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Pastor freed from Turkey prays with Trump in Oval Office…


WASHINGTON (AP) — Freed American pastor Andrew Brunson fell to one knee in the Oval Office and placed his hand on President Donald Trump’s shoulder in prayer on Saturday, asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”

Trump welcomed Brunson to the White House to celebrate his release from nearly two years of confinement in Turkey, which had sparked a diplomatic row with a key ally and outcry from U.S. evangelical groups.

Brunson returned to the U.S. aboard a military jet shortly before meeting the president. He was detained in October 2016, formally arrested that December and placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

“From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours, that’s not bad,” Trump said.

Brunson’s homecoming amounts to a diplomatic — and possibly political — win for Trump and his evangelical base. Coming on the heels of the confirmation of a conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Brunson’s return is likely to leave evangelical Christians feeling good about the president and motivated get to the polls in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Brunson appeared to be in good health and good spirits. When he asked Trump if he could pray for him, the president replied, “Well, I need it probably more than anyone ese in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you.”

Brunson left his chair beside Trump, kneeled and placed a hand on the president’s shoulder. As Trump bowed his head, Brunson asked God to “give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness.”

He continued: “I ask that you give him perseverance, and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you to protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. And we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus’ name, we bless you. Amen.”

Brunson, originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, had lived in Turkey with his family for more than two decades and led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and to aid a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of engineering the failed coup. He faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him.

Administration officials cast Brunson’s release as vindication of Trump’s hard-nosed negotiating stance, saying Turkey tried to set terms for Brunson’s release but that Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. Trump maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom, but the president dangled the prospect of better relations between the U.S. and its NATO ally.

“We do not pay ransom in this country,” Trump said.

Where previous administrations kept negotiations over U.S. prisoners held abroad close to the vest, Trump has elevated them to causes célèbres, striking a tough line with allies and foes alike.

Trump thanked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had resisted the demands of Trump and other high-level U.S. officials for Brunson’s release. Erdogan had insisted that his country’s courts are independent, though he previously had suggested a possible swap for Brunson.

The U.S. had repeatedly called for Brunson’s release and, this year, sanctioned two Turkish officials and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum imports citing in part Brunson’s plight.

Trump said the U.S. greatly appreciated Brunson’s release and said the move “will lead to good, perhaps great, relations” between the U.S. and fellow NATO ally Turkey, and said the White House would “take a look” at the sanctions.

Trump asked Brunson and his family which candidate they voted for in 2016, saying he was confident they had gone for him. “I would like to say I sent in an absentee ballot from prison,” Brunson quipped.

Evangelical voters overwhelmingly voted for the president despite discomfort with his personal shortcomings, in large part because he pledged to champion their causes, from defending persecuted Christians overseas to appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court. In the space of seven days, less than a month from the midterm elections, Trump delivered on both fronts.

Prominent evangelical leaders such as Tony Perkins have championed Brunson’s case, as has Vice President Mike Pence. First word of Brunson’s arrival back on American soil Saturday came from Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Perkins tweeted just after noon that he had landed at a military base outside Washington with Brunson and his wife, Norine.

Erdogan said on Twitter that he hoped the two countries will continue to cooperate “as it befits two allies.” Erdogan also called for joint efforts against terrorism, and he listed the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.

Relations between the countries have become severely strained over Brunson’s detention and a host of other issues.

A Turkish court on Friday convicted Brunson of having links to terrorism and sentenced him to just over three years in prison, but released the 50-year-old evangelical pastor because he had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

Hours later, Brunson was flown out of Turkey, his home for more than two decades. He was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for a medical checkup.

“I love Jesus. I love Turkey,” an emotional Brunson, who had maintained his innocence, told the court at Friday’s hearing.

Brunson’s release could benefit Turkey by allowing the government to focus on an escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post who has been missing for more than a week and is feared dead after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was killed in the consulate; Saudi officials deny it.

Trump maintained the two cases were not linked, saying Brunson’s release amid the Khashoggi investigation was “strict coincidence.”

Turkey may also hope the U.S. will now lift the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, a move that would inject confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and foreign currency debt.

But Brunson’s release doesn’t resolve disagreements over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian surface-to-air missiles. Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the U.S. to extradite Gulen.

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Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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Follow Darlene Supervile on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap



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Dems worry about Ellison allegations as state AG race tightens…


 

The Minneapolis Democrat has denied the charges, and an investigation paid for by the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party could not corroborate the woman’s claims.

 

But the allegations have taken a toll, and the race between Ellison and former state Rep. Doug Wardlow (R) is neck and neck.

 

A poll conducted for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio last month showed Ellison leading Wardlow, 41 percent to 36 percent, even as Democratic candidates led their Republican rivals up and down the ballot in other contests.

 

The poll showed more voters, 31 percent, said they had an unfavorable impression of Ellison than those who said they had a favorable impression at 20 percent.

 

Voters and Democratic activists here say the allegations are weighing on the party’s prospects — and, in some cases, their own thoughts about the liberal firebrand whose star seemed to be on the rise.

 

“Unfortunately, it’s hurting him and Republicans are using it to bring down other Democrats,” said Roberta Humphries, a retiree who volunteers for Democratic candidates.

 

 

 

“Curiously, Tina Smith has chosen to believe Keith Ellison’s ‘categorical’ denials, affirming his support for him and openly campaigning with him,” Housley said in a statement. “It’s time to put an end to the hypocrisy and give Minnesotans the clarity they deserve.”

 

Smith has not mentioned Ellison in recent weeks. She is still listed as having endorsed his campaign on Ellison’s website.

 

Wardlow’s campaign is using the allegations in hopes of discrediting Ellison.

 

“Keith Ellison has been accused of domestic violence by multiple women. Even the National Organization for Women has called for Ellison to end his campaign,” the ad says.

 

Ellison’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Ken Martin, the chairman of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said he has not seen evidence in the party’s weekly polls that the allegations are dragging down other candidates.

 

But he said the allegations have made the race for attorney general much closer than it should be in a blue state and in a year in which Democrats benefit from a tailwind.

 

“It’s going to be a close race. It shouldn’t be a close race,” Martin said in an interview. “It’s a concern to me, it’s a concern to all of the Democrats who work in politics in this state.”

 

Martin said an additional investigation from state or local law enforcement “is necessary and prudent.”

 

The party’s handouts, which typically highlight their entire slate of candidates, now omit down-ballot contenders like Ellison, a hint that it wants to steer clear of the controversy.

 

Ellison, a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who narrowly lost a race to chair the Democratic National Committee last year, made an unexpected jump into the race for a statewide office back home.

 

Ellison decided to run for attorney general after the incumbent, Lori Swanson (D), made a late entry into the race for governor. 

 

 

Republicans believed they had little hope of beating Swanson, had she run for reelection.

 

Party strategists privately said they missed an opportunity to recruit a candidate stronger than Wardlow, who served a single term in the state House before losing reelection.

 

Some Democrats said the timing of the allegations just before the primary raised eyebrows.

 

“It’s a tragedy that this thing came out the way it did,” said Chuck Dewey-Smith, a Democratic activist who runs a health-care website. “We don’t know the truth of what happened, but I’m getting sick of this trial by news cycle.”

 

The Minnesota poll showed 21 percent of voters believe the claims of domestic violence, while 22 percent did not. Fifty-seven percent said they were unsure.

 

The allegations “really disappointed me because I liked” Ellison, said Liz Fleming, a retiree in Bloomington who does not count herself as a Democrat or a Republican. “That will affect how I vote.”

 

Democrats say they hope to make the race a binary choice between Ellison and Wardlow, whom they paint as an arch conservative.

 

“We want to take allegations of abuse seriously,” said Matt Klein, a state senator who represents a suburban St. Paul district. “The alternative, Doug Wardlow, is simply unacceptable.”



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SHOWTIME Chief's Influence Grows at CBS in Post-Moonves Era…


Showtime CEO David Nevins is in negotiations with parent company CBS Corp. to take on an expanded role beyond the premium service he now heads.

His renewed deal would give the executive oversight of content for streaming service CBS All Access, in addition to retaining his existing Showtime responsibilities. It could also see his role grow even further, giving him say in content decisions across CBS’ brands, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Nevins would be positioned as a key leader at CBS long-term as the company navigates a top-down transition following the ousting of CEO Leslie Moonves in September amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Sources stressed that Nevins’ new purview is yet to be determined and talks are ongoing.

A CBS Corp. spokesperson declined comment.

A new agreement for Nevins — who was named CEO of Showtime Networks in 2015, tapped to succeed Matthew Blank — would continue the restructuring that has ramped up in recent weeks at CBS’ uppermost levels. On Thursday, Laurie Rosenfield was named chief people officer for the company, taking over the duties of prior human resources head Anthony Ambrosio. That same day, Dana McClintock was named chief communications officer, replacing the outgoing Gil Schwartz.

A shift to a company-spanning role focused on content strategy would be a potential fit for Nevins and CBS. At Showtime he oversaw the development of series including “Shameless,” “House of Lies,” “Ray Donovan,” and multiple Emmy winner “Homeland.” His expertise and experience — which previous stints at Imagine Entertainment and Must See TV-era NBC — could fill a void at CBS’ uppermost level following the departure of Moonves, who also rose through the ranks as a programming executive, and who was known to have involved himself in granular-level programming decisions long after becoming CEO. Joseph Ianniello, currently serving as interim CEO, is a respected dealmaker, but lacks the creative experience that Moonves brought to the table.

Nevins’ future has been the subject of speculation since Moonves’ departure from the company in September. His name has been floated by industry observers as a potential successor for the CBS Corp. CEO role, currently held on interim basis by Ianniello, the company’s former COO. Ianniello is the only person who has been acknowledged by CBS publicly as being under official consideration for the permanent CEO role.

In an expanded role for Nevins, All Access–which launched its first original programming last year–would continue to fall under the purview of CBS Interactive. Nevins would assume responsibility for original-programming decisions for the service, whose original content has been overseen by Julie McNamara, a longtime CBS Television Studios exec. McNamara currently reports to CBS TV Studios president David Stapf and CBS Interactive President and COO Marc DeBevoise.

CBS division heads are expected to appear in New York next week to give presentations to the company’s new board of directors. They are part of a process to familiarize the board with the inner workings of the company after its membership was overhauled in the wake of Moonves’ departure. The board, in concert with CBS’ controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, is leading the search for a permanent CEO.



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Woman who opened Anger Room as safe outlet for aggression allegedly murdered by ex-boyfriend…


a group of people standing in a room: Donna Alexander's step father Larry Armour of Little Rock, Arkansas (center, left) and father Donald Alexander of Pleasanton, New Jersey touch a photo of her during a vigil, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 at Cole Park in the Uptown area of Dallas.

Donna Alexander’s step father Larry Armour of Little Rock, Arkansas (center, left) and father Donald Alexander of Pleasanton, New Jersey touch a photo of her during a vigil, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018 at Cole Park in the Uptown area of Dallas.

© Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/TNS

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Donna Alexander dreamed of creating a safe space for people to release anger and stress, in the hopes of quelling violence and unnecessary pain.

She opened Anger Room in Dallas in 2008, allowing clients to smash household objects to blow off steam, and the business was featured in a September episode of “The Real Housewives of Dallas.”

But now Alexander is dead at age 36, allegedly at the hands of a former boyfriend. Nathaniel Mitchell – who had been in an on-and-off relationship with Alexander for years – has been charged with murder in connection with her Sept. 24 death, according to authorities. Mitchell, 34, is in custody at the jail in Tarrant County, Texas, in lieu of $250,000 bond, officials said.

Alexander’s sister, Lauren Armour of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, called the manner of death particularly tragic given Alexander’s life’s work.

“Donna’s thing was, instead of people hurting people, why not let it out on objects so a life isn’t lost, to keep people out of jail?” Armour said. “A therapeutic way to get the anger from inside of them and help to relieve stress.”

Mitchell had taken Alexander to the emergency room with severe injuries on Sept. 21 but “staff believed his story was inconsistent with her injuries,” according to a written statement by police in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Mitchell was first charged with aggravated assault, but the charge was upgraded to murder after Alexander died days later, according to police.

“No matter how much she tried to get away from it, he always ended up back in her life,” Armour said. “She was talented, creative, loved people and loved them hard. Despite how ugly a person might be, she loved them hard.”

Alexander grew up near the White Sox ballpark and attended Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, her sister said. She moved to the Dallas area as a young adult, and at first tested her business model by allowing friends and family to bash household items for $5 in her garage.

In an interview with the Tribune about her business just a few weeks before her death, Alexander said her inspiration for Anger Room came from growing up in Chicago and seeing people go to jail for behaviors like punching holes in a wall.

“We’re all born with anger,” Alexander told the Tribune. “I just figured it was an alternative, a way to get rid of anger.”

In recent years, similar businesses have been popping up across the country. In 2017, Rage Room opened in the River North neighborhood, where patrons pay to hit television sets and old printers with baseball bats and crowbars, or smash dishes against a wall.

Before her death, Alexander was planning to expand to another location in Kentucky.

“I think it’s a primal instinct we have,” Alexander had told the Tribune. “Afterward, it’s like a weight has been lifted.”

Armour said Alexander loved raising her young son and daughter, and also helped make clothes for kids in need and donated food and hygiene products to the homeless.

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com



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Conservative think tank scholar opens about transitioning to being a woman…



Giselle Donnelly in August. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Donnelly)

Giselle Donnelly is a renowned national security expert, author and conservative think-tank scholar — and even though she’s 65 years old, she was “born” only this year. That’s because Giselle has just recently transitioned to living openly as a trans woman. She is now re-introducing herself to the Washington community she has been a part of her entire adult life.

Giselle came into the world as Thomas Donnelly, the name most of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has known her by over her long career in media, policy and politics. She has now “changed her name and crossed genders,” she told me in an interview.

Giselle’s public acknowledgement of her gender identity comes after decades of secrecy, followed by five years of self-exploration and personal evolution.

It’s a story of suffering, struggle, loss and love — with a distinctly avant-garde twist. But, for Giselle, it’s simply the story of what happened to her as she gradually found the courage and support to understand — and then outwardly show — who she was on the inside all along.

“The whole thing is based on honesty,” she said. “Instead of leading a secret, private life that’s separate from my other life, now they are back together again. … We’ll see how our community responds.”

The conservative national security community in Washington is not known for its enlightened thinking on gender identity. Yet, so far, Giselle said, she has received nothing but support from her bosses at the American Enterprise Institute, where she works as a resident fellow in defense and security studies.

AEI President Arthur Brooks and Vice President for Foreign Policy Danielle Pletka told me their decision to support Giselle was a simple one, since she’s the same person dedicated to the same principles that made her a good fit for the institution all this time. “We are proud that she is part of the AEI family,” they told me.

As for the rest of the national security community’s willingness and ability to accept Giselle for who she is — well, she realizes that might take some time.

“I ask for people’s indulgence. That line of gender and sexuality is deeply personal for everybody,” she said. “I’m appreciative of what I’m asking of people. But as long as I can keep doing useful work, I’d rather be judged principally by that.”

As with many others, Giselle’s gender journey started at a very young age, wrapped in secrecy and shame. She hoped she would grow out of it or something would come along and cure her, but that’s not how it works. Only later in life did she come to understand her double life was unhealthy and she had other options.

“Over time, it becomes a more normal thing, more central to your perception of yourself,” she said. “I don’t want to make it seem more courageous than it is, but it’s very corrosive to do it the other way.”

A turning point came five years ago, when, a few months after separating from her first wife, Giselle met a photographer and makeup artist named Elizabeth Taylor. A former naval nuclear inspector, Taylor opened up a beauty shop in Washington called Makeovers that helps trans women find their style. The shop became an important node in a small but growing trans community in D.C., and was featured by the Washington Post in 2015.

Giselle and Beth shared a love of national security, wine, gender fluidity and BDSM. They soon began dating, and last year they were married. Those close to them who missed this time in their lives will soon be able to see it up close and personal. For about two and a half years, a film crew followed them and documented their relationship, along with Giselle’s gender journey.

Called “The Makeover,” the film debuts next month at the Alexandria Film Festival. The filmmakers call it “a distinctly traditional love story set in a decidedly non-traditional milieu of shifting gender.” The movie follows Giselle from when her female identity was a part-time alter ego in a fetish setting to her emergence as the full-time Giselle she is today.

“You can see an evolution throughout the film,” she said. “Our marriage is the final epilogue to it.”

In one scene, the film shows Giselle reading a letter she sent to one of her two sons, she said. Part of the motivation for participating in the film was to have a record of her journey so that her family can better understand down the line, even if they aren’t 100 percent on board right now.

Giselle knows that her decision to fully transition has affected her family, strained some of her relationships and perhaps even risked her professional future. But for Giselle, the alternative of continuing to hide her true identity was unsustainable. “You don’t have a choice,” she said. “After a lifetime of lying about this stuff, I was just sick of it.”

She benefits from the fact that awareness and understanding of trans people and their issues has progressed greatly in recent years. As happened with the gay community before them, trans people are now watching long-held stigmas lift, slowly but surely, even in the national security world.

Just nine years ago, when Amanda Simpson became one of the first openly trans persons to receive a presidential political appointment, public attitudes were much different. David Letterman mocked her on national television. She went on to work for the Pentagon for many years, leaving at the end of the Obama administration as a deputy assistant secretary of defense.

“All the years I was in the Pentagon, my gender really was never an issue. It was always about the mission,” Simpson told me. “The strength needed to make a transition is because of society’s hang-ups. It’s a lack of understanding by others that makes it complicated.”

Like Giselle, Simpson never set out to be a trailblazer, she just wanted to do her job and live her life. But being in the public eye, she felt a responsibility to promote understanding, tolerance and protection for trans people. She helped push to lift the ban on trans gender soldiers serving openly — the ban President Trump is now trying to reinstate.

Her advice to Giselle is to find friends and allies who support her, and give those who aren’t now willing to come along on the journey time and space, while making sure to just be herself.

“The ideals and principles that made her who she is, that’s still who she is,” said Simpson. “And those won’t change.”

I’ve known Giselle for over a decade, and I can attest she is still the same neoconservative, wonky, rock guitar-playing, offbeat writer she has always been. She told me she is already working on a new book about the British historical roots of American strategic thinking.

She doesn’t have plans to become politically active on trans issues, but she has well-formed views on such matters. True to her conservative values, she is disturbed by some of the more left-wing aspects of the trans political movement and doesn’t believe in government intervention on trans issues.

One would hope that in 2018, even in Washington, most people understand it’s not abnormal that a person’s mental, emotional and spiritual being don’t align with their physical body. It happens all the time, and society will eventually evolve to a place where it’s not a big deal.

Giselle knows not everybody in Washington is going to immediately accept her as “normal.” But, in the end, that’s their problem, not hers. And regardless, she’s going to be the truest version of herself, of which her gender identity is just one aspect.

“It’s a part of me, it doesn’t define me. Living a normal life is in a way its own statement.” Giselle said. “I’m happy with that, because that’s who I am.”

Read more:

Josh Rogin: Trump’s new China strategy faces its first big test

Josh Rogin: Haley’s departure sparks a battle for the future of Trump’s foreign policy



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BUT CRUZ OPENS UP WIDE LEAD…


Race Analysis

9/25/2018 — The latest Quinnipiac puts Cruz ahead by a comfortable 54-45 margin.  If you look at the polling data as a whole, the polls with more undecideds tend to show a close race, while pollsters who push undecideds harder show a Cruz lead.  This is consistent with a storyline suggesting that there are a large number of undecideds, perhaps intrigued by the Beto phenomeon, but who nevertheless lean Republicans.  But in this chaotic environment, we should still consider the race a tossup overall.

9/13/18 — Beto O’Rourke has kept the race close, albeit in part on the basis of an Emerson poll showing over 20 percent of the electorate undecided.  Nevertheless, this race is going to drain Republican resources, and Ted Cruz could very much lose this.

———-Race Preview———-

The rise of the Republican Party in the Lone Star State is a fascinating tale of how one party consistently bit off its nose to spite its face. Texas always had a small Republican Party in the panhandle, in the German counties north of San Antonio, and later in the growing suburbs of Dallas and Houston. But the two-party system mostly played out among Democrats. It was divided between conservative Tory Democrats, who plotted to depose Franklin Roosevelt as the Democratic nominee in 1944 and who supported President Eisenhower in the 1950s, and the liberal Democrats.

When LBJ was elected vice president, a conservative Democrat was appointed to replace him. In the ensuing special election, liberal Democrats either stayed home or cast a protest vote for Republican John Tower, whom they figured they could easily defeat down the road. The same dynamic played out in 1966, and by 1972 Tory Democrats were defecting to the Republican Party, while the Republicans’ native base in the suburbs continued to grow.

Today the Republicans have controlled the governorship for 18 straight years, and both Senate seats for 19.  The Democratic Party still maintains strength, and may even regain majority party status in the future.  Sen. Ted Cruz faces a credible challenge against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and the state swung heavily toward Hillary Clinton last fall.  The state is also, contrary to many expectations, heavily urban, so a swing toward Democrats in the suburbs could have an outsize effect here.  O’Rourke starts as the underdog, but this one is worth watching.



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DE NIRO FLOATS TRUMP-BUSTER…


(Bloomberg) — Hours after Kanye West held court in the Oval Office during a cheerfully raucous session with President Donald Trump, another celebrity who came to Washington on Thursday, Robert De Niro, mused about how to find a new leader.

“We all know my thought about the president and we have a more important thing now and that’s working to get rid of him,” said De Niro, a two-time Academy Award winner who was mocking Trump years before he ran for president.

“But you need somebody strong that can beat him at his own game,” De Niro told Bloomberg News in an interview. “You have to offer things that are as real as they can possibly be. You can’t promise anything — I mean, when you’re a politician you say, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’ And you have to have things that are going to inspire people to want to believe in you, as opposed to the nonsense that’s being put out by this guy.”

“This Beto O’Rourke seems interesting,” De Niro said, referring to the Democratic Senate candidate in Texas who has drawn the national spotlight for his spirited campaign against Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

De Niro, the star of “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Analyze This” and many other movies, was in Washington on Thursday night for a party for Gus Russo and Eric Dezenhall’s book “Best of Enemies: The Last Great Spy Story of the Cold War,” based on the true story of CIA officer Jack Platt and KGB agent Gennady Vasilenko, who were ordered to flip each other.

Trump had invited West to lunch to discuss Chicago crime, gang violence and prison reform, and at the last minute invited reporters to witness the rapper’s rapid-fire blue-sky vision for improving America, which included plenty of compliments for his host.
 
“What I need ‘Saturday Night Live’ to improve on, what I need the liberals to improve on,” West said, “is if he don’t look good, we don’t look good. This is our president! He has to be the freshest, the fly-est, the fly-est planes, the best factories.”

On West’s White House appearance, De Niro said, “It’s a shame.”

De Niro’s mockery turned to condemnation after Trump was elected. He denounced Trump with obscenities at the Tony Awards in June, prompting the president, while on his way back from the summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, to call the actor “a very low IQ individual.”

A few days later, as the conflict between the U.S. and Canada over trade simmered and after Trump had lashed out at U.S. allies during a Group of Seven summit in Quebec, De Niro offered Canadians an apology for “the idiotic behavior of my president. It’s a disgrace and I apologize to Justin Trudeau and the other people at the G7. It’s disgusting.”



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Have and Have Nots Divide Increases in NYC…


Inequality increased in slightly more than 4 in 10 areas with the largest movements in Springfield, MA; El Paso, TX and Las Vegas, NV. New York and Miami metro areas switched positions but still round-out the top three most unequal metro areas after number one ranked Bridgeport-Stamford. Three Utah metro areas, Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden are closest to income equality on the list.



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Russian soldiers batter each other bloody in endurance tests…


Jaw-dropping pictures show Russian soldiers battering each other in boxing gloves and crawling through muddy swamps during a brutal endurance test.

Servicemen of the special task force units of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service were put through their paces on Friday as they battled for their maroon berets in Mordovia.

The enviable garment is a symbol of courage and competence which distinguishes specially-trained elite forces from regular soldiers.

Bloodthirsty endurance tests begin with a five-mile cross country race, with hopefuls expected to wade through chest-high swamps of stagnant water and avoid bullets being showered on them from small firearms.

As if that were not daunting enough, to test their mental stamina a ‘psychological manipulation’ group run alongside them hurling abuse and splashing them with mud.

The men must then show off their skills with military weapons before reaching the final stage – known as ’12 minutes of hell’.

It involves going head-to-head in combat with a person who already holds the maroon beret, battling it out in four three-minute rounds.

Mawith a serviceman who already holds the coveted status symbol in Mordovia on Friday

Mawith a serviceman who already holds the coveted status symbol in Mordovia on Friday

A maroon beret contender (right) battles with a soldier who already holds the coveted status symbol in Mordovia on Friday

'Twelve minutes of hell': The final bloodthirsty endurance test of head-to-head combat is thought to be the most difficult part of the maroon beret challenge

'Twelve minutes of hell': The final bloodthirsty endurance test of head-to-head combat is thought to be the most difficult part of the maroon beret challenge

‘Twelve minutes of hell’: The final bloodthirsty endurance test of head-to-head combat is thought to be the most difficult part of the maroon beret challenge

Contenders crawl through chest-high swamps of mud and stagnant water during a brutal five-mile cross country race

Contenders crawl through chest-high swamps of mud and stagnant water during a brutal five-mile cross country race

Contenders crawl through chest-high swamps of mud and stagnant water during a brutal five-mile cross country race

Eyes on the prize: Soldiers throw punches during the final stage of the ferocious endurance test, which involves four three-minute rounds of fighting against different opponents

Eyes on the prize: Soldiers throw punches during the final stage of the ferocious endurance test, which involves four three-minute rounds of fighting against different opponents

Eyes on the prize: Soldiers throw punches during the final stage of the ferocious endurance test, which involves four three-minute rounds of fighting against different opponents

Mission accomplished: Soldiers embrace while celebrating their achieving the coveted maroon beret in a ceremony after the test

Mission accomplished: Soldiers embrace while celebrating their achieving the coveted maroon beret in a ceremony after the test

Mission accomplished: Soldiers embrace while celebrating their achieving the coveted maroon beret in a ceremony after the test

Battered and bruised soldiers line up to receive their maroon berets after completing the brutal endurance test

Battered and bruised soldiers line up to receive their maroon berets after completing the brutal endurance test

Battered and bruised soldiers line up to receive their maroon berets after completing the brutal endurance test

Battered and bruised soldiers line up to receive their maroon berets after completing the brutal endurance test

Battered and bruised soldiers line up to receive their maroon berets after completing the brutal endurance test

Soldiers caked in dirt crawl through thick mud carrying rifles. A 'psychological manipulation' group are employed to follow them and test their mental durability

Soldiers caked in dirt crawl through thick mud carrying rifles. A 'psychological manipulation' group are employed to follow them and test their mental durability

Soldiers caked in dirt crawl through thick mud carrying rifles. A ‘psychological manipulation’ group are employed to follow them and test their mental durability

Multitasking: A soldier grips a bag in his teeth and balances his rifle with just two fingers as he crawls through chest-deep mud

Multitasking: A soldier grips a bag in his teeth and balances his rifle with just two fingers as he crawls through chest-deep mud

Multitasking: A soldier grips a bag in his teeth and balances his rifle with just two fingers as he crawls through chest-deep mud

Soldiers assume the plank position as they battle their way through the cross country section of the bloody endurance test

Soldiers assume the plank position as they battle their way through the cross country section of the bloody endurance test

Soldiers assume the plank position as they battle their way through the cross country section of the bloody endurance test

Maroon beret contenders duck as they are sprayed with smoke

Maroon beret contenders duck as they are sprayed with smoke

Maroon beret contenders duck as they are sprayed with smoke

Maroon beret contenders duck as they are sprayed with smoke

Maroon beret contenders duck as they are sprayed with smoke during the cross country element of the challenge 

Soldiers who have already earned their maroon berets watch as the hopefuls crawl through a muddy swamp

Soldiers who have already earned their maroon berets watch as the hopefuls crawl through a muddy swamp

Soldiers who have already earned their maroon berets watch as the hopefuls crawl through a muddy swamp

Contenders soaked in water and covered in mud work together to carry a thick log during the five-mile cross country test

Contenders soaked in water and covered in mud work together to carry a thick log during the five-mile cross country test

Contenders soaked in water and covered in mud work together to carry a thick log during the five-mile cross country test

Soldiers prove their strength by carrying a comrade over a deep section of water, balancing them on their shoulders

Soldiers prove their strength by carrying a comrade over a deep section of water, balancing them on their shoulders

Soldiers prove their strength by carrying a comrade over a deep section of water, balancing them on their shoulders

Soldiers prove their strength by carrying a comrade over a deep section of water, balancing them on their shoulders

Soldiers prove their strength by carrying a comrade over a deep section of water, balancing them on their shoulders

A strapping soldier with a maroon beret puts the contenders through their paces beside a barbed wire fence

A strapping soldier with a maroon beret puts the contenders through their paces beside a barbed wire fence

A strapping soldier with a maroon beret puts the contenders through their paces beside a barbed wire fence

Nerves of steel: A determined soldier perseveres through the treacherous cross country run

Nerves of steel: A determined soldier perseveres through the treacherous cross country run

Nerves of steel: A determined soldier perseveres through the treacherous cross country run

A soldier looks worse for wear during the boxing element of the test, which is known as '12 minutes of hell'

A soldier looks worse for wear during the boxing element of the test, which is known as '12 minutes of hell'

A soldier looks worse for wear during the boxing element of the test, which is known as ’12 minutes of hell’

A soldier blocks a punch launched at his head during the final and most dreaded part of the endurance test

A soldier blocks a punch launched at his head during the final and most dreaded part of the endurance test

A soldier blocks a punch launched at his head during the final and most dreaded part of the endurance test

Honoured: Battered and bruised soldiers kiss their maroon berets during a ceremony to reward those who passed the endurance test

Honoured: Battered and bruised soldiers kiss their maroon berets during a ceremony to reward those who passed the endurance test

Honoured: Battered and bruised soldiers kiss their maroon berets during a ceremony to reward those who passed the endurance test

Honoured: Battered and bruised soldiers kiss their maroon berets during a ceremony to reward those who passed the endurance test

Honoured: Battered and bruised soldiers kiss their maroon berets during a ceremony to reward those who passed the endurance test



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Russia 'launches criminal investigation'…


Russia has launched a criminal investigation over a failed rocket launch to the International Space Station, according to reports.

A US and Russian astronaut were forced to make an emergency landing shortly after the mission got underway, with their Soyuz rocket having suffered significant engine failures.

It was an unprecedented mishap for the Russian space programme and the AFP news agency claims a criminal investigation is now underway to determine whether safety regulations had been violated during construction.

Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin
Image:
Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin following emergency landing
NASA astronaut Nick Hague
Image:
NASA astronaut Nick Hague following emergency landing

Despite the issue affecting the booster rocket, NASA’s Nick Hague and Roscosmos’ Alexey Ovchinin are alive and have touched down in Kazakhstan.

They landed about 12 miles east of the city of Dzhezkazgan, and officials from Russia’s space agency said rescue workers had managed to reach the crew – who are now understood to be out of the capsule.

Smoke rise as the boosters of first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz MS-10 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, separate
Image:
Smoke rises as the boosters of first stage of the Soyuz rocket fall away

NASA’s deputy chief astronaut, Reid Wiseman, said the crew “handled their procedures exactly as planned” and are “in great shape”.

The craft was “about 50km in altitude when the abort occurred – just about on the boundaries of space”.

He added: “Russian forces were on the ground when the capsule touched down.

“The extraction happened not long after that.”

ISS Operations Integration Manager, Kenny Todd, described the incident as a “major anomaly” and said he had “every confidence our Russian colleagues will figure out what’s going on”.

He added that “technical issues don’t know political boundaries”.

A comparison of the booster separation in a normal Soyuz mission and today’s by meteorologist Greg Dutra apparently shows increasing debris and a less-symmetrical jettison stage this morning.

All Russian manned space launches have been suspended after the incident, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.

“Thank God, the crew is alive,” said Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to reporters.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft
Image:
All Russian manned space launches have been suspended after the incident

The ISS crew members currently in orbit have been “notified of the launch contingency”, a NASA spokesperson added.

That crew is “essentially marooned”, astronaut Chris Hadfield told Sky News.

He explained: “Right now, there are no vehicles on earth that can take people to the space station. None.

“Until the Soyuz gets fixed, or Space X or Boeing get their rockets working properly – they’re still new, they haven’t flown yet – what that means is the crew on board the International Space Station is essentially marooned.

International Space Station (ISS) crew members astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia board the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft
Image:
ISS crew members Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin

“They have their own ship – like a lifeboat to be able to come home – but no one can come up and relieve them right now.

“So I think they’re in for a long stay.”

Although the journey was expected to take six hours, it was only a few minutes after blast-off at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan that problems with the rocket became apparent.

The managing editor of NASA Spaceflight reports how an onboard view of the launch showed the crew being shaken around during the launch, and says “the staging was clearly off-nominal”.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia
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‘Ballistic reentry’ involves sharper descent than usual

Footage broadcast on Russian television shows a series of billowing smoky explosions occurring as the booster rocket stage fails.

Spaceflight historian Gunter Krebs noted on Twitter that the situation reminded him of another Soyuz rocket failure in 1972, when “an in-flight booster failure occurred and the crew was rescued after ballistic re-entry”.

Ballistic re-entry is a much steeper form of re-entry, involving only the forces of gravity and aerodynamic drag to slow down the speed of fall.

Malfunctions causing ballistic re-entry have occurred a number of times with Russia’s series of Soyuz rockets.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the crew of astronaut Nick Hague of the U.S. and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off
Image:
The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft launched this morning

The NASA Spaceflight editor said: “You can be sure Soyuz launches will be grounded indefinitely.

“Commercial Crew has to conduct a successful uncrewed launch next year before flying astronauts to the ISS (and no – they will not ‘fast track’ anything that involves crew safety).”



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