Trump and allies are trying to destroy Mueller

(CNN)Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has come under fierce political attack. President Donald Trump and his allies are systematically attempting to destroy the legitimacy of the investigation in the eyes of the public. And without a strong congressional investigative counterpart, Mueller finds himself increasingly isolated and alone.

While the White House issued a recent statement that it has no intention of firing Mueller, that is almost beside the point. In what should now be considered the classic Trumpian playbook, the President has moved aggressively to raise doubts about the credibility of his opponent. Ironically, he and his allies are attempting to crush an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians by insinuating that the Hillary Clinton campaign may, in fact, be at fault for such behavior.

    Mnuchin: No indication Trump will fire Mueller

The President’s attacks should not be taken lightly. As Brian Stelter has argued on CNN, Trump and the conservative media have perfected echo chamber politics, whereby the multiple charges about the investigation — that FBI agents were out to systematically bring down this presidency, that the agency is damaged by rampant conflict of interest problems, that Mueller is illegally obtaining information about the transition — have moved to the forefront of the national conversation regardless of the veracity or relevance of any of these claims.
    Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, made a statement soon after the allegation emerged: “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”
    The stories bleed into the rest of the media as well. On Sunday morning, a Washington Post headline read, “Mueller unlawfully obtained emails, Trump transition team claims,” which was likely music to the President’s ears. An allegation by the Trump for America legal team had quickly made its way into the headlines.
    Indeed, it is telling of how effective Trump can be that Mueller’s decision to fire an FBI agent for his email conversations about the campaign was somehow turned into a black mark against him, rather than a sign of how cautiously the process has been handled.
    Mueller is hamstrung in his ability to respond. If he is too aggressive in attempting to fight back against these political attacks, he opens himself up to charges of being “too political.” If he is too quiet, Trump’s team will destroy his credibility by Christmas. 
    In contrast, Trump and his team can basically throw the kitchen sink at him without any restraint. Trump has Twitter, the conservative media, his congressional allies and an army of political surrogates who all will help him in this goal.
    The current onslaught against Mueller is a powerful reminder of why the absence of a vigorous congressional investigation to complement Mueller’s work is so damaging. This has also been the biggest difference between now and the 1970s Watergate investigation that so often evokes comparisons to our current times.
    When prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski conducted their investigations into Richard Nixon, they were not standing alone. The Democratic Congress conducted its own hearings, which were aggressive, public and robust — and allowed the public to see firsthand what had taken place in Nixon’s administration.
    Those congressional hearings helped build public support for the case against Nixon and created a firewall against his efforts to stop the investigation. There was an entire, co-equal branch of government that would not easily succumb to attacks from the person being investigated. In that case, divided government proved to be essential to the abuse of power.
    None of that is true today. We have a highly partisan Republican Congress in charge of investigating a Republican President. Added to that fact is the massive conservative media universe that broadcasts Trump’s point of view.
    Mueller, who is a shrewd prosecutor and familiar with the ways of Washington, is working in relative isolation. As he faces this current challenge, with a meeting scheduled with White House counsel this week, he has few allies in Washington other than powerless congressional Democrats who can’t do much to stand up for him.
    Thus far, the Republicans in Congress have proven to be a feckless bunch when it comes to standing up to the President’s most outrageous actions. Indeed, right now congressional Republicans such as Ohio’s Jim Jordan seem to be more concerned about investigating Mueller than the possibility that Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians and that the President may have obstructed the investigation.
    Mueller might very well be counting on something that just doesn’t exist: political outrage from the Republican Congress. It could be that the President and his team tar and feather the special counsel. They may even go as far as they did with former FBI Director James Comey by firing him, and that life on Capitol Hill simply goes on.

      Trump lawyer challenges scope of Mueller investigation

    Sure, a few Republicans like Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona might issue some angry statements, but in the end, they will likely do nothing.
    Mueller’s best ally has been himself and the hard work of the counsel’s office. The indictments thus far have been powerful and, at least until now, the public has been supportive of what he is doing.
    But there are limits to what Mueller can do on his own, especially as the President and his allies intensify the barrage of attack. This can quickly extract its toll on the reputation of the investigation. Thus far, despite Mueller’s public support and the President’s strong disapproval ratings, it is also important to note that Congress has been quite restrained in how it has handled this and other damaging issues related to the Trump administration.
    Meanwhile, the public has heard very little from the congressional committees investigating the matter, and there has been substantial evidence that partisanship has stifled much of the serious work that they have to do. In fact, in October, the New York Times reported that the House and two Senate committee investigations have encountered serious problems — from inadequate staffing to delays and partisan disputes over the scope of the inquiry — that have hindered their work.

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    The coming weeks will be crucial to the longevity of this investigation. How far will the President go to bring this to an end, and what happens if he takes the most draconian steps possible, such as firing Mueller and closing his investigation?
    The main issue will be whether Trump’s actions even matter anymore or whether we live in a partisan world where there are no boundaries for a president who governs in a united government.
    The only legitimate way this investigation should end is by Mueller saying it is over. But if this story ends a different way, one that some would consider to be a constitutional crisis, will Mueller be like that tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear the sound?

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    You Probably Have These At Home, But Could They Be Giving You Lead Poisoning?

    Crock-Pots. Countless people will tell you they’re the greatest invention since sliced bread, and who can argue with them?

    With this convenient kitchen appliance, the possibilities are basically endless when it comes to all the delicious meals you can make for yourself and your family. But while there’s no shortage of slow cooker fans, there is one worry plaguing the minds of many who use them — do Crock-Pots cause lead poisoning?

    According to Megan McSeveney, a spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency does test ceramic food containers for lead at random “based on some positive findings of extractable lead and cadmium from the glaze used in making ceramic ware over a number of years.”

    Ceramic cookware gets that shiny appearance from being coated in glaze and then baked in a kiln. Some of these glazes contain lead, which can leach into food. Other ceramics like mugs can also leach lead, especially when they’re filled with acidic drinks like coffee.

    But if you have a Crock-Pot brand slow cooker, don’t worry — they aren’t on the FDA’s list of products that have tested positive for lead contamination. Thankfully, many producers of ceramic cookware are now using lead-free glazes. However, that doesn’t mean all ceramics are in the clear.

    You can protect yourself from lead poisoning by reading the labels on all your ceramics (especially handmade and older items) to check whether they’re safe for food and drinks. You can also find home lead testing kits online or at your nearest hardware store. Additionally, NPR suggests making sure your kids are getting enough calcium, as this can decrease the rate of lead absorption.

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    FabFitFun expands its empire with a new app for Apple TV and Amazon Fire

    FabFitFun, the women’s lifestyle subscription service and media company that’s become a household name among influencers of a certain generation, is expanding its empire with the launch of a new video app for Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

    The Los Angeles company founded by Daniel and Michael Broukhim has become one of the darlings of the tech scene in Southern California by virtue of its success in the subscription box business and its reach with the instafamous (cf. the company was recently name-dropped in a New Yorker article; a couple caught canoodling at its latest event made headlines in Page Six; and it created a bespoke box for MTV’s Video Music Awards).

    A common (somewhat envious) refrain among startup founders in LA is: “The Broukhims are printing money.”

    While the brothers Broukhim are mum about the revenue from their retail business, the reach is undeniable, and video is a key component for growth, according to co-founder and co-chief executive Daniel Broukhim.

    It’s also a return to the company’s media roots as an online magazine in 2010. “Brands would send us products for editorial review and provide us with VIP gift bags at media events,” Daniel told us back when the company raised its first (and only) outside cash in 2015. “Nobody was replicating that experience — of getting to try all these amazing products — for public consumption. We thought we could deliver that experience for our audience.”

    Now the Broukhims (and co-founder Katie Rosen Kitchens — the company’s editor-in-chief) are following the rest of the media industry with a “pivot to video.” But unlike other properties, they’re bolstered by a subscription retail business that’s generating significant revenues (I’ve heard well north of $100 million) and a website that reaches more than 3 million visitors per month.

    “We are able to marry content, commerce and community in ways that [subscribers] can’t get anywhere else,” Broukhim told me.

    The evolution of FabFitFun in some ways mirrors the symbiotic evolution of content and commerce online. Influencers, who are integral to how the company markets itself and creates its content, are also now their own brands, much as FabFitFun went from a media property to a retail channel — and also a brand of its own with its own lines of makeup (ISH — in partnership with Joey Maalouf) and clothing and accessories (Summer & Rose).

    The TV app is yet another way to leverage the work the company does across multiple channels with influencers. The boxes inform the videos, which have lived on the company’s website since March. It also complements the company’s iPhone app, which launched earlier this year with an augmented reality experience built around FabFitFun’s subscription boxes.

    The new app will put the company’s videos on Apple TV and Amazon Fire, significantly expanding the footprint beyond its current 400,000 video viewership.

    Most of the content on the app is exclusive to members, but during January a selection of cooking and fitness tips and tricks will be available for free.

    Chefs Silvia Baldini, winner of Food Network’s “Chopped” series, and Pamela Salzman, an LA-based cookbook writer, will offer lessons from the kitchen while new fitness videos will be made available daily on the app and through Facebook Live workouts with popular influencers.

    For instance, Rachel Brathen will be offering yoga classes; oneOeight Fitness Prevail Boxing will be offering boxing lessons; Exhale Spa, is pitching fusion classes of pilates, ballet and yoga; and The Barre Code is offering… well… barre.

    The company also is incorporating its own products into the video content with Burn 60, which uses the FabFitFunTV fitness ball (coming in the company’s next subscription box).

    To help helm this new content voyage, FabFitFun has enlisted Carter Baldwin as the company’s new vice president of content. On the job since August, Baldwin was the former head of his own video shop that worked with brands like JustFab before going in-house at Ipsy to help Michelle Phan grow her beauty empire.

    At FabFitFun, Baldwin will help manage the company’s content creation from the new video production studio space it just set up in its offices.

    “Content is part of FabFitFun’s DNA,” said Baldwin in statement. “We’re excited to build on the momentum of our FabFitFunTV launch earlier this year with the opening of FabFitFun Studios at our newly-expanded headquarters. We expect the space to be a hub for collaboration with our influencer and brand partners to create original content exclusively for our community.”

    New studio space and an app for over the top video distribution are just laying the groundwork for what looks to be a busy year for FabFitFun. According to Daniel Broukhim, there are plans in place for a men’s membership box “down the road” and the company will continue to roll out more brands with its growing stable of influencers.

    “We think the opportunity is to keep launching brands like ISH with influencers as part of our platform,” Broukhim said. “The reason we launched the contour kit is because Joey wanted to do it and our customers wanted it.”

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    Meghan Markle Fought Against Sexist Advertising When She Was 11

    Long before Meghan Markle became engaged to Prince Harry, she was a strong advocate against sexist advertising.

    Years ago, when the future royal bride was only 11, she drew national attention protesting a commercial for Ivory dishwasher soap that claimed “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans,” according to Inside Edition.

    Markle and other students were watching TV in 1993 when the ad came on. She thought the phrasing was odd since doing the dishes is not exclusively a woman’s chore. Then after two male classmates joked about how women “belong” in the kitchen, she felt obliged to take action, Markle recalled in a 2015 speech to the United Nations.

    Markle said her dad advised her to write letters, which she did ― to Procter & Gamble, the maker of Ivory; lawyer Gloria Allred; then-first lady Hillary Clinton; and journalist Linda Ellerbee, who was hosting “Nick News” on Nickelodeon.

    A few weeks later, Markle learned that one voice can make an impact. She received letters of encouragement from both Clinton and Allred, according to The Associated Press. And Ellerbee sent a camera crew to her house to interview the tween activist.

    “I don’t think it is right for kids to grow up thinking that mom does everything,” Markle told “Nick News,” according to Inside Edition. “If you see something that you don’t like or are offended by on television or any other place, write letters and send them to the right people and you can really make a difference, not just for yourself but for lots of other people.”

    Which Markle might have done. Within a month of her letter, Procter & Gamble changed the wording of its ad campaign from “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “people all over America …’,” Markle said in that U.N. speech:

    It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions. At the age of 11, I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality.

    The 2015 speech was delivered as part of Markle’s duties as an “advocate for political participation and leadership” for the U.N. women’s agency. Ellerbee isn’t surprised that 11-year-old girl grew up to be an advocate for women’s rights.

    “It was absolutely clear that this young woman was strong in her beliefs,” Ellerbee told Inside Edition. “It didn’t matter that she was 11 years old. She believed in women and she believed in her own power and wasn’t afraid to reach out and say, ‘I want my power. I want my rights.’”

    HuffPost reached out to Procter & Gamble to see if Markle’s letter had indeed led it to change the ad’s wording, but the cleaning products giant did not immediately respond.

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    Trump Jr. faves tweet about anal bleaching after Russian collusion story breaks

    Does President Donald Trump‘s son support anal bleaching?

    Anal bleaching is the process wherein the skin around one’s anus is chemically lightened to match the surrounding butt flesh. It is entirely cosmetic and wholly unnecessary, but a Daily Mail report from yesterday states that demand for the procedure has soared as celebrities have spoken about undergoing it.

    Demand for anal bleaching has risen by about a fifth in the past year as women ‘feel under pressure to look like porn stars’, figures suggest.

    The trend was sparked after celebrities – including Sophie Kasaei, Charlotte Crosby and Kourtney Kardashian – revealed they have had the procedure.

    That story was shared by Stefan Molyneux, a prominent figure in the “alt-right” movement, the collection of conservatives and Trump supporters that harbors white supremacists.


    That was quoted by Gavin McInnes, a founder of the Proud Boys, a toxic group of far-right men whose tendencies align with that of the “alt-right.”

    McInnes cracked a joke about how he wants anuses to look a certain way when he first encounters them.


    That joke was liked this morning by one Donald Trump Jr., son of the president.


    Screengrab via Donald Trump Jr/Twitter

    In other Trump Jr. news, an NBC report that dropped late last night said that during his infamous June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Trump Jr. asked for damaging information on the Clinton Foundation.

    Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News.

    Veselnitskaya’s written answers reinforced what has long been understood about the Trump Tower meeting: that Donald Trump Jr. accepted it on the promise of incriminating information about Clinton that he had been told was coming from the Russian government. And he asked Veselnitskaya directly whether she had it, according to her written answers. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were also in attendance, as were a Russian lobbyist, a Russian businessman and a translator.

    We all cope in our own ways.


    Update 8:41am, Dec. 6: Trump Jr. has unliked the “anal bleaching” tweet. This article has been updated for clarity.

    H/T Katherine Krueger

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    30+ Hilarious Boyfriends And Husbands Who Make Sure Relationship Is Never Boring

    It’s easy to get complacent in a relationship, which is why it’s important to spice things up every once in awhile. Some men take their significant others out for a spontaneous romantic dinner for example. Others come home with bouquets of flowers, not to say “i’m sorry” but simply to say “you rock.” And some men like to keep things interesting by leaving cardboard cutouts of clowns in the washing machine and pretending to cut their partner’s hair off when they’ve got their back turned. After all, nothing says “I love you” quite as much as a good old practical joke…right?

    Scroll down for more examples, compiled by Bored Panda, of men who are willing to risk their relationship for the sake of a laugh or two. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite!

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    Vermont senior tested ricin recipe on retirement community, feds say

    (CNN)The cupboard above the stove in Betty Miller’s retirement apartment contained bottles labeled “apple seed,” “cherry seed,” “castor beans,” and “ricin,” the FBI says.

    The potentially deadly ricin, federal agents allege, was homemade by the 70-year-old to go into the food and drink of her neighbors at a Vermont continuing care retirement community.
    Earlier this week, the FBI was asked to come to the Wake Robin life care community in Shelburne, Vermont, to investigate a potentially toxic substance.
      When an agent interviewed Miller, she allegedly told him she was making ricin in her home and testing its effectiveness on other residents of Wake Robin.
      “On at least three occasions, Miller exposed other residents to the ricin she had produced by placing it on food and/or in beverages she expected them to ingest,” Special Agent Mark Emmons wrote in a criminal complaint.
      Miller indicated she planned to take the ricin herself one day, Emmons wrote.
      The FBI searched her home and in the kitchen found a wicker basket that had pill bottles with various writings on the labels. A bottle labeled “ricin” was half full with a yellowish white powder, which tests later confirmed was ricin, the complaint says.
      Miller was arrested and charged with unregistered possession of a select agent. She made her initial court appearance Friday.
      CNN was unable to reach the public defender who represented her. A spokesman for the US attorney’s office told CNN she actually is not eligible for a public defender and will need new counsel for her probable cause and detention hearing on Wednesday. It is unclear whether Miller, who is in custody, has hired a new attorney.
      No residents reported symptoms consistent with ricin poison, the complaint says. Authorities said the potential threat was limited to Miller’s home and has been eliminated.
      The retirement community owner said it notified local authorities when they were alerted to the situation. A statement from the president and chief executive officer of Wake Robin did not disclose how the community staff became aware of the potential threat.
      “The safety and security of Wake Robin residents and staff are ALWAYS our highest priority,” Patrick McKee said in a statement. “This was an isolated incident. The toxic substance was contained; no residents were evacuated.”
      Ricin is a deadly toxin derived from castor beans and has no known antidote.
      It can be used in powder, pellet, mist or acid form.
      If enough is ingested it can cause nausea, vomiting and internal bleeding of the stomach and intestines, followed by failure of the liver, spleen and kidneys, and death by collapse of the circulatory system.

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      This House Takes 6 Hours To Build And Costs Just $33K

      In a time when real estate prices are going through the roof, Italian Renato Vidal has created a brilliant alternative to traditional housing. The M.A.Di. is a flat pack folding home that costs only $33K and three people can assemble it in any flat location in about 6 hours.

      The building is certified as seismically safe and created with high-quality material. It comes in a variety of sizes, ranging from a 290-square-foot home for $33K to a 904-square-foot design for $73K. All basic models include a bathroom with sanitary facilities, kitchen connections, one stage staircase and technical installations.

      Once on site, M.A.Di. can even be constructed without a concrete foundation. The structures can be assembled to go completely off-grid with the addition of solar panels, grey water systems, and LED lighting. “It creates cosy and safe places highly customizable according to your needs,” its website writes. Delivery time takes up to 60 days after the acceptance of the final drawings.

      M.A.Di. looks like an ordinary house, but everything underneath the exterior is the complete opposite of “simple”

      It is a flat pack folding home that costs only $33K and three people can assemble it in any flat location in about 6 hours

      The home doesn’t have to be built on a concrete foundation, allowing the structure to have zero impact on the environment

      Here’s a time-lapse of its assembly

      And this is how the structure looks when completed

      The interior has a sleek and modern open-plan style

      And the 290-square-foot home can be customized to grow to a 904-square-foot design

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      Hellish summer of hurricanes smashes FEMA

      (CNN)“We need help.”

      I’ve heard them spat in anger and mumbled in resignation and from California, you can hear them choked through smoke and fear in real time as 2017 explodes the ranks of America’s fastest growing demographic: Disaster survivor.
      Nearly 5 million Americans have registered for federal aid since Labor Day; more victims than Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and Superstorm Sandy combined.
      But the man in charge of answering all those pleas is sounding his own cry for help. FEMA Administrator Brock Long, chosen by Donald Trump to be the nation’s top emergency manager, wants everyone to understand three fundamental truths:
      1. FEMA is broke.
      2. The system is broken.
      3. If this is the new normal, Americans can’t rely on a federal cavalry when disaster strikes. They will have to take care of themselves.
      “I haven’t even been here for six months yet, and what I hope to do is inform Americans about how complex this mission is,” Long says. “I didn’t come up here to do status quo, I’m ready to change the face of emergency management.”
      But out in the disaster zones, that’s a tough sell.
      “If you could talk to the head of FEMA, what would you tell him?” I ask Samantha McCrary, one of the millions of summer of ’17 survivors and the creator of a homemade relief camp in Rockport, Texas.
      “I’d tell him to pull his head out of his ass.”
        Long winces when I play him the clip.
        He has the look of a man who hasn’t slept much since hurricane and wildfire season began and his staff has worked such long hours, many have hit a congressionally mandated pay cap and must give back portions of their overtime pay.
        But he agreed to meet me at FEMA headquarters in Washington to hear a recovery report card from folks I met while retracing the paths of Harvey, Irma and Maria.

        Texas after Harvey

        Most will remember Hurricane Harvey for the water. They remember all those boats on boulevards as Houston became a giant concrete bowl full of rain, but in the beloved tourist town where Harvey came ashore, they remember the wind.
        The storm stalled over Rockport for 13 hours and months later, the proof of its strength is piled in the center of Highway 35, where semi-trucks haul the broken pieces of people’s lives.
        One big truck holds 100 cubic yards of debris. By some estimates, this little town devoted to bird watching, art and the sea will fill 200,000 truckloads.
        “Right here, on my right, is an example of one of our apartment buildings,” Mayor Charles Wax says as he drives past a demolished complex. “There is not a single apartment building operating in this entire city, so all of these people who were renting these apartments are all displaced. They are somewhere. We don’t know where, and we don’t know when and or if they will return.”
        With all five of his main attractions damaged or blown away, Wax worries about an economic death spiral for Rockport. “We had over 1,300 businesses operating in the community. As of last week, we had 360 that reopened,” he tells me in late November.
        On the outskirts of town, there’s proof the federal response can seem as fickle as the storm itself. After Harvey trashed their uninsured mobile home, Bo and Rene Carettini were delighted to receive a brand new, three-bedroom, three-bath modular home, but they admit it is much more than one couple needs.
        “It wasn’t something that we had expected,” Rene says, walking through her new kitchen. “We have a travel trailer and figured we’ll stay in there. When they called about this, I was like, ‘But I didn’t sign up for it.” She says they offered to take something smaller, but FEMA insisted.
        Meanwhile at Samantha McCrary’s pop-up relief camp, she points to a family with special needs children sleeping in their car while an expectant mother lives in a tent in her backyard.
        “How does that make sense?” she says, after her colorful suggestion for Long and his head.
        “I identify with Samantha’s frustrations. When you and your neighbors have lost everything you’ve worked for, it’s an incredibly tough situation,” Long says. “But you have to understand — we don’t have the houses. We don’t have tens of thousands of manufactured homes and travel trailers just stored somewhere ready to go.”
        He explains how FEMA has to order, build, install and inspect each manufactured home at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000 before they go to a family for a temporary lease of 18 months. “And then when it’s done, I’m not allowed to reuse that trailer. I can’t refurbish it and reuse it. We have to dispose of it,” Long says and describes his desire to streamline the cumbersome inspection process while passing housing and reconstruction responsibilities down to states and counties.
          But these are the kind of legislative fixes that could take years. In the meantime, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of Texas storm survivors found that 45% aren’t getting the help they say they need and most of those believe it will never come.

          Florida after Irma

            Weir: This has shaken me unlike anything

          “We’re not leaving until the shit hits the fan.”
          Those were the live-on-CNN words of Peter Althuis, owner of Snappers Bar on Key Largo as Hurricane Irma set her sights on the Conch Republic.
          I was there to do the typical pre-storm live shot; to marvel at the Old Salts and Never Leavers who thumb their nose at the swirling satellite map and mock the “premature evacuators.”
          Since it was near closing time, I let the first expletive slide but then he dropped a second s-bomb, creating a viral moment.
            Thirty-six hours later, the interview took on new meaning when Snappers was washed away.
            But thanks to good insurance and loyal regulars willing to haul wreckage, he was open within days of the storm and now, surrounded by revelers under a tiki-hut reconstruction zone, he greets me in a T-shirt that reads “Snappers: We Give Two Shits.”
            “It was a very positive energy right after the hurricane,” he says. “Everybody is helping each other out. And the government is not doing anything.”
            He’s from Amsterdam, where a sense of unified civic duty keeps the waves at bay in a nation built below sea level.
            “You should expect that government stands up and helps instead of getting in the way.”
            Althuis was angry that county inspectors held up his tiki hut reconstruction, but he now sees a light at the end of the tunnel of red tape.
            Compared to other disaster zones, the Upper Keys are blessed.
            Brandon “Bam Bam” Jimenez, the fishing boat captain who risked life and livelihood to take me into the aftermath, had 19 charters in November. “It’s good to see tourists rally around the Keys,” he says with a smile.
            On Marathon Key, I find “Dub” Richardson at the Seapointe condos — the same spot I found him just after the storm.
            But this time there is no knee-deep sand filling the lobby and blocking the elevator.
            “How long before you’re back to normal?” I ask him.
            “At least a year,” he says.

              Keys’ deer population plummets after Irma

            Farther down the chain of islands, near where the eye wall was strongest, things are so much worse.
            On Big Pine Key, it looks like the storm just ended.
            Massive piles of shattered roofs, waterlogged appliances and wrecked boats fill entire neighborhoods and line US 1.
            Though Monroe County had a cleanup contract in place before Irma hit, Florida’s Department of Transportation gave emergency contracts to outfits two days after the storm made landfall.
            Given the demand for heavy machinery and cleanup crews in the hellish summer of ’17, these contractors were able to charge Florida rates up to 10 times higher than pre-storm levels.
              A damaged refrigerator that would have cost the county $100 to pick up before Irma now costs $969, according to contracts seen by CNN affiliate CBS4 News. The broken boats washed onto US 1 would have set them back $3,200 before the storm. After Irma, the price went to $20,000.
              “FEMA doesn’t do debris,” Long explains. They write the check, but it’s ultimately up to the governor to make sure your federal tax dollars are spent wisely. “There was a huge demand for debris contractors … but I don’t think FEMA should dictate the market rate of the private sector. We encourage them to find a competitive and fair rate, or we don’t reimburse.”
              Those in the tourism economy hope to salvage the high season, and with Key West largely unscathed by Irma, plenty of folks are likely to take the Overseas Highway down to those pastel sunsets and boat drinks.
                But the mess along the way is a stark reminder of how messy local politics affects recovery. Spurred by lawmakers in Florida and Texas, Congress could vote to release up to $81 billion of emergency aid.
                But exactly HOW that money is spent comes down to governors, mayors and county managers. Thus millions of survivors now have a new, keen interest in local elections.

                Puerto Rico after Irma and Maria

                  CNN probe prompts review of Maria death toll

                I met a Vietnam vet named Miguel Olivera in the hills outside San Juan in the days after Maria blew his island to pieces and he told me it was scarier than any firefight in the Cambodian jungle.
                He huddled with Diana Aponte, his wife of 50 years as a 10-story transmission tower crashed through the neighbor’s roof. They talked about saying goodbye but then the storm passed and the real survival began as they tried to keep his last doses of insulin from spoiling in a powerless fridge.
                When I returned a month later, their little street was crawling with power trucks and linemen and Aponte was in high spirits.
                Kind folks at the Department of Veterans Affairs saw our story and sent help!
                Olivera was getting better just as real progress was happening next door.
                Aponte pointed up with pride, “Look! they put the Puerto Rico flag on the tower!”
                But six weeks later, there is still no power and Olivera died the day before Thanksgiving.
                In the end, it was pneumonia and intestinal problems. Aponte is thankful to the VA doctors who tried to save him, but like so many families in Puerto Rico, she wonders: If the island had power, clear roads and able hospitals, would her husband still be alive? Should he be counted among Maria’s dead?
                After investigations by CNN and others, the governor of Puerto Rico is finally asking those same questions. After an island-wide forensic inquiry, the official death toll could jump from 64 to over 1,000.
                That is just one grim puzzle on an island full of them. While the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority says power generation is back to 69%, the operative word is “generation.” Generated power does no good in a mountain town where every line is down and roads must be carved through the jungle before someone can put them back up.
                After the tiny Montana company Whitefish Energy was fired over a scandalous $300 million contract, the Army Corps of Engineers is scrambling to patch together an obsolete grid while “Operation Blue Roof” has helped install around 20,000 tarps to keep the rain out of shattered houses. Another 50,000 families are still on the waiting list. “You have to have enough roof structure to attach a blue tarp to,” Long says while describing the difficulty of a construction mission on an island without enforced building codes.
                “Anytime FEMA is the first responder, the primary responder, like we were in Puerto Rico, it’s never an ideal situation,” the FEMA director says. “But I do believe, for example in Puerto Rico, that we kept that island from complete and total collapse.”
                Even if he’s right, the story of Miguel Olivera and the tower is just one example that Puerto Rico is an ongoing, slow-motion disaster that gets costlier and more complicated by the day. And it’s driving people away. Since Hurricane Irma, hundreds of thousands of the 3.4 million Americans who called Puerto Rico home have left for the mainland.
                While Brock Long preaches pre-storm planning and mitigation, he does not agree with the vast majority of climate scientists who predict the summer of ’17 is just a preview of a hotter planet with bigger, more frequent disasters. “A lot of this could be that the climate is changing,” he says. “But it also could be other things that are cyclical in nature.”
                But he firmly believes that millions of Americans are destined to live through a future disaster. And he wants neighborhoods to prepare for them the way our grandparents prepared for war. “Americans are the true first responders,” he says. “We’ve gotta get back to the basics, and teach people tangible skills, not only how to do CPR and first aid but to shut off your house gas lines or water lines after a disaster. We’ve gotta get people to save money. They need their own rainy day account.”
                The summer of ’17 may be remembered through the ages.
                But the millions who survived it learned the same harsh lesson:
                The storm is just the starting line.
                The fire is just the beginning.
                Once the sun comes out or the smoke clears, you will see how much of your life is gone and what comes next may change the way you think of America.
                For better or worse.

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                Mindspace raises $20 million to launch co-working spaces in the US

                Co-working startup Mindspace recently raised $20 million from Crossroads, a private equity firm in the UK, as it gears up to launch its first two locations in the U.S. While Mindspace is looking to go big or go home in the U.S., it’s starting off slow with its first two locations in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Mindspace started in Tel Aviv about four years ago and has since expanded to Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom.

                Mindspace, in addition to physical office space, offers fully furnished spaces, internet, cleaning services, a fully stocked kitchen, a gym, community lounges and support configuring VPNs and private servers. While Mindspace considers itself to be a premium co-working space provider, its pricing is competitive with other spaces.

                “We offer a much more flexible model than the traditional leasing market,” Mindspace co-founder Dan Zakai told me over the phone. “Flexibility is a big component.”

                What makes Mindspace different from the likes of WeWork and others, Zakai said, is its emphasis on design and attention to detail.

                “Each and every one of the spaces is unique and well-designed,” Zakai said. “There’s a lot of soul put into every one of our locations.”

                When Mindspace started a few years ago, those seeking co-working spaces were mostly startups and freelancers from a variety of industries, he said. Over the past couple of years, Zakai says he’s seen more enterprise companies moving into Mindspace locations. Microsoft, for example, took over two floors in one of Mindspace’s locations in Israel this month. Other Mindspace customers include, Spotify, Siemens, Samsung and Techstars.

                “A lot of companies don’t know how to run their offices, how to create the right culture and vibe for their employees,” Zakai said. “This is something we’ve mastered over the years and I think that’s the key to keeping those companies with us.”

                1. mindspace

                2. mindspace

                Similar to WeWork, Mindspace does not purchase the buildings outright. Leasing means less cost upfront and no interest payments on mortgages. Instead, Mindspace leases them and then makes them fit the startup’s needs.

                “It’s a totally different expertise,” Zakai said. “Buying it means you need expertise in understanding the real estate market. We do operate real estate. It’s a main feature of what we offer, but our expertise is about how to design our spaces, how to create interactions between our members. It’s about building a community, making it a sustainable one and creating a lifestyle for the members. We’d be a very different company if we had to buy the real estate.”

                To date, Mindspace has raised $35 million in funding. WeWork, of course, is moving ahead in full force. In August, WeWork raised a hefty $4.4 billion round from SoftBank Group and SoftBank Vision Fund. With that funding in hand, WeWork swooped up coding school Flatiron School and Meetup, both for an undisclosed amount.

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