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Ghislaine Maxwell trial shines light on class divide

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On the eighth day of the government’s sex-trafficking case against Ghislaine Maxwell, a prosecutor asked a witness, known as Shawn, what the difference was between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, two Florida towns separated by a drawbridge.

“Money’s no object over there,” said Shawn, a West Palm Beach native, sounding as though the nearby island were a different planet. Growing up, he told the jury, he had “very rarely” even ventured into Palm Beach because “I didn’t have enough money to buy anything in the gas station.”

That changed, he said, when he began ferrying his 14-year-old girlfriend to the island to provide sexualised massages for Jeffrey Epstein. Soon they were struggling to find a store to change the cash in West Palm Beach – where “they don’t accept hundred-dollar bills”, Shawn explained.

Class is threaded through the Epstein story. Maxwell, an Oxford-educated product of fee-paying British public schools, used hers to smooth the social path of the Coney Island-born Epstein when they joined forces in early 1990s Manhattan.

It sounded practically Dickensian when one Maxwell accuser described how Epstein had sent a chauffeur-driven car to bring her and her mother across the bridge for tea at his Palm Beach mansion.

Now class is present in Maxwell’s criminal trial, too. It loomed as witnesses recounted over the past two weeks how a tall British woman with what one called a “proper English” accent lured them when they were young and poor into a world beyond their imagination.

It sounded practically Dickensian when one Maxwell accuser described how Epstein had sent a chauffeur-driven car to bring her and her mother across the bridge for tea at his Palm Beach mansion. The girl was 14 at the time, and her father had died months earlier, bankrupting the family, she said. After offering himself as her patron, Epstein would go on to abuse the girl for years, she testified. Maxwell helped, she said, by winning her confidence and gradually pushing her boundaries.

Jeffrey Epstein’s waterfront Palm Beach, Florida home on El Brillo Way. Photograph: Emily Michot/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Jeffrey Epstein’s waterfront Palm Beach, Florida home on El Brillo Way. Photograph: Emily Michot/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Maxwell denies this and other suggestions of wrongdoing. Her attorneys insist she has been made a scapegoat for the sins of Epstein, who died by suicide in a New York prison cell a month after he was arrested in 2019.

Class as advantage

They have also tried to use class to their advantage during the trial. In her opening statement, attorney Bobbi Sternheim claimed the accusers were money-grabbers who had twisted the truth in hopes of a financial “jackpot”. It was reminiscent of political strategist James Carville dismissing former President Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers in 1994 by remarking: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”

It is not clear whether class issues will sway the jury of mostly working-class New Yorkers who will decide the fate of a British socialite. Throughout the trial, prosecutors have shown them photos of Epstein’s private jets and opulent properties in New York, New Mexico, the Caribbean and Palm Beach, where the bathroom had a sofa.

As a gossip columnist in Palm Beach, Jose Lambiet developed a jaded view about the divide between Palm Beach, a manicured bunker of old money, and West Palm Beach, a place that was originally built to house the help and long suffered from a reputation for drugs and violence.

“The story here, in my book, is how the rich have once again found a way to screw the poor,” Lambiet, who now works as a private detective, said of the Epstein case. “These girls were from five or six miles away, as the crow flies, where the houses are worth $50,000 or $60,000.”

West Palm Beach, just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Palm Beach, has changed as the region has prospered. It has caught some of the spillover as billionaires have pushed millionaires off Palm Beach island. It is now becoming a hub for hedge funds fleeing New York to take advantage of Florida’s low taxes. Goldman Sachs has just leased space.

West Palm Beach skyline at sunset photographed from Palm Beach island. Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images
West Palm Beach skyline at sunset photographed from Palm Beach island. Photograph: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images

Still, downbeat pockets remain, as they do in other towns in the vicinity such as Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee, from which many of Epstein’s victims hailed. “I’ve never seen a divide quite like the one in Palm Beach County, ” said Jonathan Beaton, who worked as a television reporter in the area for many years. “You can go from heaven to hell in 15 miles.”

Resentment

You can also find resentment. When he testified last week, Juan Alessi was still bitter from his dozen years as Epstein’s Palm Beach property manager. “It was slavery,” he said.

Maxwell called him “John” and instituted house rules that he found “degrading”. One example: Maxwell forbade staff from making eye-contact with Epstein. She later reprimanded Alessi in an email to another staffer for “doing a truly awful job” after he had allegedly failed to stock pens and bottled water “in the black Merc”. That is, the Mercedes.

She ended up calling her “Maxwell”, Carolyn said. “Why?”, the prosecutor asked. “Because I couldn’t exactly pronounce her first name correctly.”

Alessi took his revenge after he quit, returning to the house in 2003 and swiping $6,300 in cash from Epstein, he admitted under cross-examination. He did so even though his boss had given him a $50,000 severance package. A friend needed immigration papers, Alessi claimed, and he was going through a divorce at the time so his assets were frozen.

“All my life I worked very hard and saved a lot of money, including the time I worked for Mr Epstein,” he said, attempting to defend his honour.

At times, the social gap between Maxwell, daughter of the late British press baron and embezzler, Robert Maxwell, and her accusers has seemed unimaginably vast.

While Maxwell flew on the Concorde, was friends with Britain’s Prince Andrew and attended Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, one of her accusers, Carolyn, dropped out of middle school in West Palm Beach at 13, and began dating Shawn, then 17, who lived across the street. Carolyn had been molested by her grandfather, she told the jury, and her mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict.

“Because I’m an idiot,” she quipped with a kind of lower-class fatalism when asked by a prosecutor to explain why she was arrested in 2011 for cocaine possession. (“Drive around and smoke pot,” is how Shawn described their relationship).

Carolyn was brought to Epstein by another local teenager, Virginia Roberts, whose father worked in maintenance at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club on Palm Beach. “I was young and $300 was a lot of money to me,” Carolyn said of Roberts’ offer to earn some cash by helping her massage a rich man in Palm Beach for an hour.

The first time she went to Epstein’s house, Carolyn testified, she was greeted by a woman with an English accent who would arrange some of the 100 or so sexualised massages she would give Epstein over the next two years. She ended up calling her “Maxwell”, Carolyn said. “Why?”, the prosecutor asked. “Because I couldn’t exactly pronounce her first name correctly.”

Carolyn went on to become a drug addict, a prostitute and a single mother. In court last week, she was face to face with Maxwell, who sat just across the room. At one point she railed at her: “You broke my soul!” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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Dad’s army musters in the Dáil to repel the Russian threat

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Rear admiral Gerry Craughwell is all set to swash his buckle and take to the high seas in defence of Mother Ireland.

Who’s with him?

The Independent Senator is no stranger to military manoeuvres. He joined the British army when he was a nipper before returning home to his native Galway to join the Irish Army, serving with the first infantry battalion based in Renmore Barracks before handing in his sergeant’s stripes in 1980.

But you never forget your training. And now, says Gerry, it is time to take the fight to Vladimir Putin by dispatching a crack force from Leinster House to scare the living daylights out of the Russian fleet on its way to play war games next week off the coast of Cork.

He says members of the raiding squad should be drawn from the elite corps known as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, nominally under the command of captain Charlie Flanagan but, presumably, led on this occasion by rear admiral Craughwell for operational purposes.

“In my view, the issue of the Russian fleet being off the southwest coast of this country in the next few weeks carrying out an exercise is something that we must monitor,” he told the Seanad on Thursday.

“We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there.”

Hear hear!

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to kingdom come

Imagine the scene: the rear admiral in his cocked hat, standing on the prow of LE Kildare Street, chest puffed out and gold-buttoned arm aloft, waving his fist at Russia’s gunboats.

And behind him, standing strong and proud, the highly trained and fearless members of the joint committee eyeballing the terrified sailors who fear Craughwell’s elite force is concealing a terrifying secret weapon brought specially from Cork specially for this dangerous mission.

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to Kingdom come.

This is serious.

The Naval Service must also provide search-and-rescue back-up for the fishermen who are “taking their lives into their hands by sailing their trawlers into a live firing exercise area”, the rear admiral also informed the Seanad.

“I’ve been involved in live firing events myself down through my career and I can tell you that when we start to fire live ammunition, there is no guarantee that there won’t be an accident.”

He said the Minister for Defence (secret weapon Simon Coveney) must be apprised immediately of the situation.

In the meantime, we understand members of the elite joint committee are training in the pond outside Government Buildings. They have been issued with inflatable armbands and camouflage galoshes and are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice.

Should things turn nasty corporal Bernard Durkan, fresh from his famous victory in the Battle of Lotto Balls, will command the troops in the ground offensive. Tactical genius Bernard, who was mentioned in Dáil dispatches on Thursday, will bring all his experience to the role.

Major Jim O’Callaghan of Fianna Fáil asked Coveney to look at the mandatory age of retirement for members of the Defence Forces as some of them leave “because they know they will have to retire between 56 and 60. At that age, many people are just getting into their prime.”

He then looked to his left.

“Deputy Durkan here beside me, could you imagine if there was a requirement in politics that people had to retire between 56 and 60? We’d lose some of the best wisdom we have in the house.”

Sergeant Kieran O’Donnell (FG) agreed. “Bernard still hasn’t reached his prime.”

“Obviously, I entirely agree with my colleague’s remarks,” replied the great campaigner.

Minister for Defence Coveney, clearly wrestling with the image of Bernard (76) in combat fatigues, bayonet fixed and going over the top, tried to address O’Callaghan’s point.

“On the image of deputy Durkan being in the Defence Forces . . . eh, eh, I, em, eh, eh, while absolutely, em, the retirement age issues are something, eh, that we have been considering and . . .”

He decided not to think about it.

RTÉ’s New Year’s Eve turkey

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin had some tough questions for RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes and chairwoman Moya Doherty at this week’s meeting of the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

Why hasn’t RTÉ brought back The Den and why was the New Year’s Eve show so awful this year?

He said the committee complained about last year’s effort and this year “we had an awful debacle of a New Year’s television celebration again. What has RTÉ got against New Year’s Eve?

The one great white hope we had was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021… It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ

“Last year they got the tone wrong and this year they managed to get the time wrong. I mean, you’ve one job, that’s the 10-second countdown, and I’d say CNN were nearly welcoming in the New Year before RTÉ were this year, it was so far behind. Simple things like that really resonate with people.”

Turning to childrens’ programmes, he said: “The one great white hope we had in recent times was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021 . . . It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ across the boards.”

What happened? “I think it was a huge mistake” not just for the children “but for the big kids amongst us who enjoyed it as well”.

Griffin said he was raising the matter because the number of parents who contacted him about The Den not returning “was not insignificant”.

As for New Year’s Eve next time out, “Could ye not just focus this year? You’ve got 11 months to work on it and just get it right for the arrival of 2023, please.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne suggested Griffin had so many scripted one-liners that maybe RTÉ might get him to present the show next year.

Paschal’s Ulysses odyssey

As it is, there are barely enough hours in the day to cram in all the eating, lounging, thinking, telly, tea, whingeing, scratching, scrolling and playing with the dog.

And here’s the Minister for Finance and president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, hosting another literary event between running his department, writing reviews, going to football matches, chairing history symposiums, working through his library of music albums and adding to his extensive bobblehead superhero figurine collection.

Just where does Paschal Donohoe find the time?

You’d be inclined to hate him, if he wasn’t, well, so flippin’ Paschally.

This thought occurred on Monday night when he popped up at the virtual launch of yet another book about the book Ulysses, which is in the news because it was first published 100 years ago. The Minister was in conversation with Dan Mulhall, whose book Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is hitting the shops just in time for the centenary next week.

Publisher New Island Books says it is “an essential introduction for all readers seeking to navigate Joyce’s notoriously impenetrable masterpiece”.

Dan also happens to be our Ambassador to the US, so it was a transatlantic Q&A, with the Minister in Dublin and the ambassador in Washington.

Paschal said his “great Covid project of 2021” was to read the book (which, naturally, he has).

“I have a copy of Ulysses which has been in my home for at least two decades and I only had, I guess, the courage to pick it up last year and to begin delving into the extraordinary world that is Ulysses and the extraordinary mind and art that Joyce had to offer.”

He wished he had had a copy of Dan Mulhall’s book to guide him through some of the more difficult passages, because he found the opening chapters “tricky enough. I really had to concentrate and persist at it, to build up a little bit of momentum until I met Leopold and Molly.”

The author’s pragmatic advice to people who get bogged down in some of the more puzzling parts is to simply skip on to the next bit and maybe return later.

“I’m approaching this and I’m talking to you here this evening as a very general reader, somebody who is at the very early stages of trying to understand all that Ulysses has to offer,” explained Paschal.

Mulhall was more than delighted to fill him in further, even managing to get in a reference to the last words of the book and their relevance to the Brexit situation today.

Yes,” chirruped Paschal, because he’s read the book.

But no.

Music-head Paschal has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums

“The last three words are ‘Trieste, Zurich and Paris’,”declared Dan, pointing to the significance of Joyce going to the trouble of writing down that his novel was written in three different European cities at a time of great conflict and change.

Even “the humble reader like myself” can discover the layers and depths in Joyce’s great work, said the president of the Eurogroup, quoting from a “lovely essay” by Anne Enright which he read in the New York Review of Books last year. “Ulysses invites meaning then throws it back at you, multiplied.”

And, as a Ulysses novice, he hailed the veteran diplomat’s book as “a compass to help us on the changing journey that each read offers”.

Mind you, music-head Paschal – a regular reviewer on these pages – has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums. He must have achieved it because he is now moving on to The Beatles.

Where does he find the time?

A real beaut

Maybe Dan Mulhall’s next literary explainer might be a guide to interpreting and understanding the complex and sometimes baffling world of the parliamentary written reply.

Here’s one from this week in response to a question to the Minister for Finance by Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who asked why the beauty industry is subject to a VAT rate of 13.5 per cent while the hairdressing sector pays a 9 per cent rate and if this anomaly can be rectified.

“The VAT rates applying in Ireland are subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While hairdressing services apply the 9 per cent rate from 1 November 2020, services consisting of the care of the human body, including beauticians, are subject to the 13.5 per cent rate,” it stated.

“This arises from the fact that many of the goods and services to which Ireland applies a reduced rate of VAT, including services related to care of the human body, have their basis under an EU derogation that provides that as Ireland applied a reduced rate to these items on 1 January 1991, we are entitled to continue applying that reduced ate to those items. However, this is conditional on the rate being no less than 12 per cent. These are known as ‘parked’ items, and are provided for under Article 118 of the EU VAT directive. As the services provided by beauticians are part of these parked items, it is not possible for Ireland to apply the rate of 9 per cent to them.”

Parked items?

With this sort of stuff emanating from Paschal’s department, it’s no wonder he was able to finish Ulysses in under a year.


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Rule number one of ‘Fight Club’ in China: The police always win | USA

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The first rule of Fight Club in China is that the police always beat the criminals. The second rule is that buildings are not demolished. And the third is that if the ending is considered unsuitable, change it.

David Fincher’s 1999 cult film, which was shown just once in Chinese theaters during an edition of the Shanghai Film Festival, is now available on tech giant Tencent’s streaming services in China. But with a different outcome. Warning this article contains spoilers.

In the original, the narrator, played by Edward Norton, has just “killed” his imaginary alter ego, Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt, and watches the explosion of several nearby buildings with his girlfriend Maria, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. The anarchist revolution advocated by Durden is underway.

In Tencent’s version, on the other hand, there are no explosions and no scenes of Tyler and Maria holding hands as they watch the destruction. Instead, the screen turns black and writing appears, explaining that the police “arrested all the criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding.” According to this alternative ending, Durden is sent to a psychiatric hospital, from which he is released in 2012. Screenshots of the new ending went viral last weekend in China, with comments mocking the changes. Although the film was shown just briefly in movie theaters, many fans have been able to watch pirated versions of the original over the past two decades, and considered the ending one of the film’s fortes.

“When a director comes to present his film in China, people will ask: director, why is your film so avant-garde that it completely dispenses with audiovisual language, ending it instead with just a poster and a story about respecting the law? Is it a satire on censorship in your country? And the director will answer: What? I filmed that?” wrote one user of Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. “Probably everyone in Ocean’s Eleven would also get arrested. And the whole Godfather family, too,” scoffed another. “But the ending was great! A bunch of foreigners in a terrible situation setting off terrorist bombs – a perfect scene to encourage [Chinese] nationalism,” joked another.

(l-r) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' another movie that was altered for audiences in China.
(l-r) Joseph Mazzello, Rami Malek and Gwilym Lee in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ another movie that was altered for audiences in China.

It is unclear whether it was Tencent or the film’s original producers who made the changes. On the Chinese movie review platform Douban, the original film is rated nine out of 10 and has 744,000 comments.

China currently has a flourishing movie market, one in which just over 30 foreign films are released on the big screen each year. In fact, it overtook the US market for the first time in 2020, due in part to a quicker recovery from the pandemic. And, according to research portal researchandmarkets.com, it is expected to gross $16.5 billion by 2026, annual growth of 30.1%, with respect to the $3.4 billion in 2020.

Within this market, Fight Club is not the only Hollywood movie to be changed. In 2019, scenes from Bohemian Rhapsody that alluded to Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality were carefully cut out in the Chinese version. While same-sex relationships are not illegal in the world’s second-largest economy, it is considered a sensitive issue and scenes portraying it are often, but not always, removed. Theoretically, they have been banned on television and also on streaming platforms since 2017.

The ending of ‘Lord of War,’ starring Nicholas Cage, was also altered in China.
The ending of ‘Lord of War,’ starring Nicholas Cage, was also altered in China.

Lord of War (2005) endured a similar fate to that of Fight Club. In its original version, the main character, an arms dealer played by Nicholas Cage, manages to escape prison and resume business. The film alludes to the fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council ­– the US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – are the planet’s main arms dealers. But the version for the Chinese market, which is half an hour shorter than the international version, removes the original ending and replaces it with a text stating that the Cage “confessed to all the crimes of which he was officially accused during the trial, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.”

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High Court orders man to repay €30,000 awarded over fall on slippery tiles

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The High Court has ordered a man who fell on slippery tiles on the porch of his rented council home to pay back €30,000 he received in part compensation.

Mr Justice John Jordan also ordered solicitors who acted for Thomas Keegan (53) to repay €20,000 received in part payment of fees.

The judge made the order in relation to monies paid by Sligo County Council as a condition of being allowed to appeal a €105,000 award made by the High Court in 2017 to Mr Keegan over the accident at his home at McNeill Drive, Cranmore, Co Sligo.

Mr Keegan, who previously worked as a paver, had claimed the slippiness of the terracotta tiling originally installed in the porch, as well as the angle of the porch to face the prevailing wind and rain in Sligo, created a particular hazard.

In 2017, the court found the council was liable and there was no contributory negligence on Mr Keegan’s part.

However, the council was permitted to appeal on the basis of paying €50,000, including the monies to Mr Keegan’s solicitors on his behalf.

Failed to prove

The Court of Appeal (CoA) ordered a retrial and, earlier this month, Mr Justice Jordan found that the plaintiff had failed to prove the council was “in any way responsible” for the accident. He also found it “artificial” for Mr Keegan to suggest he was a visitor to his home, which he rented and occupied.

The case came back before Mr Justice Jordan on Friday for the matter of costs in relation to the second High Court hearing.

Peter Bland SC, for the council, argued his client was entitled to those costs but he had no objection to a stay in the event of another appeal to the CoA. He sought the repayment of the €30,000 for Mr Keegan and the €20,000 for his solicitors given the outcome had been overturned.

John Finlay SC, for Mr Keegan, said he could not oppose the costs order or an order for the return of the monies.

Mr Justice Jordan granted the council its costs for the retrial with the exception of one day’s costs related to the evidence of an expert introduced by the council “who made a difference” to the case.

It was unfortunate the council did not engage this expert at an initial stage in the case and Mr Keegan might have been spared all of this time and expense that followed, he said.

Difficulties

He also ordered the return of the monies paid out but noted that if the council had difficulties with that money being paid as a condition of it being allowed to appeal, it could have appealed that matter itself but it did not.

The court heard the accident occurred on November 18th, 2013, when Mr Keegan was returning home sometime after 5pm after visiting a number of pubs in which he had consumed five pints of Guinness.

He suffered a significant injury to his left ankle, with X-rays revealing a fracture to his left distal tibia and fibula.

The council did not argue the consumption of this level of drink was an act of contributory negligence but argued it as a factor in regard to Mr Keegan’s duty to take reasonable care for his own safety and in his conflicting accounts of how the accident occurred.

Having heard expert evidence, Mr Justice Jordan was satisfied the unglazed tiles did not pose a danger.

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