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China gives initial approval of Trump trademarks for hotels and escort services

Ethics lawyers raise alarm over constitutional violation if president given special treatment in quickly securing 38 new trademarks to develop potential businesses

China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for Donald Trump and his family to potentially develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.

Trumps lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing US jobs. Critics maintain that Trumps swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict of interest questions.

Chinas Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on 27 February and Monday.

If no one objects, they will be formally registered after 90 days. All but three are in the presidents own name. China already registered one trademark to the president, for Trump-branded construction services on 14 February, the result of a 10-year legal battle that turned in Trumps favor after he declared his candidacy.

Ethics lawyers across the political spectrum say that if Trump receives any special treatment in securing trademark rights, it would violate the US constitution, which bans public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress. Concerns about potential conflicts of interest are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist party.

Dan Plane, a director at Simone IP Services, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultancy, said he had never seen so many applications approved so expeditiously.

For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications boy, its weird, he said.

Given the impact Trumps presidency could have on China, Plane said he would be very, very surprised if officials from the ruling Communist party were not monitoring Trumps intellectual property interests.

This is just way over your average trademark examiners pay grade, he said.

The trademarks cover businesses including branded spas, massage parlors, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, retail shops, restaurants, bars, and bodyguard and escort services though its unclear whether any such businesses will actually materialize in China.

Trump has pledged to refrain from new foreign deals while in office, and many companies register trademarks in China only to prevent others from using their name inappropriately.

Spring Chang, a founding partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, a Beijing law firm that has represented the Trump Organization, declined to comment specifically on Trumps trademarks. But she did say that she advises clients to take out marks defensively, even in categories or subcategories of goods and services they may not aim to develop.

I dont see any special treatment to the cases of my clients so far, she added. I think theyre very fair and the examination standard is very equal for every applicant.

She said government relations are an important part of trademark strategy in China and said she has worked with officials from both the US and Canadian embassies to help her clients. The key, she said, is you should communicate closely with the government to push your case.

Governmental discretion is exactly what US ethics lawyers fear could turn a trademark into an opportunity to exercise leverage over the US president.

Every American should be profoundly concerned by this enormous expansion of President Trumps entanglements with China, said Norman Eisen, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer for President Obama. If the president is receiving these flows of benefits from China, how can he be trusted to staunch the flow of jobs from the United States to that country?

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W Bush, said the volume of new approvals raised red flags.

A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutional emolument, but with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accommodation in at least some of them, he said.

Eisen and Painter are involved in a lawsuit alleging that Trumps foreign business ties violate the US constitution. Trump has dismissed the lawsuit as totally without merit.

Chinas State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which oversees the Trademark Office, and Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Three of the new China trademarks are for Scion, a hotel brand Trumps sons are looking to expand in the US. Unlike almost all of Trumps China trademarks, they are registered in the name of a Delaware company called DTTM Operations LLC, rather than Donald J Trump himself. The Trump Organization has transferred ownership of dozens of trademarks from the president to DTTM Operations LLC since its incorporation in January 2016.

In an earlier email to the Associated Press, Garten said: The decision to assign the portfolio to DTTM is also consistent with the Presidents pledge to separate himself fully from the Trump Organization and hand over complete control to his children and senior executives in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest even though none of these steps were required by law.

Trump has said he assigned all his business interests to a trust overseen by one of his sons, Donald Trump Jr, and a longtime Trump Organization executive, Allen Weisselberg. However, Trump retains the ability to revoke the trust at any time and as the sole beneficiary stands to benefit financially from it. As of May 2016, Donald Trump owned 100% of DTTM Operations LLC, according to his Federal Election Commission disclosure. Its current ownership structure is unclear.

Delaware public records do not disclose the management of DTTM Operations LLC, though they do show that Trumps sons and Weisselberg served as directors of a related company.

Democratic senators have protested Trumps acceptance of a valuable trademark from the Chinese government without congressional approval. Some also questioned the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, about potential political influence, including any involvement of the US embassy, in Trumps China trademarks in a February letter.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/08/china-approves-trump-trademarks-businesses


Building Zion: the controversial plan for a Mormon-inspired city in Vermont

A Mormon businessman is buying up land to build master-planned towns from scratch, based on the church founders idea for a plat of Zion

The roads through rural Vermont wind past rolling forested hills and quaint small towns, including South Royalton used as the quintessential New England village in the opening sequence of the TV series Gilmore Girls.

A short drive away, the Tunbridge Worlds Fair has run almost continuously since 1867, with games, contests for best pig or pumpkin, and displays of old-time printing presses and candle making.

And not far from there, one stop on the areas low-key tourist trail dotted with maple syrup farms, pottery workshops and picturesque covered bridges, is the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.

The site now hosts a museum, run by the church and staffed by cheerful missionaries. Outside, a giant granite obelisk rises towards the sky. Calming music flows from speakers located high up in the trees. It is a peaceful place, designed to inspire reflection.

But, over the last year, it has also found itself at the centre of a controversy. In front of many houses and shops, signs exclaim: Save our communities. Stop NewVistas.

NewVistas is the name of an unusual, indeed, one-of-a-kind project led by a Mormon businessman named David Hall to build new, master-planned towns from scratch inspired by notes written by Joseph Smith himself in 1833.

Hall says these designs, which described how ideal Mormon settlements should be laid out and were drafted almost 200 years ago, offer answers to modern-day challenges of sustainable living. And to make it happen, he has been buying land lots of it.

The first goal is to build a NewVista community near Smiths birthplace in Vermont, which would be home to about 20,000 people. The next step: to build more. Ultimately, Halls vision describes a new city of connected communities, with a total population of up to one million.

The fantastic story first came to light last spring, thanks to the careful eye and diligent research of a librarian in the small town of Sharon, who uncovered a series of local land purchases that she traced to the businessman and his plans.

Reflecting on that time, Nicole Antal, 30, says shed found it all hard to believe particularly the scale.

City
Plat of Zion by Joseph Smith in 1833. Photograph: https://newvistasllc.sharepoint.com

This is very big for Vermont, she says. Burlington is 40,000 people. Montpellier, the state capital, is 7,000. This is not one guy buying a house and trying something new.

To date, the NewVistas project is thought to have purchased as many as 1,500 acres in central Vermont with plans to buy much more. Its focused on a largely rural area at the intersection of four tiny towns Royalton, Sharon, Stafford and Tunbridge which have a combined population of just 6,400.

Nor is the project just buying up vacant lots. It appears to be purchasing whatever it can. Antal says a few properties sold to NewVistas were second homes. But so far acquisitions have been fragmented parcels.

Antal first blogged about the land purchases in March 2016, setting off a flurry of articles in the local media. Soon Bloomberg Businessweek and the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, revelling in its unusual characters, audacious vision and local controversy.

Residents in Vermont, meanwhile, had started to organise in opposition.

This threat is like nothing weve ever seen or could have conjured up ourselves, says one long-term local resident Jane Huppe, 58, describing it as a top-down venture that doesnt fit with the areas own ideas for how it should develop.

It hit us like a ton of bricks, she adds, suggesting it could completely overwhelm existing communities. Why does he not bring this to where they need massive amounts of housing, instead of disrupting the rural countryside?

Building Zion

Joseph Smith left central Vermont as a child with his family, moving to rural New York, where he later founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But despite his rural upbringing, Smith outlined a vision for new and compact settlements that would go on to influence the planning of hundreds of American towns.

This farm boy … dreamed to build a metropolis that rivalled the large seaport cities he had only heard about, writes the academic Benjamin Park, in a 2013 paper.

In the 1830s, Smith laid out a detailed plan called the plat of Zion. It described new towns, designed to be self-sufficient, ordered by rigid grids, and surrounded by farmland and wilderness.

The
The memorial of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church at his birthplace in Vermont. Photograph: imageBROKER/Rex/Shutterstock

The plan included ideal sizes of streets, blocks and lots. Roads should be straight and oriented to the points of a compass. Homes, built in uniform stone or brick, should sit within deep individual lots, with front yards and back gardens.

Significantly, the plan lacked designated areas for government buildings and town halls, as well as for markets or commercial districts. Instead, central blocks would be set aside for temples and community buildings.

Once fully occupied, with 15-20,000 inhabitants, the settlement would not be expanded. Instead, others would be built, to fill up the world in these last days.

This wasnt a theoretical plan. Smith hoped to build a new town like this in Missouri, specifically. In 1831, he said that Independence, in Jackson County, had been revealed as the land of promise and the place for the City of Zion.

Unlike other new religious movements in America at the time, which were warning congregants of the evils rooted in urban cities, Smith believed that cities were not to be fled, but sacralised, writes Park. This reflected key Mormon principles that focused on establishing a righteous civilisation … rather than individuals.

[Zion] was literally the centre place for a new civilisation destined to expand as Gods people multiplied. Gathering and city building were not incidental parts of sanctification, but the goal.

In the summer of 1833, Smith and other church leaders met in Kirtland, Ohio, and drew up specific blueprints for a city of Zion, including designs for specific buildings. Smith sent these to church members in Missouri, who were to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.

It didnt happen; early Mormon settlers were driven out of Missouri. And in 1844, Smith was killed, before his city plan could be realised.

NewVistas,
A computer rendering of a plan for NewVistas that would house, feed and employ 15-20,000 residents. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

His designs survived, however, and were later used as a blueprint for as many as 500 communities in the American West. In the 1990s, the American Planning Association went so far as to recognise the plat of Zion documents for their historical significance and influence.

Most famously, church leader Brigham Young drew on the plat for the design of Salt Lake City, which was established by Mormon settlers in 1847. The citys core still reflects this: it features wide streets, oriented north-south, and mammoth blocks focusing on Temple Square, where a church museum also holds the original plat of Zion documents.

The concept of Zion remains key to the Mormon faith. The church explains that it represents the pure in heart, but also a place where the pure in heart live. It says: In the latter days a city named Zion will be built [in Missouri] … to which the tribes of Israel will gather. In the meantime, members are counselled to build up Zion wherever they are living.

Salt Lake City itself was also, of course, heavily influenced by broader trends in American life, such as the completion of the transnational railroad in the 19th century, which brought new visitors and migrants, and later by car culture and sprawl.

In December 2016, a popular architecture and design podcast noted that the citys design means that addresses can read like sets of coordinates. 300 South 2100 East, for example, means three blocks south and 21 blocks east of Temple Square. But, it said, the most striking thing about Salt Lakes grid is the scale:

The streets are so menacing and crossings so long that the city has placed plastic buckets on lampposts which hold flags that pedestrians can carry to the other side while crossing. In present-day Salt Lake City, its hard to get around without a car.

Nevertheless, some experts argue that the plat of Zion was a precursor to intelligent urban planning and leaves a legacy that could help tackle haphazard developments today.

The NewVistas project

A
A design of food production in the NewVistas Mormon development, Vermont. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

This is of little comfort for those Vermont residents who oppose NewVistas. The Mormon church, too, is apparently displeased: they dont support the plan.

David Hall, the businessman behind the contemporary and controversial NewVistas project, lives in Provo, Utah. His background is in big energy: he reportedly made his fortune selling sophisticated drilling tools to the oil and gas industry.

In an interview with the Guardian, he says Smiths city plans remain remarkably relevant for todays challenges.

The plat describes a very low footprint, 20,000 people on only three square miles. Everything else was supposed to be wilderness. Its telling us not to sprawl, which is what we do, we even go into the mountains, Hall says. It really makes sense for our time.

The projects website says it follows the plat laid out by Smith and that its architectural plans are also based on the same sizing specifications for early Mormon temples, which were designed to fulfil multiple functions.

David
David Hall with a modular kitchen design in Provo, Utah. Hall, a wealthy Mormon businessman, plans communities of tiny dwellings based on the teachings of church founder Joseph Smith. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

But, Hall says, the goal is to develop secular, sustainable communities taking advantage of modern technology, including food production techniques that make it possible for people to live in ever-smaller spaces. It is envisaged for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

The NewVistas Foundation argues: Sustainable living in the modern world requires high density urban development, pointing out that sprawl consumes too much energy and other resources, not just in urban areas but rural as well.

It presents a detailed, wide-ranging plan, including specific designs for three-storey standard buildings with apartments, businesses, and some farming and manufacturing, all located in one place.

More futuristic ideas include internal walls and floors that could be moved by robotic systems, so that families could live in small spaces that are easily rearranged. Outside, walkway-podway systems (something like elevated sidewalks and an underground tube network) would operate on multiple levels to transport people and goods. New toilets would monitor users health.

Not unlike Smiths original vision, the foundation says the goal is massive scalability, so that these communities can be replicated to encompass all of the earths billions of people. It calls itself nothing less than a new urban model and economic system for the 21st century.

Each complete NewVista would have as many as one million people, but be composed of 50 similar and carefully designed communities, each with a population of 15,000 to 25,000 and the capacity to be self-sufficient with respect to basic needs.

There are also unusual proposals for how these places will be run: organised according to a private capitalistic economic structure. The community is not a political entity but a productive enterprise, like a company town.

There is even a suggestion that a NewVista Community Corporation would have control over things like land use, transportation, and community environment, which are usually matters of government concern.

Hall predicts that the first NewVistas community could require as much as $3bn (2.3bn) to build, expecting 20% to come from the first residents and the bulk from other investors with nothing from the church.

NewVistas is my own modern interpretation of Joseph Smiths community documents and I have not ever discussed the ideas with the church and wont involve them in the future.

Vermont strikes back

We didnt waste any time when this came up, says Michael Sacca, 61, director of the Alliance for Vermont Communities, a new non-profit organisation formed by local residents in opposition to Halls plans and any other similar large-scale developments in future.

Sitting on the porch outside the house he and his wife built themselves 15 years ago, with the sun setting below the hills around him, he says: We want to protect our future and our childrens future and the region … we want to maintain our lifestyle and our communities.

The NewVistas plans simply dont fit into local, regional or state visions of how Vermont should develop, Sacca argues, which instead aim to concentrate development as much as possible in village centres, town centres, leaving rural areas for rural life.

Sacca also describes the corporate structure envisaged for NewVistas as Orwellian and as an experiment designed to stand on its own as an insulated corporate town.

Residents
Residents attend a public meeting in Tunbridge, Vermont to discuss the NewVistas development, which many oppose. Photograph: Lisa Rathke/AP

Opposition to the project, which would transform the area, has been vibrant and vocal. Sign and stickers are visible on the streets of central Vermont, and petitions are calling for discussion at town meetings in March.

The Alliance is also tracking land purchases. By their count, NewVistas has already acquired an estimated 1,200-1,500 acres of land with purchases continuing despite the controversy.

The Mormon church is itself, a significant land and real estate developer, with farms, ranches, residential and commercial properties across the US. In Florida, a church-owned property is now set to become the site of a new city for as many as half a million people by 2080.

However, it does not seem to be too happy about the NewVistas project either.

In August 2016, a church spokesman said: This is a private venture and is not associated with The Church … [which] makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments. However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favour of the proposal.

The NewVistas website explains that the community layout envisaged follows a city plot pattern created by Joseph Smith in June of 1833. But it also carries an Important Note stating that its model is not presented as a fulfilment of Joseph Smiths vision. It is not supported or endorsed by the Church.

The church in Salt Lake City did not respond to requests for comment or further elaboration of its position.

In Vermont, some of the projects opponents hope they can use Act 250 the states premier land use law to stop it. This law was enacted decades ago after new highways and ski resorts lured investors into the state. It requires that developers comply with regional plans, as a way to manage growth and protect the environment.

Hall acknowledges his project has been controversial and many people are against it. But he says hes drawn to Vermont in particular because of its connection to Joseph Smith, because land is relatively cheap, and because there is too much of what he calls rural sprawl.

Theres lots of rules that keep you from building things, so Vermonters would eventually have to approve it but not right away, Hall adds, stressing that nothing is happening overnight and it would take decades to realise his plan.

He says technical components must first be worked out, and he needs to consolidate land, which can take generations because weve had this trend of subdividing and sprawl, so the reverse process will take a long time. The project, he argues, is very unique, but I have a hard time getting people to really look at it and study it.

Meanwhile, land is also being bought in his home town of Provo, Utah, where NewVistas is again facing local opposition. Professor emeritus at Brigham Young Universitys Marriott School, Warner Woodworth, who lives in Provo, described it as a takeover.

To have someone with money and power enter our area and gradually buy up homes, offering distorted purchase power to grab residences, is troubling. It shakes the peace and violates the sense of continuity and mutual care for one another, Woodworth wrote in September, arguing that Halls plans are also a far cry from the original plat of Zion idea:

Halls system is corporatist, while Josephs was more communal. Hall wants to establish a top-down power structure, whereas Joseph envisioned a bottom-up community of common consent. Hall seeks to control. Joseph sought to liberate. The early Zion plat consisted of large family yards and agriculture. In contrast, Hall plans for tiny urban apartments of 200 square feet in a bare, boring apartment.

But, he suggested: It may have been more achievable and acceptable if he had engaged more participants from the beginning. While one may disagree with some of his ideas, its the process he uses that becomes the fatal step.

As for Antal, who first discovered Halls project, she is concerned about the impact on her family.

There are some good ideas [in the NewVistas project] … Polluting less, creating local agriculture. But I dont think it applies to Vermont. I think Vermont is doing a pretty good job at being sustainable, she says. I dont like that this is being imposed on us.

Read the first part of Claire Provosts investigation into the role of Mormons in city planning here. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/31/building-zion-controversial-plan-mormon-inspired-city-vermont


Deutsche Bank fined $630m over Russia money laundering claims

Authorities in US and UK issue fine after saying bank used offices in Moscow and London to move $10bn out of country

Deutsche Bank has been fined more than $630m (506m) for failing to prevent $10bn of Russian money laundering and exposing the UK financial system to the risk of financial crime.

The UKs Financial Conduct Authority imposed its largest ever fine 163m for potential money laundering offences on Germanys biggest bank, which it said had missed several opportunities to clamp down on the activities of its Russian operations as a result of weak systems to detect financial crime between 2012 and 2015.

A US regulator, the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), also fined the bank $425m as it listed problems at Deutsche including one senior compliance officer stating he had to beg, borrow, and steal to get the resources to combat money laundering. As part of the settlement, the DFS has imposed a monitor, who will police the behaviour inside the bank for two years.

The latest run-in with regulators comes as Deutsches chief executive, John Cryan, tries to clean up the bank. Last month it paid $7.2bn to settle a decade-old toxic bond mis-selling scandal with the US Department of Justice .

The German bank admitted that the investigations into its Russian operations over so-called mirror trades had not yet finished. It said it was cooperating with other regulators and law enforcement authorities. The DoJ is reported to be among them.

Deutsches share price has been extremely volatile in recent months over concerns about the banks ability to pay fines, at one point dipping to less than 11 last autumn . Its share price before the financial crash was 117.

As the latest penalties were announced, the shares fell by 0.5% to 18.52 valuing the bank at 25bn, which is less than half that of the UKs Lloyds Banking Group, for example.

In a memo to staff Karl von Rohr, chief administrative officer of Deutsche,said: We deeply regret the banks role in the issues cited. He added that the number of staff employed to fight crime had risen 30% in 2016 and now stood at 700. Another 450 will be hired this year.

The FCA said Deutsches anti-money laundering (AML) controls were not tough enough to stop the bank being used by unidentified customers to transfer approximately $10bn from Russia to offshore bank accounts in a manner that is highly suggestive of financial crime. Money was moved via Deutsche Bank in the UK, to obank accounts overseas, including onesin Cyprus, Estonia, and Latvia, the FCA said.

Mark Steward, director of enforcement and market oversight at the regulator, said: Financial crime is a risk to the UK financial system. Deutsche Bank was obliged to establish and maintain an effective AML control framework. By failing to do so, Deutsche Bank put itself at risk of being used to facilitate financial crime and exposed the UK to the risk of financial crime.

The size of the fine reflects the seriousness of Deutsche Banks failings. We have repeatedly told firms how to comply with our AML requirements and the failings of Deutsche Bank are simply unacceptable. Other firms should take notice of todays fine and look again at their own AML procedures to ensure they do not face similar action.

The penalties relate to the bank failing to obtain information about its customers involved in mirror trades ones which mirror each other and have no economic purpose which allowed Deutsche Banks Russia-based subsidiary (DB Moscow) to execute more than 2,400 pairs of trades between April 2012 and October 2014.

Shares in major Russian companies were paid for in roubles through the Moscow office and then the same stock would be sold through London, sometimes on the same day, for a related customer, the New York regulator said. The sellers were registered in offshore locations and received payment for the shares in dollars. A dozen entities were identified.

The FCA said the purpose of $6bn mirror trades was the conversion of roubles into US dollars and the covert transfer of those funds out of Russia, which is highly suggestive of financial crime.

The regulators found almost $3bn in 3,400 suspiciousone-sided trades also occurred. The FCA believes that some, if not all, of these formed one side of mirror trades. They were often conducted by the same customers involved in the mirror trading.

This Russian mirror-trading scheme occurred while the bank was on clear notice of serious and widespread compliance issues dating back a decade. The offsetting trades here lacked economic purpose and could have been used to facilitate money laundering or enable other illicit conduct, and todays action sends a clear message that DFS will not tolerate such conduct, said New Yorks financial services superintendent, Maria Vullo.

The FCA described Deutsche Bank as being exceptionally cooperative and having committed to solve the problems in its AML systems. The bank received a 30% discount for its cooperation. This is a contrast to 2015 when the bank was fined for rigging Libor and accused of being obstructive towards regulators in their investigations into the global manipulation of the benchmark rate.

Last year, Deutsche said, it had taken disciplinary measures with regards to certain individuals in this matter and will continue to do so with respect to others as warranted.

Five previous Deutsche fines

January 2017 500m for Russian money-laundering offences.

January 2017 75m to resolve a US government lawsuit over hiding tax liabilities to the Internal Revenue Service in 2000.

December 2016 5.9bn for toxic bond mis-selling scandal.

November 2015 200m for breaching US sanctions with Iran and Syria.

April 2015 1.7bn for rigging Libor.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/31/deutsche-bank-fined-630m-over-russia-money-laundering-claims


Beirut’s last public beach: residents fear privatisation of Ramlet al-Baida

A private development close to Beiruts last remaining public beach is sparking anger among residents who fear companies will leave nothing for the poor and middle classes encroaching further into a city that already lacks public space

Take a stroll down the golden sands of Ramlet al-Baida, Beiruts last public beach, and youll see families fishing and smoking shisha in ramshackle palm frond cabanas, boys kicking footballs under battered lamp-posts, and children building sandcastles in the waves. It is a rare outlet in a city where public spaces are few and far between. But at the beachs southern end, the scene abruptly gives way to looming cranes and men in hard hats driving rebars into a rising edifice of concrete.

The development, known as the Eden Bay resort a more than 5,000 sq metre project billed by its website as a sanctuary of luxury and refinement began constructionlast year, sparking outrage among beachgoers, civil society activists and public space advocates. The company behind the project says they have complied with the law and are set to inject vital investment and hundreds of jobs into Lebanons bruised economy. But many of the poor and middle class Beirutis who have been going to the beach for generations see it as an encroachment on one of the few public spaces they have left.

Poor people are trash here, says Hisham Hamdan, 59, glancing at the development as he lounges with a lunch of fish, hummus and vegetables alongside half a dozen friends. Its Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, he adds, listing a few prominent politicians and businessmen. Theyre mafiosos, all of them.

He plucks a cane topped with a bust of Nefertiti from the sand and gestures toward a row of apartment buildings. Look, he says. You know how much that is? Four million dollars. And everyone here has nothing. (Some nearby properties do indeed sell for that much.)

A little way up the beach, Abu Rami, a 43-year-old department store worker who asked to be identified by his nickname so he could speak freely, kicks a football with his son. When I was a bachelor I used to come out to Ramlet al-Baida every day, he says. Id run down here with my friends around six or seven and wed play football. Wed even come out and play football at night wed swim and play and stay out late. Everyone has memories like that.

Eden
Eden Bay resort is set on 5,188 sq metres of Beirut coast. Photograph: Achour Development

Now, he says, people are afraid private companies will overwhelm the beach, leaving nothing for the citys poorer people and middle classes. The way I see it, the people here need to come out and protest against these companies this is repression against the poor.

The roots of anger and suspicion go much deeper than one resort. For a city its size, Beirut has a shocking lack of public space. There is just one major central park Horsh Beirut, which was recently reopened to the public after years of closure while miles of Mediterranean coast are covered with luxury apartments, clubs, restaurants, hotels and resorts that charge hefty entrance fees. For the many Beirutis living on just a few hundred dollars a month, the price to bring a family into one of these clubs could amount to a major chunk of a months salary. If youre poor, you dont always have the right to enjoy the outdoors.

Mohammad Ayoub, executive director of Nahnoo, a civil society group that advocated to reopen Horsh Beirut and is now working to revitalise Ramlet al-Baida, compares the citys situation to a house without a living room the space where a family comes together.

The salon is where you have to learn how to deal with your differences, because everybody owns it. You cant watch TV alone, so you need to discuss what to do. It teaches you dialogue, it teaches you democracy, it makes you feel a sense of belonging. This is why its important.

People
Ramlet al-Baida is Beiruts last public beach. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

Such spaces are especially vital given the legacy of sectarian division left by the countrys 1975-90 civil war, he says. But a lack of sufficient public regulation has allowed developers to chip away at such spaces over the years, leaving only a handful open to the public. What do we own in the city? Ayoub says. We own nothing. Why are we here in the city; what can we do in the city? You have to pay for everything.

As one of the few exceptions, Ramlet al-Baida (white sands in Arabic) has long been a magnet for suspicions about developers intentions. Activists point to a 1925 decree declaring everything up to the highest point the waves reach to be public property. However, since the 1960s, a string of exemptions, loopholes, violations and favouritism bestowed upon developers has gradually eaten away at the coastline and left the beach one of the last bastions of free access, they say. The nearby Dalieh outcrop is also under threat, although construction hasnt started.

In a cluttered and dimly lit office in central Beirut, Ali Darwish, head of Green Line, a Lebanese environmentalist group, runs his finger over a satellite image of Ramlet al-Baida, ticking off the plots where he says private developers are bent on building. Ask any older Beiruti above 50 or 60 and they wont even know that this is [privately] owned, he says. Its enshrined, its anchored in our brains that this is public land.

Back in the late 90s, Darwish says his group discovered a plan which showed that former prime minister Rafik Hariri famous for his extensive postwar real estate dealings wanted to turn the area into a marina, an effort quashed by public lobbying. Controversy flared up again in 2015 when a judge permittedtwo companies owning plots on the beachto close them to the public.The judge reversed her decision, but activists were on high alert.

Security
Security forces stand guard during a protest outside the gates of the Eden Rock development last year. Photograph: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Amid the atmosphere of distrust, civil society leaders have trouble seeing the Eden Bay development as anything less than a precursor to a full-scale takeover. Green Line has filed a suit to stop the project but pending a decision, construction has continued. If Eden Bay succeeds, activists believe other developers will undoubtedly follow. Darwish says one plot owner has already filed for a building permit a little further up the beach: This is the door-opener.

Achour Development expresses a very different view of the situation. In an office overlooking downtown Beirut nicknamed Solidere after the company Hariri founded before his 2005 assassination its lawyer Bahij Abou Mjahed, flips through a thick folder of documents which, he says, definitively prove the companys right to build on the land.

An assistant brings copies of the plots ownership records, the projects building permit, clearance from the order of engineers, and a map showing that the development is hundreds of metres from the part of the beach considered public.

Given regional turmoil, the new resort represents a courageous and ambitious project that will add hundreds of jobs to an economy badly in need of them, Abou Mjahed says. Lebanese departments are travelling all over the world to encourage investors to invest in Lebanon. If we create a war against this project, which has all the legal documents and all the legal permissions and permits and decisions, whats the message were sending to the investor? Come to Lebanon and invest, and in a moment somebody will decide that its a public area and stop you?

He says objections to the project are rooted in misunderstandings and, in some cases, conspiracy theories that assume the entire Lebanese government is arrayed against the public. Its against the laws of nature.

Back at Ramlet al-Baida, the nuances of the legal debate are of little interest to most beachgoers; many take it as a given that the system is rigged against them. There are politicians who are monopolising everything. They come down and take money and, so long, its over. They can do what they want, says Abu Rami, the department store worker. The Lebanese people need to stand together. Youll find people coming out and demonstrating against this repression, this theft three quarters of people are with them but they stay in their homes.

Why? Maybe people are distracted, he says. Theyre busy just getting by.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/02/beiruts-public-space-last-beach-residents-fear-privatisation-ramlet-al-baida


Argentina sees migration ban and border wall proposals in immigration row

President Mauricio Macri triggers backlash from Bolivia after banning entry for foreign citizens with criminal convictions as legislator proposes border wall

Amid a racially charged national debate on immigration, a real estate tycoon-turned-president signs an executive order to stop foreign migrants entering his country and to deport foreign residents with criminal records.

There is even talk of building a border wall, while intemperate language prompts a backlash from a neighbouring country.

But this is not Donald Trumps America and the wall is not intended to exclude Mexicans.

At the other end of the Americas, Argentinas millionaire president Mauricio Macri triggered a diplomatic spat with regional neighbours this week after he signed a controversial order to rein in migration.

Macris centre-right government has said that the immigration order is intended to fight the rising wave of drug-related crime, which it claims is partly due to an influx of migrants from Argentinas northern neighbours.

Peruvian and Paraguayan citizens come here and end up killing each other
for control of the drug trade, said Macris security minister Patricia Bullrich this week. A lot of Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians get involved as either capitalists or mules, as drivers or as part of the drug trafficking chain.

The ministers words provoked a swift and angry reaction from Bolivia. We
have to reject this kind of stigmatization against our compatriots that
coincides with Trumps xenophobic attitude, responded Bolivian government
minister Carlos Romero.

Bolivias indigenous president Evo Morales also protested the move, writing on Twitter: We cant be following the example of the north and its policies, building walls to divide us.

Macri is intent on copying Trumps agenda, said former legislator and
human rights lawyer Myriam Bregman of the Socialist Workers party. Theyre
trying to associate immigration with crime.

While they persecute poor people in the slums because of the colour of
their face or their nationality, major crime involving drug trafficking
continues to be run by government officials and corrupt police, she added.

Immigration from Argentinas northern neighbours where the vast majority of the population is either mestizo or indigenous has always been a source of racial tension in a country where around 79% of the population is descended from European immigrants.

As in the US, migrants in Argentina tend to work in construction or other low-paying jobs; activists say that they often take jobs that Argentinians are unwilling to take.

This did not stop one Argentinian congressman from proposing a wall along the border with Bolivia to block the flow of migrants.

We have to build a wall, said legislator Alfredo Olmedo of the northern
province of Salta, which borders with Bolivia. I agree 100% with Trump.

Macris new immigration order, which was made public on Monday, prohibits the entry into Argentina of foreign citizens with criminal convictions and speeds up the deportation of foreigners accused of breaking the law, even if they havent been convicted for some cases.

Unlike Trump, however, Macris executive order is not country-specific and
only affects people with criminal records.

Bolivias foreign ministry quickly retaliated with a statement rejecting unfounded affirmations that do not contribute to the fight against discrimination and xenophobia in our countries.

One Bolivian legislator lashed out personally at Argentinas first lady, Juliana Awada, who owns a prominent clothing firm. In the past, press reports have claimed that Awada employed undocumented Bolivian workers in her apparel workshops a charge she denies.

What will Macris wife do without Bolivians in her workshops? asked the president of the senate, Jos Alberto Gonzles. Before thinking of walls, think of your economy.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/03/argentina-sees-migration-ban-and-border-wall-proposals-in-immigration-row


When a president fights the law, there’s only ever one winner | Richard Wolffe

Donald Trumps fury at a federal judge who overturned his immigration order betrays his deep and dangerous ignorance of the constitution

Theres no point in judging Donald Trump by the standards of others. He obviously doesnt care for ethics, the truth, allies, women or minorities.

So lets judge him on his own terms, shall we?

There are three pillars to the temple that Trump has so carefully built around his most precious possession: himself. One is brand marketing, another is the masquerade of management expertise, and the third is the legal knowhow that props up the other two.

After just two weeks in the Oval Office, Trump has contrived to destroy his reputation on all three.

Lets start with litigation, not least because Trump has too. Faced with a series of federal courts blocking his Muslim ban, Trump has resorted to attacking and trash-Tweeting the federal judges who dare cross him.

It has clearly been a troubling weekend for the 45th President of the United States.

First he derided as a so-called judge the Republican appointee who blocked his Muslim ban nationwide.

Then he seemed surprised that any court had the power to interfere with his executive order to ban travellers with bad intentions from countries that just happen to be full of people called Muslims.

Later he seemed exasperated that his own lawyers didnt know about another court that upheld his Muslim ban, urging them to look at that ruling, for cryin out loud.

Finally he threw up his tweeting hands in despair and blamed all future terrorist attacks on Judge James Robart of Seattle, who was appointed by President George W Bush just two years after 9/11 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate.

Theres a reason presidents have avoided interfering with the courts, at least since Nixons shortened reign. Its a quaint concept known to middle-schoolers as the separation of powers between three equal branches of government. One of those branches was initially omitted from the White House website. Guess which one?

The education of Donald J Trump is a wonderful thing to watch in real time on social media. Its also chilling to see, unfiltered, a president so clueless about the constitution.

Even on his own Trumpian terms, its fascinating to watch him destroy his standing as an expert in litigation. Who seriously thinks you can win a case by intimidating a United States judge?

These are the tactics of organized crime and they havent exactly been successful. If Trump wants to know how his attacks will be treated, he need only pick up one of the beautiful phones in the White House to call his sister. Judge Maryanne Trump Barry was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, and has a reputation for delivering blunt justice to mob bosses.

Of course this isnt the first time Trump himself has tried to intimidate and smear a federal judge in recent months. He claimed Judge Gonzalo Curiel suffered from an inherent conflict of interest in the fraud case over Trump University because he was of Mexican heritage.

Judge Curiel was born in Indiana. The case went so well for Trump that he settled the lawsuits for $25m last year, after bragging that he never backed away from such litigation.

I dont settle lawsuits, he told one campaign rally in Arkansas. Probably should have settled it, but I just cant do that. Mentally I cant do it. Id rather spend a lot more money and fight it.

Whether Trumps approach is mentally or financially driven is unclear. What is clear is that Trumps business career the foundation for his presidential campaign was built as much on litigation as real estate.

Trump has spent the last few years licensing his name on other peoples developments. By selling and defending his brand he has more than 700 trademarks he could make money even when he borrowed and invested nothing. That might be good business, or it might just be the last resort of a serial bankrupt who struggles to borrow the money to develop real estate.

Aside from family members, the Trump Organizations most senior executives are two lawyers, and both of them are now serving the president.

Jason Greenblatt was executive vice-president and chief legal officer of the family business and now holds a sprawling job called the presidents special representative for international negotiations. This could encompass everything from trade deals to diplomatic talks, but thats OK because, as Trump explained, he has a history of negotiating substantial, complex transactions on my behalf.

Michael Cohen, another executive vice-president at the Trump Organization, was Trumps special counsel. Now he serves as Trumps personal attorney, supposedly outside both the private business and the White House.

You might recognize Cohens approach to problems, because they sound a lot like his boss. When The Daily Beast wrote a story about Ivana Trump using the word rape in the context of her marriage to the now-president, Cohens response was less than diplomatic.

So Im warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what Im going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting, The Daily Beast quoted him as telling its reporter. Im going to mess your life up for as long as youre on this frickin planet youre going to have judgments against you, so much money, youll never know how to get out from underneath it.

These are words attributed to the presidents personal representative on legal matters. But it should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has watched Trumps career, because the presidents first mentor was Roy Cohn, a Republican lawyer and attack dog who served as an aide to the witch-hunting Joe McCarthy.

Cohn helped elect Nixon and was later disbarred for flagrant ethics violations. He famously countersued the federal government for daring to file a civil rights lawsuit against Trump for discrimination against black tenants.

If the president was an apprentice to anyone, it was Roy Cohn. To some degree, Trumps sister owed her initial appointment as a judge to Cohns connections.

Somewhere on his journey to the White House, Donald Trump got his targets all mixed up. To most people, theres a clear difference between deriding your opponent and deriding a judge. The former might work; the latter is guaranteed to fail. And what a time to challenge the independence of the judiciary: just days after nominating a Supreme Court justice.

This kind of self-inflicted gunshot is already such a hallmark of this presidency that Trump should add it to his long list of legally protected trademarks.

TrumpicideTM is what happens when you fail to read an executive order before you sign it.

It leaves you, a self-styled master of the universe of deal-making, to apparently complain that you werent fully briefed about the deal that placed your political strategist on your own national security council. It means you only establish a process for managing executive orders after you sign several of them, including the one that landed you in court across the nation that you claim to lead.

The true business genius might recognize in Trumpicide a threat to all the other Trump brands: incompetence, much like low poll numbers and TV ratings, could easily undermine a luxury name that is attached to the finest in gold-painted furnishings and decorative hardware.

But most of all, its really hard to intimidate the world and all its judges when youve grown into its laughing stock.

The world knows this emperor has no clothes. He sits alone in his bathrobe in the executive mansion, watching cable television, tweeting his anger at a Constitution designed to thwart him.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/06/donald-trump-federal-judge-immigration-order


The hidden history of Nasas black female scientists

The diversity of Nasas workforce in 1940s Virginia is uncovered in a new book by Margot Lee Shetterly. She recalls how a visit to her home town led to a revelation

Mrs Land worked as a computer out at Langley, my father said, taking a right turn out of the parking lot of the First Baptist church in Hampton, Virginia. My husband and I visited my parents just after Christmas in 2010, enjoying a few days away from our full-time life and work in Mexico.

They squired us around town in their 20-year-old green minivan, my father driving, my mother in the front passenger seat, Aran and I buckled in behind like siblings. My father, gregarious as always, offered a stream of commentary that shifted fluidly from updates on the friends and neighbours wed bumped into around town to the weather forecast to elaborate discourses on the physics underlying his latest research as a 66-year-old doctoral student at Hampton University.

He enjoyed touring my Maine-born-and-raised husband through our neck of the woods and refreshing my connection with local life and history in the process.

As a callow 18-year-old leaving for college, Id seen my home town as a mere launching pad for a life in worldlier locales, a place to be from rather than a place to be. But years and miles away from home could never attenuate the citys hold on my identity and the more I explored places and people far from Hampton, the more my status as one of its daughters came to mean to me. That day after church, we spent a long while catching up with the formidable Mrs Land, who had been one of my favourite Sunday school teachers. Kathaleen Land, a retired Nasa mathematician, still lived on her own well into her 90s and never missed a Sunday at church.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/05/hidden-figures-black-female-scientists-african-americans-margot-lee-shetterly-space-race


Trumps honeymoon with the stock market will soon be over | Nouriel Roubini

His promises have rallied the Dow Jones but his inconsistent, erratic and destructive policies will take a toll on growth

When Donald Trump was elected president of the US, stock markets rallied impressively. Investors were initially giddy about Trumps promises of fiscal stimulus, deregulation of energy, health care and financial services, and steep cuts in corporate, personal, estate, and capital-gains taxes. But will the reality of Trumponomics sustain a continued rise in equity prices?

It is little wonder that corporations and investors have been happy. This traditional Republican embrace of trickle-down supply-side economics will mostly favour corporations and wealthy individuals, while doing almost nothing to create jobs or raise blue-collar workers incomes. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, almost half of the benefits from Trumps proposed tax cuts would go to the top 1% of income earners.

Yet the corporate sectors animal spirits may soon give way to primal fear: the market rally is already running out of steam, and Trumps honeymoon with investors might be coming to an end. There are several reasons for this.

For starters, the anticipation of fiscal stimulus may have pushed stock prices up, but it also led to higher long-term interest rates, which hurts capital spending and interest-sensitive sectors such as real estate. Meanwhile, the strengthening dollar will destroy more of the jobs typically held by Trumps blue-collar base. The president may have saved 1,000 jobs in Indiana by bullying and cajoling the air-conditioner manufacturer Carrier; but the US dollars appreciation since the election could destroy almost 400,000 manufacturing jobs over time.

Moreover, Trumps fiscal stimulus package might end up being much larger than the markets current pricing suggests. As Ronald Reagan and George W Bush showed, Republicans can rarely resist the temptation to cut corporate, income and other taxes, even when they have no way to make up for the lost revenue and no desire to cut spending. If this happens again under Trump, fiscal deficits will push up interest rates and the dollar even further, and hurt the economy in the long term.

A second reason for investors to curb their enthusiasm is the spectre of inflation. With the US economy already close to full employment, Trumps fiscal stimulus will fuel inflation more than it does growth. Inflation will then force even Janet Yellens dovish Federal Reserve to hike up interest rates sooner and faster than it otherwise would have done, which will drive up long-term interest rates and the value of the dollar still more.

Third, this undesirable policy mix of excessively loose fiscal policy and tight monetary policy will tighten financial conditions, hurting blue-collar workers incomes and employment prospects. An already protectionist Trump administration will then have to pursue additional protectionist measures to maintain these workers support, thereby further hampering economic growth and diminishing corporate profits.

If Trump takes his protectionism too far, he will undoubtedly spark trade wars. Americas trading partners will have little choice but to respond to US import restrictions by imposing their own tariffs on US exports. The ensuing tit-for-tat will hinder global economic growth and damage economies and markets everywhere. It is worth remembering how Americas 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act triggered global trade wars that exacerbated the Great Depression.

Fourth, Trumps actions suggest that his administrations economic interventionism will go beyond traditional protectionism. Trump has already shown his willingness to target firms foreign operations with the threat of import levies, public accusations of price gouging and immigration restrictions (which make it harder to attract talent).

The Nobel laureate economist Edmund S Phelps has described Trumps direct interference in the corporate sector as reminiscent of corporatist Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Indeed, if Barack Obama had treated the corporate sector in the way that Trump has, he would have been smeared as a communist; but for some reason when Trump does it, corporate America puts its tail between its legs.

Fifth, Trump is questioning US alliances, cosying up to American rivals such as Russia, and antagonizing important global powers such as China. His erratic foreign policies are spooking world leaders, multinational corporations and global markets generally.

Finally, Trump may pursue damage-control methods that only make matters worse. For example, he and his advisers have already made verbal pronouncements intended to weaken the dollar. But talk is cheap, and open-mouth operations have only a temporary effect on the currency.

This means that Trump might take a more radical and heterodox approach. During the campaign, he bashed the Fed for being too dovish, and creating a false economy. And yet he may now be tempted to appoint new members to the Fed board who are even more dovish, and less independent, than Yellen in order to boost credit to the private sector.

If that fails, Trump could unilaterally intervene to weaken the dollar, or impose capital controls to limit dollar-strengthening capital inflows. Markets are already becoming wary; full-blown panic is likely if protectionism and reckless, politicised monetary policy precipitate trade, currency, and capital-control wars.

To be sure, expectations of stimulus, lower taxes and deregulation could still boost the economy and the markets performance in the short term. But, as the vacillation in financial markets since Trumps inauguration indicates, the presidents inconsistent, erratic, and destructive policies will take their toll on domestic and global economic growth in the long run.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/02/trump-honeymoon-stock-market-dow-jones


Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua ‘abducted’ from Hong Kong hotel

The reported disappearance of the financier, who has ties to Xi Jinpings family, will ring alarm bells in the former British colony

A billionaire with links to the family of Xi Jinping was reportedly taken from his apartment in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong by Chinese police and taken to the mainland.

Xiao Jianhua, one of Chinas richest men, is currently in police custody on the mainland, the Financial Times and New York Times reported. He may be assisting with a graft investigation, part of the Chinese presidents sweeping campaign that critics say is more about consolidating power than tackling corruption.

If Chinese police were involved in Xiaos abduction from Hong Kong, it would appear to violate the former British colonys mini-constitution, which only permits the Hong Kong police to operate in the territory.

Xiao was born in China, is a Canadian citizen and holds a diplomatic passport from Antigua and Barbuda, reports said. He was living in a luxury apartment at the Four Seasons but a group of plain clothes Chinese security agents allegedly escorted him from the hotel across the border to the mainland, reports said. There was so sign of a struggle on CCTV footage taken at the hotel.

Xiao denied he had been abducted in two posts on his companys social media account, but by Wednesday both had been deleted.

Regarding the reports on me in recent days, I have to say that I, Xiao Jianhua, have been recovering from an illness outside the country, he said in one of the posts. He said he had not been abducted, according to the statement that was quoted in Chinese state media.

But Hong Kong police said Xiao crossed into China through one of the citys land border crossings on 27 January, contradicting Xiaos claim he was receiving medical treatment abroad.

An unknown person took out a full-page advert on the front of a Hong Kong newspaper to reprint the now-deleted statements claiming to be from Xiao and signed by him.

Benjamin Haas (@haasbenjamin)

Advert on front page of Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao prints statement claiming to be from Xiao Jianhua, was deleted from company’s WeChat pic.twitter.com/zMfe0yQGBi

February 1, 2017

In another statement, he denied doing anything to harm Chinas ruling Communist party or working with any opposing forces or organisations.

Hong Kong police received a request for assistance on 28 January, but Xiaos relatives attempted to withdraw the case a day later, the police said in a statement.

The police investigation continues and we have asked relevant mainland departments to assist with following up on the situation of the victim in the mainland, the statement said, without directly naming Xiao.

The case comes about a year after five Hong Kong-based booksellers that published salacious tales of Chinas leadership were detained by Chinese security forces.

Two of the men were spirited across borders without any formal extradition, one from his vacation home in Thailand and another off the streets of Hong Kong is a fashion similar to Xiao.

The booksellers case unsettled many in the city, which has a separate legal system and greater freedom compared to China under an agreement known as one country, two systems, while Xiaos disappearance is sure to stoke fears Hong kong is losing its autonomy.

Xiao controls Tomorrow Group, a holding company with stakes in real-estate, insurance, coal and cement firms and his wealth is estimated to be about 40 billion yuan (4.6 billion), according to wealth tracker Hurun Report.

In 2014 he admitted to the New York Times he helped the family of president Xi dispose of assets but they didnt make any extra profits through their family clout.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/chinese-billionaire-xiao-jianhua-abducted-from-hong-kong-hotel-reports


From book to boom: how the Mormons plan a city for 500,000 in Florida

The Mormon church owns vast tracts of US land, and now envisages a huge new city on its Deseret Ranch but at what cost?

Everything about the Deseret cattle and citrus ranch, in central Florida, is massive. The property itself occupies 290,000 acres of land more than nine times the size of San Francisco and almost 20 times the size of Manhattan. It is one of the largest ranches in the country, held by the one of the biggest landowners in the state: the Mormon church.

On an overcast weekday afternoon, Mormon missionaries give tours of the vast estate. Fields, orange trees and grazing animals stretch as far as the eye can see. While central Florida may be best known for Disney World, the ranch roughly an hours drive away is nearly 10 times bigger. It is home to a jaw-dropping 40,000 cows and has grown oranges for millions of glasses of juice.

Now there are ambitious, far-reaching plans to transform much of this land into an entirely new city, home to as many as 500,000 people by 2080. Deseret has said that while nothing will be built here for decades, its plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable and the alternative is piecemeal development. A slide from a 2014 presentation explains: We think in terms of generations.

The
The Deseret Ranch in central Florida. The Mormon church has said it plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

Deserets plans, which were given the green light by local county commissioners in 2015, are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state and have attracted high-profile attention. Critics have accused the plans of putting already stressed natural habitats and critical resources, such as water, in further jeopardy.

This is not a typical housing development. It is an entire region of the state of Florida and it is the last remaining wilderness, said Karina Veaudry, a landscape architect in Orlando and member of the Florida Native Plant Society. It is, she stressed, a plan on an unprecedented scale: This project impacts the entire state, ecologically.

For years, environmental groups protested that it was too risky to build so much on such ecologically important land particularly in one of the few areas of Florida that hasnt already been consumed by sprawling developments. We fought it and fought it and fought it, said Veaudry, who described it as nothing less than a David and Goliath struggle.

Except this time, Goliath was part of the property empire of the Mormon church.

Faith and property

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long influenced urban developments in America through specific ideas about town planning. In the 1830s, the churchs founder, Joseph Smith, laid out a vision for compact, self-sufficient agrarian cities. These were utopian in conception and have been hailed as a precursor to smart growth planning.

The plans for the Deseret ranch in central Floridahave shone a spotlight on another side of the churchs influence: its investments in land and real estate. Today, the church owns land and property across the US through a network of subsidiaries. Its holdings include farmland, residential and commercial developments, though it remains notoriously tight-lipped about its business ventures.

The church has been buying up land in central Florida since the 1950s, starting with 50,000 acres for Deseret Ranch since expanded almost sixfold. Its most recent major acquisition, by the church-owned company AgReserves, was another 380,000 acres in the states north-western panhandle the strip of land that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. Deseret Ranchs website quotes the late church president, Gordon B Hinckley, as saying that farms are both a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced and an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need.

Across America, subsidiaries of the church reportedly hold 1m acres of agricultural land. This is thought to include land in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas. Church companies are also thought to hold land outside the US, including in Canada and Brazil. In 2014, when church-owned farms in Australia were put up for sale, reports estimated their worth at about $120m (72.8m).

The
The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City where the church has its headquarters. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Recent real estate investments by church companies include the 2016 purchase of a 380-unit apartment complex in Texas, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, and, in Philadelphia, a shopping area, a 32-storey apartment block and a landscaped plaza being built across the street from a newly constructed Mormon temple.

In Salt Lake City, where the church has its headquarters, a church company is currently working on a new master-planned community on the citys west side for almost 4,000 homes. Last year, another investment was unveiled: the new high-end 111 Main skyscraper. Goldman Sachs is reportedly signed up as a tenant.

This city was built by Mormons. In the 19th century, early Mormon settlers gave Salt Lake City bridges, miles of roads, rail and other infrastructure. Hundreds of businesses were also set up: banks, a network of general stores, mining companies. The citys Temple Square is filled with statues glorifying the pioneers.

Nearby is a more contemporary monument to the investing and enterprising church: the City Creek Center, a new shopping mall with 100 stores and a retractable glass roof. It cost an estimated $1.5bn. At its grand opening, a church leader cut a pink ribbon and cheered: One, two, three lets go shopping!

The church said its investment in the mall would help revitalise central Salt Lake City as part of a wider multibillion-dollar initiative called Downtown Rising. Bishop H David Burton said it would create the necessary jobs and added that any parcel of property the church owns that is not used directly for ecclesiastical worship is fully taxed at its market value.

The City Creek Center project has been controversial, however even among Mormons. Some current and former church members have questioned why money invested in such projects isnt spent on charitable initiatives instead.

In 2013, Jason Mathis, executive director of Salt Lake Citys Downtown Alliance business development group, said the church was an interesting landlord. Theyre not worried about the next quarter, he explained. They have a much longer perspective they want to know what the city will look like in the next 50 or 100 years.

The
The City Creek shopping centre in Salt Lake City, which reportedly cost $1.5bn. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Black box finances

Projects such as the Salt Lake City shopping centre have certainly focused attention on the churchs investments, but it remains secretive about its revenues and finances.

An entity called Deseret Management Corporation is understood to control many of the churchs enterprises, through subsidiaries focused on different commercial interests including insurance and publishing.

Several church ventures bear the name Deseret itself a term from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee and intended to represent goals of productivity and self-sufficiency.

In central Florida, the churchs Deseret Ranch is understood to sell cows to Cargill, a Minnesota-based trading company, and oranges to Tropicana, as well as renting land to hunters and other companies.

Deseret, however, declined to confirm this. It said: As a private investment affiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Ranch does not release financial information or details about our production and customers.

The churchs press office in Salt Lake City also did not respond to emails from the Guardian.

Previously, church officials have emphasised that finance for its companies investments do not come from tithing donations (church members are supposed to contribute 10% of their income each year) but from profits from other such ventures.

But these and other claims, even when offered, are also difficult to verify. Ultimately their finances are a black box according to Ryan Cragun, associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa.

Cragun previously worked with Reuters to estimate in 2012 that the church owns temples and other buildings worth $35bn and receives as much as $7bn in members tithing each year. But he says the church stopped releasing annual financial information to its own members many years ago.

Estimating their total land holdings? Good luck, says Cragun. Nobody knows how much money the church actually has and why theyre buying all of this land and developing land.

The
The Mormon church-owned skyscraper at 111 Main in Salt Lake City. Photograph: City Creek Reserve

A new city for Florida

Over the last half-century, Florida has become something of a laboratory for ambitious and sometimes surreal master-planned communities. In southern Florida, for example, the founder of Dominos Pizza funded the construction of a Catholic town called Ave Maria. Closer to Orlando is the town of Celebration, developed by the Walt Disney Company, where shops on meticulously maintained streets sell French pastries and luxury dog treats.

Across Florida, more new subdivisions and developments are planned. Many of these projects have drawn criticism for their potential impact on Floridas already stressed water resources.

Sprawl is where the money is, and people want homes with big lawns and nearby golf courses, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union newspaper recently lamented. He suggested the state should step in to ban water-hungry grass varieties and introduce stronger planning procedures to limit large-scale developments.

The ranchs plans are the largest of these yet. Indeed, they are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state, and this land lies in an area thats been called Floridas last frontier.

In 2015, local Osceola county officials approved the North Ranch sector plan, which covers a 133,000-acre slice of Deseret property. As part of this plan, tens of thousands of these acres have been earmarked for conservation lands, not to be built on; and, in addition, Deseret has insisted that it will also continue ranching operations here for generations in the future.

But most of this land, under the approved plan, could be transformed into a new urban landscape. By 2080, it could be home to as many as 500,000 people. The plan explicitly refers to a new fully functioning city.

It envisages a massive development complete with a high-intensity, mixed-use urban centre and a variety of centres and neighbourhoods. There would be 16 communities and a regional hub with a footprint of around one square mile equal to [that] of downtown Orlando.

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The Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities where the grass is greener. Photograph: Claire Provost

New office blocks, civic buildings, high-rise hotels and apartment buildings are among the structures anticipated, along with new schools, a hospital, parks and a university and research campus. New motorways and rail lines would connect it all to Orlando and cities along Floridas eastern coast.

The document argues that the plan is necessary to prepare for expected population growth. More than 80% of the vacant developable land in the very area where demographic and economic forces are propelling an increasing share of the regions population and job growth is located on Deserets North Ranch, it says.

In an email to the Guardian, Dale Bills, a spokesperson for Deseret Ranch, said it offers a framework for future land use decisions but will not be implemented for decades.

Were not developers, but the sector plan allows us to be involved in shaping what the ranch will look like over the next 50-60 years, Bills said. When growth does come to the region the plan will help create vibrant communities that are environmentally responsible and people-friendly, he said.

The plan also provides for continued farming operations, Bills added, meaning that generations from now, Deseret will still be doing what we love growing food and caring for the land.

Meanwhile, the ranch has set aside another, smaller block of its land for a separate and more immediate project called Sunbridge, to be developed by the Tavistock Group known in the area for its Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities just south-east of Orlandos international airport.

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A render of the Lake Nona development. Photograph: KPMG

On a weekday afternoon, the still largely empty Lake Nona development is silent. Signs planted by the road proclaim it is where the grass is greener. At the visitors centre, a pair of well-dressed women chat over coffee. A sales agent hands out glossy brochures with aspirational verbs embossed on its cover: DISCOVER. EVOLVE. INNOVATE.

Still under construction, Lake Nona describes itself as a city of the future with super-fast internet connections, one of the top private [golf] clubs in the world and homes ranging from luxury apartments to sprawling estates. Less than an hours drive from the ranch, it offers a potential hint of whats to come.

The damage is done

Until this happened [the ranch] was a quiet neighbour, said Jenny Welch, 54, a registered nurse and environmental activist who lived in the area for decades before leaving earlier this year. When I first moved here in 1980, I thought it was great because it would never be developed. This is such environmentally important land. Its a wildlife corridor. There are wetlands.

Major concerns about the Deseret North Ranch plan have included how much water it will consume, the impact of proposed new roads and the amount of land set aside for conservation.

Veaudry, the Orlando landscape architect, said environmental groups tried to engage with the Deseret plans from the beginning by raising concerns but also suggesting enhanced measures to protect local ecosystems.

But, she said, what was ultimately approved was pretty much the nail in the coffin for decades-long efforts to establish a north-south ecological corridor to allow wildlife and ecosystems to flow across the state. It would put literally a city right in the middle of it, she said.

The new city envisaged for this land wont be constructed overnight. While the overall plan for the area has been approved, more approvals will be needed on specific details. This has not reassured critics.

Florida environmentalist Charles Pattison has argued that the long time frame only makes it harder to monitor the project. People involved in this today will not be around to see [it] through to completion, as many new administrative and elected officials will come and go over that time, he said.

The main guidelines, the amount of conservation, how wide the buffers have to be, all of that is already approved and set, said Veaudry. As far as I understand it, the damage is done. Locals know what happened. The Mormon church is the largest landowner here. And they have enormous resources.

The second half of Claire Provosts exploration of Mormon city planning will appear tomorrow. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/30/from-book-to-boom-how-the-mormons-plan-a-city-for-500000-in-florida


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