A conservative political consultant was on the payroll of the Trump 2020 re-election campaign this spring, while also defending the president in political commentary on the Fox Business Network.
The campaign’s most recent disclosure report, filed Saturday, lists two payments to ProActive Communications LLC: $20,000 on April 17 of this year and $10,000 on May 30 — a period when Mark Serrano, the company’s president and founder, was making frequent appearances on the Fox Business Network. The network identified the longtime commentator until recently as a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush; now it calls him a senior adviser to President Trump’s re-election campaign.
Serrano posted clips of some Fox appearances on his personal website. “The only collusion going on in Washington is between … the media and the Democrats,” he said on May 19. A week earlier, he told anchor Neil Cavuto, “The president turns to Twitter for a very good reason. You know, it’s because he knows that the American people don’t believe this fake news story about Russian collusion.”
Serrano called the Post story a “fake news hit piece” that targeted Trump and Fox News. He issued a statement that when he “formalized a relationship with the reelection campaign … I notified my booking contacts at Fox Business Network.”
Fox Business said the notification didn’t come until June. In a written statement, the network cited its policy to disclose “all ties our guests have to any subject matter, and in the case of Mark Serrano, as soon as we were made aware of his new title last month, we made sure to disclose his role during his on-air appearances.” Fox Business has signaled that Serrano won’t be on again for the foreseeable future.
Traders and financial professionals work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. Major stock indexes are in record territory.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
If you’ve checked your retirement account lately or read the business headlines you probably know the stock market is riding high. The major U.S. stock indexes are in record territory. So what’s lifting the market? Despite all the turmoil in Washington, is it still the Trump rally?
Since the U.S. election, the S&P 500 is up 16 percent and the Dow is up 18 percent, even though President Trump has yet to deliver on most of his pro-growth policies, including tax cuts and a big infrastructure plan.
But finance professor Jeremy Siegel of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School says Congress and the White House have eased regulations and produced “a friendly attitude towards business. That’s one positive” for stocks.
Plus corporate tax relief from Washington is still a possibility. The failure of the health care bill, while a black eye for Republicans, could actually clear the way for congressional action on taxes later this summer. That’s helping drive stocks higher.
Other forces driving the rally
But there are other forces driving the stock rally “that are not attributable to Trump, at all”, Siegel says. One is faster global growth. That, combined with a recent decline in the value of the dollar has sparked more demand for U.S. goods abroad. That’s helped boost U.S. company profits.
“Almost 40 percent of the profits of S&P 500 companies come from abroad,” Siegel says. So, a stronger global economy is boosting U.S. stock prices.
U.S. growth is still sluggish — a 1.4 percent rate in the first quarter — and far below the Trump administration’s goal of 3 percent.
However, job creation has been solid, boosting incomes. Siegel points out that another thing that’s has helped stocks is the fact that they face no real competition from other assets.Bonds, the main alternative, aren’t that attractive. That’s because long-term interest rates remain very low and investors would rather buy stocks than a 10-year Treasury that gives them an annual return of only 2 1/4 percent.
A stock bubble?
Some people see this as a dangerous stock market bubble, though Siegel isn’t one of them. That fear is largely connected to the huge stimulus central banks have injected into the global economy since the financial crisis. The concern is that lots of that money has been invested in stocks, and dramatically inflated their value. Central bankers, including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, have made clear the stimulus will be taken away very gradually. So far, that’s been enough to reassure investors.
However, if the effort in Washington to get a corporate tax cut stalls, Siegel says that would have “a negative effect” on stocks.
The Trump helicopter is seen at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., in April. The president’s club is requesting foreign worker visas to staff up during peak season.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The Trump Organization is asking the federal government for special visas to hire scores of foreign workers for two of President Trump’s private clubs in Florida — the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach and the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.
The requests for H-2B visas, posted on the Department of Labor website, are for 26 cooks, nearly 50 waiters and waitresses, plus housekeepers, a hostess and a bartender. The jobs range in pay from just under $12 to less than $14 an hour. Mar-a-Lago and the Jupiter club have relied on foreign workers in past years for staffing during their peak seasons, which run October through May.
This year, the request for foreign workers comes in the middle of “Made in America” week at the White House. Trump, who has had his own line of ties manufactured overseas, says he wants U.S. companies to focus this week on ways to create more opportunities for American labor.
The Trump organization hasn’t responded to questions about the visa requests.
In the past, Trump has defended hiring foreign workers at his Florida properties, saying that “getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible.”
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control says that ExxonMobil must pay a $2 million penalty for allegedly violating sanctions on Russia.
Exxon Mobil says it has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, after the office said the oil and gas giant must pay a $2 million penalty for allegedly violating sanctions on Russia.
The alleged violations took place in May 2014, when Exxon Mobil signed a series of deals with Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russian oil company Rosneft.
That March, the Obama administration had placed Sechin on a Treasury blacklist — but OFAC says that Exxon Mobil executives still did business with him. The U.S. imposed sanctions in response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.
OFAC and Exxon Mobil are disagreeing over the scope of the sanctions — specifically, whether the sanctions pertain to Sechin exclusively in his personal capacity, or whether they also extend to his professional interests at Rosneft. Rosneft is not sanctioned.
OFAC said in a statement that the language of the sanctions is clear, and does not include a ” ‘personal’ versus ‘professional’ distinction.” It said that “ExxonMobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions” and added that the company’s top executives were aware of Sechin’s sanctioned status when they did business with him.
Additionally, it said that guidance on the OFAC website pertaining to a separate sanctions regime against Burma specifically said that individuals and companies should avoid entering into contracts with people on the blacklist.
However, Exxon Mobil is accusing OFAC of trying to retroactively enforce a new interpretation of the sanctions. It said that at the time, the “White House and Treasury Department officials repeatedly said sanctions involving Sechin applied only to his personal affairs and not to companies that he managed or represented.”
“You’ve got to wonder why Exxon Mobil simply didn’t sign the contract with someone other than Sechin” at the Rosneft company, Atlantic Council fellow Daniel Fried, a former State Department official and one of the architects of the sanctions, told The Two-Way. “What were they thinking?”
Fried stressed that while he wasn’t in a position to give a legal opinion, “my view is that OFAC’s probably right.” He added: “In my experience, OFAC is careful before they take this step. They don’t lose a lot of cases.”
When the deals in question were signed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of Exxon Mobil. NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports that Tillerson’s “spokesman had no comment about the Treasury Department’s action.”
According to The Associated Press, in May 2014 Tillerson is quoted as saying that “the company generally opposes sanctions and finds them ‘ineffective.'”
Michele points out that the $2 million fine “amounts to about 10 percent of one day’s earnings from ExxonMobil.”
NPR’s Jackie Northam reported in 2014 that the inclusion of Sechin’s name on the Treasury blacklist created significant uncertainty for U.S. oil and gas companies.
“Igor Sechin was often the man that interacted with Western oil executives,” Jackie reported. She added that “Exxon Mobil has deep connections with Rosneft and has signed several major contracts over the past few years, including this one for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.”
On Thursday, the Senate unleashed yet another iteration of its effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and with it came another analysis from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. If your head is spinning, you’ve got plenty of company, us here at Shots included.
Here are the key versions of repeal and/or replace legislation so far this year:
The American Health Care Act, the House bill passed on May 4. The Senate chose to write its own bill rather than amend this House version.
Better Care Reconciliation Act (BRCA), the Senate bill:
The original: Introduced June 22. It differs from the House bill in key ways, see the chart below.
Revision #1: Introduced July 13. Added a provision called the Cruz amendment, widely disliked by industry and consumers, but appealing to conservatives. The version also added money for opioid treatment, a provision to give Alaska more federal funding and other, smaller changes.
Revision #2: Introduced July 20. Cruz amendment is gone, keeps some taxes the original bill repealed, other smaller changes
The Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, ORRA, a repeal-only bill modeled on the 2015 bill that made it to President Obama’s desk, which he vetoed.
And here’s what’s next: Senate leaders say they want to start debate on a bill next week, but it is not clear which legislation will end up on the Senate floor.
The two most likely options for consideration right now are the latest BCRA and the ORRA. Both pieces of legislation have met opposition, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to persuade those holdouts to change their mind and vote to bring legislation to the floor. His argument is that they need to begin debating and amending a bill in order to pass a repeal and/or replacement for the ACA. (Note: Republicans have held no hearings on the bills, where a lot of debate would have already occurred).
Holdouts could stay opposed and efforts to move a bill to the floor could continue to go nowhere.
But if one of those bills does make it to the floor, there is no way to predict what the final bill will look like.
Any senator can offer amendments, and this is where the Cruz amendment could return, as could any other amendments on anything. It’s called a vote-a-rama.
And a few other proposals may come up: On Jan. 23, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced a bill that lets states keep the ACA if they would like to. On July 13, Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced an amendment that would give states a block grant to decide how to spend vis-à-vis the Affordable Care Act. It does not include any changes to Medicaid.
The vote-a-rama usually ends with an amendment by the leader that cleans it all up and kicks out any offending provisions added during vote-a-rama.
Skeptical lawmakers may not want to go this route, because could it easily end with them getting pressured to vote for a bill unlike anything they’ve yet considered, and one they may not be happy with.
Additional reporting by Susan Davis and Tamara Keith.
At the last minute, the Afghan team did get visas. They waved their country’s flag during the parade of nations at the event’s opening ceremonies. And they showed off their robot. Like all the entries, it was designed to separate balls representing water particles and water contaminants, among other tasks.
So how did the Afghan team do?
“The girls did a good job in the competition,” says Roya Mahboob. She’s a tech entrepreneur from Afghanistan and the CEO of the Digital Citizen Fund, the nonprofit which sponsored the team.
“They did much better than many of the other countries, but of course we could still do better. We had less experience and practice,” Mahboob says.
They ranked 114th out of 163 teams — ahead of the U.S. and the United Kingdom teams.
And they didn’t go home empty-handed. They did win an award for “courageous achievement” — for showing a “can-do attitude’ throughout the Challenge, even under difficult circumstances, or when things do not go as planned,” according to First Global, the nonprofit that organized the event.
The other two “courageous achievement” winners were the teams from South Sudan and Oman.
The Afghan team was thrilled by the award: “They got so excited, they were very happy,” Mahboob says.
Mexican billionaire and First Global founding member Ricardo Salinas announced during the competition that next year’s international robotics competition will be held in Mexico City.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A toilet paper wedding dress with 1,500 hand-cut butterflies made by a mother of two in her spare time won the $10,000 first prize in a quirky New York fashion competition on Thursday and a bride-in-need may have the chance to wear it down the aisle.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, which exhibits winning entries ever year, is donating about 20 of the top gowns to brides whose plans were shattered by the sudden bankruptcy of wedding dressmaker Alfred Angelo last week.
Slideshow (16 Images)
Kari Curletto said she spent three months on her submission “Quilted Enchantment,” with its six-foot cathedral train. It was her first entry, one of 1,517 this year, in the 13-year-old toilet paper dress competition sponsored by Cheap Chic Weddings and Quilted Northern toilet paper.
“It kind of feels like I’m dreaming right now,” Curletto said in an interview after her win. “Halfway through I was going to quit. I was crying and thinking, ‘Well, I just can’t do it. It’s too much,’ and a butterfly flew into my yard and landed on my hand.”
Curletto, an actress living in Las Vegas, fashioned the dress from toilet paper, glue, glitter and tape, working at night after her children went to bed.
Brides-in-need should contact Ripley’s by July 28 for a chance to get a paper gown, spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said by phone. The exhibitor has yet to choose which ones will be donated, she added.
Florist Roy Cruz of Chesapeake, Virginia, won in 2015 and 2016. His submission this year, a two-piece floral ball gown featuring snowflake cut-outs was voted fan favorite.
Reporting by Taylor Harris; Editing by Scott Malone and Richard Chang
Russian, American and French ballet dancers are gathering Thursday night for a bit of cultural diplomacy at New York City’s Lincoln Center. They’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of George Balanchine’s masterpiece Jewels, considered the first full-length, non-narrative ballet.
Jewels is in three acts; each named for a gem and each with a different choreographic style, representing different periods in Balanchine’s life. It’sbeen a signature piece for the New York City Ballet, since it premiered in 1967. Megan Fairchild has been dancing one of the leading roles for a decade.
“I don’t think Balanchine will ever feel dated to me,” she says. “Especially something as jazzy as [the movement] ‘Rubies’ — you’re off balance, your hips are out, you’re, you know, throwing yourself around in extreme positions. It couldn’t get any more modern to me … and then, at the same time, it’s still really pure ballet.”
Pure ballet is the key here — there are no swans or princes or Sugar Plum Fairies, says Lincoln Center Festival’s Nigel Redden, who brought the Paris Opera Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet to join the New Yorkers.
“It is a plotless ballet,” he explains, “the first full-length plotless ballet, choreographed by arguably the most important choreographer of the 20th century; certainly one of the great geniuses to be at Lincoln Center.”
And, Redden says, there’s a reason he brought in dancers from Russia and France. The first movement, “Emeralds,” features the music of French composer Gabriel Fauré and will be performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. Balanchine came of age as a choreographer in 1920s Paris. Aurélie Dupont, the ballet’s director of dance, says you can practically smell the perfume.
“I think ‘Emeralds’ has something very French about the technique, which is the feet,” she says. “Like the French school, we work a lot about the position and something very precise about the feet and the music. And Balanchine, for ‘Emeralds,‘ put the dancers with long tutus, so we really see the leg. It’s of course very romantic.”
Even though ‘Rubies,’ the second movement, has music by Igor Stravinsky, ballerina Megan Fairchild says it feels very American, very Broadway — which is where the Russian-born Balanchine did much of his work when he first came to America in the 1930s.
“There’s no classical mold to fit into; we’re not wearing tutus,” she says. “I have this little skirt of jewels on – just [a] teeny, teeny little miniskirt of jewels hanging down. And they kind of clink together as I’m dancing. Like, I don’t even know if the audience can hear, but it’s just it’s got like a fun kind of party air to it.”
The final movement harkens back to where Balanchine grew up, says Nigel Redden.
” ‘Diamonds’ is danced to Tchaikovsky, who always conjures up a sense of Russia and a sense of the grandeur of the Imperial Court,” Redden says. “And that particular dance has the most dancers in it, has the largest corps, and has a kind of grandeur to it, which I think is very splendid.”
The Bolshoi and New York City Ballet will alternate performing “Diamonds”and “Rubies.” Peter Martins runs the City Ballet and danced in Jewels for Balanchine. He told an audience at a recent symposium that Balanchine didn’t think much of “interpretation.” He would say: “Don’t act. Just dance. It’s all in the choreography. You don’t have to add artistry. I provide,” Martins recalls.
Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins perform “Diamonds.”
Still, Makhar Vaziev, the Bolshoi’s ballet director, says he’s very excited to see how all three companies actually do interpret Balanchine’s choreography. “Mr. B” was a “genius” he says, “and that’s why we’re here.”
Audiences in New York can experience that genius, when Jewels is performed by all three dance companies at Lincoln Center through the weekend.
Sisterhood on parade (L to R): Sasha (Queen Latifah), Ryan (Regina Hall), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) step out in Girls Night.
Michele K. Short /Universal Pictures
Michele K. Short /Universal Pictures
Among the four stars of Girls Trip — the third and funniest summer comedy about hard-partying women in trouble, following Snatched and Rough Night — Tiffany Haddish is the least well-known, having bounced around in minor roles on film and television before landing a spot as a series regular on The Carmichael Show. All that stands to change overnight. As Dina, a pleasure-seeker of unapologetic, bull-in-a-china-shop relentlessness, Haddish is so incandescently filthy that a new ratings system should be developed to accommodate her. Comedies like Girls Trip trade in shock value, but Haddish laces her raunchy tirades with a distinct, infectious joy, often prefaced by a naughty curl of the lips as she gets ready to go off.
When Dina is first introduced, via flashback, she’s celebrating in the lobby of a women’s clinic, because she’s been diagnosed with chlamydia, a more treatable STD than she might have feared. Many years later, as her three closest friends in the “Flossy Posse” have grown up and accepted the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood, Dina hasn’t changed a bit. She lives for the moment, without regard for the consequences. If her words and actions happen to get her fired from her job or kicked out of a hotel or roped into bar brawl — all three of which occur in Girls Trip — she moves onto the next confrontation and the next opportunity to have a little fun. When a street vendor sells her a small bottle of absinthe and warns her to work through it over five years, she laughs him off. She’ll polish that off in a few months.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, whose unfussy comedies include the Best Man movies and the blaxploitation send-up Undercover Brother, Girls Trip thrives at its most debauched, which is usually when Dina convinces her friends to set aside their better judgment. But the script has some dramatic business to get done, too, most of it revolving around Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), a successful author and TV personality who’s on the verge of become an Oprah-like phenomenon. With a keynote spot booked at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, Ryan and her husband Stuart (Luke Cage‘s Mike Colter) are ready to unveil a lucrative on-air partnership, but his serial cheating threatens their camera-ready image as the perfect couple.
Another serious threat is the weekend itself, which not only has the potential to rage out of control, but a kind of mandate. The two other members of the Flossy Posse, Sasha (Queen Latifah) and Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), arrive with baggage of their own: Sasha is clinging to a job as a gossip journalist that pays little and makes her miserable, while the recently divorced Lisa obsesses so much over her two children that she never goes out. (As her friends prepare to step out in designer gowns, Lisa slips on a sundress embroidered by indigenous Guatemalans. The rest of her wardrobe is scarcely more fashion-forward.) Despite Ryan’s worries about making a scene, the group quickly falls into old habits and the booze-soaked misadventures commence.
The rowdier the party, however, the rougher the hangover, and the film goes hard at both ends. At night, the Flossy Posse drops like a bomb on Bourbon Street, adding absinthe highs, dance-offs, and public urination to its legacy of debauchery. The uncorked comic energy of those scenes are countered, in the cold light of day, by a dramatic reckoning that occasionally stifles the film’s momentum. Ryan’s marital troubles are the big issue, but there are other subplots, too, like Sasha angling for a career-saving scoop or some painful revelations about why these friends haven’t gotten together in such a long time.
And yet, whenever Girls Trip seems permanently lost to sentiment, there’s Haddish’s Dina, the true North of getting totally hammered, to lead her friends to the promised land. She does so by offering the intoxicating vision of a life lived without inhibitions or regrets, of true freedom. It’s little wonder that everyone follows her lead.
Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) visits a certain cabin in the woods in The Untamed.
It’s pink and fleshy, it’s a giant mass of tentacles and it’s just crash-landed in Mexico from outer space. What should humankind do with such a marvel?
How about The Nasty?
Welcome to the artfully perverted world of La Región Salvaje (The Untamed), a psychological fantasy thriller about what it would be like to have sex with a freaky squid-alien thing. Turns out it’s good in bed. Like, really good. As soon as the nameless, faceless creature wraps its appendages around its… er, “partner,” some kind of animal instinct for pleasure takes over, sending the human convulsing in a state of continued, heated orgasm that will henceforth make regular, non-tentacle sex seem boring. Likely a factor: The thing has no mouth, so there is no awkward pillow talk.
But rest assured, there’s a reason why this film is being released in art houses and not in the darkest corners of the Internet. Director Amat Escalante, who co-wrote the script with Gibrán Portela, treats his extraterrestrial kink machine as a metaphor for primitivity. It also serves as the secret sauce in a much more grounded story about the interconnected, damaged relationships that exist between four people. The beast only comes out at rare intervals, and always to serve a specific narrative: namely, that the purest pleasure tends to come as a package deal with pain, both literal and figurative.
After a quick glimpse of the alien in action, we get a disorienting jump into the life of an unhappily married young couple. Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), a working mother of two, receives no pleasure from her construction-worker husband Ángel (Jesús Meza) — only barely contained anger and contempt. And it’s no wonder, because the aggressively macho Ángel is secretly having an affair with his brother-in-law: the slight, doe-eyed Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), whose fatalist demeanor seems to know from the beginning how this will end up for both of them.
It’s the introduction of Veronica (Simone Bucio), a pretty, sex-starved loner, that sets off the sirens. After getting Fabián to treat a wound she seems to have picked up from the creature, Veronica comes onto him immediately; then, when she realizes that neither she nor any other lover can give this melancholy man what he needs, she sends him off toward the pink thing, which two older scientist friends are keeping in a secluded cabin in the woods. (Naturally.) Shortly after, Fabián is found naked and comatose in the mud… and when Alejandra finds Ángel’s text messages on his phone, combined with the fact that Ángel was seen with him not long before his disappearance, it’s enough to assume the worst of her husband’s role in all this. There’s another layer of social commentary here, since Ángel’s environment has been a repressive force on his sexuality — as have his parents, wealthy local moguls who would probably be more willing to accept a tentacled son than a gay one.
Escalante, a protégé of Carlos Reygadas, previously shocked Cannes audiences with his nightmarishly violent 2013 drama Heli, a grim piece on Mexico’s drug cartels that left none of their depravity to the imagination. Here, the elements of camp fantasy disguise the fact that this movie, too, emerged from a dark undercurrent of Mexico: It was inspired by two local news stories, one about a hospital worker who was drowned for being gay and another about a woman who survived an attempted rape only to be labeled a “slut” by the papers. A carefully controlled tone, which never jumps into full-blown luridness despite ample opportunity to do so, helps us believe in the severity of the situation and the struggles of the characters. Just when we think we’re heading for late-night Cinemax territory, we jump to a tender scene of Alejandra putting one of her young sons to bed after a late-night scare.
The visuals depict such domestic scenes, as well as the harrowing discovery of Fabián’s weak, pale and nude body, with a washed-out naturalism that keeps us unbalanced. In fact, the film’s look signals that this, the “real world” of working-class parenthood, sexual repression and pointless, preventable violence, is where Escalante’s attention truly lies, and not with the slimy sex beast or the animals at the impact crater who can’t stop humping each other. There’s certainly some degree of indulgence (a very long dolly zoom onto a crotch, for one), but the weird sex stuff is kept to a minimum. And yes, that’s a good thing.