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Amsterdam mayor slams tourists who 'humiliate' sex workers…

Amsterdam’s mayor has stepped up her campaign to change the city’s seedy image, scolding visitors who make the pilgrimage to its red-light district for treating sex workers like a tourist attraction.

Calling their treatment “unpalatable” and “humiliating,” Femke Halsema told the Amsterdam daily, Het Parool, that growing tourism to the red-light district was making it increasingly difficult for the city’s sex workers to ply their trade safely or with dignity. 

With as many as 20 million visitors coming to Amsterdam every year, the city is struggling to cope with the growing number of tourists, which amounted to just 10 million in 2000. Not only has this affected the availability of housing, but it has also put increased pressure on the tiny red-light district and the women who work there.

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Amsterdam's red light district © Koen van Weel

Amsterdam's red light district © Koen van Weel

The circumstances in which women have to do their work have worsened,” Halsema said of the city’s current state of affairs. She added that the city’s locals did not want prostitution to be this way, or think that the current state was “how it was supposed to be.”

Halsema, who was elected to the job in June 2018, blasted such a “display of vulnerable women” and has promised a list of measures by the summer. Issues faced by women working in the city’s sex trade include the existence of unlicensed prostitution, which has been linked to the trafficking of women. 

First and foremost, we need to ensure that they are more independent and empowered, and are not being abused or used as commodities,” she added.

The mayor’s comments were reiterated, albeit more radically, by a cross-party group of political youth activists, who have described the district as a “public meat market.

Reforms proposed by the group include requiring women to be resident in the Netherlands for at least a year prior to taking up employment in the sex trade.

Halsema’s call for action follows her August greenlighting of a plan that would see the district’s streets temporarily closed on busy nights. This allows street cleaners to clear away the growing piles of rubbish and puddles of spilled beer, vomit, and human waste left by revelers.

Also on ‘Police can no longer handle the lawless jungle after dark in Amsterdam’ – ombudsman

Her predecessor, Eberhard van der Laan, also oversaw similar efforts. In 2017, he opened a brothel run by sex workers who leased a building owned by the city.

Dubbed the “Municipal Brothel” by Amsterdammers, the scheme aims to diminish reliance on pimps and underworld influences.

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NFL Owners Approach NBA Commissioner to Run League…

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he hasn’t “given any thought” to inquiries by NFL owners about his willingness to switch leagues and become commissioner of the NFL.

While Silver did not explicitly confirm that he had been approached by NFL owners, sources close to the situation told ESPN that several NFL owners have tried to persuade Silver to run their league over the course of his five years as the NBA’s commissioner. Silver has also been approached by a number of Fortune 500 companies, according to sources.

“I’ll just say I have not given it any thought,” Silver told ESPN about his reaction to those job opportunities. “I feel very fortunate to be in this position. As a longtime fan, as a longtime league employee, the opportunity to become the commissioner of this league was beyond anything I even ever dreamed of as a kid.

“I’ve loved every day I’ve been in this job, and I think there’s nothing but enormous opportunity ahead for this league. And ultimately, I realize I’m just passing through like every player who’s gone through this league and ultimately like every owner, and I feel an enormous obligation to the fans and to this greater NBA family to do my best and try my hardest every day. But that’s where 100 percent of my focus is.”

ESPN’s Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham reported in August 2017 that a confidant of an NFL owner reached out to gauge whether Silver would be interested in running the NFL, to which Silver immediately said no.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell signed a five-year extension worth up to $200 million in December 2017. Silver signed a five-year extension with the NBA in June that runs through the 2023-24 season.

Silver is celebrating his five-year anniversary as NBA commissioner this weekend at the All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina. He officially succeeded David Stern as the league’s fifth commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, and held his first State of the NBA news conference on Feb. 15 of that year at the All-Star Game in New Orleans.

League revenues have increased from $4.8 billion to a projected $9.1 billion in Silver’s five years. Team valuations have increased by 267 percent, from an average of $509 million in 2013 to $1.9 billion in the latest Forbes Magazine valuations.

The NBA has been a vanguard in embracing esports, legalized sports betting, allowing patch advertisements on jerseys, reform of the draft lottery and rules changes to improve game flow and referee accountability.

Kamala Harris fundraising 'falling short'…

That was fast.

Some 17 days after announcing her 2020 Democratic presidential bid before a sizable crowd of 20,000, California Sen. Kamala Harris has issued an urgent email headlined “Falling Short.”

In it, her campaign pleads for donations in time for the next Federal Election Commission reporting period, which campaigns use to show if they have the needed financial support to push through the Iowa caucuses.

“I need to be direct: right now, we are at a real risk of falling short of our February fundraising goals,” said the email signed “Kamala.”

Democratic campaign experts said that it will cost candidates $50 million to $100 million just to get to the early 2020 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Several campaigns are competing with each other for donations and staff. Often as FEC deadlines near, campaigns issue dire warnings not because they are falling short but because they want to pump up their final number.

Below is her full email:

“I need to be direct: right now, we are at a real risk of falling short of our February fundraising goals. I hope you will give me a moment to explain what these monthly fundraising goals mean — and why your support matters so much.

But first, I have to ask: will you pitch in a donation of $10 or more to our campaign for president? We are rejecting contributions from corporate PACs and lobbyists — putting our campaign directly in the hands of our supporters. Each grassroots donation we receive helps us move closer to reaching our goals.

In the coming days, I am excited to head to New Hampshire and South Carolina to host town halls, and soon, I will head to Iowa and Nevada. I can’t wait to hear directly from supporters why they are excited about joining our people-powered campaign.

But — maybe most importantly — I am looking forward to answering questions about my vision for our country, and hearing more about the issues that matter most to your communities.

And I am excited to report that our campaign team is also growing with each passing day. We are staffing up at our headquarters, building out departments to run the most successful campaign we can. And we are hiring diverse staff across the country to begin outreach, organizing on the ground to build our movement — a true grassroots-up model.

This is how we are going to win: putting the power in the hands of the people who are powering our campaign. People just like you.

You are a founding member of our campaign — so it is important to me that you know exactly where your contributions go. The plans I listed above are just some of the amazing things on the horizon for our team — things that YOU made possible.

This is exactly why we cannot afford to fall short of our monthly fundraising goals. I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t mean so much: can you help us get back on track for February with a donation of $10 or more today?

Thank you for your help,

— Kamala”

Animals have brought peace…

Actor reflects on her despair at human nature and how animals have brought her peace

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot: ‘The majority of great actresses met tragic ends.’
Photograph: Jacques Brinon/AP/PA Photos

She was the ultimate screen goddess, who gave it all up, dedicating herself to protecting animals for the past 46 years. Now, in a forthcoming memoir, Brigitte Bardot laments the destructive nature of celebrity, saying it suffocated her and robbed her of the ability to go anywhere without being approached by strangers, some of whom wanted to embrace and touch her.

“I know what it feels like to be hunted,” she says.

Now 84, she rose to fame after the success of films including And God Created Women. But in 1973, at the height of her career, she left it all behind.

Singling out screen legends such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, who died alone, she said: “The majority of great actresses met tragic ends. When I said goodbye to this job, to this life of opulence and glitter, images and adoration, the quest to be desired, I was saving my life.”

She added: “This worship of celebrity … suffocated me.”

Her book, Tears of Battle: An Animal Rights Memoir, is a collaboration with Anne-Cécile Huprelle and Grace McQuillan and will be published in April by Skyhorse Publishing. She dedicates it to animals and writes of her despair in human beings, whom she says inflict all sorts of evils and sufferings upon them for their own needs, leisure and pleasure. It is the first English edition of a book published in French last year.

She said: “Humans have hurt me. Deeply. And it is only with animals, with nature, that I found peace.”

Bardot was the ultimate pin-up, the epitome of beauty, but she says she never felt beautiful. As a child, she told herself: “I’m ugly.”

She writes of her extreme shyness: “The sheer dread … that fills me when I am face-to-face with most humans … made me suffer atrociously during my life as an actress.”

She adds: “In the beginning, I enjoyed having people talking about me, but very quickly, it suffocated and destroyed me. Throughout my 20 years starring in movies, each time filming began, I would break out with herpes.”

Bardot spoke of men who “didn’t know how to separate the love they felt for me from what I represented in the eyes of the world”. She said photographers hounded her, their cameras emerging from behind a bush or a rubbish bin. “I could sense their presence, the watching,” she said.

She dreams of a life of almost complete anonymity. “I don’t know what it means to sit quietly in a bistro, on a terrace, or in the theatre without being approached by someone,” she said.

The idea of visiting a restaurant fills her with dread. She said: “People will come up to me. They’ll be watching what Brigitte Bardot is eating, how she holds her fork. They will ask for yet another photo. I have never refused. But I still can’t stand being watched. Certain people … want to embrace me, to touch me.”

Most of the book is devoted to animals. She talks extensively about the “unspeakable suffering” to which they are subjected by “man’s barbarism every day”.

“Do you know, for example, what is done to certain male chicks? They are crushed alive because they are unable to lay eggs and because they do not possess the same assets as chickens raised for their flesh.”

Describing the achievements of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, her organisation dedicated to the protection of animals, she said: “We have financed the construction of a wild animal hospital in Chile, as well as a park to care for mistreated bears in Bulgaria, for koalas in Australia, for elephants in Thailand, and for horses in Tunisia. If the foundation wasn’t active, a great many species conservation programmes would be non-existent.

“In a way, humanity remains like an animal. It functions as a herd. Man is fundamentally selfish, and most people do not react to a cause unless it directly affects them … I want the public to be indignant, to come out of its comfort zone.”

However, Bardot’s views on animal welfare have led to her being condemned by French courts for anti-Muslim comments, and fined. She faced French judges five times for “incitement to racial hatred” between 1997 and 2008.

Eerie 'witch symbols' found scratched into 'cave to hell'…

HUNDREDS of spooky “witch marks” have been discovered in a cave once believed to lead to hell.

The eerie etchings were carved into the stone walls of Creswell Crags near Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, the supposed home of Robin Hood.

 One of the hundreds of witches' marks found at Creswell Crag near Sherwood Forest

Press Association

One of the hundreds of witches’ marks found at Creswell Crag near Sherwood Forest

Experts believe the newly found symbols are the largest collection of its kind found anywhere in the UK.

Witch marks are thought to have been made to ward off evil spirits rising up from the shadowy underworld beneath the caves.

The chilling discovery was made by Ed Waters and Hayley Clark from the Subterranea Britannica society, which studies and investigates underground places across the country.

They were carrying out a cave tour when they suddenly noticed the extremely rare markings on the wall.

It is believed that the sheer amount of markings and the variance between them is unprecedented in Britain.

Being present at the moment their true significance was revealed will stay with me forever.

John Charlesworth, cave tour leader

John Charlesworth, who was leading the tour when the symbols were found, said: “These witches’ marks were in plain sight all the time.

“Being present at the moment their true significance was revealed will stay with me forever.

“This remarkable place continues to give up its secrets.”

Some of the most common markings show double VV engravings — thought to be a reference to Mary, Virgin of Virgins.

Markings showing PM also reference the mother of Christ, meaning Pace Maria.

Other figures are thought to be devices for trapping evil spirits, including mazes and boxes and diagonal lines.

Experts say the marks appear to have been added over time and could indicate a desire to strengthen protection against the underworld.

This may have been a response to evils such as death, unexpected sickness or poor crops in the surrounding area.

 The walls and ceiling of the caves are covered in scrawls used to capture evil spirits rising from the underworld below

Press Association

The walls and ceiling of the caves are covered in scrawls used to capture evil spirits rising from the underworld below

 The creepy discovery was made beneath these rocks in Nottinghamshire

Getty – Contributor

The creepy discovery was made beneath these rocks in Nottinghamshire

 Subterranea Britannica, which explores underground places, found the writings during a cave tour

Press Association

Subterranea Britannica, which explores underground places, found the writings during a cave tour

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Biden 2020 campaign decision: Quietly agonizing as months go by…

Joe Biden was going to decide whether to run for president by the end of 2018. That deadline slipped. Just after New Year’s, he said he would decide “soon.” Mid-January came and went with no decision. By the end of January?

“We’ll make the decision soon,” he said at the time.

Now into mid-February, with a burgeoning field of Democratic candidates, Biden is still on the fence, neither in nor out, in a lingering state of political limbo. Some potential staffers have already defected, and some of his supporters worry the prolonged indecision could begin to threaten his chances.

If former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke, another on-the-fence candidate, has had a public quest – Instagram-living and Medium-posting his way toward a presidential run – then Biden has been quietly agonizing, with a decision-making process that has been lengthier, yet utterly familiar.

Perhaps more than any other politician in American history, Biden has had a near-quadrennial regimen of mulling whether he can, should or will run for president. Over nearly four decades – from the time he was a young senator until now, as a septuagenarian former vice president – he has engaged in a process of prolonged angst about whether to run. Or not to run.

It’s become a well-practiced process – one that includes long discussions with family over Thanksgiving in Nantucket, Massachusetts, debates with advisers in the living room of his home in Delaware – but not one that has gotten smoother over time.

The Washington Post spoke with more than half a dozen of Biden’s close confidants and people familiar with his thinking. Many would only agree to speak on the condition of anonymity until he makes a decision.

Staff members who have committed to work for him if he runs have stopped guessing on a decision date. On a few occasions, some members of his inner circle were convinced he was ready to pull the trigger, only to find it did not happen. Year-end family discussions about a potential run did not end the process, which people around Biden describe as intensely personal for the former vice president.

“This isn’t just treading water, but I don’t know how close we are to the shore,” said a person familiar with the planning process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

As Biden has deliberated, other campaign professionals who had previously reached out to express interest in joining his effort have decided they can no longer wait. The circle of senior advisers who have been drafting his campaign plan and conducting interviews with potential staff members have repeatedly had to add new names to their internal hiring lists, as their candidates have signed on to other campaigns, according to a person familiar with the planning.

One person in line to become a state director for Biden in South Carolina recently signed with a rival, said another person involved in the planning. Other presidential candidates have aggressive travel and staff-hunting scheduled in the state already.

“This has got to hurry up,” said a person familiar with conversations the Biden team is having in South Carolina. “He is running out of time.”

Advisers still say there is plenty of talent available to staff the campaign, should Biden run, and a core crew of senior campaign consultants has decided to stay on the sidelines until Biden makes a decision. Multiple people involved in the effort said the planning process has not slowed in recent weeks, with Biden’s top advisers making more calls and holding more detailed discussions in early primary states like South Carolina about what a campaign apparatus would look like.

“The window is not closing. There will always be talented staff to get. You are dealing with a guy who has 90 percent popularity among Democratic voters. So why do people think that there has to be a rush?” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. “The fact is that he is in an enviable position to take his time and get it right at all levels.”

Those close to Biden insist he is approaching the race less tactically – thinking about campaign staffers or early-state visits – and more thematically, on whether he can bring together different factions in the party and convince primary voters he’s the most electable against President Trump.

Some of his advisers don’t consider his age – he is 76 and on day one, would be the oldest president ever to sit in the Oval Office – to be a prohibitive factor and insist that when voters see him on the campaign trail, they won’t either.

His wife, Jill Biden, who has been opposed to some past presidential runs, is said to be supportive.

And while Biden has blown his own self-imposed deadlines, those close to him say he simply believes he can wait to make a decision – and it could be an advantage.

The candidates who have made official announcements so far have more of a need to introduce themselves to voters and build a campaign network. Hillary Clinton, they note, did not announce her campaign until April 2015.

There are few modern-day parallels for someone like Biden – a man who has been considered a top-tier presidential candidate over such a long period, who almost always considers it and sometimes also runs.

“Joe has certainly taken it seriously and gone through the process and knows what it feels like,” said Larry Rasky, who has known Biden for decades and worked on both of his presidential campaigns. “When it feels right and when it feels wrong.”

Several candidates have run multiple times – William Jennings Bryan in the early 19th century, U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine in 1968, 1972 and 1976, or former California governor Jerry Brown in 1976, 1980 and 1992. The man who could certainly match Biden’s longevity in presidential politics may be Henry Clay, who starting in 1824 ran multiple times over a quarter century.

“I’m not sure there’s an analogy. He’s a bit unusual in the sense that he’s had a very long career in American politics, has always been relevant, often is a front-page news story,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. “There seems to be a constant question of, ‘What’s Joe going to do?’ He’s always plausible.”

“The downside is he always seems to be hemming and hawing,” he added. “It’s hard to develop momentum when you’re fence-sitting.”

The first time Biden weighed whether to run for president was in 1980, when a group of consultants approached him and outlined a case for his candidacy: President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy would so bruise each other in the Democratic primary that he could emerge as the compromise candidate. A network was awaiting him in New Hampshire.

Ultimately, he took a pass.

Four years later, he went so far as to sign filing papers to compete in the New Hampshire primary, leaving them with his sister Valerie while he went on a vacation. On the flight to the Virgin Islands, he and his wife Jill discussed the possibilities. By Biden’s retelling, he wasn’t convinced he was ready and, as soon as the plane touched down, he called his sister and told her not to file the paperwork.

In 1988, he openly struggled with the decision, telling reporters over and over that his time on the campaign trail would take away from his ability to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Just before announcing he was running, he later wrote, he confessed to his wife that he didn’t want to do it. She urged him to go forward with it, given how many people’s lives he had put on hold.

“Jill, who had been so wary, had come to appreciate the sacrifices other people were making on our behalf,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.” “It was too late to change my mind.”

But his campaign struggled and less than four months after he got in, he had dropped out, over allegations that he plagiarized a speech from a British politician.

Those who have known Biden over the years say he felt pulled into the 1988 campaign, listening more to those around him than his gut instincts, and the experience made him gun-shy. For the next several presidential campaigns, he did not consider running.

He spent months in deliberation over whether he would run in 2004, with those around him growing exasperated by his delays and with him growing exasperated by their exasperation.

“If I do this, I’m not going to do this on anybody’s terms but my own this time,” Biden told Gannett News Service. “If it’s too late, it’s too late. So be it.”

He never got in. He ran and lost in 2008 before becoming Obama’s vice president.

Ahead of the 2016 campaign, he was deeply conflicted and mourning the death of his son Beau. He ultimately announced in the Rose Garden that he would not run.

“I regret it every day,” he said later.

Some who have spoken recently with Biden say he is leaning toward a run but the decision is not firm enough to ask for commitments from donors or political activists. Biden also has told other candidates not to wait for him as they make their own decisions.

“When he’s ready, he’s ready,” said one confidant. “He doesn’t like to be rushed. And the older he’s gotten, the less he likes to be rushed. And that’s what’s going on. He knows there’s a potential price to pay for waiting, but he’s going to do that rather than feel rushed.”