INDEPENDENT 2024-04-18 16:04:40

Trump back in court as jury selection process derailed

Donald Trump is back in court for day three of his hush money trial at the New York County criminal court in Lower Manhattan.

Proceedings in the trial were gathering pace with seven jurors confirmed — though this morning one was excused over concerns her identity was revealed. Judge Juan Merchan still appears hopeful that the remaining jurors and alternates can be selected by the end of the week. Opening statements could then begin on Monday.

Yesterday it was revealed that the former president can be asked about previous allegations of misconduct and crimes – including instances of sexual abuse and fraud – if he takes the stand.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg posted a list that includes “all misconduct and criminal acts of the defendant not charged in the indictment” that his office “intend to use at trial to impeach the credibility of” the former president should he testify, according to a court filing.

Mr Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election to ensure her silence about an alleged affair in 2006. He denies the affair and has pleaded not guilty.

Biden suggests his uncle was eaten by cannibals after WWII plane crash

Joe Biden made the surprising suggestion that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals after being shot down during World War II.

While speaking to reporters during a visit to Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the president referenced his uncle 2nd Lt Ambrose J Finnegan Jr, who he said had flown reconnaissance flights over New Guinea during the war.

Mr Biden used the anecdote in an attempt to draw a contrast with reports that Donald Trump, while president, had called fallen service members “suckers” and “losers.” However he seemed to get several details of his family history wrong.

“Ambrose Finnegan, we called him Uncle Bosie, he was shot down, he was in the air corps before there was an air force. He flew single engine planes in reconnaissance flights over New Guinea, he volunteered because someone couldn’t make it,” he said, speaking following a visit to a war memorial in his hometown of Scranton.

“He got shot down in an area where there were a lot of cannibals in New Guinea at the time. They never recovered his body but the government went back when I went down there and checked and found parts of the plane.”

The US government’s record of missing service members does not attribute Finnegan’s death to hostile action or indicate cannibals were a factor.

According to the records Finnegan died on 14 May 1944, while riding as a passenger on an Army Air Forces plane that, “for unknown reasons,” was forced to ditch in the Pacific Ocean off the northern coast of New Guinea.

“Both engines failed at low altitude, and the aircraft’s nose hit the water hard,” the agency states in its listing of Finnegan. “Three men failed to emerge from the sinking wreck and were lost in the crash.

“[Finnegan] has not been associated with any remains recovered from the area after the war and is still unaccounted-for.”

Mr Biden, who was born in 1942 and was a toddler at the time of his uncle’s death, told reporters that his family had a tradition of saying three Hail Marys at the gravesite of family members. The president’s elder son, Beau, died in 2015 of brain cancer, something the president has stated he believes was linked to his son’s deployment in Iraq and his exposure to so-called “burn pits”.

Referring to Mr Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mr Biden continued: “What I was thinking about when I was standing there was when Trump refused to go up to the memorial for veterans in Paris and he said they were a bunch of suckers and losers.

“That man doesn’t deserve to have been the commander in chief for my son, my uncle.”

Some former Trump officials have claimed the then-president used the disparaging terms to describe fallen service members and did not want to travel in 2018 to a cemetery for American war dead in France. Mr Trump previously denied the allegation, saying, “What animal would say such a thing?”

According to the Associated Press, White House spokesman Andrew Bates did not address the discrepancy between the agency’s records and Mr Biden’s account when he issued a statement on the matter.

“President Biden is proud of his uncle’s service in uniform,“ Mr Bates said, adding that Finnegan ”lost his life when the military aircraft he was on crashed in the Pacific after taking off near New Guinea.”

He added that the president had “highlighted his uncle’s story as he made the case for honouring our ‘sacred commitment … to equip those we send to war and take care of them and their families when they come home,’ and as he reiterated that the last thing American veterans are is ‘suckers’ or ‘losers.’”

Willow actor Warwick Davis’s wife Samantha dies aged 53

Samantha Davis, the wife of Harry Potter and Star Wars actor Warwick Davis, has died aged 53.

Warwick shared the news in a statement, revealing his wife of 32 years, whom he met on the set of Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy film Willow, had died on 24 March.

Samantha, who also featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) alongside Warwick, was the co-founder of dwarfism charity Little People UK.

Warwick, 54, said Samantha’s death “has left a huge hole in our lives as a family” in a statement to the BBC, adding: “I miss her hugs.”

The Life’s Too Short actor, who also hosted ITV game shows Celebrity Squares and Tenable, described Samantha has his “most trusted confidant and an ardent supporter of everything I did in my career”, and hailed her as “a unique character, always seeing the sunny side of life”.

“She had a wicked sense of humour and always laughed at my bad jokes”.

Their two children together, Annabelle and Harrison, also paid tribute to their mother, saying: “Her love and happiness carried us through our whole lives”

“Mum is our best friend and we’re honoured to have received a love like hers.”

Samantha featured on the 2014 series, Weekend Escapes with Warwick Davis, which was hosted by the star and saw him travel around Britain with his family.

In an interview with People in 2022, Warwick opened up about the grief he and Samantha went through after their first son died shortly after he was born due to complications from the dwarfism genes he inherited from both of his parents.

He told the US outlet: “I think it brings you closer together, or something like that. But it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s devastating.”

A few years later, they experienced more heartbreak when Samantha had a miscarriage with their second child.

They later welcomed their daughter Annabelle and son Harrison, with Warwick saying the couple loved their children “all that more because they’re here with us”.

Annabelle, 27, has followed in her parents’ acting footsteps, starring in CBBC’s The Dumping Ground and Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks.

Warwick starred as the titular hero Willow Ufgood in the 1988 original film Willow and reprised the role for the 2022 reboot.

He also played several characters in the Star Wars film series.

Samantha and Warwick co-founded Little People UK in 2012 to help individuals with dwarfism and their families.

Additional reporting by Agencies

Here’s what Danny Dyer doesn’t tell you about the ‘war on men’

Is it fair to say there’s a war on men at the moment?” It’s a question Danny Dyer poses in the first episode of How to Be a Man, a new two-part docuseries fronted by the hardman actor. The programme wades into the sticky and opaque tar pit of modern masculinity, with the Football Factory star serving as our plain-spoken docent. The hypothetical war is often framed as an incursion from outside: hardline, man-hating feminists throwing rocks and flaming bras at the crumbling fundaments of traditional masculinity. But is it fair? The thing is… those men shouting that their masculinity is under attack are not entirely wrong. Society is in the midst of a war on men. But, like all wars, it’s one orchestrated and carried out almost entirely by men.

To Dyer’s credit, How to Be a Man does at least attempt to offer a holistic view of manhood in the year 2024. We are shown the spectre of “toxic masculinity”: men and boys harbouring deeply regressive, objectionable views on women, sexuality and gender. (“Men should be strong”, “promiscuous women are bad”, et cetera.) Misogynistic “alpha culture” influencer Andrew Tate is mentioned a lot; a kind of low-rent Tate-a-like content creator is interviewed by Dyer at length. Thankfully, the ideology of these straightforwardly toxic men is given little shrift. Dyer does, meanwhile, acknowledge some of the very real challenges facing men: the disproportionate rates of suicide, drug addiction and homelessness; the victim-blaming that occurs in instances of female-on-male domestic violence; the difficulty of open emotional communication within traditional male spaces.

In these specific ways and others, it’s true that men do sometimes have it worse than women; that men are subject to prejudices and pressures that women usually are not. But misandry hasn’t produced these conditions. They are caused and exacerbated by the self-same patriarchy that chauvinist men espouse. Conventional masculinity hasn’t been torn down by the feminist agenda: it’s buckled under its own noxious expectations. What matters is that we construct something healthier and more honest from its rubble.

To some degree, it’s tempting to simply write off the nation’s masculinity crisis as being simply a “straight people problem”. To someone like myself, a bisexual man in his late twenties, the whole notion of a war on men feels like a bizarre and irrelevant concept – a battle being waged in my name of which I am no part. Masculinity is not something to which I devote a lot of conscious headspace, and I am fairly confident that my own performance of masculinity, such that it is, is benign and non-toxic. (Its worst manifestation is probably that I wish a little too much ill upon certain Mancunian and Liverpudlian footballers.)

What’s more, I am socially bubbled in a milieu of like-minded (and largely queer) progressives. The idea that a person would be receptive to the ideas of Andrew Tate is, on a very practical level, alien to me. It’s like flat earthers, or Man City supporters: I know all too well that these people exist – I just never seem to meet them. At the end of episode one of How to Be a Man, Dyer meets with a gay men’s choir, and is swept away by their evolved, non-traditional brand of masculinity. “These fellas give me hope for the future. They can teach all men a thing or two for sure,” Dyer says.

But this is of course reductive. As anyone who’s ever spent five minutes on Grindr could tell you, there’s no shortage of gender hangups within the gay community. (Consider for a second the implications of the phrase “straight-acting”.) It’s fair to say that many queer men have complicated relationships with their own masculinity; when the expression of your gender is subject to widespread bigotry, it inevitably becomes shaped by this bigotry. Your understanding of manhood operates either in accordance with, or as a rejection of, society’s heteronormative expectations. Yet it is also true that many queer people do have a healthier and more sophisticated understanding of their own relationship to gender, if only because they have given it deeper and more open-minded consideration. (On that note, I highly recommend the memoir Amateur, written by Thomas Page McBee, which offers an insightful and nuanced look at modern masculinity, told from the perspective of a trans man who takes up boxing.)

Ultimately, the modern masculinity crisis is inextricable from other complex social dynamics – including class and race. Like all markers of identity, masculinity isn’t necessarily helped by being reduced to one homogeneous blob. How to Be a Man at least touches on this, and looks at how regressive male attitudes are often exacerbated by socioeconomic circumstance. Fixing the problem is not so simple as getting a few blokes to unsubscribe from Andrew Tate’s YouTube channel. Structural change is needed. Education. Funding. Mutual compassion. Without that, the war, as it were, will surely drag on. And there’s no getting out of the firing line.

‘How to Be a Man’ is available to watch on Channel 4

Quentin Tarantino abandons plan for final film project

Quentin Tarantino has reportedly scrapped The Movie Critic, which he had earlier said would be his directorial swan song.

The project had picked up pace when news broke in February that Brad Pitt was being cast in The Movie Critic. Sources at the time said that Pitt may be reprising his Oscar-winning role as Cliff Booth from Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Had the film moved forward, it would have been Tarantino and Pitt’s third collaboration after Inglourious Basterds and Hollywood.

However, Deadline has now claimed that Tarantino has “simply had a change of heart” so “is going back to the drawing board to figure out what that final movie will be”.

Not much was known about the proposed film, except that Tarantino told Deadline in 2023 it would be set in 1977 California and “based on a guy who really lived but was never really famous, and he used to write movie reviews for a porno rag”.

The inspiration came from a job Tarantino had as a teen, loading porn magazines into a vending machine. “All the other stuff was too skanky to read, but then there was this porno rag that had a really interesting movie page,” he added.

Speaking of the unnamed critic Tarantino said: “He wrote about mainstream movies and he was the second-string critic. I think he was a very good critic. He was cynical as hell. His reviews were a cross between early Howard Stern and what Travis Bickle might be if he were a film critic.”

The Pulp Fiction director gave no more information, saying, “I can’t tell you guys [anything] until you see the movie. I’m tempted to do some of the character’s monologues right now, but I’m not going to. Maybe if there were less video cameras. You just have to wait and see”.

Tarantino had also secured a $20.2m subsidy from California for the film, it was reported in September last year. At the time, the film was only identified as “#10”, a reference to it being the director’s 10th film. It is unclear what the subsidy will be used for now.

Tarantino has, in the past, returned to projects he has shelved. He abandoned work on The Hateful Eight in 2014 after a rough draft of the script he had shared with a small group of actors was leaked online. Tarantino called it a “betrayal” but then made and released the film in 2015.

The director has long said he would retire from directing after completing his final project, which would be his 10th.

“I know film history and from here on in, filmmakers do not get better,” he told Bill Maher in a 2021 interview.

“I am all about my filmography, and one bad film f**** up three good ones. I don’t want that bad, out-of-touch comedy in my filmography, the movie that makes people think, ‘Oh man, he still thinks it’s 20 years ago.’ When directors get out-of-date, it’s not pretty,” he said in an interview to Playboy magazine in 2012.

From reefs to rainforests: A nature-lover’s guide to Queensland

From the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet to iridescent everglades, striking marine life and dramatic mountain peaks, Queensland is a paradise for anyone into nature and wildlife. We’ve put together a guide to the best natural spots to visit in each region, with help from the experts at Travelbag, who are on hand to make your dream holiday happen.

Queensland’s vibrant capital, Brisbane offers plenty to lure urbanites with its galleries, museums and restaurants, and it doesn’t fall short on the nature front either.

For an especially tranquil spot, head to the city’s Botanic Gardens, set just outside the centre and home to the biggest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world (entry is free). If you fancy getting up close and personal with the local wildlife, swing by the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – home to a koala research centre alongside various experiences, from wildlife encounters to a Nocturnal Twilight Tour.

Beyond the city itself, you’ll find plenty more to explore; for one of the most jaw-dropping spots, head to the Scenic Rim, a dramatic caldera landscape scattered with soaring peaks, lush valleys and scenic bushwalking trails.

The Gold Coast might be best-known for its beaches, nightlife and family-friendly fun, but as the gateway to several national parks, it’s also a dream for nature-lovers. It’s here you’ll find Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park – both part of the Unesco-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the biggest subtropical rainforest on the planet. Hiking trails lace these tree-carpeted landscapes, with waterfalls, mountains and lush flora for scenery.

Elsewhere, venture to Burleigh Heads National Park to amble between scenic coastline and emerald rainforest, and come between July and October to spot migrating whales as they pass the famous ‘Humpback Highway’.

Just north of Brisbane sits the Sunshine Coast – an idyllic stretch lined with sugary beaches and cerulean sea, and the home of laid-back surf town Noosa.

Among the myriad natural charms here you’ll find the Noosa Everglades – one of only two everglades systems in the world, tucked within a sprawling UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Nicknamed the ‘river of mirrors’, this network of waterways, tea tree forests and wetlands is home to 40% of Australia’s bird species, with canoe and kayak tours available if you want to see its wildlife from the water.

It’s not just the everglades worth a visit here, though. In the wider Great Sandy National Park, you’ll find hidden-away beaches, tumbling sand dunes and sprawling rainforests – best explored by 4×4 – while elsewhere in the hinterlands lie the Glass House Mountains, a cluster of volcanic, craggy peaks offering excellent hiking and exceptional views.

Much of Queensland’s charm lies beneath the surface, of course, and if you’re looking to explore the region’s colourful marine life, the Whitsunday Islands should be high on your list.

There are plenty of options for sailing trips here, with key spots including the talcum-sand Whitehaven Beach and paradise-worthy Hamilton Island. Book a Whitehaven Camira Sailing Adventure to explore the first, or if you fancy getting properly back to nature, opt for the two-day Reeflseep, which combines snorkelling and optional diving with dinner and a night sleeping under the stars.

There’s more in the way of world-class snorkelling and diving in Cairns – the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where dwarf minke whales, manta rays, turtles and groupers inhabit the surrounding waters.

But it’s not only about the marine life here – two hours away sits the Daintree Rainforest; the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, believed to date back around 180 million years. Saltwater crocodiles, kaleidoscopic butterflies and an array of tropical birds inhabit this ancient landscape, with waterfalls, creeks and swimming holes hidden among the trees.

Head out on a riverboat cruise to take it all in, or book an indigenous-led tour to learn more about the Daintree’s Aboriginal people; this vast, heritage-filled wilderness is Australia at its most quintessential, and a perfect symbol of Queensland’s striking diversity.

Book it: Combine Queensland’s natural highlights on Travelbag’s Queensland Ocean & Rainforest Experience, or get in touch with Travelbag’s experts for a private, tailor-made trip to suit.

Should we be worried by the rise of the national conservatives?

Order has been restored to the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, just in time for the politicians, sympathetic journalists, academics and others of the hard right to welcome their poster boy Viktor Orban. Their most successful elected representative, unless you take the view Donald Trump won in 2020 and is still president of the United States.

Their cheeky idea of meeting in the epicentre of the Euro-federalism they despise went a bit wrong when the mayor of Brussels, Emir Kir, decreed the event a public order risk. “Among these personalities there are several, particularly from the right-conservative, religious right and European extreme right,” he said. “The far right is not welcome.”

Playing somewhat into the martyr mentality of the hard right, Mr Kir sent in the police and let loose pandemonium, with leading Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage and Suella Braverman at risk of being locked into the venue (thus, on this occasion, being unable to Leave). Interventions by an independent Belgian court and the country’s liberal prime minister Alexander De Croo reversed the liberal mayor’s somewhat illiberal move; police left the scene, and so the ideological mayhem was resumed. They made speeches, annoyed liberals and begged many questions about who they are and where they’re going.

Sunak’s stubbornness on Rwanda shows how unfocused No 10 has become

As in business, sport and war, so also in politics: one of the defining features of political leadership is to pursue objectives with stamina but also to know precisely when to make a tactical move back or sideways to better secure the larger portion of the prize.

So it is now with the prime minister and his Rwanda bill. The House of Lords has done its job of trying to revise flawed proposals, and is now asking for only two quite reasonable amendments: the implementation of safeguards in the UK-Rwanda treaty, and an exemption aimed at saving the lives of those nationals – including Afghan forces – who have been “agents, allies and employees of the UK overseas”.

Lord Browne, who served as defence secretary, has championed this new clause and argues: “We are told that many who have braved death and injury and are forced into exile as a result of assisting our armed forces in fighting the Taliban, are to be punished for arriving here by irregular routes – even when owing to wrongful refusals on our part or possible malfeasance on the part of the special forces, that compelled them to take these routes in the first place.”