Category: Opinion



VENICE has declared a state of emergency after a 1.8-metre flood caused hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage to the tourist hot spot and killed at least two people.

Shocking images show the historic St Mark’s Basilica under water – as the regional governor described a scene of “apocalyptic devastation” following the worst floods in 50 years.

 Some brave Venetians tried to go about their business this morning


Some brave Venetians tried to go about their business this morningCredit: AFP or licensors
 A priceless Banksy risks being damaged by the water


A priceless Banksy risks being damaged by the waterCredit: AFP or licensors
 One ferry was grounded by the flooding


One ferry was grounded by the floodingCredit: EPA
 Tourists were forced to carry their luggage through the floodwater


Tourists were forced to carry their luggage through the floodwaterCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Others opted to float it along


Others opted to float it alongCredit: AP:Associated Press

Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, said: “There’s apocalyptic devastation.

“Venice is on its knees… the art, the basilica, the shops and the homes, a disaster.. The city is bracing itself for the next high tide.”

Saint Mark’s Square was submerged by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent Saint Mark’s Basilica was flooded for only the sixth time in 1,200 years – sparking fears for millions of pounds worth of priceless art.

The floods have also brought misery to tourists and local residents – stranding boats, battering shops and hotels and and leaving many of the city’s squares and alleyways deep underwater.

Are YOU stranded by the Venice floods? Call our newsdesk on 020 7782 4368 or email us at

The city’s Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation” after one man died as a direct result of the flooding.

He claimed the basilica had suffered “grave damage”, but no details were available on the state of its world-famous Byzantine interior.

The building’s administrator said it aged 20 years in a single day when it flooded last year.

The victim, a local man from Pellestrina, was killed after being struck by lightning while using an electric water pump.

The body of another man was reportedly found when concerned relatives entered his home.



 The flooding has damaged hundreds of ancient buildings


The flooding has damaged hundreds of ancient buildingsCredit: Reuters
 The city's iconic gondolas were left abandoned on pavements


The city’s iconic gondolas were left abandoned on pavementsCredit: Getty – Contributor
 The floodwater laid waste to a series of luxury hotels


The floodwater laid waste to a series of luxury hotelsCredit: AFP
 St Mark's square was under water last night


St Mark’s square was under water last nightCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Tourists were forced to wade through the heavy floods


Tourists were forced to wade through the heavy floodsCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Business owners battled to hold back the water


Business owners battled to hold back the waterCredit: Getty – Contributor

Is it safe to travel to Venice?

An estimated 85 per cent of the city is underwater, sparking concerns over damage to ancient mosaics and artworks.

One of two people reportedly killed in the floods, a local man from Pellestrina, died after being struck by lightning while using an electric water pump.

Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro has called for the city to be declared a disaster zone, warning “the cost will be high.”

But the city’s businesses are also very used to dealing with flooding and while many of the tourist attractions, cafes and restaurants are closed, some have remained open, including the Ducal Palace and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia.

The city has also installed raised walkways in certain parts to enable pedestrians to get around.

Night-time footage showed a torrent of water whipped up by high winds raging through the city centre.

Tables and chairs bobbled along alleyways as locals waded to their hotels.

Transport officials closed the water bus system – except to surrounding islands – because of the emergency.

One posh hotel was forced to stack priceless tapestries on tables after a “waterfall” swamped the bar.

A museum of modern art was evacuated after the floodwater sparked an electrical fire.

And two French tourists were forced to SWIM back to their hotel after a makeshift bridge overturned.

Only once since records began in 1923 has the tide been higher, reaching 1.94m (6ft 5ins) in 1966.

Dramatic photos show taxi boats and gondolas grounded on walkways flanking canals.

An estimated 85 per cent of the city is underwater, sparking concerns over damage to ancient mosaics and artworks.

Why is Venice so prone to flooding?

Venice experiences a phenomenon ‘acqua alta’ or ‘high water’ due to exceptional tide peaks in the Adriatric Sea.

The tidal peaks reach their maximum level in the Venetian Lagoon, which runs around and through the city, causing flooding in the region.

The causes of the tidal peaks are down to a number of factors, including the movement and phase of the moon, wind strengths and direction as well as rain level and rising sea-levels.

Exceptionally high tides in Venice occurs once every four years, on average.

However minor flooding in the city happens around four times a year and usually within the winter months.

High water can sometimes last only for a few hours but it is dependent on which part of the island is hit by floodwaters.

 Staff at St Mark's basilica piled up pews and chairs to keep them safe


Staff at St Mark’s basilica piled up pews and chairs to keep them safeCredit: AP:Associated Press
 The St Mark's crypt was left


The St Mark’s crypt was leftCredit: AFP or licensors
 The damage is feared to run into the billions


The damage is feared to run into the billionsCredit: AFP or licensors
 Hotels were forced to build makeshift bridges


Hotels were forced to build makeshift bridgesCredit: AFP or licensors
 The floods are already feared to have claimed two lives


The floods are already feared to have claimed two livesCredit: AFP or licensors
 The water reached 1.8m at its highest


The water reached 1.8m at its highestCredit: AFP or licensors
 Climate change was blamed for the water


Climate change was blamed for the waterCredit: AFP or licensors

Natalie and Watine Olivier arrived in Venice as the high tide struck. Their plans to visit the Venice Biennale have been dashed.

Watine Olivier, 68, a surgeon in Lille, France, said: “We walked back to our hotel and the water rose before our eyes. It rose about 50cm in ten minutes.”

He added: “There is no difference between the grand canal and the street.”

Petra Vencelidesova, 31, a film set designer visiting from Prague, said the flooding felt “like an apocalypse”.

Caught in St Marks Square at the time of the rising tide, she described the chaos.

“All the ships were flooded, the shop fronts were inundated with water from broken windows. I saw people waist-high in the water taking photos.
“I feel sorry for the people who live and work here … the shopkeepers were scooping water in buckets and throwing it out their windows.  It was crazy. It felt like a movie.”

 Partially submerged ferry boats caught up the flood chaos


Partially submerged ferry boats caught up the flood chaosCredit: AP:Associated Press
 The historic tourist spot has been deluged with water


The historic tourist spot has been deluged with waterCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
 Alleyways have been turned into streams in the city


Alleyways have been turned into streams in the cityCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
 However some tourists couldn't resist taking a quick selfie


However some tourists couldn’t resist taking a quick selfieCredit: AP:Associated Press
 Cafe chairs are piled up in a flooded St. Mark's Square


Cafe chairs are piled up in a flooded St. Mark’s SquareCredit: AP:Associated Press
 A boat strapped down near St Mark's Basilica


A boat strapped down near St Mark’s BasilicaCredit: SWNS:South West News Service

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Baggage handler's revenge is passengers' nightmare…

A judge in Singapore sentenced a 66-year-old baggage handler at Changi Airport to three weeks in jail this week for misbehavior that ruined the trips of countless travelers and cost Singapore Airlines and SilkAir more than $30,000.

You’d think that a baggage handler who landed in jail was probably pilfering passengers’ property from their luggage, but that’s not what Tay Boon Keh did.

The employee, who worked for an airport subcontractor, was assigned to bag security screening back in 2016, and the x-ray machine he was using kept breaking down. As a result, he repeatedly had to lug the heavy bags by hand to another machine several yards away. He probably could have used some help, but his superiors didn’t offer any, saying they were short-staffed.

As a seriously disgruntled employee, Tay Boon Keh looked for a way to strike a blow against his oppressors.

So he decided to create a big mess for everyone – the airport, airlines and passengers – by switching the baggage tags on the luggage he was handling. He was careful to change the tags in a spot where he wouldn’t be seen by security cameras.

He was working on baggage headed to flights of Singapore Airlines and SilkAir. Over a period of more than three weeks, he swapped bag tags on almost 300 pieces of luggage, sending them off to places where their owners never intended to go.

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The two airlines started to get complaints from passengers who never saw their bags on the carousel. The complaints continued to roll in for weeks, and the airlines ended up compensating hundreds of irate customers to the tune of more than $30,000.

After an intensive police investigation, Tay Boon Keh was caught and he confessed to his acts. He was charged with numerous acts of “mischief.”

His attorneys argued that the court should give him a break because he suffers from depression. The judge disagreed.

“A clear message has to be sent out to potential offenders that such acts have major consequences and that they should always resort to other more appropriate and legal channels to vent their frustrations,” she said, according to the English-language Asian news network CNA.

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Chris McGinnis is the founder of The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission. You can reach Chris at or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.

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BALTIMORE: Man Brutally Beaten By Pack of 15 Teens…

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A brutal attack, a shooting outside of a school, and a stabbing next to the Inner Harbor- three violent attacks, and police say what they all have in common is that teenagers are involved.

The picture of a badly beaten 52-year-old man in the emergency room is circulating on social media. According to the police report, the attack happened last Tuesday night.

The victim was taking a shortcut through New Hope Circle when 15 teens surrounded him. He is now recovering at Shock Trauma.

This was the first in a series of violent incidents involving teenagers.

“Out of nowhere, he found himself surrounded,” Baltimore Police Detective Donny Moses said. “They beat him, they punched him, they stomped him and then they robbed him.”

This was followed by a shooting Monday afternoon on the campus shared by three northeast Baltimore high schools. A 19-year-old student was shot in the leg outside of Reginald F. Louis High School.

The victim is in the hospital and expected to be okay.

“[The victim] does appear to have been targeted,” Baltimore Police Detective Nicole Monroe said. “Detectives do not know why.”

Just a few hours later, a 14-year-old was stabbed in the side after getting into an altercation with four teenage boys by the Chick-Fil-A across from the Inner Harbor.

He’s recovering in the hospital from non-life-threatening injuries.

“It’s really unacceptable,” Mayor Jack Young said.

Mayor Young said his office has made a dent into getting young people into jobs, but that he can’t do this alone.

“You break it by going into those neighborhoods and provide job opportunities for them and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Young said. “And by putting development in those neighborhoods that haven’t seen development in decades and that’s what we’re working to do.”

Police are still working to identify the suspects in all three attacks.

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Journalists Pursue New Kind of Expose: Uncovering Their Salaries…

a store inside of a building: Pedestrians pass in front of the New York Times headquarters.

© Bloomberg
Pedestrians pass in front of the New York Times headquarters.

(Bloomberg) — Dozens of media employees have begun sharing a spreadsheet detailing salaries at different publications, seeking to shed light on pay disparities that could help some workers get a raise.

The spreadsheet, whose creator is unknown, lists the title, company, salary, years of experience and job duties at a wide range of media organizations, including the New York Times, BuzzFeed, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Vice and Conde Nast. Journalists also can list their gender identity and ethnicity.

“Talking about how much or how little money you make feels taboo, and it shouldn’t,” said a message at the top of document, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News. Saying that the website Glassdoor doesn’t provide enough information, the spreadsheet text declares: “Knowledge is power.”

“Wouldn’t it be great to know what your peers make so you can use that to leverage a raise?” the document said. “Let’s share what we make and any relevant info to help each other out.”

A deputy editor at the New York Times makes $145,000 a year, while a staff writer at Vice makes $62,000, according to the document. An editor at CNN makes $110,000 — plus a bonus — while a staff writer in Iowa for the newspaper chain Lee Enterprises Inc. makes $33,000 a year.

A female editor at Vox Media makes $400,000 a year editing, producing, hosting podcasts and running conferences, according to the spreadsheet. The salaries couldn’t be independently confirmed.

The document is indicative of the pressures journalists face as conventional news outlets like newspapers and TV stations lose customers to online media. Some have joined unions and demanded that their employers be more transparent about salaries.

Last week, the Washington Post Newspaper Guild released the findings of its own study about pay disparities at the newspaper. It found that women were paid less than men, and employees of color were paid less than white men — even when controlling for age and job description.

A Washington Post representative called the guild’s study “seriously flawed” and said the newspaper is “committed to paying employees fairly for the work they perform, and we believe that we do so, taking into account relevant factors like position, years of experience and performance.”

(Updates with statement from Washington Post in final paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Gerry Smith in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Turner at

For more articles like this, please visit us at

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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Report: Puerto Rico's infrastructure failing as federal aid remains on hold…

More than two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s bridges, dams, drinking water, ports, roads and power grids are at a breaking point — and the federal dollars to fix that infrastructure remains out of reach.

So says the American Society of Civil Engineers in a report released Tuesday that assigned the island’s infrastructure an overall grade of D-.

[Puerto Rico disaster aid delay could renew Democratic suspicions of Trump’s stonewalling]

The ASCE report card represents the first evaluation the organization has done of the island’s infrastructure.

The report found that the infrastructure needs on the island are huge, calculating that Puerto Rico must increase received investment by $1.23 billion to $2.3 billion annually and putting it at $13 to $23 billion over 10 years, not counting deferred maintenance and hurricane-related recovery projects.

Though the report primarily addresses the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s slow release of some $42.5 billion — it only had $15 billion as of May, according to ASCE — its themes reiterate complaints made by members of the House Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development last month.

During that Oct. 17 hearing, lawmakers complained that HUD has held back some $19.9 billion in recovery money for Puerto Rico through the department’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Fund. It did so by refusing to post the notice that would instruct Puerto Rico on how to apply for and spend the federal dollars available to it. Because the CDBG disaster fund is not authorized, Puerto Rico does not have access to those dollars until the notice is posted.

Notices withheld

HUD released similar notices for other disaster-struck areas, but held back on Puerto Rico because of concerns about government corruption on the island, said David Woll, principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD, who called Puerto Rico a “very high-risk grantee” because of the large amount of money and corruption issues that have troubled the local government.

“We want to have a belts and suspenders plan in place to make sure that, A, we’re protecting taxpayers, but B — more importantly — the money is going to the people of Puerto Rico and not being wasted or abused,” he said.

[Coal-burning utility boosts lobbying, may get eased regulations]

That answer did not satisfy Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., chairman of the subcommittee, who said that even after the notice is posted, there will be multiple opportunities to make sure the money is being spent appropriately.

Once available, the federal dollars from the CDBG disaster recovery program can be spent on projects laid out in the ASCE report, such as hardening electrical grids in order to minimize the impact of future storms.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s electric grid in 2017, causing the island to experience the longest blackout in American history and the second-longest blackout in the world, according to the ASCE, which gave the island’s energy grid an “F” grade on its report card.

“We’ve seen the urgent need for this funding,” said Price. “And yet, it has been held back.”

Congress tried to force HUD to post the Puerto Rico disaster funding notice in June in the supplemental appropriations bill by requiring the secretary to do so by Sept. 4. But Sept. 4 came and went with no notice for Puerto Rico.

“The administration has a duty to faithfully execute the law,” Price said. “Why didn’t HUD follow the law, issue the Federal Register notice for mitigation funding for Puerto Rico?”

Republicans on the panel including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida also expressed dismay that the dollars have not yet been released, saying he was “troubled” that the agency missed the statutory deadline for publishing the notice.

“What it looks like is that you don’t believe that these individuals deserve this money, that these individuals deserve access to disaster recovery dollars,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif.

“That’s just not true,” said Woll, adding that the agency is “working extremely hard” to get the money to Puerto Rico.

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Records Threatened From NY to Texas With Blast of Arctic Air…

Arctic Blast to Shatter Mid-November Cold Records
  • A strong cold front is plunging through the U.S.
  • This front will deliver the coldest air of the season so far for many in the eastern half of the country.
  • Numerous daily cold records for mid-November will be set.
  • A freeze is possible as far south as parts of the Gulf Coast.

A powerful arctic cold front is plunging through the U.S. and will deliver the coldest air of the season to the central, southern and eastern United States, shattering scores of mid-November records in the process.

The front was slicing through the Northeast and Southeast early Tuesday, with frigid temperatures by mid-November standards already in place across the nation’s mid-section.

Morning temperatures have already plunged to the single digits as far south as the Texas Panhandle, with some subzero lows in parts of the Northern Plains and upper Midwest.

Indianapolis plunged to the single digits Tuesday morning, the earliest in the fall they had ever done so in records dating to 1871.

Des Moines, Iowa, was flirting with 0 degrees Tuesday morning, among the earliest in the fall they had been so cold.

(MAPS: Current Temperatures | Current Wind Chills)

The front first arrived in the northern Plains and northern Rockies Sunday, plunged through much of the Plains and Midwest Monday.

Among daily record lows set Monday included minus-21 degrees in Turner, Montana, 13 degrees in Chicago and 16 degrees in St. Louis. Record cold highs set Monday included 8 degrees in Dickinson, North Dakota, and 18 degrees in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Temperatures on Monday afternoon stayed well below freezing as far south as the mid-Mississippi Valley and Central Plains. These were daytime highs more typical of January than November.

Even South Texas was involved, where a Monday heat index in the low 90s was followed by a Tuesday morning wind chill in the low 30s.

As of early Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service was forecasting over 360 additional daily cold records could be tied or set Tuesday through Thursday morning in the U.S., including both record lows and record cold high temperatures for a particular day.

Timing the Cold Blast

The next round of shivering temperatures arrived in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest Sunday and plunged quickly into the Southern Plains and Ohio Valley on Monday. The front will barrel through the East Coast and Deep South Tuesday, then through the rest of the Florida Peninsula by Wednesday.

The animation above indicates the timing of the arctic cold front. The contours show departures from average-high temperatures each day. The areas in the purple and pink contours will have the coldest air, relative to mid-November averages.

Tuesday’s highs may be the coldest on record for Nov. 12 over a widespread area from the Northeast and Great Lakes into the Ohio Valley and lower Mississippi Valley. Highs may be stuck below freezing as far south as Tennessee and in the 40s as far south as the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.

(MAPS: 10-Day Forecast Highs and Lows)

The National Weather Service noted subfreezing high temperatures Tuesday in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Paducah, Kentucky, would be their record-earliest-in-season such occurrence, something more typical in mid-December.

Wednesday’s highs may still be stuck in the 40s in the Deep South and the 50s in parts of North Florida and the northern Gulf Coast.

Lows in the teens are expected Wednesday morning as far south as the Tennessee Valley.

The Deep South should see lows in the 20s Wednesday morning, and the season’s first freeze is possible along parts of the northern Gulf Coast, including Houston and New Orleans, by that time. Parts of North Florida will shiver with lows in the 30s Wednesday morning.

(MORE: When Your First Freeze Typically Arrives)

Lows in the interior Northeast should plunge into the teens, with 20s along the Interstate 95 corridor and coast by Wednesday and Thursday mornings. A few lows between 10 and minus 10 degrees are expected in northern New England by Thursday morning.

Well over 100 daily record lows will be threatened in the East and South Wednesday morning, and a smattering of daily records are possible in the Northeast Thursday morning.

As it turns out, a number of daily record lows for Nov. 12 and 13 that had stood since 1911 – which brought one of the most extreme cold fronts in U.S. history – are in jeopardy through Wednesday morning, including in Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Tulsa and St. Louis.

While another cold blast is expected to sweep into the Northeast this weekend, some relief from the cold air will gradually build into the Plains states this week into early next week.

(MORE: November 2019 U.S. Temperature Outlook)

Long Range Temperature Outlook

(This outlook, from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, shows the probabilities of above (tan, orange, red contours) or below (blue contours) average temperatures in the period specified. )

Similar to November 2018?

November 2018 was one of the 10 coldest Novembers on record for Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Kansas City, Missouri, shivered through its coldest November on record.

The only warmer-than-average areas last November were found along the West Coast, and in Alaska and Florida.

The upper-level pattern last year also brought a persistent southward dip in the jet stream over the central and eastern U.S., which led to the chilly November for much of the country.

Average State Temperature in November 2018

(Data: NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information)

The focus of the most anomalous cold and its impacts this year may be in different locations than November 2018, but the overall pattern suggests that a chilly November may be ahead for the second year in a row.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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The tiger next door: America's backyard big cats…

It was the sort of headline impossible to scroll past: “Pot Smokers Find Caged Tiger in Abandoned Houston House, Weren’t Hallucinating: Police.” Last February, a group of people had snuck into a deserted house in Texas’s largest city to smoke marijuana when they stumbled upon a full-grown tiger in a cage – a cage secured by just a nylon strap and a screwdriver. Sergeant Jason Alderete of Houston Police Department’s animal cruelty unit, later told a local TV station: “It wasn’t the effects of the drugs. There was an actual tiger!” The animal was given a name, Loki, and sent to an animal sanctuary in the country, run by the Humane Society of the United States. You’d be forgiven for thinking Loki’s experience was an isolated incident – it isn’t.

An oft-quoted statistic is that there are more tigers in American back yards than there are left in the wild. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, there are between 3,200 and 3,500 tigers remaining in the wild globally. By some estimates there are 5,000 in captivity in the US, though there might be more. The truth is we have little idea how many there are in American ranches, unlicensed zoos, apartments, truck stops and private breeding facilities, due to a mishmash of state, federal and county laws governing their ownership.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, only 6% of America’s captive tiger population lives in zoos and facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums; the rest are in private hands. Some are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and others by state laws, but some are not regulated at all. “In some states, it is easier to buy a tiger than to adopt a dog from a local animal shelter,” says the WWF.

Tiger in the tank: Loki, who was rescued from a cage in a garage in Houston.

Tiger in the tank: Loki, who was rescued from a cage in a garage in Houston. Photograph: Godofredo A Vasquez/AP

In Texas, which lets each of its 254 counties regulate the ownership of dangerous wild animals, it’s hard to accurately gauge how many there are. In a state that prides itself on promoting individual freedoms, like openly carrying AR-15 semi-automatic rifles or bringing concealed handguns on to university campuses, it’s perhaps not surprising that owning a tiger is considered (by some) to be a God-given right.

The deplorable conditions in which Loki was found illustrate the fact that these “rights” can come at a cost. He was discovered in a 5ft x 3ft cage in the dark garage of the abandoned home. The cage’s floor was made of plywood. It was three months before police arrested his owner, a 24-year-old woman named Brittany Garza, who was taken into custody and charged with animal cruelty. She responded that she was in the process of relocating and had not abandoned the animal, as it had food and water.

Katie Jarl, the Humane Society’s southwest regional director, says there have been numerous similar incidents. In 2016, police in Conroe, a town north of Houston, received reports of a tiger roaming a residential neighbourhood after it escaped from someone’s back yard. “No one knew about them,” she says. “They were completely off the map.”

In 2009, a 330lb tiger escaped from its enclosure in Ingram, Texas, and was found in a 79-year-old woman’s back yard. In 2007, a one-year-old tiger “wearing a makeshift lead” was found shot dead in a wooded area off the motorway in Dallas. In 2003, in another Dallas suburb, a motorist spotted a four-month-old tiger roaming the side of the road. In 2001, a three-year-old boy was killed by one of his relative’s three pet tigers in Lee County, Texas. And in 2000, animal control officers near Houston spent three hours searching for a tiger that had escaped from a garden cage while its owners were out of town. That same year, in Channelview, Texas, a three-year-old boy had his arm ripped off by his uncle’s 400lb pet.

As for Loki, Jarl says a law-enforcement source of hers outside the city had got in touch to say the authorities had known about Loki’s owner for a long time. “She had been raising cubs in her home for years,” Jarl says, “in a county where there were no restrictions.”

This year, two state legislators filed bills aimed at prohibiting the private ownership of “dangerous wild animals”. But this is Texas, where the private ownership of pretty much everything is sacrosanct, and neither bill became law. There was “passionate testimony” on both sides of the debate, says the assistant to one of the legislators involved.

According to one conservation charity, four states (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin) do not regulate the private ownership of exotic pets at all. Brittany Peet, director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), says there are a “patchwork of laws” regulating the possession of big cats. “And you can usually get around those laws by applying for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) exhibitor’s licence,” she says. “It’s as simple as filling out an application and writing a cheque for $100. The regulations are very minimal – as long as you have a cage where the animal can fully stand up and turn around you shouldn’t have a problem getting a licence.

“Everyone should be terrified and shocked by this,” Peet adds. “These animals are extremely complex and powerful and can kill a human being with a swipe of their paw. People keeping tigers in back yards are not experts. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re not providing these animals with enrichment and stimulation that they need in order to live relatively normal lives in captivity.”

Bill Rathburn disagrees. He believes he provided the seven tigers that once lived on his private, 50-acre ranch 80 miles east of Dallas, with more than enough enrichment and stimulation. For more than two decades, Rathburn and his now ex-wife Lou raised the animals from cubs. For the Rathburns, the tigers were a surrogate family.

Big pussycat: Bill Rathburn with Raja. ‘He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died’.

Big pussycat: Bill Rathburn with Raja. ‘He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died.’ Photograph: Courtesy of Bill Rathburn

I interview Rathburn over the phone and later he sends me a photo of himself and Raja, the first tiger he and his wife bought. The pair are nose to nose inside its cage. “That was the relationship I had with him,” he says. “I’m not a reckless person and wouldn’t have gone into the cage with him if I hadn’t raised him, or knew I’d be safe doing it. He was the most loving animal from the day we got him to the day he died.”

Not everyone in the Rathburns’ neighbourhood shared their enthusiasm. “Tiger sanctuary has residents growling,” read one local headline.

Rathburn is a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and chief of police of the Dallas Police Department. In 1996 he was director of security for the summer Olympic Games, in Atlanta. It was while he was there that Lou bought their first tiger. Rathburn admits to feeling “kind of overwhelmed” initially, thinking about all the work and expense that would inevitably go into raising it. But when he came home he says he “immediately fell in love”.

The following year the couple bought two more tiger cubs “from a guy who had tigers in the back yard of his house in Houston”. Rathburn and his wife raised the cubs in their house. They installed a heavy mesh screen door “so they couldn’t get out of the pantry and wander round the house at night”. Outside, they constructed a cage complex. “If you saw it,” he says, “you’d realise it was a pretty good life for a tiger: a 10,000sqft play area with grass, trees and bushes, so they could run, play, hide, and chew on grass to help their digestive system.”

Raja lived to be 21. “He was unsteady on his feet towards the end,” Rathburn says. “I knew it was time to put him down. The vet came round and agreed. I was crying like a baby. It broke my heart.” Their second animal developed a tumour on her spine. When she died, Lou insisted on having her skin made into a rug. “And after we got divorced I ended up with the rug,” Rathburn says. “I have it over a chest in my bedroom, and it’s wonderful way to remember her. I talk to her once in a while.”

Eventually, he says, a neighbour complained to county officials about what they described as a growing tiger problem next door. “He got county officials upset, and two votes can sway an election in a rural area. So the county commissioners weren’t willing to extend my permit.”

Rathburn believes in regulation. “There should be adequate confinement areas, [and regulation] protecting animals and protecting people who might be injured by them.” But, he says, he stands by the rights of individuals to own big cats.

While this might sound incredible to someone in the UK, Rathburn’s sense of entitlement – this rugged individualism that says the government shouldn’t interfere with an individual’s right to own pretty much whatever they want – runs deep in America.

Marcus Cook has owned and worked with big cats since the early 1990s. Back then he was working for a zoo in south Texas, and when the owners retired and closed their business Cook adopted a couple of black leopards. “Anyone who says they can tame one is unrealistic,” he tells me by phone one morning from his home in Kaufman, Texas. “But they’re handleable.”

Cook says he’s owned everything “from small cats, like cougars, to lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. The big guys.” He says his own firm, Zoocats, began as a hobby in 1995 and grew from there. He began to take the animals on the road around the US – to schools and fairs and temporary exhibits. Cook says it was all about education – “creating an entertaining wow factor” – but his critics say he was ruthlessly exploiting the animals for gain. He has been accused of numerous animal welfare violations, subjected to various complaints, and issued citations over the years.

Loki, the tiger rescued from the Houston garage, was taken to a vast ranch in Murchison, Texas, run by the Humane Society. Murchison, population 594, is a rural farming community 70 miles southeast of Dallas. The ranch is situated discreetly, a few miles outside town, next to a remote country lane. You can see horses and cattle grazing in fields next to the road, but none of the exotic animals that also live here.

Noelle Almrud, ranch director, meets me at the main office and we climb into a truck to drive to the enclosures at the back of the ranch that house its two tigers. It’s not unlike a wildlife park, although there are no gawking tourists here and the enclosures are bigger. Loki lives in a quarter-acre fenced area, but he rotates each week from this into a three-acre enclosure next door. Both have an abundance of willows and oaks to provide shade.

As we walk towards the fence, Loki gallops over and makes a breathy snort that Almrud says is known as “chuffing” and signals affection. He rubs himself against the wire enclosure before running back to his water trough and jumping in. “He’s acclimated really well,” she tells me. “We feed him 8lb of food a day – humanely raised beef, turkey, large rats, or rabbits and supplements – six days a week, then he has a day of fasting, as he would in the wild.”

Two years ago, Almrud helped found the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, a network of reputable big cat sanctuaries whose mission was to strengthen the regulation of big cats in the US and get conservation facilities to work together to place rescue animals. But they face a big challenge, she explains: “Roadside zoos need shutting down, but where do you put all the animals? You couldn’t re-house all the tigers currently in roadside zoos in America. We need more money and more facilities. In a perfect world,” she says, “I’d like to be put out of business.”

Judging by the Texan appetite for big cats, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

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Buttigieg outlasts the pundits by emerging as alternative to Biden…

As other presidential candidates promise free healthcare, college debt relief and sweeping new taxes on the ultra-rich, Pete Buttigieg is drawing large crowds with a different angle.

“This will be a presidency where you can turn on the news, look at the White House and feel your blood pressure go down a little bit instead of up through the roof,” the South Bend, Ind., mayor told some 1,300 voters who came out to see him here Saturday.

With many Democrats growing anxious that an uncompromising progressive at the top of the ticket could push swing states into President Trump’s hands, the bookish 37-year-old Navy veteran and former McKinsey consultant is packing venues in Iowa and New Hampshire by talking moderation and reconciliation.

Voter interest certainly hasn’t fizzled, as pundits once predicted would happen to the candidacy of a leader of a city roughly the size of Burbank. Instead, Buttigieg is fast threatening former Vice President Joe Biden’s dominance of the Democratic primary’s pragmatic lane.

“He makes me feel inspired again, like Obama,” said Jo-Ann Wangh, a 69-year-old arts integration specialist who came to see Buttigieg at a Manchester town hall. “He gets it.”

Buttigieg is already surging in Iowa, where a recent Quinnipiac poll showed the openly gay mayor just a point behind the Iowa front-runner, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He has considerably more work to do in New Hampshire and beyond. But as he bounded into this state for a four-day swing of town halls, rallies and walking tours that drew large crowds, rivals were expressing agitation at his ascendancy.

“I was mayor of a city that’s 14 times larger than South Bend,” former Housing Secretary Julián Castro quipped last week on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” “We could almost fit South Bend in our Alamodome in San Antonio.”

Castro took aim at Buttigieg’s biggest shortcoming: meager support from African Americans and other minorities. It is “risky to have a candidate at the top of the ticket that cannot speak to, in a convincing way, those different communities,” Castro said.

But as more pedigreed candidates such as Castro and California Sen. Kamala Harris struggle, laying off staff in New Hampshire and losing steam with donors, the Buttigieg campaign is flush and primed for battle. Voters turning out to Buttigieg events are intrigued by his post-partisan pitch and his argument that he is uniquely qualified to find common ground with the swing voters in the industrial Midwest who added crucial votes to Trump’s coalition.

He has eclipsed in popularity centrist senators and governors who entered the race much better positioned to challenge Biden for the large share of voters seeking a pragmatist.

“My proposals cost a fraction of what some of the others do,” he said in Manchester. “There is a better way.” He warns that the progressive plans of some of his rivals will only further polarize the nation and fuel gridlock in Washington. He often says the ideas may be great in theory but their impact is “multiplied by zero” if they can’t get through Congress.

Instead of “Medicare for all,” Buttigieg proposes “Medicare for all who want it.” Instead of free college for all, he proposes free college for those who can’t afford it. Instead of soaking the rich with trillions of dollars in new taxes, he says they have to pay more — but not radically more.

“The one thing we have learned about the American experience is, we don’t have to do a wholesale transfer of wealth in order to have more equality,” he told reporters traveling on his campaign bus, taking questions until journalists exhausted what was in their notebooks. Topics strayed from his dissection of marginal tax rates over history, to his experience coming out of the closet, to his favorite Episcopal hymn, which happens to be Welsh.

Such freewheeling media engagement separates Buttigieg from other top-tier candidates. It has been the backbone of his playbook since he entered the race an obscure long shot.

“Does anyone know where my Frida Kahlo socks got off to?” he asked staffers as the bus departed Manchester for an event at a drafty barn in the hills of Stratham. He then offered up to the traveling press the baguette given to him by a man on the selfie line after the Manchester town hall.

It had echoes of the “Straight Talk Express” bus, in which Sen. John McCain let loose with reporters mile after mile as he ran for the GOP nomination in 2000. But Buttigieg is a far more muted, cautious politician than McCain ever was. He presents like an affable professor, disciplined and reassuring to Democratic voters seeking respite from the anger and chaos of the Trump administration.

There are rarely surprises on the stump, and every word the candidate utters feels deliberate.

The mayor is on the upswing as Biden’s lethargic campaign performance and anemic fundraising have the party’s establishment in a panic, and moderate voters scoping out alternatives.

“We listened to Biden speak when he was here, and I felt like I was going to fall asleep halfway through it,” said Erin Sakolosky, a 33-year-old schoolteacher, interviewed as her newborn slept soundly in a Babybjorn carrier with a “Pete 2020” sticker affixed to it.

It was a common sentiment among New Hampshirites who showed up at Buttigieg events. Many were closer to Biden in age but were drawn to Buttigieg’s youthful energy and eloquence. “I am concerned Biden is not physically strong enough,” said Diane Ehrlich, a 61-year-old accountant from Amherst. “I don’t think he could beat Trump.”

Buttigieg isn’t alone in capitalizing on voter ambivalence over Biden. Michael R. Bloomberg, the centrist billionaire and former New York mayor who is positioning for a late jump into the race, threatens to build his own coalition of moderates.

On the bus, Buttigieg said he welcomed Bloomberg into the contest. Even with all his billions, Bloomberg may not be able to buy the kind of momentum Buttigieg already has. The New Yorker’s advisors have acknowledged he would be entering race too late to compete seriously in Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional springboards to the nomination. The Bloomberg plan is to forgo those states to focus instead on larger ones that vote later. But that strategy failed for another former New York mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, when he ran for the GOP nomination in 2008.

Buttigieg chafes at comparisons to Biden and Bloomberg.

“My message is not about going back to where we were,” he said. “The failures of the Obama era help explain how we got Trump. I am running on building a future that is going to have a lot of differences.… One thing I learned in 2016 is to be very skeptical of any message that relies on the word ‘again.’ ”

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PENN: Don't rule out Hillary run…

There is still time for Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg to enter the 2020 presidential race, as a field of weak candidates continues to fuel speculation of a dark horse savior, said former Clinton strategist Mark Penn on Sunday.

“There’s still a couple of days here,” he said on “Sunday Morning Futures.” I don’t know whether [Clinton will] look at the Michael Bloomberg thing and say, ‘the field’s too crowded now. I missed my opportunity,’ or the opposite.

“‘Wow the field’s weak, I could come in. I could get 165,000 donors, I’m tied with [Joe] Biden in some of these early states…’ There’s still a political logic there for her,” Penn continued.

He also commented on Biden’s tenuous position as the party’s frontrunner and said other candidates have shifted too far to the left to be seen as viable options to defeat President Trump.

“I think it was political logic,” Penn said earlier in the interview. “Unless this field changed, Biden is a frontrunner, but a weak frontrunner and a lot of the other candidates are too far to the left.”


“I think Michael Bloomberg saw that opportunity and made a pretty intelligent decision,” he added. “For him, it’s now or never in terms of running for president, so why not get in and shake up the Democratic Party.”

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Trump commented on Bloomberg’s possible candidacy and predicted that he will fail miserably if he attempts to enter the race. He also claimed there’s no other candidate he would rather face than, “little Michael.”

“He’s not going to do well. But I think he’s going to hurt Biden actually, but he doesn’t have the magic to do well,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “Little Michael will fail. He’ll spend a lot of money. He’s got some really big issues. He’s got some personal problems and he’s got a lot of other problems.

“But I know Michael Bloomberg fairly well,” he continued. “He will not do very well, and if he did I’d be happy. There is nobody I’d rather run against than little Michael. That I can tell you.”

Penn said if Biden overperforms in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he may fend off the challenge from Bloomberg, especially if Bloomberg is unable to obtain time on the debate stage.


“Biden’s going to have a test in Iowa and New Hampshire,” he said. “If Biden doesn’t come through that test… that’s going to present a clear field for Bloomberg… If Biden does particularly well in those two states, that might block the Bloomberg effort… So a lot of pressure is put on the Biden campaign now to deliver in the early states.”

“I think the big question is whether Bloomberg will be put into the debates or not, regardless of his polling numbers,” Penn added. “He needs 165,000 small donors… the Democratic Party says if you don’t have 165,000 small donors, you don’t qualify for the debates, and that is a problem for Michael Bloomberg.”


Penn also said Trump’s chances of winning reelection hinge on his support in the suburbs, but said it’s impossible to tell which way suburban voters will break, come 2020.

“The country is in the middle of a realignment. The Republicans had strongholds in the suburbs and were weak with working-class,” he said. “Donald Trump comes in, wins the election with a combination of suburban and working-class voters… but he’s been losing the suburbs. And that’s where you see election after election and in the midterms, the suburbs went over to the Democrats. The Democrats are changing as a party, so [are the Republicans]. Is that permanent, will it last? That I couldn’t tell you.”

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Students turn against free speech amid 'culture of conformity'…

Fewer than half of students consistently support freedom of speech and two fifths favour censorship and no-platforming of controversial speakers, research has shown.

A “culture of conformity” may also be having an effect on undergraduates, who are often too intimidated to espouse unpopular views on campus, according to a report by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange.

Deep-rooted reform is needed at universities, which should establish academic freedom champions reporting directly to the vice-chancellor, it says.

The research exposes the extent to which a significant number of students value safe spaces for disadvantaged groups above freedom of speech.

A higher number of women were in favour of censorship and men were more likely to support academic freedom, polling found. Gender differences had a bigger impact…

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