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What the Williams sisters mean in America today | Derrick Clifton

In an uncertain era, the success of Venus and Serena tells a story of the greatness that already exists in the United States

It was to be Serenas day. But the impact of an all-Williams final at the Australian Open cannot be overstated.

Before Serenas victory over Venus in Melbourne, the 23rd major title of her glittering career, the last time the two sisters went head-to-head in a grand slam final was at Wimbledon in 2009. Serena bested Venus in a tough two-set match. At the time, the sisters had won multiple titles in their already storied careers, which began with family practice sessions on the dilapidated courts of Compton.

Off the court, another breakthrough: Barack Obama had recently been sworn in as the nations first African American president. When Serena was winning Wimbledon, Obama was only months into his first term. As fraught as his legacy may be, history will likely regard him as the most inclusive president the country has ever had.

Obamas presence at the helm of the nation was a newfound symbol of possibility. It was the first time that a man who wasnt white and wealthy occupied the Oval Office.

And the Williams sisters have represented something similar for American tennis, and the sport at large, carrying a legacy that dates back to the triumphs of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Theyve defied the odds, as a family, and as sisters, to achieve unrivaled excellence on their own terms.

Both sisters, black women, have pushed past abject racism at major tournaments, sexist and misogynist characterizations of their physicality and their bodies, and many other indignities as urban-raised women playing a sport associated with wealthy suburban whites.

And as they moved through the draw in Melbourne, a businessman named Donald Trump became the US president.

His record, and his campaign, ran antithetical to almost anything Obama and the Williams sisters represent. Trump bragged of grabbing women by their genitals; various sexual harassment and rape claims emerged last year. His company faced a lawsuit from the US Justice Department in 1973, which was settled with no admission of wrongdoing, where Trumps real-estate business allegedly discriminated against black people. He advocated immigration bans for Muslims, and rallied for building a wall with Mexico two promises he seems intent on keeping based on recently filed executive orders.

A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again or so he claimed.

Although the all-Williams final has nothing to do with Trump directly because we can indeed celebrate their latest feat independent of politics their mere presence and achievement in the sport, as two black women, tells a story of the greatness that already exists in America.

For scores of fans, and for up-and-coming tennis players, the Williams sisters have demonstrated whats possible when two individuals, with the support of family, community, and each other, power through adversity and absurdity to reach the highest heights of their craft.

Their stories, and their careers, have inspired a generation including the likes of 25-year-old American pro Coco Vandeweghe, who, before their semi-final match, said shed long counted Venus as a hero. Or even 21-year-old Madison Keys, the heir apparent to Serenas throne.

And on a personal level, although Im far from a professional tennis player, I once dreamed about that possibility. As a kid who grew up on Chicagos South Side, I didnt see or notice much about tennis; I was being pushed towards basketball or football. Thats until I happened upon Venus playing in the 2000 Wimbledon final, against Lindsay Davenport. I remember sitting on my aunts bed, as an 11-year-old, watching the match on an 80s color TV set.

After seeing Venus win, I thought: Maybe I can try and play that sport someday. I do so now. Many of my friends would say something similar after watching the Williams sisters in their youth, and as they aged along with them.

But now, at 36 and 35 respectively, Venus and Serena still appear to have a few more good years left. When they last met at a grand slam, in the 2015 US Open quarter-finals, many fans wondered if that would be the last time theyd see the sisters across the net from each other at a major. Itd become something fans expected during the early-to-mid 2000s, before injuries, health issues, and other life events posed as twists in the sisters tales.

We cant be sure if this years Australian Open will be the last time. For all we know, 2017 could be 2002-03 all over again, when Serena prevailed in four consecutive grand slam finals over Venus, winning her first of two Serena slams.

Whatever happens, however much longer they play professionally, what the Williams sisters have given to fans is more than enough, both on and off the court. Theyve approached their careers with style, humor, aplomb, and even pointed snark when need be.

And they, as individuals and as a family unit, are but one example of Americas promise one theyve achieved for themselves, one theyve presented as a possibility to a new generation, and as part of a larger promise thats yet to be fulfilled for black people, women, and other marginalized people, who now live amid fear and resistance in the age of Trump.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jan/29/venus-serena-williams-australian-open-america


The great Donald Trump confidence trick: symbolism over substance | Michael Paarlberg

The executive orders signed on Monday will raise mortgage costs and health care premiums for the very people the new president claims to champion

Donald Trump promised to do a lot of things on day one of his presidency. Instead, he spent his first full day in office at the CIA, trying to impress a roomful of intelligence officers by bragging about how many Time magazine covers hes been on. Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, Im, like, a smart person, he told them, which suggests he thinks the word intelligence in the government context means really smart.

When he finally got down to business, though, he showed he does know a few things, like how he got to where he is and what he needs to do to stay there. He may not have fulfilled the vast majority of those day one, first hour campaign pledges (deport 2 million criminal aliens, introduce congressional term limits, get rid of gun-free school zones), but the ones he did fulfill demonstrated hes smart enough to understand whats really important to his supporters, and to his party, even if theyre not always the same thing.

So two of his first executive orders broke with Republican party orthodoxy and trashed a pair of trade deals, the TPP and Nafta. Free trade deals are popular in principle with economists, unpopular in practice with pretty much everyone else. So its an easy political calculation, yet one thats eluded Republicans and most Democrats since the Clinton era. Bashing free trade may be hard for some of the GOPs ideological purists to swallow, but the promise of a permanent Republican majority in the midwest makes it go down a lot easier, and all the more so by the fact that neither executive order actually does anything.

Like any good con artist or semiotics philosopher, Trump gets the importance of symbolism over substance. His TPP order withdraws from a treaty that was never ratified by Congress in the first place. His Nafta order simply states his intention to renegotiate the treaty at some future date. A third executive order does the same to Obamacare, reasserting Trumps plan to dismantle it but doing effectively nothing. Something incredibly cryptic that nobody understands was how one former Republican Senate aide described the executive order, which sounds a lot like how Republicans talk about Obamacare. In fact, the brilliance of the orders is in their vagueness, allowing Trump to take credit for his opposition to unpopular laws without having to bear any of the costs: the messy task of actually taking away peoples health insurance will, after all, be left to Congress.

Similarly, another of his executive orders freezes hiring for a federal workforce that has already been effectively frozen for decades. The total size of the federal workforce today 2.8 million is the same as it was at the beginning of the Obama administration, and well below what it was under Ronald Reagan (3.15 million). As a percentage of the total workforce, the federal workforce has been shrinking steadily since the mid-20th century and is now down from 7% to under 2%, as Doug Henwood notes, lower than what it was when Obama took office. Several offices have been under hiring freezes for years, including the Social Security Administration and immigration courts.

Hiring freezes play well politically but provide little in value to taxpayers. All they do is accelerate outsourcing to private government contractors whose gleaming offices dot the northern Virginia landscape. They do the same work at twice the cost to taxpayers, often by the very same ex-federal employees wooed away by cushier, private sector salaries. Bashing federal workers is one thing both parties can always agree on; both Jimmy Carter and Reagan implemented hiring freezes as president. It lets politicians play to the anti-government crowd while lining their pockets with contributions from those contractors who rely on their budgetary largesse.

These orders wont do any good for the ordinary Americans Trump champions. Theyll raise their mortgages and healthcare premiums, and funnel more of their taxes to a small gang of politically connected beltway bandits. But they offer a cheap way to sell Trumps unique brand of populist nationalism to a still skeptical Republican party. They allow him to play to his base without actually doing anything. And they give him some very real benefits to dangle in front of Republicans and their funders, who will be happy to stomach a few empty protectionist gestures in exchange for the opportunity to drain the swamp right into their pocketbooks.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/24/executive-orders-trump-policy-tpp-nafta


Will New York get a Brexit boost to cancel out feared ‘Trump slump’?

While European cities led by Paris and Frankfurt wage campaigns for Londons financial business, some experts predict New York could benefit most of all from the fallout of Brexit on the UK capital

New York and London function as two prongs of one global economy. Banks and other financial companies headquartered in New York usually have their second biggest offices in the British capital, and vice versa.

For years, thats made economic sense. For London-based companies, New York provides an unparalleled density of financial firms, a regulatory framework in which to do business, and access to non-European markets. London provides much of the same for New York-based companies who need access to European markets.

Unfortunately for London, at least Brexit could change all of that: an isolated UK could mean financial firms would have a hard time accessing and doing business with other European markets. And while several EU rivals, from Frankfurt to Paris to Madrid to Amsterdam, are waging campaigns for Londons financial businesses, New York with its already established financial sector and finance-friendly regulatory environment could get the majority of Brexits financial runoff, according to some experts.

And this has New Yorkers bracing for a wave of British capital that could affect not only the financial industry but the entire city, from cultural production to housing.

People financial people, consultants, bankers already started calling looking for apartments two or three months ago, says Gennady Perepada, a real estate consultant who specialises in helping foreign millionaires and billionaires buy apartments in New York. Any problem thats not in New York is good for New York.

London and New Yorks financial industry rivalry goes back decades, and the two cities jockey for the title of biggest financial centre each year. According to Z/Yen, a London-based business think tank, London currently outranks New York by just one point on their scale. The next financial centre, Singapore, is 42 points behind New York.

The
The New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In other words, New York and London stand alone as centres for global finance, far ahead of the competition. Thats for a few simple reasons: both have a tremendous density of talent, they house large groups of ancillary financial service professionals lawyers, accountants, consultants and, most importantly, their clearing houses (the places where investors and sellers can trade in complex financial instruments) are the worlds most developed, meaning London and New York are the only places where all of the worlds major currencies can be traded.

The UK has over one million people employed in finance, says Vincenzo Scarpetta, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Open Europe. The whole city of Frankfurt, by comparison, has 725,000 inhabitants. So there are only a few global centres where the industry can really go.

Indeed, New York is such an obvious choice for capital fleeing from London post-Brexit that it seems, unlike other European cities, it hasnt had to move a finger to convince British investors to consider taking the leap.

Ive talked to CEOs who are being heavily wooed by Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt. Theyve sent out delegations, had formal presentations, says Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, which represents and lobbies for the financial industry and other corporations here. Is New York doing anything similar? No.

Wylde and others say its because New York already has more immediate advantages: a larger talent pool than any of those cities plus more English speakers, and a pre-existing regulatory system for complex financial transactions such as derivatives.

But its also because any benefit for New York will take a while to materialise, so theres no rush to woo financial firms. Wylde envisions a slow bleed from Britain, not a flood: the majority of jobs in financial services are mid-level jobs, she points out, and the expensiveness of New York makes it unlikely companies would uproot their support and administrative staff for its shores.

Anti
Rents have already skyrocketed in New York. Photograph: Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Instead, she says, headquarters of financial institutions that need to attract top international talent would be the ones relocating but slowly. These are long-term implications that really depend on how Brexit shakes out.

In New York, however, nearly every industry is tied into finance, and the industries most closely associated with it such as real estate are already feeling impacts post-Brexit, albeit at a low level.

Money-seeking New York or London will now fall in New York instead, says Will Silverman, managing director of investment sales at Hodges Ward Elliott, a commercial real estate investment firm based in London which recently opened offices in New York. But its probably actually less impactful than people thought it would be, especially if Brexit takes forever, and is walked back at all.

Still, some New Yorkers are worried about what global market fluctuations will do to the city. New Yorks theatre scene, for example, is heavily reliant on British and other foreign capital.

Whenever theres a global event, investors and consumers freeze up and stop reaching for their wallets, says Ken Davenport, a long-time Broadway producer. But there hasnt been a freeze yet, and he says that even with Brexit, people need to be entertained, so hes not too worried.

Im more worried about what Brexit will do to the West End than to Broadway, he adds.

The biggest concern, it seems, comes from New Yorks most vulnerable, who have been increasingly destabilised by the citys globalised economy. Rents in New York have skyrocketed in the last decade, and that means any new wave of capital fleeing Britain and entering New York could put further pressure on previously poor neighbourhoods already feeling a housing crunch, leading to even more evictions and rent increases.

In Brooklyn for example, many condo projects rely on billions of dollars from foreign investors seeking to place their money in economies more stable than those of their home countries. If the UKs economy destabilises because of Brexit, there could be even more capital finding its way into buildings in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

A lot of the rent-stabilised buildings here are being bought up by foreign investors, says Imani Henry, an anti-gentrification activist in the Flatbush neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Theyre being wooed with citizenship and tax breaks, and meanwhile we have entire blocks of businesses closing because of high rents.

Ironically, for those nervous about the effects of Brexit, Donald Trump may yet prove their saving grace. His election as the 45th US president may destabilise its economy enough to overwhelm any effect that capital from the UK could have on New York.

If the UK has excluded itself from the world economy, New York will gain. That was my first thought, until Trump was elected, says Richard Florida, director of cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Trump is worse for the global economy than Brexit, so they kind of balance each other out.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/24/new-york-brexit-boost-trump-slump-fears-financial-business


Mark Zuckerberg ‘reconsiders’ forcing Hawaiians to sell him their land

Facebook CEO makes statement after backlash over quiet title actions to secure parcels belonging to native owners within his $100m seafront property

Mark Zuckerberg has said he is reconsidering whether to seek the forced sale of tracts of land belonging to native Hawaiians in a large estate he bought on the island of Kauai, after facing a wave of criticism.

The Facebook CEO filed a series of lawsuits, known as quiet title actions, against hundreds of Hawaiians who may own small parcels of land within the boundaries of his seafront property on Kauai. The quiet title system is used to establish ownership of land where inheritance has occurred over generations and lacks formal documentation. It can result in owners being forced to sell their land at auction and, in some cases, pay the legal fees of the plaintiff.

Based on feedback from the local community we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward, Zuckerberg said in a statement, following a backlash from locals who viewed the billionaire as adopting the same legal mechanisms used by former sugar barons to displace Native Hawaiians from their ancestral lands in the 1800s. One law professor from the University of Hawaii said Zuckerbergs actions were the face of neocolonialism.

Zuckerberg added: We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians and preserves the environment.

Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing said he was heartened by the news. In response to the controversy Ing had introduced a bill that could force real estate buyers into mandating mediation in actions involving Native Hawaiians.

Ings bill would allow a parcels shareholders to band together in a group in mediation against the person seeking to buy the land, in an attempt to give people with rights to the land more bargaining power against wealthy landowners like Zuckerberg. It would also lessen the burden on families facing potentially costly land rights legal battles.

I mahalo Mr Zuckerberg for his words of aloha and willingness to talk, Ing said in a statement on Wednesday. He then urged the social media executive to drop the legal actions, support a local legal organisation and join us at the table to restart a positive dialogue as mutual stewards of land and culture.

Zuckerbergs statement came a few days after he posted on Facebook an explanation of his Hawaii plans, as news of the actions drew headlines and anger.

He said in the post that the estate was made up of several properties and while he worked with majority owners of the tracts of land to reach a fair deal, he had filed the actions to identify all the partial owners. He said the tracts could be split between hundreds of descendants.

For most of these folks they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land, he wrote.

Forbes reported that Zuckerberg, currently the worlds fifth richest person, paid close to $100m (79m) in 2014 for the 283 hectares (700 acres) on the secluded north shores of Kauai, known as the Garden Island.

The region is popular with tourists, celebrities and millionaires, and has served as the backdrop for films including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ing told CBC that the Zuckerberg property was a gorgeous, enormous chunk of land. Theres like a six-foot wall surrounding the property to not allow locals to walk through it. But other than that, its breathtaking, he said.

He added that despite the legal nuances, the larger issue was whether any one person needed 700 acres. It just seems sort of excessive, no matter how much money you make. Especially when youre talking about an island community. Thats going to be very disruptive to your neighbours. The least you can do is go into the community, explain to your neighbours what your intentions are and Mr Zuckerberg did none of that. The first communication that a lot of the folks that own the kuleana parcels received was a letter stating that theyve been sued.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/26/mark-zuckerberg-reconsiders-forcing-hawaiians-to-sell-him-their-land


Donald Trump mistakes Ivanka from Brighton for his daughter

President-elect mistakenly retweets praise for a Brighton council worker with the same first name as his daughter, leading to Twitter storm

A woman from Brighton is waking up to chaos on Twitter after having been singled out by Donald Trump as his daughter.

The president-elect quoted a praiseworthy tweet directed to him by Lawrence Goodstein, a Twitter user in Seekonk in Massachusetts, that described his daughter Ivanka as a woman with real character and class late on Monday.

But Goodstein had mistakenly put @Ivanka, not @IvankaTrump not a significant mistake in light of Goodsteins 160-odd followers; of far greater consequence circulated by Trump to his 20.1m.

So Trumps shout-out was instead directed to Ivanka Majic, a council worker from Brighton, England, with just over 2,800 followers.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

@drgoodspine: @realDonaldTrump @Ivanka Trump is great, a woman with real character and class.”

January 17, 2017

Ivanka Majic from Brighton, England, is a wonderful woman. Youre right, replied Mark Pygas, a writer for Distractify, to Trump and Goodstein. RIP her mentions though.

I mean, shes probably trying to sleep and her phone is going off the hook but its a hell of a story. (According to a subsequent screenshot tweeted by Pygas, Goodstein blocked him for pointing out the error and made his account private.)

Mark Pygas (@MarkPygas)

@realDonaldTrump @drgoodspine @ivanka Ivanka Majic from Brighton, England, is a wonderful woman. You’re right. RIP her mentions though. pic.twitter.com/FH4f2KMOQU

January 17, 2017

Trump had not deleted his tweet nor acknowledged his mistake at time of writing, though Goodstein made his account private.

It had been retweeted 2,800 times and favourited 15,000 times, with more than 4,600 replies the vast majority of them including Majic.

The Guardian has attempted to contact Majic, believed to be employed as a researcher at the Brighton and Hove City Council.

Her profile suggests she is not as active a user of Twitter as the president-elect, with just six tweets most of them retweets in the past week.

Her last activity on Twitter was a retweet encouraging votes in Brightons upcoming restaurant competition and another publicising another residents appeal for return of her lost house keys.

On Saturday Majic had tweeted a link to a news story in The Argus about Brightons thriving food scene: Made the local paper. Fame at last!

Ivanka Majic (@ivanka)

Made the local paper. Fame at last! https://t.co/qs9M61IlEc @bravofoodawards @XDBPhotography @edofcopy @prykey24 @EatBrighton

January 13, 2017

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump seemed oblivious to the compliment paid to her by the Twitter user Goodstein and co-signed by her father, sharing a photo of #datenight with her 2.74m followers.

Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump)

bright lights, big city #datenight pic.twitter.com/XclaOxvus4

January 17, 2017

Ivanka Trump had been the subject of a special report that broadcast on CNN on Monday night that her father had expressed concerns about.

At 9:00 P.M. @CNN, of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, cant imagine it will be great!

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

At 9:00 P.M. @CNN, of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, can’t imagine it will be great!

January 17, 2017

As president, Donald Trump will have the option of taking over the official @POTUS handle or maintaining his own, @realDonaldTrump. With 20.1m followers hanging on his every missive compared to @POTUSs 13.5m, Trump himself has given no indication he will make the switch.

Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told CNN earlier in January that Trump would probably be tweeting from both, or whatever he chooses.

Last week BuzzFeed News publicised concerns that Trumps shockingly insecure personal Twitter account had no known special security protections and was open to being exploited with potentially devastating impacts for the stock market and geopolitical stability.

It would not be the first time Trumps account has been hacked before: in 2013, when he was best-known as a real estate tycoon and host of The Apprentice, someone reportedly gained access to his account to tweet Lil Wayne lyrics (These hoes think they classy, well thats the class Im skippen, from the remix of will.i.am and Britney Spears Scream & Shout).

My Twitter has been seriously hacked— and we are looking for the perpetrators, said Trump at the time.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

My Twitter has been seriously hacked— and we are looking for the perpetrators.

February 21, 2013

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/17/donald-trump-mistakes-ivanka-from-brighton-for-his-daughter


Moody’s $864m penalty for ratings in run-up to 2008 financial crisis

Payout to US justice department, 21 states and District of Columbia for risky mortgage securities ratings before stock market crash

The credit rating agency Moodys has agreed to pay nearly $864m to settle with US federal and state authorities over its ratings of risky mortgage securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, the department of justice said on Friday.

Moodys reached the deal with the justice department, 21 states and the District of Columbia, resolving allegations that the firm contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the department said in a statement.

Moodys failed to adhere to its own credit-rating standards and fell short on its pledge of transparency in the run-up to the great recession, principal deputy associate attorney general Bill Baer said in the statement.

S&P Globals Standard & Poors entered into a similar accord in 2015 paying out $1.375bn. Standard and Poors is the worlds largest ratings firm, followed by Moodys.

Moodys said it would pay a $437.5m penalty to the justice department, and the remaining $426.3m would be split among the states and Washington DC.

As part of its settlement, Moodys also agreed to measures designed to ensure the integrity of credit ratings going forward, including keeping analytic employees out of commercial-related discussions.

The rating agencys chief executive also must certify compliance with the measures for at least five years.

Moodys said that it stands behind the integrity of its ratings and noted that the settlement contains no finding of a violation of law or admission of liability.

Moodys said it already has implemented some of the compliance measures in the agreement.

Moodys shares closed at $96.96 on Friday. The stock plummeted more than 5% on 21 October, the day it disclosed the justice department had notified the firm it was planning to sue over the ratings.

Moodys settlement on Friday resolved the justice department probe without a federal lawsuit. In the Standard & Poors case, resolution was reached after the US filed a $5bn fraud suit.

Connecticut, whose attorney general helped lead negotiations, filed a lawsuit against Moodys in 2010. Mississippi and South Carolina later sued, and other states had potential claims.

Connecticuts law suit claimed that Moodys ratings were influenced by its desire for fees, despite claims of independence and objectivity. It also accused Moodys of knowingly inflating ratings on toxic mortgage securities.

Moodys ratings were directly influenced by the demands of the powerful investment banking clients who issued the securities and paid Moodys to rate them, Connecticut attorney general, George Jepsen, said in a statement on Friday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/14/moodys-864m-penalty-for-ratings-in-run-up-to-2008-financial-crisis


Attempts to hold Trump to account only seem to make him stronger and stranger

In a week in which the world of the president-elect grew ever more bizarre, he remained his own unpredictable, infuriating, charismatic, deeply flawed self

Dont be rude! Dont be rude! barked the president-elect with the authority of a school principal reprimanding a two-year-old. Not for the first time in the course of 18 months of Donald Trumps wild ride to the White House and surely not for the last the worlds media found itself gathered at his feet, dutifully soaking up his scorn like naughty children.

Dont be rude! No, Im not going to give you a question! repeated the man destined in seven days time to become the 45th president of the United States as he shut down CNNs senior White House correspondent. The reporters misdeed? Having the temerity to try to ask a question.

It was one of those moments, of which there have been many along the way, when observers of the Trump phenomenon had to pinch themselves to maintain equilibrium. Was this man really about to occupy the most powerful office on the planet? And were we actually receiving a lesson in good behavior from the individual who mocked a disabled person and bragged about grabbing pussy?

This weeks event was the first press conference Trump had held since his shocking victory in November, the first indeed for six months since he took the unusual decision to cut out the media middleman and communicate directly to the American people through Twitter. Even before he appeared in the lobby of Trump Tower, his Fifth Avenue HQ and home, he had put us firmly in our places squashing about 250 reporters into a space barely able to hold half that number, prompting an unseemly scramble for journalistic real estate.

To add to the enervating claustrophobia, Trump further packed the lobby with staffers who proceeded to cheer raucously at all the right moments in the manner of canned laughter in a recorded TV show. The subliminal message to the gathered media throng was clear: cheer along with us, or risk being subjected to the CNN treatment.

So much has changed, so much stayed the same in the half year since his last media encounter. Physically, Trump emphasised his altered status by drawing a blue curtain across the lobby and placing 10 American flags with eagle finials in front of it, as a suitably televisual presidential backdrop.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/14/donald-trump-press-conference-twitter-media


Johnny Depp divorce: Pistol and Boo to stay with Amber Heard

Settlement awards dogs and horse named Arrow to Heard along with $7m she plans to give to charity

A judge ended Johnny Depp and Amber Heards marriage on Friday after months of bickering over the final terms of their breakup.

The judgment keeps in place many of the key terms the actors agreed to in August, when they announced a settlement in their divorce a day before a restraining order hearing that would have focused on Heards allegations that Depp was physically abusive toward her.

Their agreement called for Depp to pay Heard $7m, which she has pledged to a pair of charities. Lawyers for the actors have squabbled over whether Depp can make the payments directly to the charities and other details of the final judgment.

The couple has no children together, but Heard will keep their Yorkshire terrier dogs, Pistol and Boo, and a horse named Arrow.

The dogs made headlines in April 2015 when the couple failed to declare them while visiting Australia. Depp was in the country to film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth episode of the movie franchise, due for release in 2017.

Australias deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, told they couple they either had to either send the dogs back to California or the animals would be euthanised.

Its time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States, said Joyce, who was agriculture minister at the time. He [Depp] can put them on the same chartered jet he flew out on to fly them back out of our nation.

Australias strict biosecurity measures are in place in order to keep out canine diseases such as the bacterial infection leptospirosis and rabies.

Joyce said no one should be able to bypass biosecurity rules, even if they had been voted the worlds sexiest man twice.

The divorce papers showed that Depp would retain sole possession of numerous real estate assets, including properties in Los Angeles, Paris and his private island in the Bahamas. He will also keep more than 40 vehicles and vessels, including vintage cars and his motorcycle collection.

Neither actor will receive spousal support, and a confidentiality provision calls for them to refrain from discussing their relationship in interviews or on social media.

The judgment ends a marriage that lasted less than two years. The pair met on the set of the 2011 film The Rum Diary and married in February 2015, but separated in May 2016.

Depp denied he physically abused Heard. Police officers who responded to their apartment in May after a fight between the couple said they found no evidence of a crime.

Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love, the actors said in a joint statement released after Heard dismissed her restraining order petition. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/14/johnny-depp-divorce-pistol-and-boo-to-stay-with-amber-heard


FBI chief given dossier by John McCain alleging secret Trump-Russia contacts

Russian intelligence alleged to have compromising material on Trump, say unverified reports drawn up by western ex-counter-intelligence official

Senator John McCain passed documents to the FBI director, James Comey, last month alleging secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow and that Russian intelligence had personally compromising material on the president-elect himself.

The material, which has been seen by the Guardian, is a series of reports on Trumps relationship with Moscow. They were drawn up by a former western counter-intelligence official, now working as a private consultant.

The Guardian has not been able to confirm the veracity of the documents contents, and the Trump team has consistently denied any hidden contacts with the Russian government.

Trumps transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but late on Tuesday, Trump tweeted: FAKE NEWS A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT! He made no direct reference to the allegations.

An official in the US administration who spoke to the Guardian described the source who wrote the intelligence report as consistently reliable, meticulous and well-informed, with a reputation for having extensive Russian contacts.

Some of the reports which are dated from 20 June to 20 October last year also proved to be prescient, predicting events that happened after they were sent.

One report, dated June 2016, claims that the Kremlin has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years, with the aim of encouraging splits and divisions in western alliance.

It claims that Trump had declined various sweetener real estate deals offered him in Russia especially in developments linked to the 2018 World Cup finals but that he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.

Most explosively, the report alleges: FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. The president-elect has not responded to the allegations.

CNN reported on Tuesday that the FBI was still investigating the credibility of the documents but added that the intelligence chiefs had included a summary of the material in a secret briefing on Russian interference in the election delivered last week to Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The emergence of the documents is potentially explosive, 10 days before Trumps inauguration and on the eve of his first planned press conference since July last year.

Despite glowing references from US and foreign officials who have worked with the source, there are some errors in the reports. One describes the Moscow suburb of Barvikha as reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates, but although it is a very expensive neighbourhood, there are no restrictions on who can own property there. The document also misspells the name of a Russian banking corporation.

The FBI does not normally make any comment on ongoing counter-intelligence investigations but was under increasing pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to act before the inauguration, particularly because of Comeys announcement of a continuing investigation into Hillary Clintons email server 11 days before the election, which many of her supporters believe cost her the presidency.

The reports were initially commissioned as opposition research during the presidential campaign, but its author was sufficiently alarmed by what he discovered to send a copy to the FBI. It is unclear who within the organisation they reached and what action the bureau took. The former Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, has lambasted Comey for publicising investigations into Hillary Clintons private server, while allegedly sitting on explosive material on Trumps ties to Russia.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, questioned Comey insistently at a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Tuesday on whether the FBI was pursuing leads on Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships? Wyden asked.

Comey replied: I would never comment on investigations in a public forum.

The Guardian can confirm that the documents reached the top of the FBI by December. Senator John McCain, who was informed about the existence of the documents separately by an intermediary from a western allied state, dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source and then decided to present the material to Comey in a one-on-one meeting on 9 December, according to a source aware of the meeting. The documents, which were first reported on last year by Mother Jones, are also in the hands of officials in the White House.

McCain is not thought to have made a judgment on the reliability of the documents but was sufficiently impressed by the sources credentials to feel obliged to pass them to the FBI.

The Senate armed services committee, which Senator McCain chairs, launched an inquiry last week into Russian cyber-attacks during the election.

McCain was reluctant to get involved, according to a colleague, for fear the issue would be dismissed as a personal grudge against Trump. He pushed instead for the creation of a special Senate committee to look into connections between campaign staff and Moscow, but the proposal was blocked by the Republican leadership.

McCain told the NBC programme Meet the Press on Sunday: I would like to see a select committee. Apparently that is not in agreement by our leadership. So we will move forward with the armed services committee and Im sure foreign relations and intelligence committee will as well.

But the senator added: It is possible if enough information comes out, that that decision could be reversed. I still think its the best way to attack the issue.

Asked on the same programme on whether an investigation was ongoing into campaign links to Moscow, Senator Lyndsey Graham, another conservative Republican said: I believe that its happening.

According to the report passed to Comey, Russian intelligence allegedly gathered compromising material during Trumps stay in Moscow in November 2013, when he was in the city to host the Miss Universe pageant.

Another report, dated 19 July last year said that Carter Page, a businessman named by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, had held a secret meeting that month with Igor Sechin, head of the Rosneft state-owned oil company and a long-serving lieutenant of Vladimir Putin. Page also allegedly met Igor Divyekin, an internal affairs official with a background in intelligence, who is said to have warned Page that Moscow had kompromat (compromising material) on Trump.

Two months later, allegations of Pages meetings surfaced in the US media, attributed to intelligence sources, along with reports that he had been under FBI scrutiny.

Page, a vociferous supporter of the Kremlin line, was in Moscow in July to make a speech decrying western policy towards Russia. At the time he declined to say whether he had been in contact with Russian officials, but in September he rejected the reports as garbage.

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

A month after Trumps surprise election victory, Page was back in Moscow saying he was meeting with business leaders and thought leaders, dismissing the FBI investigation as a witch-hunt and suggesting the Russian hacking of the Democratic Party alleged by US intelligence agencies, could be a false flag operation to incriminate Moscow.

Another of the reports compiled by the former western counter-intelligence official in July said that members of Trumps team, which was led by campaign manager Paul Manafort (a former consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine), had knowledge of the DNC hacking operation, and in return had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/Nato defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.

A few days later, Trump raised the possibility that his administration might recognise Russias annexation of Crimea and openly called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clintons emails.

In August, officials from the Trump campaign intervened in the drafting of the Republican party platform, specifically to remove a call for lethal assistance to Ukraine for its battle against Moscow-backed eastern rebels.

Manafort stepped down in August as campaign manager and the campaign steadily distanced itself from Page. However, Trumps praise of Putin and defence of Moscows actions in Ukraine and Syria remained one of the few constants in his campaign talking points.

Manafort has denied secret links with Moscow calling the allegation an outrageous smear being driven by Harry Reid and the Clinton campaign.

Since then, Trump has consistently cast doubt on Russian culpability for hacking the Democratic National Committee, defying a consensus of 17 national intelligence agencies. After Obama deported 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscows intervention, Trump praised Putin for not carrying out tit-for-tat deportations of US diplomats. I always knew he was very smart, he tweeted.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment after the CNN report.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/10/fbi-chief-given-dossier-by-john-mccain-alleging-secret-trump-russia-contacts


Fort Lauderdale shooting: FBI agent who interrogated Saddam leads probe

George Piro investigates airport shooting in which five people died, as suspect Esteban Santiago revealed to be Iraq veteran who was known to authorities

The FBI agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein is leading the investigation into the Florida airport shooting in which five people were killed on Friday. An Iraq war veteran has been charged over the incident.

George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBIs Miami field office, was sole interrogator of the former Iraqi leader, beginning in January 2004.

In previous interviews, Piro has said Saddam did not know his true identity calling him Mr George and that he posed as a high-level envoy who answered directly to President George W Bush.

Now Piro, a native of Beirut who is fluent in Arabic and Assyrian, is in charge of the FBI investigation into the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that left five people dead and six wounded.

Federal prosecutors have charged Esteban Santiago, 26, with airport violence and firearms offenses that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.

Since Friday, Piro has been careful to say no evidence linking Santiago to terrorism has been found but such connections have also not been ruled out.

Its way too early in the investigation, he said on Saturday. Were looking over all of his social media, things like that. Its giving us a picture of the individual but its way too early for us to rule out anything.

Were pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack.

On Saturday, officials Florida and Alaska detailed Santiagos extensive contacts with law enforcement relating to mental health issues.

Santiagos brother, Bryan Santiago, told the Associated Press: The FBI failed there … were not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this.

The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didnt do anything.

Announcing the charges on Saturday, Piro said his thoughts were with the victims and their families.

I want to ensure these families that law enforcement is working tirelessly in order to ensure justice is served, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/08/fort-lauderdale-airport-shooting-fbi-agent-saddam-hussein


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