claiming he stole the idea for Facebook from them.
              September 2005 – Facebook expands into high schools.
              September 2006 – Facebook is opened to anyone over the age of 13.
              2008 – Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra settle their lawsuit against Zuckerberg.
              September 2010 – Donates $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public schools system.
              October 1, 2010 – “The Social Network” is released. The film is a fictional version of how Facebook started.
              December 2010 – Signs the Giving Pledge, a public pledge to give away the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes.
              2010 – Is named Time Person of the Year.
              April 2011 – A US appeals court rejects the Winklevoss’ attempt to void their earlier settlement with Facebook. The Winklevosses argued that their $65 million settlement wasn’t enough because Facebook misrepresented the value of company stock.
              May 18, 2012 – Facebook IPO – trading opens at $42.05 and closes at $38.23.
              May 23, 2012 – Three Facebook shareholders file a lawsuit in federal court against Zuckerberg, underwriter Morgan Stanley and others, alleging they withheld crucial financial information about Facebook before the IPO.
              October 4, 2012 – Announces that Facebook has passed one billion active monthly users.
              December 2012 – Announces, on his Facebook page, that he has donated 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
              October 14, 2014 – Announces he is donating $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation to combat Ebola.
              February 06, 2015 – Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donate $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital. Chan worked there previously during her pediatric residency.
              February 2015 – Real estate developer Mircea Voskerician files a lawsuit against Zuckerberg regarding property rights he sold to him at a steep discount, alleging Zuckerberg agreed to provide him networking opportunities. Zuckerberg claims Voskerician is using “extortive” measures.
              May 4, 2015 – His family’s charitable organization and others invest $100 million in AltSchool, a chain of schools that is technology-focused and claims to offer a more individualized education.
              November 19, 2015 – Zuckerberg announces that he and his wife will give $20 million to Education Super Highway, a nonprofit that helps public schools buy affordable high-speed Internet access.
              December 1, 2015 – Zuckerberg and Chan pledge to donate 99% of their Facebook stock — worth about $45 billion — over their lifetime to promote equality and the human potential.
              March 20, 2017 – Ranks number five on the Forbes list of billionaires, with a net worth of $56 billion at the time of publication.

              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/07/us/mark-zuckerberg-fast-facts/index.html


              The People v. Robert Durst: Why prosecutors fear for witnesses’ lives

              Los Angeles (CNN)For a murder case renewed by an HBO series, the People v. Robert Durst is making the most of its Hollywood setting. The courtroom theatrics at a hearing this week have spanned many genres, from thriller to comedy.

              A “secret witness” was called, flanked by bodyguards after the prosecutor said the witness’s life was in danger.
              An attorney joked that the waiting period for the case to be tried might last longer than the Trump administration.
                A member of the defense, pointing to his wife in the audience on Valentine’s Day, provoked an objection from the prosecution: “Our wives are not here!”
                But despite the sometimes jovial setting, this is still a murder trial.
                The real estate heir is charged with first-degree murder of his longtime associate, Susan Berman, in 2000.
                Prosecutors believe Durst killed Berman because she was about to talk to investigators about another unsolved case — the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife, Kathleen.
                Durst was also charged in the 2001 death of his neighbor in Galveston, Texas.
                In that case, Durst was acquitted after claiming he accidentally shot the man in a scuffle, then chopped up his body in a panic.

                Durst:

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                “Yes,” Kuperman replied, explaining that he didn’t feel pressured by investigators, only that “they wanted me to be sure that it was indeed Kathleen Durst who called me.”
                To prosecutors, the significance of the call is less about Kathleen and more about Berman.
                Could it have been someone else on the line — possibly even Berman?
                That theory got bolstered this week when Nathan Chavin connected several dots for the prosecution. First, testifying that Berman told him Robert Durst killed his wife. Then, saying Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman to keep her quiet.
                “I had to. It was her or me,” Durst said, according to Chavin, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “I had no choice.”
                The defense has called Chavin less than reliable, indicating they may try at trial to call to the stand a New York Times reporter who interviewed Chavin. The defense believes Chavin’s interview with the Times might conflict with his testimony.
                Despite this week’s drama, the Durst case is still in its infancy. A preliminary hearing isn’t expected until later this year.
                A trial likely wouldn’t come until 2018.
                On consecutive days this week, Durst — who has shed his wheelchair and now walks into court under his own power — turned in his chair to scan the 50 or so spectators in the courtroom.
                If he was nervous, it didn’t show. After all, Durst has been here before. And he has yet to lose.

                Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/17/us/robert-durst-pretrial-hearing-witnesses/index.html


                Woman rescued from suspected serial killer’s farm shares ordeal

                (CNN)Real estate agent Todd Kohlhepp emerged from a garage on his South Carolina farm firing in the direction of the unsuspecting couple waiting for him holding hands. Kala Brown says he calmly shot her boyfriend three times in the chest.

                Brown didn’t know Kohlhepp well, but she felt she had no reason to fear him when he asked her and her boyfriend, Charlie Carver, 32, to meet him at his farm near Woodruff, South Carolina. The 30-year-old had cleaned houses for Kohlhepp’s real estate listings, normally bringing along Carver.
                But on August 31, Brown said Kohlhepp grabbed her from behind and dragged her into the garage after shooting Carver. It began a nearly two-month period of captivity for her.
                  She spoke publicly on “Dr. Phil” Monday about the torture authorities said she endured at the hands of Kohlhepp. She tearfully recounted how Kohlhepp bound her and gagged her after shooting Carver. She said she blames herself for leading Carver to his death.
                  “I was numb. I couldn’t think. I still hadn’t comprehended what happened,” Brown said of seeing Carver get shot on the farm, not far from where Kohlhepp lived in Moore, South Carolina, a few miles south of Spartanburg.

                  Charged with seven homicides

                  On November 3, the Spartanburg Sheriff’s Office went to Kohlhepp’s farm to search for Brown, who had been missing along with Carver since August. Investigators found her chained by the ankle and neck screaming for help in the storage container. Kohlhepp was charged with kidnapping in Brown’s case.
                  Authorities said a social media post indicated Brown was scheduled to meet Kohlhepp at the farm on the day the couple disappeared. And the last ping from her cell phone came from Kohlhepp’s property, authorities said.
                  Kohlhepp didn’t cooperate at first but on November 5, he went back to the property with investigators and led them to Carver’s body and two other bodies — Johnny Joe Coxie, 29, and his wife, Meagan Leigh McCraw Coxie, 25. The couple had been reported missing the previous December by Meagan Coxie’s mother, according to the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
                  Kohlhepp also confessed to a 2003 quadruple homicide at a motorcycle shop in Chesnee, about 15 miles north of Spartanburg, according to authorities.

                  Todd

                  Started firing right away

                  “He walked out and he had the gun in his hand, and he pretty much shot Charlie before he ever even made it completely out the door,” Brown said.
                  Kohlhepp was silent.
                  “Not until he grabbed me and told me to come inside or I’d join Charlie,” Brown said.
                  She said Kohlhepp was “completely calm and reserved. It was like nothing out of the way had even happened.”
                  Brown believes Carver died right there.

                  ‘You lost a man you loved’

                  In the garage, Kohlhepp put her on the ground and handcuffed her hands and her ankles. He then put a ball gag in her mouth, Brown said.
                  “And then he told me he had to go take care of Charlie and he left me there,” Brown said.
                  Brown later told investigators she watched Kohlhepp shoot Carver, a solicitor said in court. Carver had multiple gunshot wounds to the upper part of his body, according to a coroner.
                  Brown told McGraw on Monday she recalled that Kohlhepp wrapped Carver up in a blue tarp.
                  At one point, McGraw stopped the interview and said he was sorry for her loss.
                  “You lost a man you loved. And you lost him violently and abruptly, and that’s the most traumatic way you can lose somebody,” McGraw said.
                  She wiped away tears as he spoke.
                  “Have you said goodbye to him in your mind?” he said.
                  “I’m still trying to,” she said.
                  “What do you say to him now?” McGraw said.
                  “I apologize a lot … It was my job. He was there with me. I’m sorry about that,” she said.

                  Threatened to kill her

                  Brown said she had thought of bringing someone else to Kohlhepp’s property that day but Kohlhepp told her he preferred she bring Carver. Kohlhepp said he didn’t want anyone else knowing where he lived, according to Brown.
                  She said Kohlhepp told her, “It was easier to control someone if you took someone they loved.”
                  On her first day of captivity, Kohlhepp shuffled her into the dark, hot metal storage container where he kept rations and bottles of water.
                  He left her bound and gagged, she said. Then he put the chain around her neck and attached the chain to the container.
                  Kohlhepp returned hours later and warned her “that if I tried to run, he’d kill me. If I tried to hurt him he’d kill me, if I fought back, he would kill me,” she said.
                  The second part of the interview will air on Tuesday.

                  Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/14/us/spartanburg-serial-killer-survivor/index.html


                  House hunting? Inside the $250 million mansion that’s up for sale

                  (CNN)It begins on the famed Sunset Boulevard, the iconic vein that travels 22 miles across the Los Angeles basin.

                  Traveling toward the sea, along the hipster cafes of Silverlake, the gritty sidewalks of Hollywood and perfectly clipped lawns of Beverly Hills — it’s arguably the Southland’s very own “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” But turning north into the hills, and through the stately Bel Air East Gate, is a street that leads to the hilltop where one man’s dream is realized — to the tune of $250 million.

                  Location: Bel Air, CA

                  Stats: 38,000 sq. ft, 12 beds/21 baths

                  Amenities: Endless

                  Welcome to 924 Bel Air Road — a massive modern spec house built from the ground up, without a buyer lined up. It’s created a buzz in the luxury real estate sector, smashing the record as the highest asking price ever listed for a home in the United States.
                    But to billionaire developer Bruce Makowsky — who built the home entirely with his own capital — it’s a passion project. “I started with nothing; I’ve worked my entire life. I was always taught by my parents, if you’re going to do something, don’t do it half way. Be all in.”
                    That go big, or go home attitude is the foundation for big ideas: A $30 million classic auto collection. A wine cellar that holds 2,500 bottles. A 40-seat movie theater. And that’s just the beginning. “What I wanted to do was create the most beautifully curated home with everything you could possibly want inside of it,” he said. “This is brand new, four levels, super modern and has every bell and whistle…it’s on billionaires’ bucket list.”

                    Go big or find another home

                    So what can a potential homeowner get for a quarter of a billion dollars?
                    Let’s start with the ground floor. It’s a sprawling, 11,000 square-foot entertainment escape, with an auto gallery of 12 rare, classic luxury cars as the centerpiece. “We’re looking at a brand new Pagani Huayra. They only made 100 of these, this is the only one in the world that is black and gold. It’s a beautiful, $2.5 million car,” Makowsky says.
                    “This is a 1936 540 k Mercedes, it was owned by a baroness. The value is almost $15 million, and it comes with the house. It’s absolutely spectacular.” There’s also a limited-edition Spyker, which was used in “Basic Instinct,” (a separate floor houses 10 motorcycles and “every day” cars to scoot around town in — a Rolls Royce, a Bentley and a Bugatti Veyron).

                    $250

                    It’s clear from the attention to detail that the home is a labor of love. But at $250 million, who would buy it? “There are only about 3,000 people, I believe, in the entire world who can afford this home,” Makowsky said. “My last three homes were bought by billionaires. They’re not from Southern California, and they love it out here.”
                    Makowsky has been in this house for the last four years, 12 hours a day. The foundation for his dream was simple. “I wanted to make sure that when you come into this house, you have the feeling that you’re as close to heaven as you can be…so special that you just never want to leave.”

                    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/10/us/mega-mansion-250-million-price-tag/index.html


                    5 things for Wednesday, December 28, 2016: Carrie Fisher, North Korea, Russia doping

                    (CNN)A rare admission from Russia, a dire prediction from Korea. In other words, the usual doom and gloom that’s typical for a hump day. Here’s what you need to know today to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door.

                    1. Deaths

                      2016 just takes and takes and takes, doesn’t it? It took Carrie Fisher, our fearless space princess who battled Darth Vader on the big screen and her own demons in real life. It took Vera Rubin, the astrophysicist who proved dark matter exists and fought hard so that female scientists are equally respected. It took Ricky Harris, a comedian as comfortable in a raunchy standup set as he was in a family sitcom. And it took Richard Adams, author of the classic “Watership Down.” And those were just the deaths we reported on yesterday.

                      2. North Korea

                      A North Korea defector says Kim Jong Un’s going to take advantage of political upheaval in the US and South Korea to develop nukes by the end of 2017. Kim’s calculation is that both countries are too tied up with their own problems to stop him militarily. The defector said Kim won’t give up on nukes even if offered big bags of cash to stop.

                      3. Syria civil war

                      Turkey and Russia have reportedly put together a nationwide ceasefire deal for Syria. It’s supposed to start at midnight, but it’s unclear if it’ll lead to anything. We don’t know if any of Syria’s rebel groups have signed on. And terror groups like ISIS obviously aren’t part of it either. If there is a ceasefire, talks for finally ending this wretched conflict will take place in Kazakhstan.

                      4. Russia doping

                      Russia: We have a doping program for athletes. The rest of the world: Ya think? Russian sports officials are finally admitting that it had big-time institutional doping set up for its athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It involved more than 1,000 athletes over 30 sports. Here’s the reason one official gave: doping helped the Russians overcome preferential treatment given to Western athletes.

                      5. Argentina

                      Argentina’s ex-president was hit with corruption charges — again. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was indicted along with 11 others, accused of stealing billions in funds meant for public works projects. It’s the second corruption case she’s faced since she left office last year. She says all of this is nothing but a political witch hunt.

                      BREAKFAST BROWSE

                      People are talking about these. Read up. Join in.
                      First world problems
                      Kids and parents are in an uproar over Hatchimals, because the toy eggs don’t hatch at all and no one’s picking up the phone at customer service.
                      Better than a pat on the back
                      Got a $100 gift card as a bonus this year? That’s cute. A boss in Iowa is taking all 800 of his employees on a Caribbean cruise.
                      No bad blood here
                      What’s cooler than being a 96-year-old Taylor Swift fan? Having the pop star drop in on your family’s holiday gathering for an acoustic “Shake It Off.”
                      Cat house
                      In Asia, the hottest thing in real estate doesn’t involve granite countertops or high ceilings. Instead it’s apartments designed specifically for your cat.
                      Don’t say you weren’t warned
                      If you want to act up on a Korean Air flight, better think twice. Flight crews have a new license to Taser. Or they’ll just unleash Richard Marx on you.

                      AND FINALLY …

                      I’m outta here
                      Mom wanted to give her daughter a cat for Christmas. But this frisky feline had other ideas. (Click to view)

                      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/28/us/five-things-wednesday-trnd/index.html


                      Investigators find body on property where woman was chained ‘like a dog’

                      (CNN)Investigators found a body Friday on a farm in northwest South Carolina where one day earlier they rescued a 30-year-old woman “chained up like a dog” inside a shipping container.

                      Kala Brown, who went missing with her boyfriend more than two months ago, has warned authorities that there could be other victims. A suspect in her abduction is in custody.
                        There are still many questions about this troubling case. Here’s what we know:

                        What did officials say about the body?

                        Murray Glenn, a spokesman for the 7th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, would not specify whether the body recovered was a man or woman.
                        Brown told investigators she believes four people might be buried on the property.
                        A cadaver dog detected something during a search Thursday, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said, but it’s not clear whether that led to the body.
                        Wright said Friday it was too early to say how the person died. He also wouldn’t comment when asked whether a body or skeletal remains were found.

                        Where is Brown’s boyfriend?

                        Brown went missing in late August, along with boyfriend Charles David Carver.

                        Investigators

                        After the couple disappeared, worried family members told reporters they’d started to see cryptic Facebook posts on Carver’s page and feared it may have been hacked, CNN affiliate WSPA-TV reported. Last month, the page was deleted.
                        7th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette told a judge at Todd Kohlhepp’s arraignment that Brown told investigators she saw the kidnapping suspect kill her boyfriend.

                        What led investigators to the farm?

                        Barnette said the last social media communication Brown had before she went missing was with Kohlhepp. She was supposed to meet Kohlhepp at the 95-acre farm in Woodruff.
                        Through phone records, investigators tracked her phone to near where she eventually was found.
                        CNN Map
                        “We did some good, old-fashioned police work,” Wright told Ashleigh Banfield of HLN’s “Primetime Justice.”

                        Who owns the property, and how is he connected?

                        Kohlhepp, a registered sex offender who’s been working as a real estate agent in the area, owns the property, which he bought in May 2014 for $305,000. He was arrested Thursday and is not cooperating with investigators, the sheriff said. He does not live on the Woodruff property.
                        An arrest warrant alleges that Kohlhepp, 45, kidnapped Brown on or about August 31 in Spartanburg. Barnette said the maximum sentence for the crime is 30 years in prison.
                        For now Kohlhepp is being held without bond. At a court appearance Friday, a judge referred his bail matter to a circuit court. Kohlhepp, dressed in a blue T-shirt, said he didn’t know who to contact to get an attorney.

                        Todd

                        It’s not the first time Kohlhepp has been accused of kidnapping. He was added to the South Carolina Sex Offender Registry as a result of a 1987 kidnapping conviction in Arizona when he was a teenager.
                        He served 15 years in prison for that crime.

                        What else have investigators found so far?

                        Investigators say they found Carver’s car on the Woodruff property on Thursday. It was in a ravine, covered in brush.
                        Authorities have found “lots of weapons and ammo” on the property, the sheriff told HLN.
                        They also found targets near a two-car garage. There is a bedroom above the garage, Barnette said, and chains around the bed.
                        “We’re not going to leave the property until we’re 100% sure that we’ve done everything possible,” Wright said.

                        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/04/us/missing-south-carolina-woman-found/index.html


                        The secret costs of Islamophobia

                        (CNN)With Adele’s song “All I Ask” playing in the background, a Maryland teenager opened her computer and wrote an emotional letter to President Barack Obama.

                        “I am an American, I grew up here. I say the Pledge of Allegiance every day,” Aleena Khan told the President. “And yet, I am a Muslim.”
                        Which one, she asked, is she allowed to be?

                        This series will explore the lives of Muslims in the age of ISIS and Islamophobia.

                        Aleena is 17, with a bright smile and dark hair that sweeps across her shoulders. Her mother is Indian-American, her father emigrated from Pakistan. Aleena and her two sisters have lived in Maryland their whole lives.
                        Last year, as part of an honors research project on identity crises among Muslim-American teenagers, Aleena spent hours online combing through public comments on news articles about Muslims. What she read shocked her.
                        “Kick them all out and put the rest in detainment camps. Enough with the PC feces,” said one commenter.
                        “The only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones,” said another.
                        The tweet from the man wearing military camouflage was the worst, Aleena said. “Hard to tell what we should build first. A border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims.”
                        Aleena sat on the floor of her room, stunned. These people were talking about her mother, her father, her sisters, her cousins, her friends. They were talking about her. If it were just one comment, she could ignore it. But there were so many.
                        “This is what people think about me?” she wondered. “If I go out and say I’m Muslim will my friends still be my friends? Will people like me anymore?”
                        She texted her best friend, Haley, telling her what people were saying about Muslims. People are ignorant, Haley answered.
                        It’s difficult to measure a sentiment such as Islamophobia, the word for hatred and fear of Muslims. But it’s also hard to escape the idea that being Muslim in America today is like watching comment sections spring to lurid life. The anti-Muslim rallies, the vicious hate crimes, the racial profiling, the threats and taunts and questions about divided loyalties.
                        Scholars say Islamophobia seems to surge after attacks by Muslim extremists and during presidential campaigns, when candidates pledge to get tough on terrorists, often by singling out Muslims. Just this week, after a Muslim man was charged with detonating bombs in New York and New Jersey and another was accused of stabbing 10 people in Minnesota, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump urged local police officers to profile “suspicious” people, “like they do in Israel.”
                        “Do we really have a choice?” Trump said. “We’re trying to be so politically correct in our country, and this is only going to get worse.”
                        Even before the recent attacks, American Muslims lived under a dark cloud of suspicion. In 2014, they surpassed atheists as the country’s “least accepted” religious group.
                        An estimated 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States, and between September 11, 2001 and the end of last year, 344 have been involved in violent extremism, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. That number does not include attacks from this year, such as the shooting at an Orlando nightclub by Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people.
                        Still, violent extremists are outnumbered nearly 10,000 to 1 in the United States, which means that Omar Mateen is not the norm. Aleena Khan is.
                        Aleena graduated from Northwest High School in Germantown, where she gave tours to guests, was a member of four honor societies and ran the Green Club with her friend Haley, helping the school earn Green Ribbon environmental status — “a nationally recognized thing,” she says with a smidge of satisfaction. One of the few clubs she didn’t join is the Muslim Student Association. “I didn’t want to separate myself from the rest of my classmates,” she said.
                        In her free time, Aleena has tutored young children, interned at a Christian clothing website and volunteered for a company that helps poor and abused women sell handmade wares. This fall, she began her freshman year at George Washington University in Washington, where she plans to study public policy. She hopes, one day, to improve the foster care system, a goal inspired by a recent documentary.
                          But being a Muslim in America hasn’t been easy, Aleena says, even before the recent rash of Islamophobia.
                          There’s the annual Ramadan challenge, which means skipping lunch with classmates and fasting from water during the dog days of summer. She’s doesn’t wear shorts, tank tops or bikinis, though many of her friends do. Dating is discouraged, and her parents forbade her from attending the school prom. Friends tried to cheer her up, insisting the dance wasn’t that fun, but Aleena saw the pictures, and it sure looked fun.
                          If Aleena were an Orthodox Jew or conservative Christian, she might yield to similar restrictions and feel like she was swimming against a cultural riptide. But few would question her American identity or allegiance.
                          Aleena wrote her letter to Obama on February 3, the day of his first visit to an American mosque as President, a date many Muslims believe was too long in coming. She thanked Obama for his faith in Muslim-Americans. It was like an oxygen tank, she told the President, allowing her to breathe a big sigh of relief.
                          But even with Obama’s encouragement, Aleena held some doubts. Will other Americans really accept her, especially when the country seems so anxious and tense?
                          “Muslims live in fear that they will be attacked,” she wrote in her honors project. “Americans live in fear that Muslims will attack them.”
                          After submitting her letter through the White House website, Aleena felt silly, believing no one would read it. She deleted it from her computer and forgot about it.

                          Mourners

                            American Muslims have been told that a mosque, unlike churches and synagogues, cannot serve as an election polling station. Dozens of communities have fought to keep Muslims from building mosques in their neighborhoods, sometimes threatening violence.
                            From 2001 to 2014, there were 2,288 anti-Islamic incidents targeting 2,745 Muslims, according to the FBI. Statistics for 2015 will not be released until November. A study conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, however, projects that anti-Muslim hate crimes surged nearly 70% last year, reaching a level of violence not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And many Muslim activists believe hate crimes are underreported by victims and not pursued vigorously by police and prosecutors. This year, the FBI has begun counting anti-Arab incidents as well.
                            Politicians have claimed that 85% of mosques are controlled by Islamic extremists and that Islam is a political system, not a religion, and thus not protected by the First Amendment. They have threatened to “arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line” and pledged to bar Muslim refugees from the country. They have sanctioned spying on mosques without warrants and the racial profiling of Muslim communities. They have accused Muslims of launching a “civilizational jihad” and called Islam a “cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” They have shut down schools over lessons on Islam and called innocuous school materials dangerous propaganda. More than 30 states have considered bills to “protect” their civil courts from Islamic law, and nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee) enacted the bans. They have said Muslims cannot be president of the United States. They have said Muslims should not be here at all.
                            Challenged about Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States, his spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, said, “So what? They’re Muslim.”
                            A coterie of well-funded pundits and self-proclaimed experts encourage Americans to fear all Muslims and the “creeping” influence of Islamic law in the United States. They cast Muslims as “enemies among us,” Trojan horses for an insurgency that will topple the republic and conquer its citizens.
                            Even many liberal politicians, while insisting most Muslims are peaceful, only mention Islam when speaking about national security and countering violent extremism.
                            “Islam is not thought of as American religion,” said Zareena Grewal, a professor of religious studies at Yale University, “however much Muslim-Americans wish that to be true.”
                            In 2011, more than half of American Muslims under 30 said they had been treated with suspicion, called offensive names, singled out by law enforcement or been physically threatened in the preceding year alone, according to a Pew Center report.
                            Asad Tarsin, a writer and doctor, lives in California with his wife and three young children.
                            “I know that they will be integrated in America and fully accept their American identity. My question is whether America will fully accept them.”

                            ‘The Mohammedan world’

                            Islamophobia didn’t start on September 11. It’s intricately entwined with America’s oldest idea: that this land is, and should always be, a white Protestant nation.
                            Well before the Pilgrims landed in “New Jerusalem,” Columbus had set sail on a mission to find riches to retake “old” Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire. Centuries later, when Colonists sought to unite the states, anti-federalists railed against the Constitution. Nothing in the new document, they fumed, would prevent a Muslim (or a Catholic) from becoming president.
                            The first Muslims to arrive en masse came in chains. Scholars estimate that some 10,000 to 20,000 slaves from West Africa were Muslims. A few were granted preferential treatment because they could read and write Arabic, and looked “whiter” than other slaves. They were paraded across the country like prized pets, until they started advocating for their emancipation.
                            “Such is the bloodthirsty, tyrannical Mahometan negro, who is now travelling himself and suite, up and down through the free states in pomp, with the President’s passport in his pocket,” snarled one Southern newspaper about a Muslim slave freed by President John Adams.
                            Within a few generations, African Islam was extinguished, snuffed out by plantation owners who converted their slaves to Christianity.
                              In the 1880s, Muslim immigrants from the tottering Ottoman Empire began to arrive. Before they were allowed into the county, they were required to sign oaths swearing that they owed no loyalty to the empire’s Sultan. Even then, most were not allowed to become citizens.
                              The United States was committed to the idea that its future depended on its identity as a white Christian nation, said Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, author of “A History of Islam in America.”
                              “The presumption has been that all Muslims are considered suspect until proven otherwise.”
                              The Naturalization Act of 1790 allowed only “free white persons” to become US citizens. After the Civil War, “persons of African descent” were added to the list. By the racial classifications of the era, most Muslim immigrants were neither. Laws passed in 1917 and 1924 made it even harder for Asian and Middle Eastern Muslims to immigrate and become citizens.
                              In 1942, a Michigan judge denied a Yemeni man’s case for citizenship. Apart from the man’s dark skin, he ruled, it was “well-known” that Arabs “are part of the Mohammedan world … and a wide gulf separates their culture from the predominantly Christian peoples of Europe.”
                              Those Christian peoples, of course, trace their religious roots to the Middle East — the very region the judge deemed irremediably “Mohammedan.” By that logic, Muslim immigrants argued, Jesus himself could not be an American citizen. The judge was not persuaded.
                              Even Muslims born and raised in the United States were considered suspicious, especially if they were not white. As thousands of blacks embraced new, Islam-inspired movements such as the Moorish Science Temple and Nation of Islam in the mid-20th century, the FBI kept a nervous watch.
                              “Though it did not produce peer-reviewed scholarship,” writes scholar Edward Curtis, “the FBI was by far the most prolific student of Muslim groups in the first half of the 20th century.”
                              The FBI’s report on the Nation of Islam fretted that black Muslims demonstrate “fearless and outspoken anti-white, anti-Christian attitudes. … As long as racial inequity continues, the militant and arrogant manner of cult members remains a potential threat of violent action.”
                              In 1965, the United States eased immigration restrictions, opening the door to nearly 3 million immigrants, many economic refugees from countries with sizable Muslim populations.
                              Today, no one knows exactly how many Muslims live in the United States. Obama said there are nearly 7 million, then corrected himself and said 5 million. Many scholars estimate between 6 million and 8 million. Most media cite the nonpartisan Pew Research Center’s estimate of around 3.3 million.
                              Pew says that number will climb past 8 million by 2050, when Muslims will become the second-largest religious group in the United States, a surge driven by immigration, large families and the relative youth of American Muslims (their median age in 2010 was 23). Even in 2050, though, Muslims will only make up 2% of the US population.
                              Islam is the only American religion without a majority race or ethnic group. Muslims living in the United States come from 77 different countries, according to Pew. About 30% describe themselves as white, 23% as black and 21% as Asian. Likewise, every strand of religious commitment is represented here, from puritanical Salafis to mystic-minded Sufis to Muslims who rarely pray or visit mosques.
                              While many Muslims praise the diversity of their American community, in practice it has made it difficult for them to forge a group identity or rally around common causes and national leaders. More than half of men and 42% of women said no national Muslim group in the United States represents their interests, according to a 2011 Gallup poll.
                              Instead, Muslims have often retreated into ethnic enclaves, hired imams from their homeland and disengaged from the broader culture. Three-fourths of American mosques are dominated by one ethnic group, whether it be Arab, South Asian or African-American, according to a study conducted in 2011. In the last five years, many American Muslims have worked to make their mosques more diverse.
                              Still, even Muslims born in the United States have idealized Islamic institutions and leaders overseas, particularly in the Middle East, viewing them as more authentically Muslim. In a strange way, it’s as if they agreed with those who argue that Islam is a faith foreign to America.
                              Even top Muslim scholars and spokesmen have felt the lure of that idea.
                              Sheikh Hamza Yusuf is co-founder of Zaytuna College in California, the country’s first accredited Muslim college. Yusuf, who is white, converted to Islam in 1977 and soon thereafter left the United States to study with Islamic scholars in the Middle East and Africa. When he returned after a decade overseas, he felt lost, spiritually and emotionally.
                              “I had no context for being an American Muslim,” he said. “It was almost like abandoning my American-ness.”

                              Living in ‘the grayzone’

                              Before he went on his murderous rampage at the Pulse nightclub, Omar Mateen googled Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. He might have been seeking Yusuf’s religious guidance; he might have wanted to kill him.
                              In its online magazine inApril, ISIS listed Yusuf among 21 “obligatory targets” for its followers to “make an example of.” It was the second time the terrorist group had threatened Yusuf’s life.
                              Yusuf said he likely angered ISIS by preaching a sermon in 2014 in which he called them “stupid young boys.” More than 540,000 people have watched the sermon on YouTube in English, and many more in other languages.
                              ISIS’ antipathy toward Yusuf goes beyond any one sermon. It also knows he is one of the few Muslim leaders with credibility to challenge its message to Western Muslims: You don’t belong there. Come to the caliphate where you can live as a true Muslim.
                              “This revival of the Khilfah gave each individual Muslim a concrete and tangible entity to satisfy his natural desire for belonging to something greater,” ISIS said in a recent edition of Dabiq.
                              In the same edition, alongside interviews with ISIS fighters, articles praising “martyrs” and gruesome photos of its beheaded and burned victims, ISIS argued that Muslims in the West are living in a “grayzone.”
                              The terrorists’ goal is to divide the world into two camps: “the crusaders” and “the caliphate.”
                              No Christians living in Muslim lands; no Muslims living in Christian countries. “Grayzones” are areas where Muslims practice their religion peacefully in non-Muslim countries. ISIS wants to eliminate these zones, in part by turning non-Muslims against their Muslim neighbors. Each terrorist attack chips away a little more grayzone, as Westerners marginalize Muslims, pushing them, ISIS hopes, into the caliphate’s open arms.
                              “Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the (caliphate), as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands. …”
                              Most American Muslims reject that message, but a few are inspired by it.
                              According to a study of 101 Americans charged with ISIS-related crimes, half were born in the country and most were citizens. Most were men under 30, one-third had converted to Islam. The vast majority expressed dissatisfaction with living in the United States, and 90% reportedly said they wanted to join the caliphate, perhaps heeding the call to surrender their lives to a larger cause, no matter how violent or quixotic.
                              “Overall, there is a sense of identity crises and alienation from society across a wide range of cases,” the report says. “Anxieties over not fitting in, examples of personal isolation and social anger are frequent.”
                              Those anxieties are often exacerbated, if not incited, by Islamophobia, said Sarah Lyons-Padilla, a social psychologist at Stanford University who has studied radicalization among young American Muslims.
                              American Muslims who felt hopeless, rejected and insignificant because of anti-Muslim discrimination were more willing to support extremist groups and causes, according to a study Lyons-Padilla led last year.
                              “ISIS would love to make all Muslims believe that the West is anti-Islam,” the psychologist said. “When American politicians and citizens spread anti-Muslim rhetoric, be it through discriminatory policies or online trolling, they send the message that Muslims aren’t ‘real Americans’ and that being Muslim is something to be ashamed of. In other words, they’re basically helping ISIS recruit.”
                              Counterterrorism officials agree.
                              In a recent Washington Post op-ed, retired US Army Gen. and former CIA Director David Petraeus said he has grown increasingly concerned about anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States.
                              “As policy, these concepts are totally counterproductive,” Petraeus said. “Rather than making our country safer, they will compound the already grave terrorist danger to our citizens. As ideas, they are toxic and, indeed, non-biodegradable — a kind of poison that, once released into our body politic, is not easily expunged.”
                              The number of American Muslims who radicalize is small, especially when compared with other Western countries, said William McCants, director of the Brookings Institution’s Project on US Relations with the Islamic World.
                              Law enforcement experts estimate that about 250 Americans have tried to join ISIS, far fewer than the thousands who have flocked to Syria and Iraq from countries such as France and Belgium.
                              “I would argue that American Islam is doing something right in contrast to these other countries,” McCants said.
                              Most American Muslims are integrated and feel content with their lives, in sharp contrast with many Muslims in Western Europe, according to the 2011 Pew Center report. Nearly 90% speak English fluently, and more than 8 in 10 are citizens. Most say they see no conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
                              Still, 81 Muslim-Americans were associated with violent plots in 2015, the highest annual total since 9/11, according to the Triangle Center.
                              Omar Suleiman, a popular cleric who lives in Dallas, said he has sparred with young Muslims attracted to ISIS’ black-and-white theology. Often, they are first- and second-generation immigrants who have grown up with some discrimination and “a whole lot of other-ness and awkwardness,” he said. They are angry young men, frustrated with dead-end careers, irked by clerics who refuse to address controversial topics and incensed about the suffering of Muslims overseas in the Palestinian territories and Syria.
                              “When they find that people aren’t addressing their concerns in an authentic way, they fall prey to Internet radicalism,” Suleiman said. “They become disconnected from the mosque and disconnected from the American Muslim community.”

                              A

                              Aleena’s answer

                              Several months after submitting her letter to the President, Aleena received a call from the White House. Naturally, she thought it was a prank.
                              On the line was Asra Najam, who works in the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence. She said members of the Obama administration had read Aleena’s letter and been touched by her honesty. Najam wanted to know if she could post it on the White House’s Tumblr.
                              But there was another reason Najam was calling.
                              Najam’s family emigrated from Pakistan when she was 4, moving to a Detroit suburb. She was 10 when the 9/11 attacks occurred. She remembers the comments people made about Islam in the aftermath, how she felt guilty just for being Muslim, how that feeling lingered for years.
                              “I was that 17-year-old-girl, like Aleena. I was lost, confused, unsure of how my identity fit into the broader American picture.
                              “But I definitely didn’t have the courage to write the most powerful man on the planet about it,” she said with a laugh.
                              Najam said she still struggles with her identity as an American Muslim, even though her desk looks out on the White House lawn, the country’s most prestigious piece of real estate. She didn’t know any Muslim women when she started looking for jobs in Washington, and she was terrified. Now she writes letters on behalf of the President.
                              Aleena’s letter led to an invite to an Eid celebration in July at the White House, where she and Najam met in person. They snapped a picture in the ornate East Room and bonded over Adele, whom Aleena mentioned in her letter to the President.
                              Obama himself gave a short speech that afternoon, while Aleena, her mother and a family friend stood yards away, straining for a closer look among the 400 guests and the smartphones craned upward to record the moment.
                              As he had in his visit to the mosque in Baltimore, Obama praised American Muslims, calling them an “essential part of the fabric of our country.”
                              But he also said he gets “heartbreaking” letters from American Muslims who tell him that they are anxious and afraid, especially now. He said he had a special message for the young people in the room: “We see you, we believe in you.”
                              “And despite what you may sometimes hear, you’ve got to know that you’re a valued part of the American family, and there’s nothing that you cannot do.”
                              It was an answer to Aleena’s question: Which one am I allowed to be?
                              Both, the President said.
                              How can she be both? Aleena says that’s a question she — and all American Muslims — have to answer for themselves.
                              She offers only one bit of advice: Speak up. You never know who might be listening.

                              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html


                              Life in Chelsea one day after the New York bombing

                              (CNN)New Yorkers who live near the site of a powerful explosion in Manhattan waited to get back in their homes Sunday and exchanged stories about the frightening moments after the blast.

                              As they waited for further word on the cause, people who felt and heard the detonation said they had been shaken but would carry on with their lives.
                                “I feel a little bit insecure, but we have to do what we have to do,” said Omar Len, a real estate investor who was visiting a friend on Saturday night in the building directly next to the blast site.
                                “There’s nothing you can do, really,” Len said. “You have to read their mind in order to prevent this. Anybody can be around us that has that mentality. Our lives continue.”
                                The explosion, which injured 29 people, rocked the Chelsea neighborhood at 8:30 p.m. By morning, authorities had reopened most streets nearby, but they still blocked off West 23rd Street, where the blast happened. Some subway entrances remained closed.
                                Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Sunday that “a bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism,” but that there was no evidence tying the blast to known terror organizations.

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                                “My friend thought it was thunder. I said, that doesn’t sound like thunder,” said Crissy Holland, who lives a block uptown from the explosion. “It sounded like someone took a barge and threw it all the way off a building.”
                                Wendy Baboolal said she had just arrived in New York from Trinidad and was taking a nap in her hotel room half a block west when the detonation shook her awake.
                                “I was asleep and it rocked me. I felt it in my chest,” she said. “When I looked out the window, I saw people just running.”
                                When Baboolal walked outside, “I saw a lot of people, a lot of cops, the fire people, a lot of ambulances were here,” she said. “It was frenzied, people wondering what happened.”
                                A tense calm was restored within minutes as police began closing off nearby blocks and moving onlookers away. People leaving restaurants and a play in the neighborhood stood around checking their phones for news.
                                Baboolal said she visits New York frequently and sometimes stays with an aunt upstate. But “I love the city, so I wanted to be in the city itself,” she said. “I wasn’t scared. I love New York so much, so what’s the problem?”

                                Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/18/us/new-york-chelsea-mood/index.html


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