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    World shares skidded Thursday, tracking moderate declines on Wall Street as anxiety mounted over the possibility the U.S. and China may not reach a trade deal before next year. China’s Commerce Ministry on batted away rumors that the talks were in trouble with a spokesman saying Beijing was committed to continuing discussions on core concerns. Germany’s DAX lost 0.7% to 13,071.17 while the CAC 40 in France dropped 0.8% to 5,848.82. Britain’s FTSE 100 declined 0.7% to 7,209.60. Wall Street futures augured further losses, with contracts for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both 0.2% lower. In Asia, Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index fell 1.6% to 26,466.88. The Shanghai Composite index lost 0.3% to 2,903.64 while Japan’s Nikkei 225 gave up 0.5% to 23,038.58. A published report suggested the preliminary “Phase 1” trade pact under discussion with China might not be completed this year as negotiators continue to wrestle over differences. Investors have been hoping the world's two biggest economies can reach a deal before new and more damaging tariffs take effect Dec. 15 on about $160 billion in Chinese imports. Those duties would cover smartphones, laptops and other consumer goods. A report by Reuters cited an unnamed Trump administration official saying it was possible a deal might not be reached, but more likely that it would. The comments spooked investors already twitchy over the possible blow to the talks from U.S. Congressional resolutions expressing support for human rights in Hong Kong, where political protests have dragged on for months. Beijing wants Washington to first agree to broader tariff rollbacks on Chinese goods. Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters at a weekly news conference that he had no new information to disclose. But he dismissed speculation the talks were in trouble, saying “outside rumors are certainly not correct.” Gao said China is continuing the discussions in hopes of resolving the disputes over technology and industrial policy for the sake of both countries and the world as a whole. Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 1.4% to 2,096.60 and Australia’s S&P ASX 200 lost 0.7% to 6,672.90. In India, the Sensex edged 0.1% higher to 40,673.75. Growing optimism among investors that the U.S. and China were making progress toward a limited trade deal helped pave the way for gains in the market in recent weeks, including a string of all-time highs for the major stock indexes. That optimism dimmed Wednesday as investors weighed the implications of more tariffs kicking in next month. The two countries have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's goods in the fight over China's trade surplus and technology ambitions. That weighs on trade worldwide and threatens to depress corporate earnings and global economic growth, which has already showed signs of slowing. In other trading, benchmark crude oil shed 29 cents to $56.72 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.66 on Wednesday to settle at $57.01 a barrel. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gave up 37 cents to $62.03. The dollar slipped to 108.47 Japanese yen from 108.59 yen on Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1081 from $1.1075.
  • Japan Display Inc. is pursuing criminal charges against an employee it has accused of taking 578 million yen ($5.4 million) in fake deals. The Tokyo-based maker of displays said Thursday the money was lost at its Japan operations as the employee, who since has been fired, made the illicit payments over four years through October last year. It apologized in a statement to shareholders, customers and other parties for the scandal. A company spokesman said the company learned about the wrongdoing through a whistleblower and filed a criminal complaint in August. Japan Display did not provide further details as an investigation continues. The company was formed in 2012, when Japanese rivals Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi combined their display operations. It has racked up red ink for the last five years and has been seeking help from various backers including the government-supported Innovation Network Corp. of Japan, Japanese electronics makers have often struggled in the rapidly changing display business, especially against the Korean giants Samsung and LG, as global demand has taken off for smartphones and other panel devices. Japan Display has been a supplier to Nintendo and Sharp Corp. The company has more recently said it will focus on supplying the auto business as well as on the medical equipment and the IoT fields.
  • California is expected to have a $7 billion budget surplus next year, but lawmakers were urged Wednesday not to spend all of it because a sizable chunk depends on an upcoming decision by the Trump administration as it feuds with state Democratic leaders. A report from the bipartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says California’s savings account could grow to more than $18 billion by the end of 2021. That’s enough to make it through a typical recession, although the state would likely have to slash public education spending in the event of a downturn, the report said. However, nearly $2 billion of the initial $7 billion projected surplus depends on whether the Trump administration lets California tax organizations that manage the state’s Medicaid plans. California needs permission from the federal government to continue the tax. But the federal government recently proposed new rules that likely would not allow it. It’s unclear when those rules would take effect. “The state is not in this alone,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. “Federal actions may hurt our budget in three ways: by damaging the economy as a whole, by hurling fiscal threats at our revenues, and by withholding funds for programs that benefit Californians.” California’s strained relationship with the Trump administration includes disputes over emission standards for cars and protections for endangered species. “President Trump talks a lot about America’s economic growth under his presidency, but when you look behind the numbers, you see it’s California’s growth that has provided the economic rocket fuel for the nation,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in response to the budget estimate. “The federal government would be wise to look to California as a model for how to get its fiscal house in order.” Democratic legislative leaders viewed the estimate as proof of their responsible stewardship of the world’s fifth-largest economy, with Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins declaring “the days of the perennial budget crisis — even during good economic times — are thankfully behind us.” Still, the legislative analyst warned that risks of an economic slowdown are higher than normal, pointing to weaknesses in housing markets, trade activity, new car sales and business startup funding. Lawmakers were urged not to commit more than $1 billion of the projected surplus to ongoing spending. “This does not necessarily mean a broader economic slowdown is imminent in the near term,” the report said. “Nonetheless, there likely is greater risk in the economic outlook for 2020-21 than in previous budget cycles.” California’s tax revenue has soared since 2012. Unemployment dipped below 4% last month, and the scarcity of jobs has caused employers to increase wages to attract workers. From 2012 to 2017, California wages increased 4% a year on average when adjusted for inflation. California had a record $21.5 billion surplus in the state budget last year. Newsom and the Democratic-controlled state Legislature spent more than half of that money on paying down debts and boosting reserves. About $4 billion of it went to support ongoing programs while the rest was used for one-time projects. The analyst’s office expects wage growth to slow over the next few years. That would affect the state’s personal income tax collections, which is the largest source of the state’s money. Newsom must present his budget proposal to the state Legislature no later than Jan. 10. Lawmakers must pass an operating budget by June 15.
  • Amnesty International issued a scathing indictment of the world’s dominant internet corporations, arguing in a new report that Google and Facebook should be forced to abandon what it calls their surveillance-based business model because it is “predicated on human rights abuse.” The London-based global rights group said in the 60-page report published Thursday that the business model of what it calls the “Surveillance Giants” is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy.” Google and Facebook likewise threaten a range of other rights, including freedom expression and the right to equality and non-discrimination, the group said. The report said the company’s practice of vacuuming up personal data in order to feed voracious advertising businesses represents an unprecedented assault on privacy rights. It says the companies force people to make a “Faustian bargain” to share their data in order to access Google and Facebook services that have grown to dominate the global public square. “This ubiquitous surveillance has undermined the very essence of the right to privacy,” the report said, adding that the companies’ “use of algorithmic systems to create and infer detailed profiles on people interferes with our ability to shape our own identities within a private sphere.” Amnesty called on governments to legally guarantee people’s right not to be tracked by advertisers or other third parties. It called current regulations — and the companies’ own privacy-shielding measures — inadequate. In a written five-page response published with the report, Facebook disagreed with its conclusion that the company’s business practices “are inconsistent with human rights principles.” Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s public policy director, also disputed that the social media behemoth’s business model is “surveillance-based” and noted that users sign up voluntarily for the service, which is nominally free although data collected is used to sell ads. “A person’s choice to use Facebook’s services, and the way we collect, receive or use data — all clearly disclosed and acknowledged by users — cannot meaningfully be likened to the involuntary (and often unlawful) government surveillance” described in international human rights law, the letter states. Google did not offer an on-the-record response to the report but disputed its findings. Amnesty said the company provided input and publicly available documents.
  • Google is making it harder for political advertisers to target specific types of people. The company said that as of January, advertisers will only be able to target U.S. political ads based on broad categories such as gender, age and postal code. Currently, ads can be tailored for more specific groups — for instance, using information gleaned from public voter logs, such as political affiliation. The change will take effect in the UK in the next week, before the general election, and in the European Union before the end of 2019. It will apply everywhere else in early January. Google reiterated that ads making false claims are prohibited, adding that so-called deepfakes — realistic but false video clips — are not allowed. Neither are “demonstrably false” claims that could affect voter trust in an election. But in a blog post announcing the news, Google Ads vice president Scott Spencer noted that political dialogue is important and “no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim and insinuation.” “So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited — but we will continue to do so for clear violations,” he wrote. Like all Google ads, political advertisers can also use the broader practice of “contextual targeting,” which involves placing ads about, say, climate change on articles about the environment. The company is also requiring advertiser verification for a broader range of political messages. Previously, only ads mentioning candidates or officeholders for federal positions required verification. Now that will also include ads touching on state officials and candidates as well as ballot measures. The move follows Twitter’s ban on political ads, which goes into effect on Friday. Twitter also placed restrictions on ads related to social causes such as climate change or abortion. In these instances, advertisers won’t be able to target those ads down to a user’s ZIP code or use political categories such as “conservative” or “liberal.” Rather, targeting must be kept broad, based on a user’s state or province, for instance. Facebook has not made sweeping changes to any of its ads policies, but thrust the issue into public discussion this fall when it confirmed it would not remove false or misleading ads by politicians. Critics have harshly condemned Facebook’s decision. Twitter also faced a backlash from those who found its ban too far-reaching. Google has taken a more middling stance, but it’s unlikely to please everyone. Earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s campaign staff took issue with reports that Facebook might consider limiting its targeting practices. “Facebook wants to take important tools away from us for 2020,” the campaign tweeted from its official account. “Tools that help us reach more great Americans & lift voices the media & big tech choose to ignore!” Even Google’s limited targeting could receive backlash. Critics and civil rights groups have said targeting specific zip codes or other small geographic zones can allow advertisers to discriminate or sway elections. The expansion to Google’s verification process will take effect December 3. __ AP Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.
  • A group of Democratic U.S. senators is questioning Amazon about the security of its Ring doorbell cameras following reports that some Ukraine-based employees had access to video footage from customers’ homes. A letter to Amazon Wednesday from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and four other Democrats said the internet-connected devices may pose national security concerns. News site The Intercept reported in January that Ring employees in the U.S. and Ukraine had access to personal data from cameras around the world. The report said Ring gave a variety of employees and executives access to recorded and sometimes live video footage from customers' homes. Besides citing the report, the senators noted that Ring devices routinely store video recordings and other data on Amazon servers. “If hackers or foreign actors were to gain access to this data, it would not only threaten the privacy and safety of the impacted Americans; it could also threaten U.S. national security,” the senators wrote. “Personal data can be exploited by foreign intelligence services to amplify the impact of espionage and influence operations.” The senators asked the company to explain its practices to address security vulnerabilities. Ring says it’s reviewing the letter. Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Christopher Coons of Delaware and Gary Peters of Michigan joined the letter. The letter comes after Markey on Tuesday released Amazon’s responses to separate privacy and civil liberty concerns. In the response, Amazon said it has considered adding facial recognition technology to its Ring cameras, calling it a “contemplated, but unreleased feature.” Amazon said there are no plans to coordinate such a feature with existing partnerships with law enforcement. Amazon has been encouraging police to tap into Ring’s Neighbors app, a forum for residents to share videos of suspicious activity captured by their home security cameras. Markey expressed alarm that Ring may be pursuing face-scanning technology after a patent application showed the company is exploring a system that could flag certain people as suspicious and automatically alert police. More than 600 police departments have signed up to Ring’s network since last year and many say it is becoming a useful crime-fighting tool.
  • Apple has canceled the premiere of one of the tech company’s first original films, “The Banker” the day before it was to debut at Los Angeles’ AFI Film Festival. In a statement Wednesday, Apple said that last week it learned of “some concerns” surrounding “The Banker” and needs “some time to look into these matters.” An Apple spokesperson declined to elaborate. The based-on-a-true-story film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie. Mackie plays Bernard Garrett who in the 1950s and ‘60s recruited a white man to pose as the face of his expansive real estate and banking business. In 1968, Garrett was convicted of misusing bank funds. The film is Apple’s boldest step yet into moviemaking. A theatrical release is scheduled for Dec. 6, after which it would be a part of the company’s new streaming service, Apple TV Plus. AFI said it would replace 'The Banker' with a screening of Noah Baumbach's Netflix release 'Marriage Story' as its closing-night film.
  • Foreigners who invested in northern Vermont ski area developments that are now linked to a fraud case are suing the federal government for failing to act on their petitions for U.S. residency. The 74 investors bankrolled $500,000 each in projects at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain through a visa program with hopes of getting permanent residency if the developments created a certain amount of jobs. In the lawsuit filed Friday in Florida, the lawyers for the investors accuse the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of leaving the residency petitions of 150 foreigners in limbo. The agency declined to comment Wednesday, saying it does not comment on pending litigation. One man was denied boarding planes in two separate instances when he was traveling to India due to his father’s ailing health, the lawyers stated in the lawsuit. In another example, a man has been unable to close his business in India and move it to the U.S., “leading to considerable financial loss, mental stress, and inconvenience created by the need to maintain presence in two locations,” the lawyers wrote. The man “has not been able to permanently and comfortably settle down with his family in the U.S.” They argue they have been harmed because their investment funds are at risk and because they do not know whether they will get permanent residency. The EB-5 visa program helps foreigners obtain permanent residency by investing in job-creating developments in the U.S. The investors want the government to be required to adjudicate their petitions within 30 days. The investors face ongoing uncertainty about the future, which hinders their ability to make family and life choices and deprives them of peace of mind in knowing where their future will be, their lawyers argue. The investors also face repeated questions and must constantly explain and prove their legal status in the U.S., according to the lawsuit. The projects they invested in are linked to Ariel Quiros, a Miami businessman and former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, and William Stenger, the former president of Jay Peak, who were accused in 2016 of misusing more than $200 million raised from foreign investors. They have reached settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state and have admitted no wrongdoing. They are now facing federal fraud charges, along with two other men, in a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in Newport using foreigners’ money. Quiros and Stenger pleaded not guilty in May to engaging in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, participating in that conspiracy, wire fraud, and concealing facts about the plant's investor funds. Quiros also pleaded not guilty to money laundering.
  • Free to a good home: One newspaper. Not a single edition of a paper but the entire newspaper. Publisher Larry Persily is willing to give away The Skagway News to the right person or couple who are willing to move to Skagway, Alaska, a cruise ship town that once boasted four newspapers during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush days. “The only way this paper has a long-term future, and anything that I’ve ever seen that works with small town weeklies or bi-weeklies is where the small town editor owns, lives and are in the community,” he said. “And that’s what this needs.” Persily has been editing the newspaper he purchased in April remotely from Anchorage, which is 500 miles west of Skagway, near the top of the Alaska Panhandle. It’s a two-person shop, with an editor and a business person on site. The editor gave notice, prompting Persily, a Chicago transplant who has a long history in Alaska journalism, to look for another solution. He declined to say what he paid for the newspaper, but he said it was more than a fully decked-out SUV but less than six figures. The paper has a circulation of about 500, pretty good for a town with a population of less than 1,000 people, but the population swells with young people in the summer working tourism jobs. The newspaper also benefits greatly from tourist trade. With the help of a robust and advertising-filled visitors guide that is handed out to the 1 million or so cruise ship passengers that visit Skagway every summer, the newspaper can pay the owners a salary, but they probably also can’t cover a mortgage. Persily said the new owners need to stem the circulation decline, turn online readers into paid subscribers with the help of a paywall and get even more advertising into the visitor’s guide. “I think this is the best way to do it, is to find the right person or couple,” he said. Persily will set you up to “run the paper and hopefully you and Skagway will live happily ever after. And that’s what’s best.” Weekly newspapers change hands with some amount of regularity, said Rick Edmonds, the media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists. Typically, they are put for sale, and the best-case scenario is they are purchased. If not, the owners consider either closing the newspaper or in some cases, giving it away. Edmonds said gifting a newspaper is not unheard of in the industry. Persily said he has not considered selling the Skagway News. “You can’t sell a paper that doesn’t make money,” he said. It has been a tough 15-year stretch for newspapers because of online pressures and the recession of a decade ago, which led to the closure of many Main Street businesses that traditionally bought newspaper advertising, according to research by Penny Abernathy, the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics professor at the University of North Carolina. Since 2004, about a fourth of them, or 2,100 newspapers, in the U.S, have closed, including 70 dailies. Abernathy’s research found that has left 200 counties in the U.S., with populations ranging from 600 to 1 million, without a newspaper. Jeff Brady started the Skagway News in 1978 and owned it until 2015. He encouraged his friend Persily to buy the paper earlier this year from other owners. “I certainly hope it carries on, and the town certainly doesn’t want it to go away” he said. Brady still lives in Skagway and is more than willing to help out the new owners of the paper — to a point. “I just don’t want to be covering assembly meetings till midnight anymore,” he joked. Persily is adamant that the person who ultimately gets the newspaper must cover all things Skagway. He said one person asked him if there would be time to do investigative reporting of statewide and national interest while also running the paper. “No, you’re going to cover volleyball games, the assembly, bake sales, the remodel of the kitchen at the school, road conditions in the winter,” Persily said. “It is small town life. Don’t think this is going to be your step to investigative prominence reporting.” Persily said his first preference is to give the newspaper to someone from Alaska “so I don’t have to explain to them why the ferry system is messed up or why global warming is affecting salmon returns with low water in the streams or how school funding is a political issue here.” If Alaskans aren’t an option, his selection process will be somewhat arbitrary. However, be forewarned: You’re out if you misspell “Skagway” or “Persily” in your email to him at paper@alaskan.com. His goal is to have new owners in place by January. If he can’t find anyone, he’ll need to fill the editor’s position while he continues to find new owners.
  • As he moves toward a presidential announcement, New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg is rolling out plans to spend an estimated $15 million to $20 million on a voter registration drive designed to weaken President Donald Trump’s reelection chances in five battleground states. News of the large investment, confirmed by Bloomberg’s team on Wednesday, comes less than a week after the former New York City mayor unveiled a $100 million online advertising campaign attacking Trump in four general election swing states as well. The new effort will target 500,000 voters from traditionally underrepresented groups that typically lean Democratic, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, young voters and those living in some rural communities. The drive will begin early next year in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, but could expand to more states. The move marks another significant show of financial force demonstrating Bloomberg’s ability to run what senior adviser Howard Wolfson described as parallel campaigns over the coming year. Bloomberg has already filed paperwork to qualify for presidential primary ballots in three states. The 77-year-old former Republican and independent, who formally registered as a Democrat just last year, is expected to make a formal announcement about his 2020 intentions in the coming days. “If Mike runs, we’re going to try to do what we can to run two campaigns simultaneously,” Wolfson said. “One campaign is a primary campaign — and there are a lot of great people in that contest and a lot of focus and activity around that,” he added. “But at the same time, there’s another campaign going on that the president has begun that ends in November that also needs to be engaged. And one of the arguments that we would make on behalf of Mike to primary voters is (that) he is able to wage these two campaigns simultaneously — effectively and simultaneously.” The new voter registration drive targets voters across five states that Trump won in 2016 largely by narrow margins. The Republican president carried Michigan and Wisconsin by less than 1 point and Arizona and North Carolina by 3 points. The exception is Texas, where Trump scored a 9-point victory, but where Democrats are increasingly hopeful that demographic shifts backed by California transplants will make the state more competitive next year. Earlier in the week, the left-leaning organization NextGen America launched a registration and turnout operation of its own across 11 general election battlegrounds. The group, founded by Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, plans to spend $45 million over the coming year and register at least 270,000 young voters. Madison, Wisconsin, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is part of a training program for mayors across the country funded by Bloomberg, said Bloomberg’s new investment would make a significant difference on the ground in her state, where Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes. “That’s a big, hairy, audacious goal. I think it’s great,” she said. As to whether she thinks Bloomberg should run for president, Rhodes-Conway noted there are already a lot of candidates, but said, “The more the merrier.” The Democratic Party is largely focused on its presidential primary phase of the 2020 election, which will be decided at the party’s national convention in July. Trump has no significant primary challenger, so he’s already working aggressively to strengthen his reelection bid. “Mike is taking the fight directly to Trump where it matters most, in general election battleground states,” said Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter. “He did it last week through a $100 million digital ad buy. He's doing it this week at the ballot box.”

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • The man who helped bring the NBA's Magic to Orlando is leading an effort to do the same thing with professional baseball. During a news conference at Dubsdread Golf Course Wednesday, Orlando Magic co-founder Pat Williams said he wants a Major League Baseball expansion team to come to Orlando. He announced the team would be called the Orlando Dreamers.  In an Interview on Orlando's Evening News with Tony Marino,  Williams said from Walt Disney to John Young to thousands of people that move to Orlando each month, the city is about dreamers. 'We're the largest market that doesn't have a Major League Baseball team or an NFL team,' Williams said. He said that professional baseball has not worked well in Miami or Tampa but that he is convinced the Orlando market would be different.  Williams said he called the MLB commissioner’s office Wednesday and left a message about his plan. He encourage people to answer two simple questions at OrlandoDreamers.com, to help gauge interest.
  • The man whose toddler granddaughter plummeted from a cruise ship window in Puerto Rico this summer appeared in court Wednesday with an attorney and translator present. According to CBS News, no evidence was released. The court is expected to pick a trial date on Dec. 17.  >> Read more trending news  Puerto Rican authorities charged Salvatore Anello, 50, was charged in October with negligent homicide in the July 7 death of 18-month-old Chloe Wiegand of Granger, Indiana. A judge set Anello's bond at $80,000. Chloe and her family were aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas when Anello placed her on a railing by an 11th-floor window, believing glass would be behind her, he told authorities. But the window was open, and Chloe fell through, the Sun Sentinel reported. The girl struck a concrete dock and died, officials said. The Wiegand family's attorney, Michael Winkleman, blasted the charges and said Royal Caribbean should have 'followed proper safety guidelines for windows,' NBC News reported. 'These criminal charges are pouring salt on the open wounds of this grieving family,' he told the news outlet. 'Clearly, this was a tragic accident, and the family's singular goal remains for something like this to never happen again.' In a July 22 interview with 'Today,' Chloe's mother, Kimberly Wiegand, said she and her husband, South Bend police Officer Alan Wiegand, believed that Royal Caribbean had put their safety at risk. 'We obviously blame them for not having a safer situation on the 11th floor of that cruise ship,' she said at the time. 'There are a million things that could've been done to make that safer.' The family also was pursuing legal action against the cruise line, 'Today' reported. Royal Caribbean released a statement in July saying the company was 'deeply saddened by this incident, and our hearts go out to the family,' according to 'Today.
  • The kidnapping of an 8-year-old Texas girl that was captured by a doorbell camera in May is once again in the public eye, in large part due to body camera footage released Monday by police that depicts the girl’s equally dramatic rescue by officers. The video shows Fort Worth police officers rushing the room at WoodSpring Suites, located in the nearby suburb of Forest Hill, where kidnapper Michael Webb had taken the girl and sexually assaulted her. Webb, a homeless man who was convicted in September of kidnapping, was sentenced Thursday to life in federal prison with the possibility of parole, according to court records. U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, who prosecuted the case for the Northern District of Texas, said last week that it took jurors less than 10 minutes to find Webb, 51, guilty of snatching the girl from her mother’s arms around 6:38 p.m. May 18 as they took a walk in the Ryan Place neighborhood of Fort Worth. Officers found the girl about eight hours later, hidden in a plastic bin of dirty laundry in Webb’s hotel room. Cox said in a statement that federal prosecutors are grateful for the judge’s decision to sentence Webb to life in prison. “My hope is that this family and this community will find solace in knowing that he will never be able to harm another little child again,” Cox said. >> Read more trending news  Investigators credited civilians, one of whom was identified by ABC News as a pastor familiar with the child’s family, with first spotting Webb’s vehicle in the hotel parking lot and calling for help. “I’d like to give you all a hand, as citizens in this community, for pulling together the way you did,” Joel Fitzgerald, then the Fort Worth’s police chief, said at a news conference following the girl’s safe recovery. A Forest Hills police sergeant, Richardson Wolfe, was later fired for discounting those same civilians’ concerns, despite the fact that they were correct, Forest Hills police Chief Dan Dennis said in June. “They had located what was correctly the suspect’s vehicle. He basically discounted that,” Dennis said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “He looked at the suspect vehicle as unrelated and essentially tried to talk them out of it being the right vehicle. “Fort Worth showed up and took that same evidence and, within minutes, was breaching the door.” Wolfe also failed to find the girl when he searched Webb’s hotel room more than two hours before her rescue. The sergeant was called to the scene after someone who noticed Webb -- and the young victim -- at the hotel called the front desk and told the clerk they thought he was the man being sought by Fort Worth authorities. The clerk, who called police, pointed Wolfe and another officer to Webb’s third-floor room, the Star-Telegram reported. After officers knocked for several minutes, Webb eventually opened the door. “Michael Webb was less than cooperative, but after several minutes, the officers were permitted to step into the room and look,” according to a statement to the Star-Telegram. “Upon entry into the room, the officers made visual inspection of the areas of the room that appeared to be large enough to conceal the missing child. They did not locate any other occupants inside the room. “With no one located and no other information available, the officers cleared the scene.” Dennis said in June that Wolfe’s failure to find the girl during that first sweep of the room was not a factor in his termination, according to WFAA in Dallas. The search had been a reasonable one, the chief said. Instead, his termination stemmed from his response to the tip from the pastor, which the news station said Dennis described as “woefully incompetent” and displaying “shocking ineptitude.” Forest Hills officers, including Wolfe, were the first to return to the hotel shortly after 2 a.m. after receiving the tip about Webb’s car in the parking lot. Fort Worth officers arrived about six minutes later and took over, since the kidnapping took place in their jurisdiction. “The child was located with Michael Webb a short time later,” the release to the newspaper said. Dennis said Wolfe could not remain on the force after his handling of the tip that led to the girl’s rescue. “After looking at all of it, I wouldn’t have wanted him to respond to the call if it was my 8-year-old, so I can’t keep him on staff,” Dennis said. ‘We got her! We got her!’  The body camera footage released Monday shows the officers’ remarkable discovery. The video, which was obtained by multiple media outlets, begins with the officer wearing the camera racing toward the hotel in a police cruiser. As he approaches the scene, he does so without activating the car’s lights and sirens. His partner asks why. “If this guy’s looking out the windows, I’m not trying to let him see that we’re rolling around,” the officer responds. Once at the hotel, the officer is seen hurrying inside and asking a woman who appears to be a hotel housekeeper if she has the room information for Room 333, where Webb was staying. “I need it real fast,” he tells the woman, which sends her running into a small office, where she pulls Webb’s registration paperwork from a filing cabinet. The officer determines the man in the room matches the description of the wanted kidnapper. He takes the paperwork back outside, where some of his fellow officers are using flashlights to search the ground for clues. According to prosecutors, the officers had confirmed the presence in the parking lot of the car suspected in the abduction. Blood was visible on the front passenger seat, they said. The officer recording the search is seen handing a colleague the hotel paperwork, asking her to hold on to it. Meanwhile, other officers are already closing in on Webb upstairs. After obtaining a police shield, the officer with the body camera is seen running up several flights of stairs to the third floor, where a team waits outside Room 333. Webb and the girl are on the other side of the door. “Fort Worth PD, open the door,” an officer is heard calling as he knocks repeatedly, getting no answer. After several seconds, an officer gives the command, “Ram it.” As one officer kicks at the door and another readies a metal battering ram, Webb calls from the other side: “Hold on.” “Open the door! Open the door! Fort Worth Police Department! Open the door!” an officer yells. Webb doesn’t respond, so the officer with the ram begins striking the door. “Hold on, man, I’m getting dressed,” Webb calls. “Open the God-(expletive) door!” an officer yells back. The officer with the ram hits the door a fourth and final time as Webb tells officers he’s opening the door. “Hands. Let me see your hands,” an officer tells him as the door swings open. “Step out here. Step out.” “God (expletive),” Webb mutters, sounding annoyed, as the officers grab him and begin to pull him into the hallway, naked except for a pair of white socks. Two officers force him onto the ground and handcuff him as the rest swarm into the hotel room, guns drawn, in search of the girl. “Blood on the bed,” an officer notes as the beam of a police flashlight illuminates the room. A moment later, success. “Hey, here she is! Here she is!” an officer exclaims. The girl is seen rising from the plastic bin as the officer squats down to pick her up. Her small arms encircle his neck. “Got her! We got her! We got her!” another officer calls out in the video. Watch the footage below, courtesy of WFAA. Warning: The video may be difficult for some viewers. As the officers, out of breath but jubilant, radio in the news that the girl has been found and Webb is in custody, she is heard asking them about her clothes. “Don’t worry about your clothes,” an officer tells her. The officer wearing the body camera finds a towel to wrap around the girl. “Here you go, baby,” the officer says as he hands the towel to a colleague. They then head down the hotel stairwell with the girl. “Come here, sweetheart,” the officer says as he holds the door to the stairwell open. “You’re OK,” the officer carrying the girl says. “Yeah,” she responds. “You’re safe, we got you,” the officer continues as they begin their descent. “You’re going to be OK,” the officer filming the incident says. As they arrive in the parking lot of the hotel, the officers order two men in the parking lot to stand back. One of them is later identified as the girl’s father, who is on the phone telling someone where his daughter had been found. According to ABC News, the pastor who called in the tip about Webb’s car was also at the scene when the girl was brought out. A brazen daylight kidnapping  Officers wrapped Webb in a sheet and took him to the police station where, in a three-hour recorded statement, he admitted to kidnapping and raping the girl. According to the Star-Telegram, FBI Special Agent Chris Thompson and Fort Worth Police Detective Amy Heise asked Webb early in the interview if he knew why he was there. “A little girl,” he responded. “That little girl.” Webb initially lied to the investigators, claiming he’d been paid $1,000 by a man named Nick to abduct and sexually assault the 8-year-old, the newspaper reported. He came clean about two hours into the interview, telling Thompson and Heise they deserved the truth because they had “been nice to (him) considering what the (expletive) he did.” Crying at times, Webb told the investigators he arrived at the hotel with the girl around 8:30 p.m. after spending a couple of hours in the car in an empty church parking lot. He made her stay hidden on the front passenger floorboard of the vehicle, court records indicate. Webb admitted in his confession that he threatened the girl in an effort to keep her from telling police what he’d done to her. “What did you say to scare her, Michael?” Heise asks in the video. “I told her if she said anything, I would do something to her parents,” Webb says, sobbing. The girl told investigators that same threat is what kept her quiet the first time police showed up at the kidnapper’s hotel room looking for her. Webb’s federal public defender, John Stickney, attempted in September to get his confession thrown out, alleging that his client had not slept in three days and was not lucid enough the morning of May 19 to waive his right to speak without a lawyer present. Following a hearing that included testimony from Thompson, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor denied the motion, the Star-Telegram reported. During the trial, Webb’s lawyers did not cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses or call any of their own. According to the newspaper, they urged jurors to ignore the emotions brought up by the testimony regarding the girl’s sexual assault. Stickney argued during his closing that the government failed to produce evidence that Webb was participating in interstate commerce during the crime, one of the elements that must be proven under the federal law against kidnapping. Court records in the case cite the hotel’s proximity to the interstate, making it a popular stopover for interstate travelers, as proof of that element of the kidnapping charge. Webb, who used Google maps on his cellphone to find the hotel, also drove along Interstate 35 and Interstate 20 to get there. “The cellphone, the internet and the interstate highways were used to facilitate and to further the commission of the offense because they helped Webb reach the hotel by the most direct route,” the documents say. The records and media reports describe how Webb, who was driving a gray Ford 500 registered to his mother, approached his victim and her mother twice as the pair walked along 6th Avenue in Fort Worth the evening of the abduction. According to the Star-Telegraph, the girl’s mother, who was not named to keep her daughter from being identified because of the sexual assault, testified at Webb’s September trial that he asked her upon his first approach if she wanted to get high. He also asked if she liked money, the woman said. Webb drove off but returned a short time later. That time, he got out of the car and grabbed her daughter, pushing the girl into the car through the driver’s door before climbing in after her. The girl’s mother tried to climb onto his lap to hit the brakes, but Webb was able to push her out of the car and speed away. In his confession, portions of which have been made public, Webb tells Thompson and Heise he “scoped (the neighborhood) out pretty good” in advance. Still, he said, he must have missed at least one witness. “When I pushed the woman and grabbed her, I heard somebody screaming. I heard somebody screaming,” Webb says in the video. That portion of the abduction was captured on a doorbell camera across the street from the scuffle. In the grainy footage, the girl’s mother can be seen falling to the asphalt as Webb drives off with her daughter. She gets up and runs down the street, screaming for help. “Help me! Help me, please!” the girl’s mother screams. “My daughter just got kidnapped!” Watch footage from the doorbell camera below, courtesy of ABC News. The homeowner of the home with the camera can be seen stopping in his yard and watching in alarm as the woman runs down the street. Webb’s car speeds off in the distance. The girl’s mother was equally frantic in her 911 call, which was obtained by ABC News. “A car, a gray car, just drove off. I think it was a handicap. He just kidnapped my daughter,” the panic-stricken woman tells the dispatcher. “He dragged me off the street and kidnapped my daughter.” The woman pleads with the dispatcher, describing the abductor as a scary man who had been harassing them. She says police need to find her daughter, now. “Please,” she tells the dispatcher. “I can’t let her be gone! Please!” A critical clue  Thompson, who works on the FBI’s Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force, told ABC News the doorbell camera that caught the tail end of the abduction was a lucky break. The camera is not designed to record any random movement in the street, like a car driving past. It kicked on when the homeowner stepped outside. “The person who owned the home, essentially, accidentally activated the Ring doorbell at that time,” Thompson told the network. The footage, which gave investigators a look at the kidnapper’s vehicle, was crucial. “The Ring doorbell video was the only piece of video that was available for this particular case. It was absolutely critical,” the FBI agent said. The girl’s mother was also able to give detectives a description of the man who snatched her daughter. News of the abduction spread quickly through Fort Worth-area media, leading several members of the community to aid in the search for the missing girl. Heise, who led her department’s investigation, also reached out to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security for assistance. Heise told ABC News each moment that went by without word of the girl’s whereabouts and safety felt heavy. “It felt like time was flying by and that I was moving so slow, and that I just could not move fast enough,” Heise told the network. “Because I knew we needed to move fast, and it just felt like I just couldn't get it done.” The detective said she was in a “state of shock” when she learned the girl had been found alive. “I was working as hard as I could to find this little girl, and I just couldn't believe that we had done it,” Heise said. “And in that moment, I just felt a great sense of gratitude to the community, because they did this. They did this. It wasn't us.” Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office, said following Webb’s September conviction that he was proud of the collaboration of all those involved in the case, including his agency’s Child Exploitation Task Force and the Fort Worth Police Department’s Major Case Unit Task Force. He also thanked the citizen volunteers, who he said “worked tirelessly” to help bring the victim home to her family. “The critical role volunteer searchers and other members of the public played in recovering the victim cannot be overstated, and the FBI is grateful for their assistance,” DeSarno said. Following Webb’s sentencing Thursday, DeSarno said law enforcement and area residents took a dangerous predator off the streets. “Today’s sentence sends an important message to all predators,” the agent said. “We will not allow any crime against children to go unpunished.”
  • When a red-tailed hawk became trapped in a net at Orlando’s Top Golf on Wednesday morning, firefighters decided to “wing it” and come up with a unique rescue plan. “It just goes to show that when our firefighters come to work, they don’t know what the day will bring,” said Mike Jachles with Orange County Fire and Rescue. Around 8 a.m. workers at Top Golf on Universal Blvd. noticed a hawk caught in a net about 50 feet up at the end of a driving range.  Orange County Fire and Rescue reached out to SeaWorld and the Orange County Convention Center to help in their operation. “The plan was devised to send some of the SeaWorld workers up in a lift that the Orange County Convention Center brought over,” Jachles said.  “They had to work for several minutes to free the hawk.  They got a hold on him, brought him down to the ground and got him in a cage.” Firefighters were waiting on the ground with a tarp as a backup plan in case the hawk fell, but it didn’t happen. “Fortunately it had a good outcome,” Jachles said. The red-tailed hawk was taken back to SeaWorld for their veterinarians to check out.  They told Jachles they’d give the bird fluids and eventually release it in the area from where it was rescued. “This is definitely one of the more peculiar animal rescue calls,” Jachles admitted. (App users tap here to see the video) (Tap here for video)
  • Committing fraud against a veteran could become an “aggravated” white-collar crime next year. Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced his support of The Florida Veterans Protection Act at the University of Central Florida this morning. “When you take advantage of one of our veterans, we’re going to take the level of the law and make it as punitive as we can for those individuals,” Patronis said. The bill, filed in September, would enhance the sentence of a fraudster who victimizes 10 or more veterans to obtain $50,000 or more to a first-degree felony. If approved in January, the bill would become law on Oct. 1 2020.  Florida is home nearly 1.5 million veterans who, according to Patronis, are twice as likely to be the victim of fraud.

Washington Insider

  • Ambassador Gordon Sondland drew stern rebukes from Republican lawmakers on Wednesday as he told impeachment hearings that President Donald Trump's personal lawyer had made clear that in order for the new leader of Ukraine to get a White House meeting with the President, then Ukraine would have to announce investigations sought by Mr. Trump. 'Mr. Giuliani's requests were a quid pro quo,' Sondland said, as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union said it became clear to him that the President ultimately had been holding up military aid to Ukraine to leverage those same investigations as well. 'We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani,' Sondland added. While Sondland repeatedly acknowledged that no one - including President Trump - had told him the aid for Ukraine was tied to any investigations wanted by Mr. Trump, the Ambassador said he ultimatley felt that was the bottom line. 'That was my presumption,' Sondland said. Seemingly caught off guard by Sondland's testimony - which more sharply alleged that there was a clear effort to condition aid to Ukraine for a series of investigations than his previous deposition testimony - Republicans ultimately took the gloves off, and took after the President's own ambassador. 'You really have no testimony today that ties President Trump to a scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in exchange for these investigations,' said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). 'Other than my own presumption,' Sondland interjected, further aggravating Turner, his voice growing more strident by the minute. 'Do you know what hearsay evidence is ambassador?' Turner asked. 'Do you know what made up testimony is?' GOP lawmakers mocked Sondland's earlier statement that he presumed the aid-for-investigations effort was true, when he said he realized 'two plus two equals four.' 'Two presumptions plus two presumptions does not equal even one fact,' said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH). Earlier, GOP counsel Stephen Castor sought to undercut Sondland's testimony, rattling off a series of items which Sondland did not have to back up his presumption. 'You don't have records, you don't have notes, because you didn't take notes, you don't have a lot of recollections,' Castor said.  'I mean, this is like the trifecta of unreliability, isn't that true?' Castor asked, who did not gain the agreement of Sondland.  'What I'm trying to do today is use the information I have to be as forthcoming as possible,' said Sondland. Republicans also complained openly to Sondland about why he did not use a quote from the President - which Sondland had used in a text message - denying any kind of quid pro quo. 'Do you know what a quid pro quo is?' asked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who said Sondland should have made that one of the first items in his lengthy opening statement. Ironically, at the start of the hearing, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), warned the Oregon hotel developer that he faced a difficult day. 'Ambassador Sondland, you are going to be smeared,' Nunes declared. But the roughest treatment for Sondland actually came from the GOP, and not from Democrats. Here is the link to my live updates on today's hearing.