Trump Administration Reverses Policy On Fiancs As Travel Ban Takes Effect

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trumps administration reversed a decision late on Thursday and said fiancs would be considered close family members and therefore allowed to travel to the United States as its revised travel ban took effect.

The U.S. State Department concluded upon further review, fiancs would now be included as close family members, said a State Department official who requested anonymity.

The Trump administration had previously decided, on the basis of its interpretation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, that grandparents, grandchildren and fiancs traveling from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be barred from obtaining visas while the ban was in place.

The 90-day ban took effect at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT Friday), along with a 120-day ban on all refugees.

On Monday, the Supreme Court revived parts of Trumps travel ban on people from the six Muslim-majority countries, narrowing the scope of lower court rulings that had blocked parts of a March 6 executive order and allowing his temporary ban to go into effect for people with no strong ties to the United States.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, who also requested anonymity, said it would be updating its guidance to state that fiancs would not be barred from obtaining visas while the ban was in place.

The Supreme Court exempted from the ban travelers and refugees with a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. As an example, the court said those with a close familial relationship with someone in the United States would be covered.

The state of Hawaii asked a federal judge in Honolulu on Thursday evening to determine whether the Trump administration had interpreted the courts decision too narrowly.

Hawaii said in a court filing that the U.S. government intended to violate the Supreme Courts instructions by improperly excluding from the United States people who actually have a close family relationship to U.S. persons, echoing criticism from immigrant and refugee groups.

Hawaii called the refusal to recognize grandparents and other relatives as an acceptable family relationship a plain violation of the Supreme Courts command.

Hawaiis Attorney General Doug Chin asked U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu, who blocked Trumps travel ban in March, to issue an order as soon as possible clarifying how the Supreme Courts ruling should be interpreted.

Watson ordered the Justice Department to respond to Hawaiis request by Monday, and said he would allow Hawaii to reply by July 6.

Mike Blake / Reuters
Volunteer lawyers set up tables at U.S. airports to help arriving passengers with the reinstatement of President Trump’s travel ban.


A senior U.S. official did not answer directly when asked how barring grandparents or grandchildren would make the United States safer, but instead pointed to Trumps guidance to pause certain travel while we review our security posture.

The U.S. government expected things to run smoothly and business as usual at U.S. ports of entry, another senior U.S. official told reporters.

A handful of immigration lawyers gathered at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Thursday in case of any problems.

Were going to keep fighting this ban, even if it applies very narrowly, said Sirine Shebaya, a senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. Its still a Muslim ban, and its still trying to send a message to a whole community that theyre not welcome here.

The administration said refugees who have agreements with resettlement agencies but not close family in the United States would not be exempted from the ban, likely sharply limiting the number of refugees allowed entry in coming months.

Hawaii said in its court filing it was preposterous not to consider a formal link with a resettlement agency a qualifying relationship. Refugee resettlement agencies had expected that their formal links with would-be refugees would qualify as bona fide.

The administrations decision likely means that few refugees beyond a 50,000-cap set by Trump would be allowed into the country this year. A U.S. official said that, as of Wednesday evening, 49,009 refugees had been allowed into the country this fiscal year. The State Department said refugees scheduled to arrive through July 6 could still enter.

Trump first announced a temporary travel ban on Jan. 27, calling it a counterterrorism measure to allow time to develop better security vetting. The order caused chaos at airports, as officials scrambled to enforce it before it was blocked by courts. Opponents argued that the measure discriminated against Muslims and that there was no security rationale for it.

A revised version of the ban was also halted by courts.

The State Department guidance, distributed to all U.S. diplomatic posts on Wednesday evening and seen by Reuters, fleshed out the Supreme Courts ruling about people who have a bona fide relationship with an individual or entity in the United States.

It defined a close familial relationship as being a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling, including step-siblings and other step-family relations.

A department cable said grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancs, and any other extended family members were not considered close family.

The guidelines also said workers with offers of employment from a company in the United States or a lecturer addressing U.S. audiences would be exempt from the ban, but that arrangements such as a hotel reservation would not be considered bona fide relationships.

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At MSNBC, Greta Van Susterens Fox News Past Hampered Her Chance Of Success

Greta Van Susteren, whose For the Record With Greta program was canceled by MSNBC on Thursday, was given every chance to succeed by the cable network, but she apparently never gained the trust of loyal MSNBC viewers who refused to see her as anything but a former Fox News host.

Van Susterens program faced dismal ratings throughout its run. One particular statistic that alarmed insiders at MSNBC was that ratings would sink after anchor Chuck Todds 5 p.m. Meet the Press Daily ended and her 6 p.m. show began. Typically, the ratings are supposed to go up throughout the day, not decline. According to two sources, Chris Matthews, who hosts Hardball, was frustrated that Van Susterens show preceded his at 7 p.m. Eastern time, which didnt help his ratings.

At a time when MSNBC as a whole has enjoyed a surge in ratings and when the network is No. 1 in the highly coveted demographic of viewers ages 18 to 65, Van Susterens ratings were the one sore spot in the lineup.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced that Ari Melber, chief legal correspondent, is replacing Van Susteren. Melber has become a popular member of MSNBCs lineup and has been hosting his own program on Sundays, The Point. He also regularly fills in for other MSNBC hosts, including its top anchors, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence ODonnell.

According to two sources familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they werent authorized to discuss network business, Melber started negotiating with MSNBC to replace Van Susteren in the past two weeks, but that was not known to Van Susteren.

CNN was the first to report that Van Susteren was in the midst of preparing for her program Thursday when she was told she was being pulled off the air. Van Susterens husband, a prominent trial lawyer who also negotiates her contracts, told CNN that issues related to the termination of her contract were still being worked out.

Van Susteren was not given the opportunity to say goodbye to her viewers on MSNBC. Not allowing departing hosts to bid farewell on air became a de facto NBC News policy after Ann Currys tearful goodbye on Today after she was pushed out in 2012. Currys farewell led to a flood of harsh criticism of NBC News for her unceremonious termination.

MSNBC had been the third cable network that Van Susteren had hosted a program on. The lawyer started her television career at CNN during the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 before moving in 2002 to Fox News, where she hosted her own program for 14 years. She left in September 2016, shortly after Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes was forced to resign.

Van Susteren, according to one well-placed source, did not have a lucrative contract with MSNBC, compared with what she had been paid at Fox News. That means the network wont be faced with having to pay out a hefty sum to terminate her contract. Additionally, Van Susteren, while hopeful that her show would be successful, always knew that For the Record was an experiment, given MSNBCs largely progressive audience, and that the risk of cancellation was always on the horizon.

Multiple sources within MSNBC, including those who told HuffPost they didnt want Van Susteren at the network, said she was affable, professional and well-liked. The sources who spoke to HuffPost didnt want to be identified because they werent authorized to discuss internal network activity.

But MSNBCs announcement Jan. 5 that she was joining the network led to internal frustrations and external criticisms from viewers who didnt understand why the progressive network was hiring a former Fox News host. Van Susteren isnt a conservative ideologically, but the association with her former network and her support of Ailes after Gretchen Carlson accused him of sexual harassment hampered her image with loyal MSNBC viewers.

Internally, more than a dozen staff members expressed confusion over the decision to bring Van Susteren on, texting a reporter with complaints about her Fox News past, her continued public defense of Ailes despite multiple sexual harassment claims (she later apologized for supporting him) and the fact that she and her husband are prominent Scientologists who donate generously to the controversial organization.

The cancellation of her program comes at a difficult time for NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who oversees MSNBC. While MSNBC is enjoying record ratings, Lack has been under fire for hiring former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who has faced a torrent of criticism for her NBC interviews of Russian President Vladimir Putin and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Lack shepherded Van Susterens hire, but in the past few weeks it became clear that keeping her on the network was untenable. He hinted at that in an interview with The New York Times this month, saying, Its not breaking out.

MSNBC invested money in a new set for Van Susterens program, regularly ran promotions of her show during other programs and gave For the Record more than 100 episodes to succeed before pulling the plug.

MSNBC via Getty Images
Greta Van Susteren kicked off her MSNBC program on Jan. 9 with an appearance by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Van Susteren also didnt starve for A-list bookings. For the Record booked top-shelf guests from both sides of the aisle, and her debut show featured Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

However, Van Susteren regularly had Donald Trump on her Fox News program before and during his presidential candidacy. But she was never able to book President Trump on her MSNBC program, which had more to do with the network she appeared on, MSNBC, rather than her relationship with him. A source close to the president said that Trump was a fan of Van Susteren and also noted that she was invited backstage at his celebratory rally in Alabama in December before his inauguration.

On Jan. 6, three days before her program launched, Van Susteren got the ultimate endorsement as far as MSNBC viewers are concerned: She was featured on the networks No. 1 program, The Rachel Maddow Show, for eight minutes.

Maddow was effusive in her praise of Van Susteren, calling her a friend and praising her reporting and interviewing style. Aware of what her largely progressive viewers might think, Maddow was sure to mention that executives at the network had not asked her to have Van Susteren on her show and that she had made the decision because of her affection for her.

Maddow reminded viewers that she would regularly feature clips from Van Susterens Fox News program as a way to highlight how much she respected her, adding, If you want to count on your fingers how many times we on this show have played clips of Greta Van Susteren on this show, you could not do it. Youd need four extra hands.

Maddow wrapped up her introduction of Van Susteren by saying, She has an uncanny ability to make newsworthy things happen when the red light is on the camera and she is on TV talking about the news.

While that may have been true at Fox News, that uncanny ability didnt carry over to MSNBC, where the biggest news related to her program was the announcement of its cancellation.

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Your Health Care Information Is Insecure — And Extremely Lucrative On The Black Market

This week, amalware attackstruck Ukrainian computer systems and quickly spread to tens of thousands of machines across dozens of countries,including the U.K. and the United States. The proliferating computer virus, called Petya, raises the question as is often the case when data hacks, breaches and disruptions occur of just how safe an end users personal information is when its on a network.

Not very.

Its unclear whether the Ukrainian attackers were motivated by money or mayhem.But money is certainly the motive when it comes to what likely impacts individuals far more than a malware virus: the theft of your personal health records.

TrendMicro, an information security company, has reported that the health care sectoris now the preferred target for cybercriminals. The industry, with hospitals leading the way, has been the top target of data breaches, followed by government and retail.In 2015, a total of 113.2 million health care-related records were stolen, the most ever, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ed Cabrera, chief cybersecurity officer for TrendMicro and former chief information security officer for the U.S. Secret Service, told HuffPost that medical records are targeted by cybercriminals because they contain the most comprehensive data and provide multiple selling opportunities for the so-called dark web.

An electronic health record database contains personal information that does not expire such as Social Security numbers and can be used over and over for malicious intent, Cabrera said.

The cybercriminal underground can cherry-pick the various parts of protected health information records, which include medical histories, test results, health issues past and present, prescription drug use, treatments, methods of payment, home addresses, credit card numbers, health insurance information, Social Security number and birthdate. The data can get right down to the date of your last menstrual cycle.

Thieves can use stolen electronic health records to get prescription drugs, receive medical care and file fake insurance claims. They can exploit Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns, open credit accounts, and obtain official government-issued documents, such as passports and drivers licenses. They can even create new identities.

The stolen information is usually resold, either as a whole record or piecemeal, on popular dark web marketplaces, including TheRealDeal, AlphaBay, Valhalla, Apple Market, Python Market, Dream Market and Silk Road, according to the TrendMicro report.

Interested cyberbuyers may only want health insurance numbers, which sell for 99-cents each on the underground, says the TrendMicro report. Those who trade in drugs may be interested in your prescription for opioids. Having your email in combination with other proof of identity can enable a thief to have the delivery address changed for mail-order pharmaceuticals or packages ordered online. Those who engage in cyberespionage for a nation-state may pay mightily for sensitive health information about a political or corporate leader. Like any other free market, rates are based on supply and demand, Cabrera said.

Medical records also have a long shelf life.If a thief steals your credit card or bank account number, its useful only until the credit limit is maxed out or you report the loss and the account is closed. But some information in a medical record can provide steady long-term income for scammers, Cabrera said.

Credit card companies and banks have vastly improved their ability to protect your data, Cabrera said. Health information systems? Not so much, which makes them a better target, he said, adding that some improvements have been made.

The Ponemon Institute,a security research and consulting organization, said in its May 2016 annual study on health care data privacy and security that about half of all health care organizations had little or no confidence that they could detect the loss or theft of patient data, and that the majority lack the budget to secure their data. The study found that most health care organizations havent invested in security technologies or staff.

While cyberattacks on the health care industry may pose immediate health risks to patients, with consequences like hospitals closing and procedures needing to be rescheduled, the big concern must include data breaches, Cabrera said.

And realistically, theres little you can do about it. Patients are at the mercy of the organizations they interact with, Cabrera said. If your doctor or hospital wants your drivers license or Social Security number as a condition of treatment, youre probably going to turn them over.

Cabrera suggested people use their real-life experience in their virtual life online. If you were traveling in a dangerous location, you would take precautions. Apply that same caution to your interactions with the health care industry. And be careful out there.

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This Is What The Wedding Night Is Actually Like, According To Couples

For many newlyweds, the wedding night isnt all its cracked up to be.The expectation is a glamorous evening full of endless champagne and awesome sex (hey, its possible!).The reality usually involves scarfing down some fast food and then passing out soon after.

We asked HuffPost readers how they actually spent their first night as a married couple. See what they had to say below:

1. I laid on the floor of the living room with my wife and two of my bridesmaids eating Taco Bell tortilla chips before finally going to bed, getting up to puke from having so much to drink at the reception, coming back to bed and then passing the f**k out. Katie H.

2. My husband fell asleep, all clothes on, shoes too, about two minutes after we got into the room. And oh yeah, my mother was sharing a room with us. So I spent most of my night awake on my phone and Netflix because I had them snoring on each side.Even still, I wouldnt have changed it for anything. Brittany S.

3.There was a mouse in our mountain cabin. It had made a mess of the tidy and well-stocked honeymoon surprise accommodations. Every time my husband heard it scurry in the night, hed hop out of bed to check the traps in the kitchen. He was out to get the rodent, not so much his bride!Thankfully, 28 years later we can laugh about it. Kimberly B.

4. My spouse and I spent the night playing Pokemon Go (it had just come out) and laughing with our friends until late in the evening. We then laid in bed for hours talking and laughing and just saying I love you. It was the grossest, mostaffectionate thing I had done and I wouldnt trade it for the world.We passed out slightly aftermidnightand couldnt be bothered to have sex. We waited until the next day. Fernando J.

5. That night I slept in one bed with our 4.5-month-old baby because she was nursing still and my husband slept in the other bed at the motel. Lisa N.

6. We went out to sing karaoke at a lesbian dive bar. We sang A Whole New World in our wedding dresses. Went to our hotel, grabbed coffee in the lobby, and pored over all the well-wishes on social media before crashing. Darek Y.

7. I was so sweaty and gross from dancing the whole reception I told him I had to shower before we did anything. Then we had our fun. Around2 a.m.I was starving (because no one ever lets the bride and groom eat, theyre all wanting pictures and to give their congratulations). So my husband and I went to Dennys just down the street from our hotel, and we ate Grand Slams and watched a movie before crashing for good. Heather B.

8. We had dinner with our parents at our favorite restaurant, then came home to drink wine and watch the season finale of RuPauls Drag Race (my husband correctly guessed the lip sync winners), followed immediately by watching Starship Troopers. Oh, and then we played video games. Absolutely a perfect evening. Nicole G.

9. We went out dancing with friends and came home at3 a.m.starving. Spent our night cuddling and eating room service mac & cheese and then passing out. Sexy time was saved for the morning once we had the energy. Katrin B.

10. We totally forgot to eat at our reception. My moms friend was kind enough to load us up with a plate full of wedding cake before we left. That night, we sat in the jacuzzi in our room and ate cake before we…well, you know. Keeana P.

11. We got married in a chapel on our college campus on aWednesdayevening, and afterwards we went to our dorm room and watched The Princess Bride until we passed out. Had to go take a music theory exam the next morning! Emma P.

12. I got food poisoning from something at our wedding. My husband had an intense headache. We went to a hotel that was gifted to us for the night, missing our after party, and slept. Well, I didnt sleep much because I was vomiting. Felicia L.

13. I vividly remember face-planting into the bed while my husband unbuttoned the back of my wedding gown for me since I couldnt do it myself. After we had changed into some comfy clothes, we called my younger sister (one of my bridesmaids) to come hang out with us in our room. We ended up ordering pizza with her and gossiping about various things that happened earlier that day. It wasnt a traditional wedding night, especially since we spent it with my sister, but my husband and I wouldnt have it any other way! We were WAY too tired and sore to do anything else! Annalis L.

14. My husband helped me out of my dress and with all the bobby pins in my hair. We put on old pajamas, ate our cookies, split the bottle of champagne, and watched some episodes of Frasier, and then got down to business. Amber L.

15. My husband and I forgot condoms, so we went into the drugstore, me still in my wedding dress, to buy some! Joelle D.

16. We were exhausted and sweaty from the long, hot day and hours of dancing so we took a soak in the giant tub. It took forever to fill with water so we sat in it while we waited. We opened our cards and read the notes from family and friends. Then we just sat talking about how happy and relaxed we were. Next thing I know, I wake up and the tub is full and spilling over into a hole near the top obviously there to prevent people like us from flooding the room. My husband and I had fallen asleep! We went to bed with my hair still up in a wet fancy bun and didnt actually consummate the marriage until the next morning. Erin M.

17. He carried me over the threshold into our hotel room, then I started yelling at him to take off my dress because I had to pee so bad and had been holding it most of the day! I then made him close his eyes because I didnt want him to see me in my extremely unsexy (yet functional) body shaper and Spanx. Heather S.

18. We drank champagne, ate the complimentary chocolates, and opened all of our cards and gifts while lounging in our bridal suite in our underwear. Then we passed out! Staci Z.

19.After the reception we Ubered to a hotel near LAX to spend four hours (only four hours) before shuttling to catch our flight. We removed the 9,000 bobby pins from my hair, then tried to sleep. AnnieS.

20. I stayed at the hotel while my husband ran home to walk the dog it was hard enough getting a babysitter for our four month old, we couldnt find a dog sitter. Then he came back, we took a nap, and ordered room service a cheeseburger at2 a.m. No diapers or bottles: perfection. Samantha L.

21. We stopped at McDonalds, drove to a family friends beautiful timeshare on the beach, then had a ton of sex. It was everything broke teenagers could ask for. Sam G.

**Some responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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US, China relations begin to cool as Trump’s honeymoon with Xi ends

(CNN)In a flurry of announcements likely to antagonize Beijing, US President Donald Trump’s administration has seemingly thrown its China policy into reverse, cooling relations between the two super powers.

In less than one week, the US has finalized a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, labeled China one of the world’s worst human traffickers and imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank for doing business with North Korea.
Trump and Xi had previously enjoyed an unusually cordial relationship since their first February meeting in Florida, with the US president describing Xi as a “terrific person” with whom he had a “very good relationship.”
    In exchange for Xi’s agreement to help restrain North Korea, the Trump administration loosened or withdrew US pressure in other areas, including the South China Sea and Trump’s previous campaign pledge to label China a currency manipulator.
    But on June 21, Trump sent a tweet saying Chinese efforts to restrain North Korea had “not worked out,” while adding he greatly appreciated that they had “tried.”
    “It’s a very firm indication that the honeymoon after the Mar-a-Lago summit is over and that tweet in particular … that was a clear signal that there was going to be a change and cooling in temperature of China and US ties,” Euan Graham, International Security Program director at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told CNN.

    Sanctions placed on Chinese bank

    On Thursday, the Trump administration announced plans to go ahead with a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, a move which has angered Beijing, which still considers the island a rogue province and part of mainland China.

      Can China help the US deal with North Korea?

    The arms sale came the same day as new sanctions were announced on China’s Bank of Dandong, which the US accuses of supporting illegal North Korean financial activity. On Tuesday, a new US government report labeled China as one of the world’s worst offenders in human trafficking.
    “From the beginning, President Trump has tied all these US-China issues together expecting cooperation from China on North Korea for cooperation from the US on these other issues,” said Anthony Ruggiero, a North Korea expert and senior fellow at the Defense for Democracy.
    Ruggiero said the decision to sanction Dandong was “long overdue,” adding pressure could be put on China through their need for US currency.
    “China is now in a position where it must defend a bank the US said is a money laundering concern. The Chinese leadership will wonder if the Trump administration will sanction a medium-sized Chinese bank next,” he said.”

    US officials call for North Korea containment

    The decision to step up pressure on China comes as several prominent Trump administration officials have warned further action was needed against North Korea’s nuclear missile program.

      Analyst ‘pessimistic’ after North Korean meeting

    On Wednesday, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley labeled estimates that North Korea was “three to five years from developing a long-range nuclear weapon capable of reaching the US” as “optimistic.”
    The same day, US National Security Adviser HR McMaster publicly confirmed military options had been prepared to deal with North Korea.
    “What we have to do is prepare all options because the President has made clear to us that he will not accept a nuclear power in North Korea, and a threat that can target the United States and target the American population,” McMaster told a Washington think tank.
    North Korea was a prominent topic of discussion when Trump welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House Thursday night, although the Korean leader favors a diplomatic approach rather than military engagement.
    “It is significant that (the sanctions) occurred on the afternoon of Moon’s visit,” Ruggiero told CNN. “This becomes a line in the sand that leaves the idea for engagement with North Korea open to discussion, but when it comes to pressure, shows the US will do as much as it can.”

    Taiwan arms deal long expected

    Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Friday morning they were “sincerely grateful” for the US decision to go ahead with the arms deal.

      Trump’s intentions questioned in Taiwan call

    “The arms sale was proposed by our country last year. The package includes eight types of equipment and system, which will boost our combat capabilities in air and sea,” the statement said.
    China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai furiously denounced the sale in Chinese state media People’s Daily, saying it violated the agreed upon “one China” policy.
    “China has made strong protests to the US and will reserve the right to take further measures,” state media quoted him as saying.
    Zhang Baohui, professor of political science at Lingnan University, said until this week many high-profile Taiwanese had believed the US was moving away from them.
    “(This arms deal) didn’t go through for a while and some people suspected it was due to Trump’s so-called reliance on China to resolve the North Korea issue … so I think this arms sale could boost confidence (in US),” he said.
    Zhang said this arms package, originally begun under former President Obama, was smaller than the last US arms deal with Taiwan, while Graham told CNN the actual contents of the newly approved Taiwanese arms deal were not especially provocative.
    “They’re not talking about major front line aircraft or major breakthroughs in technology, I think it’s consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act and the provision of defense capabilities under that,” Graham said.
    “I don’t see that alone as a provocation towards China, rather I think if we connect up these other areas, including sanctions on Chinese entities, that’s the thing to watch.”

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    German parliament votes to legalise same-sex marriage

    MPs pass bill granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including on adoption

    Germanys parliament has voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, joining many other western democracies in granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including adoption.

    Norbert Lammert, president of the parliament, said 393 lawmakers voted in favour, while 226 voted against and four abstained.

    Merkel said she voted against move because she believes marriage is for a man and a woman, and the decision for her was a personal one, but said she hopes the result will lead to greater social peace.

    The election-year bill was pushed by Chancellor Angela Merkels leftist rivals, who pounced on a U-turn she made on Monday in which she softened her stance against gay marriage, a manoeuvre that left many conservative politicians fuming.

    The lower house approved the law on Friday, hours before the Bundestag begins its summer recess.

    Ahead of the vote, gay and lesbian groups cheered the push for marriage equality in Germany, where civil partnerships were legalised in 2001.

    Its a real recognition, so it warms the heart, said French engineer Christophe Tetu, 46, who lives in Berlin with his partner Timo Strobel, 51.

    Were thinking about having a party, getting married and using our new rights to protect our relationship.

    Strobel said he too was overjoyed the couple would be able to show family and friends that we are committed to each other, that we will stay together and we will spend our lives together.

    The law will probably take effect before the end of the year.

    German parliamentarians vote to put the law on legalising same-sex marriage on the agenda. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

    Renate Knast of the Green party, which has pushed for decades for LGBT rights, quipped: I would advise all registry offices in the country to boost staff numbers.

    The rapid series of events kicked off with an onstage interview Merkel gave to womens magazine Brigitte, in which an audience member asked her: When can I call my boyfriend my husband if I want to marry him?

    Merkel, who long opposed gay marriage with adoption rights, citing the wellbeing of the children, replied that her thinking had shifted since she met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children.

    She said she favoured a vote at an undefined time when all lawmakers could follow their conscience rather than a party line.

    Many read the surprising comments as a move to deny opposition parties a strong campaign issue before the elections on 24 September.

    Merkels coalition allies, the Social Democrats (SPD), as well as the Greens, far-left Linke and pro-business Free Democrats, declared a same-sex marriage law as a precondition for an alliance.

    On Tuesday, after much buzz on social media, the SPDs chancellor candidate, Martin Schulz, took Merkel at her word and broke coalition ranks to call for an immediate vote, a move the CDU condemned as a breach of trust after four years of joint rule.

    Merkel called the political ambush and rush to vote on such a weighty issue sad and, above all, totally unnecessary. But her change of stance left the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany as the only party to oppose same-sex marriage.

    The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a conservative daily, predicted that after the vote it will be said Angela Merkel has avoided another stumbling block to post-election coalition talks.

    But the CDU will also have lost its right to be called a conservative party and instead now appears willing to throw any conservative values overboard in order to keep up with the times.

    Markus Ulrich, of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, said Merkel had long argued against gay marriage in an emotional way and never with real arguments.

    He added: Its very good that she took some time to better understand the reality of same-sex families and couples, in order to get a better picture of the situation. We think its very good and, even if this is happening only because of the electoral campaign, it doesnt matter.

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    The age of banter

    The long read: It used to be just a word now it is a way of life. But is it time to get off the banter bus?

    Its the most fucking ridiculous story, isnt it? We went to watch fucking dolphins, and we ended up in fucking Syria. Last summer in the Mediterranean party resort of Ayia Napa, Lewis Ellis was working as a club rep. I mean, it was fucking 8am, he told an Australian website soon afterwards, and the last fucking club had closed, and we thought, We can still go dolphin watching. Well blag our way on to a fucking boat and go dolphin watching.

    But when the boat sailed so far that Cyprus disappeared from view, Ellis explained, they started to worry. Why are we so far from land? they asked the crew. Were fucking miles away and weve got no fucking wifi. Something, Ellis said, had been lost in translation; his exuberant season as a shepherd for the resorts party pilgrims had gone terribly awry. The crew wasnt taking them to watch dolphins: they were going to a Russian naval base in the city of Tartus, on Syrias Mediterranean coast. Yeah, it is a little ridiculous.

    It was, nonetheless, a story that had legs. Hungover lads boat trip boob lands them in Syria, wahey-ed the Mirror; British holidaymakers board party boat in Ayia Napa and end up in war-torn SYRIA, guffawed the Express. If you saw these headlines at the time, you may dimly remember the rest. A stubborn trawler captain, chugging doggedly onwards to Tartus, where he turfed the friends out upon landing; interrogation at the hands of Russian intelligence officers; mutual hilarity as the Russians realised what had happened; and, after a hot meal, a quick tour of the area, and a good nights sleep, spots on the next fishing vessel headed back to Cyprus. It was never made clear why the captain had let them on the boat in the first place, but whatever. Everyone lapped it up.

    Reflecting on the whole thing five months later, Ellis, a 26-year-old with a business degree and a marketing masters, couldnt totally wrap his head around it. I think I found 35 stories about us, he told me. I read about myself in the Hawaiian Express, do you know what I mean? (Notwithstanding that there doesnt appear to be any such newspaper, yes, I definitely do.)

    What made it really weird to see the media pile in with such unstinting enthusiasm was that the story was total cobblers. I could not believe how gullible they were, Ellis said, a top note of glee still in his voice. We were just having a laugh! It was banter!

    Lads: this is the age of banter. Its long been somewhat about the banter, but over the last few years, it has come to seem that its all about the banter an unabashedly bumptious attitude that took up a position on the outskirts of the culture in the early 90s and has been larging its way towards the centre ever since. There are hundreds of banter groups on Facebook, from Banter Britain (no memes insinuating child abuse/dead babies!!!) to Wanker Banter 18+ (Have a laugh and keep it sick) to the Premier League Banter Page (The only rule: keep it banter). You can buy an I banter mug on Amazon for 9, or an Archbishop of Banterbury T-shirt for 9.99.

    There are now four branches of a restaurant called Scoff & Banter. When things were going badly at Chelsea FC under Jos Mourinho, it was reported the team had banned all banter in an attempt to focus their minds, and that terminology appeared in the newspapers, as if you would know exactly what it meant. Someone has created a banter map of London using a keyword search on the flatshare website SpareRoom, showing exactly where people are looking for a roommate with good banter (Clapham tends to feature prominently). When a 26-year-old man from Leeds posed for a selfie with a bemused aeroplane hijacker, Vice declared it the high-water mark of banter.

    Lewis Ellis (left) and friends in Ayia Napa, pretending to be in Syria. Photograph: Lewis Ellis

    If you are younger than about 35, you are likely to hear the term all the time. Either you have banter (if you are funny and can take a joke) or you dont (if you arent and cannot). The mainstream, in summary, is now drunk and asleep on the sofa, and banter is delightedly drawing a penis on its forehead.

    As banter has risen, it has expanded. Long a word used to describe submerged expressions of fraternal love, it is now also a word used to excuse uninhibited displays of masculine bravado. Today, it is segregated by class, seized on by brands, picked over by psychologists, and deplored by cultural critics; it is dominant, hotly contested and only hazily understood.

    And so, whether he intends it to or not, Ellis use of the term raises some questions. Is he throwing his lot in with the most pervasive branch of the blokeish mainstream, a sanitised and benevolent hilarity that stretches from lad-dad panel shows to your mates zinger about your terrible haircut? Or is he lining up with the misogynist imitators of the Bullingdon club, a sprinkling of racists, and, as we shall see, an actual murderer purveyors of a malicious and insidious masculinity that insists on its indivisible authority and calls you a slut if you object?

    Ellis isnt preoccupied by these questions, but for what its worth, he does say that he and his friends never had the slightest intention of going to Syria. We werent really trying to fool anyone, he told me, although Im not sure thats entirely consistent with the facts. We were out for a stroll, and we came across this area that looked really run down, we thought it looked like Syria. So we put it on the club reps [Facebook] page that thats where we were. And everyone started liking it. And then one of the people who contacted us was from LADBible which is like the Bible, but for LADS so we said, well have a mess around here. Well tell a completely ridiculous story, see if the media believes it. See if we can become LADBible famous.

    It did, they could. Eventually, the truth came out, not thanks to any especially determined investigative journalism, but because Ellis cheerily admitted on Facebook that his tale of magnificent idiocy was a fiction. Hahaha what a prank, he wrote, with some justification.

    The confession only brought another cycle of attention. Publications that had picked up the story in the first place resurfaced it with new headlines to reflect the audacity of the invention; social media users adduced it as evidence for their views of young men, or the media, or both. The Russian embassys Twitter account called it a telling example of how many Syria (and Russia) stories are made up by UK papers, which was great geopolitical banter. The attention entertained Ellis, but he says it wasnt the point. We just thought it was funny, he said. People are too serious. I keep being told to grow up, but I still want to have a good time. Ive had the jobs, Ive got the education. But when Im off work, I want to escape.

    Ellis is an enthusiast and an optimist. He is, he told me late last year, desperate to take every opportunity, just to say yes to everything I can. We were on a night out in Manchester with his friends Tyson, John and Chris. In the course of the evening, the following things found their way into my beer: fingers; salt; vinegar; mayonnaise; a chip; saliva; a 10 note; and, I hazily remember being told after the fact, at least two shots of vodka.

    Everyones got a thing in the group, Ellis said, as we walked from one bar to the next. One guy, hes not even that ugly, we say he looks like a Peperami. Tysons got this mole on his face, its like a Coco Pop, so youve got a Coco Pop on your face. I looked like Harry Potter when I was a kid, so they call me Potter, thats my nickname. Every single one of us has something. So you youve got Chinese eyes. Youre Chinese.

    For the record, I didnt think this was OK, but coming after such a harmless litany, it didnt seem malicious enough to confront. Of course, tacit endorsement is what makes such offensive epithets a commonplace, and so it troubles me that it made me feel mysteriously welcome, just as it had when John punched me lightly in the balls when I arrived. There was no doubting Elliss sincerity: as he spoke, the sheer daft beauty of male friendship seemed to amaze him, almost to the point of physical pain. We just take the piss out of each other, and thats how we show our love, he said. So many group chats on the phone, and you just take the piss until they cry. And its like, when youre really killing them, you go, Ill stop if you want, because you know they cant say yes, so you just keep going. Then we arrived at the next bar, where I was made to drink something called a Zombie.

    Early in the evening, before any of this had undermined my ability to take useful notes, Ellis broke off from talking as we walked down the street and sidled into a window display at Next Home, where he Tracey Emined a carefully made bed by climbing into it and rolling around. Everyone cracked up. Give the world a laugh, Ellis tends to think, and the world will smile back at you. Jump on a boat, and youll end up somewhere great; make the boat up, and youll get there faster. Its all about having fun, its all about the banter, he said, after hed rejoined us outside. Banter is about making the world a more exciting place.

    If nobody can agree on what banter is, thats hardly a new problem. The first usage of the word recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from noted Restoration lad Thomas dUrfey, also known for his hit song The Fart, in a satirical 1677 play called Madam Fickle. Banter him, banter him, Toby, a character called Zechiel urges, which may be the first time that someone called Toby was so instructed, but certainly wasnt the last.

    The OED also notes early attempts at a definition by Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. (Swift mentions a banter upon transubstantiation, in which a cork is turned into a horse, and fair enough, turning a cork into a horse would be classic banter.) Both are a little disgusted by the word, and neither unearths much of an origin story: by their accounts, banter is so coarse that it emerged, fully formed and without antecedent, out of the mouths of oafs.

    As it turns out, though, the OED is not at present fully able to handle the banter. According to Eleanor Maier, an associate editor on the dictionary, a search of earlier English texts reveals that a number of previous examples are missing from the dictionarys definition, which was first drafted in 1885 including a quote from a 1657 translation of Don Quixote. (After examining the history, Maier told me that she would be adding banter to the list of entries that are up for review.)

    dougie stew (@DougieStew)

    Welcome to London #BagelGate

    February 26, 2017

    In recent years, banter has barged into our lives at a remarkable clip. Googles Ngram Viewer, a tool that assesses (with some limitations) the frequency with which a term appears in a large database of written sources, finds that banter popped up about twice as often in 2008, the most recent year covered, as it did in 1980.

    But banter plugged away for a long time before it became an overnight success. In the 19th century, it often denoted a kind of formal sparring. Even as the term evolved over the 20th, it continued to seem a little prim. In the House of Commons in 1936, Ramsay MacDonald, the former Labour prime minister who had returned in a new seat after losing his old one, was subjected to a good deal of banter Dear old Granny MacDonald!, among other witticisms.In 1981, a Guardian report that chess champion Anatoly Karpov and his handlers had successfully protested at his challenger Viktor Korchnois constant cross-board talk ran under the unlikely headline: Chess banter banned.

    Such stories do little to prepare us for what banter has become. Consider the viral video that became known as #bagelgate earlier this year. In the recording, a minor scuffle broke out on the 00.54 train from Kings Cross to Huntingdon, and then for no obviously related reason a woman who had a large bag of bagels decided to put one on the head of the guy sitting in front of her, and then another after he took it off and threw it out of the window, and another and another, and then everyone in the carriage started chanting hes got a bagel on his head, and eventually the slightly spoddy victim who is me when I was 13 and someone filled my pencil case with Mr Kipling apple pies (squashed, oozing) because I was fat lost it and screamed Get the fuck out of my face!, and then another fight broke out on the platform, and then the police got on to the train, and every single person fell into not-me-guv silence: this is not Granny MacDonalds banter any more.

    If it is hard to understand how these activities can fall under the same umbrella, it should be noted that a phenomenon may predate our choice of term to describe it its just that the act of definition makes it more visible, and perhaps more likely to be imitated. At some point, though, banter became the name for what British men already regarded as their natural tone of voice. There is a very deeply embedded folk culture in the UK of public ribaldry, extreme sarcasm, facetiousness in other words, of laddishness, says Tony Thorne, a linguist and cultural historian. What you might think of as banter now is rooted in that tradition.

    That tradition first lashed itself to banters mast in the early 1990s, and controversy soon followed. In June 1992, a Guardian story headlined Police fire sex banter officer, about the dismissal of a sergeant for sexual harassment, recorded an early skirmish in the modern banter wars, and an important new layer to its meaning in the wild: The move is seen as part of the Metropolitan polices desire to reassure women officers that what has previously been tolerated as banter is no longer acceptable. Two years later, the lads mags arrived.

    The first edition of Loaded magazine appeared in May 1994, with a picture of Gary Oldman on the front smoking a dog-end, under a banner that declared him a super lad. What fresh lunacy is this? the editors note read. Loaded is a new magazine dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matters Loaded is for the man who believes he can do anything, if only he wasnt hungover.

    If banter dismays you, James Brown, the magazines first editor, is quite an easy bogeyman. As he acknowledges himself, he created a title that defined a genre. Loaded was swiftly recognised as a foundational text for a resurgent and ebullient masculinity that had been searching for public expression. While it was always overtly horny, the magazine was initially more interested in a forlorn, slackjawed and self-ironising appreciation of A-listers (one reversible poster had Cindy Crawford on one side and a steam train on the other) than the grot-plus-football formula that successors and imitators like Maxim, Zoo and Nuts milked to destruction. But it also flirted with something murkier.

    To its critics, Loaded and its imitators aimed to sanitise a certain hooliganistic worldview with a strategic disclaimer. Banter emerges as this relentless gloss of irony over everything, said Bethan Benwell, senior lecturer in language and linguistics at the University of Stirling and the author of several papers on mens magazines. The constant excusing of sexist or homophobic sentiments with this wink that says you dont really mean it. Benwell pointed to Loadeds emblematic strapline: For men who should know better.

    Brown denies that his magazine invented banter. Instead, he says, it captured a zeitgeist that the media had previously failed to acknowledge; the folk culture that Tony Thorne refers to, brought out into the open. Before Browns intervention, GQ had run John Major and Michael Heseltine as cover stars, for Gods sake. I took the interests and the outlook of the young men that I knew, and I put them in a magazine, Brown said. Im not responsible for the tone of the later entrants to the market. We were criticised because we fancied women, not because we belittled them.

    The thing about Loaded was that the way we wrote reflected the way we were with our mates, he went on. Theres definitely a thing that exists in the male outlook: you take the piss out of the people you like, and you ignore the people you dont.

    Accept this as your starting point, and objections become exhausting to sustain: what youre objecting to is an act of affection. Of course, this is what makes it insidious. Because Browns account rests on the intention behind the magazine, and Benwells on the effect it had, they are impossible to reconcile. Its a very difficult thing to resist or challenge without looking like the stereotypical humourless feminist, said Benwell. But by laughing, you become complicit.

    Loaded gave this new kind of banter escape velocity, and it began to colonise other worlds. On BBC2, for example, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner were staking out their own territory with Fantasy Football League, a mixture of sketches and celebrity chat that managed to be enthusiastic and satirical at the same time, and reached its peak when the pair became national icons, thanks to their Euro 96 anthem, Three Lions. While a long-running joke about the Nottingham Forest striker Jason Lees pineapple haircut seems flatly racist in retrospect Baddiel did an impression of him in blackface by and large, the tone was milder and more conventional than the magazines were: this was the sensibility of the university graduate slumming it before embarking on grown-up life.

    Baddiel implied that laddism could easily occupy a spectrum from ogling to literature, drawing a line to Nick Hornbys memoir of life as an Arsenal fan, Fever Pitch. Hornby once said to me that all this stuff you know, fantasy football and his book is men talking about things that they like and for a while in the mid-80s they werent allowed to, he said in 1995. Ive always liked football and Ive always liked naked women, and its easier to talk about that now than it was eight years ago. Those comments reflect a kind of sneer at its critics that you could often detect in Fantasy Football League, even as its hosts protested that they were just having a laugh though Baddiel himself denies that view. Twenty years on, he, like Brown, is at pains to draw a line between the approach that he and Skinner popularised, and the forms that came later. I guess me and Frank did specialise in banter, he said in an email. In a time before it was known as bantz.

    Over the next 10 years, two things happened that ushered in the age of banter. (You might call it mature banter, except that its also the opposite.) First, instead of just being a thing that happened, it became a thing that people talked about. Then, as it became a more tangible cultural product, everyone started trying to make money out of it. The watershed moment, the forms equivalent to Dylan going electric, was the invention of Dave.

    Like most good ideas, it looks simple enough in retrospect. Before Dave was Dave, it was UKTV Gold 2. The predecessor channels audience share was 0.761%, and no one could tell who on earth it was supposed to be for. But we had the content, says Steve North, the channels brand manager in 2007 and content of a particular kind that the existing name did very little to communicate: Have I Got News for You, They Think Its All Over, Top Gear. Viewers said they loved the repartee, the humour. It reminded them of spending time with their funniest friends.

    The first issue of Loaded magazine, from May 1994

    The target audience was highly specific. It was men married or in relationships, maybe with young children, not going to the pub as much as they used to, says Andy Bryant, managing director of Red Bee, the agency brought in to work on the rebrand. And they missed that camaraderie.

    Their purpose thus fixed, North started to run brainstorming sessions at which people would shout out suggestions for the name. One of the ones we collected was Dave, he says. We thought, great, but we cant call it that. But then we thought, Its a surrogate friend. If the audience really sees it as that, if they see it as genuinely providing the banter, maybe we can really give it a name.

    They put their hunch through its paces. The market research company YouGov was commissioned to test Dave alongside a bunch of other names (Matthew and Kevin were also on the shortlist), but nothing else had the same everyman resonance. For us, Dave is a sensibility, a place, an emotion, a feeling, said North, his tone thoughtful, almost gnomic. Everyone has their own sense of who Dave is, thats the important thing. Its hard to find anyone who doesnt know someone called Dave.

    Now the channel had a brand, it needed a slogan. Lots of people claim they played a part in the naming, says Bryant. But it was just as important to encapsulate what the channel was all about. And at some point someone, I dont know who, wrote it on a board: The home of witty banter. The rebrand added 8m new viewers in six months; Dave saw a 71% increase in its target audience of affluent young men.

    Conceived by the first generation of senior professionals to have grown up with banter as an unremarkable part of their demographics cultural mix, the channel crystallised a change, and accelerated it. In 2006, The Ricky Gervais Show, in which Gervais and Stephen Merchant relentlessly poked fun at their in-house idiot savant Karl Pilkington, became the most popular podcast of all time. In 2007, the year of Daves rebrand, Top Gears ratings shot from below 5m to a record high of 8m. The following year, QI moved from BBC4 to BBC2. (A tie-in book published the same year, QI: Advanced Banter, sold more than 125,000 copies.)

    North saw the kind of fraternal teasing that was being monetised by his channel, and the panel shows that were its lifeblood, as fundamentally benign. The key thing is that its two-way, he said. Its about two people riffing off each other.

    But like his 20th-century forebears, he can see that something ugly has evolved, and he wants to keep his brand well away from it. Bants, he said with distaste. That thing of cover for dubious behaviour we hate and despise it massively. When we launched, it was about fun, being light-hearted, maybe pushing each other without being disrespectful. When people talk about Ive had a go at that person, great banter no, thats just nasty.

    By the turn of the decade,as other branding agencies mimicked the success of Dave, banter was everywhere, a folk tradition that had acquired a peculiar sort of respectability. The men who celebrated it werent just lads in the pub any more: they had spending power and establishment allies on their side. But they were, by the same token, more visible to critics. Aggression from an underdog can be overlooked; aggression from the establishment is serious enough to become a matter of public concern.

    Take Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Sky Sports brand-defining football presenters, who got themselves up to their necks in some extremely bad banter in 2011. Keys blamed dark forces, but everyone else blamed him and Gray for being misogynists. We knew this because there was footage.

    The firestorm, as Keys called it, centred on claims that the two men had said and done heinously sexist things off-air. Most memorable, at least for its phrase-making, was the clip in which Keys eagerly asked his fellow pundit Jamie Redknapp if hed smashed it it being a woman and asserted that he could often be found hanging out the back of it.

    Gray went quickly. In the days before he followed, Keys burned hot with injustice in a series of mea-sorta-culpas, particularly focused on the tape in which he expressed his derision at the idea that a woman, Sian Massey-Ellis, could be an assistant referee in the Premier League.

    It was just banter, he said. Or, more exactly, just a bit of banter, as he said Massey-Ellis had assured him she understood in a later telephone conversation in which, he added, much banter passed between us. She and I enjoyed some banter, he protested. It was lads-mag banter, he insisted. It was stone-age banter, he admitted. We liked to have banter, he explained. Richard Keys was sorry if you were offended, but also, it wasnt his fault if you didnt get it. It was just banter, for goodness sake!

    Up to their necks in some extremely bad banter Andy Gray and Richard Keys in 2011. Photograph: Richard Saker/Rex

    Keys insistence that his mistake was simply a failure to move with the times was nothing new: banter has always seemed to carry a longing for the past, for an imagined era before male friendship was so cramped by the tiresome obligations of feminist scrutiny. But while his underlying views were painfully dated, his conception of banter was entirely modern: a sly expansion of the words meaning, and a self-conscious contention that it provided an impregnable defence.

    The Keys variation understood banter, first, as a catch-all means of denying responsibility if anyone was hurt; and, second, as a means of reinforcing a bond between two people by being cruel about a third. The comparison wouldnt please a couple of alphas like Keys and Gray, but both strategies brought it closer to a style of communication with classically feminine associations: gossip. Deborah Cameron, the Rupert Murdoch (lol) Professor in Language and Communication at Oxford University, argues that the two modes of interaction follow basically the same structure. People gossip as a trust game, she said. You tell someone your unsayable private secret, and it bonds you closer together. Theyre supposed to reciprocate with a confidence of their own. Well, banter works in the same way now. You say something outrageous, and you see if the other person dares to top your remark.

    The trust game in banter was traditionally supposed to be: do you trust me when I say were friends in spite of the mean things Im saying about you? But now theres a second version of the game: do I trust you not to tell anyone the mean things Im saying about other people? I think originally it was a harmless thing, said Cameron, whose analysis is rooted in an archive of male group conversation, mostly recorded by her students, that goes back to the 1980s. But then it started to be used as an excuse when men were caught out engaging in forms of it that werent so harmless.

    It comes down to context and intent, says the comedian Bridget Christie. The gentler form of banter is still knocking around, she suggested, but now it exists alongside something darker: I found The Inbetweeners adolescent banter hilarious, because it was equal and unthreatening. But there is obviously a world of difference between a group of teenage boys benignly taking the piss out of each other, and a bigot being racist or misogynist and trying to pass it off as a joke.

    Trace the rise of banter, and you will find that it corresponds to the rise of political correctness or, anyway, to the backlash against political correctness gone mad. That phrase and just banter mirror each other perfectly: one denoting a priggish culture that is deemed to have overreached, the other a laid-back culture that is deemed to have been unfairly reined in. Ironically enough, just banter does exactly what it accuses political correctness of, seeking to close down discussion by telling you that meaning is settled by category rather than content. Political correctness asserts that a racist joke is primarily racist, whereas banter asserts that a racist joke is primarily a joke. In the past, the men who used it rarely had to define it, or to explain themselves to anybody else. Today, in contrast, it is named all the time. The biggest change isnt the banter itself, says Bethan Benwell. Its the explicit use of the word as a disclaimer.

    By sheer repetition and by its use as an unanswerable defence, banter has turned from an abstraction into a vast and calcified description of actions as well as words: gone from a way of talking to a way of life, a style that accidentally became a worldview. He bantered you, people sometimes say: you always used to banter with your mates, but now it often sounds like something you do to them. Once it was directionless, inconclusive chatter with wit as the engine that drove it, said the comedian Russell Kane. Now, if I trip you up, thats banter.

    You might think the humiliation suffered by Keys and Gray would have made banter less appealing as a get-out, but not a bit of it. Banter, increasingly, seems like the first refuge of the inexcusable. In 2014, Malky Mackay, who had been fired as manager of Cardiff City Football Club a year earlier, was caught having sent texts that referred to Chinese people eating dogs, black people being criminals, Jewish people being avaricious, and gay people being snakes all of which were initially optimistically defended by the League Managers Association as letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter. The comedian Dapper Laughs, whose real name is Daniel OReilly, established himself as banters rat king, with his very own ITV2 show, and then lost it after he suggested that an audience member at one of his gigs was gagging for a rape. A man was convicted of murder after he crushed his friend against a wall with a Jeep Cherokee after an argument over badger-baiting, a course of action that he said had been intended as banter. Another slashed the throat of someone he had met in a pub and described the incident as a moment of banter after 14 or 15 pints. Both are now in prison.

    By any sane measure,banter was falling into disrepute, as often a disguise for malice as a word for the ribaldry of lads on the lash. Still it did not go away: instead, the worst of it has mutated again, asserting its authority in public and saving its creepiest tendencies for the shadows or, at least, for the company of five, or 10, or 20 of your closest mates.

    At the London School of Economics, it started with a leaflet. Each year at the universitys freshers fair, LSE Rugby Football Club distributed a banterous primer on rugby culture. In October 2014, says the then-president of the student union, Nona Buckley-Irvine, a student came to her in tears with a copy in her hand. The leaflet talked about trollops, slags, crumpet, mingers, and the desirability of misogyny; there were passing references to the horrors of homosexual humiliation and outright homosexual debauchery. Anyone charmed by all this was invited to sign up for the club and join the banter list, entitling them to participate in the exchange of chappish email conversation.

    To anyone with a passing knowledge of university laddism, it was hard to imagine a more ordinary iteration. Still, after the unreconstructed chappishness of the leaflet came to light, the club knew it had a problem. It issued a collective apology acknowledging that we have a lot to learn about the pernicious effects of banter, and promised to organise a workshop. But there was reason to be sceptical about the depth of that commitment.

    When Buckley-Irvine and her colleagues published a report on the incident, they noted a string of others, including an antisemitic assault on a university ski trip to Val dIsere in 2011. And there were other indiscretions it didnt mention. According to two people who were present, one club dinner at an Indian restaurant on Brick Lane ended with a stripper having bottles thrown at her when, already intimidated, she refused to take her clothes off. She hid in the toilet, and had to be escorted out by a member of staff as the team vandalised the restaurant.

    Photograph: Alamy

    According to five people who were either members of the rugby club or closely associated with it, one notorious senior member was widely thought to be responsible for the leaflet. (He did not respond to requests for comment.) But when they came to defend themselves to the student union, members of the club fell back on one of the most revered pillars of laddism: all for one, one for all. Theyd clearly worked out a line, says Nona Buckley-Irvine. No one individual was responsible. They were sorry. It was just banter. Thats what they all said.

    The accountancy firm KPMG, which sponsored the universitys wider Athletics Union, decided that banter was not an especially helpful brand association, and withdrew funding worth 22,000. The students union decided to disband the club for the academic year. The decision moved some observers to disgust. It was a gross overreaction, a former team member told me. We were the best-behaved team when it came to actually playing rugby but they banned that bit and they couldnt ban any of the rest.

    Others took a less measured tone. I had old members emailing me and calling me a fascist, says Buckley-Irvine. Asking me if I didnt understand that it was just banter. Rugby players chanted abuse at her on nights out, she told me. They shoulder-barged her, and called her a cunt.

    These kinds of interactions would tend to take place on Wednesdays, also known as sports night, at a bar in Leicester Square. Sports night was the apotheosis of the rugby clubs bleak solidarity. In deference to what you might call the wingers-before-mingers code, for instance, members of the club who were expected to dress in suits werent allowed to speak to women before 9pm. So they would just shout abuse instead, one female former student, who Ill call Anna, remembered. One chant, she said, went, Nine nos and a yes is a yes. At the time, Anna thought that it was all a joke. People would say, Its just banter all the time. After everything. Absolutely everything, she said, sitting in a cafe in south London. If you were meeting someone new, saying they had good banter, that was a pretty high compliment. Whereas if you dont go along with that stuff, its seen as, you cant take the chat, you cant take the banter. And its not seen as having a stance against it. Its seen as not being able to keep up.

    After the rugby club was disbanded, nothing much changed in sports night social life. Many members of the club still went on the same nights out; they just colonised other teams. They still addressed girls as Sarah 2 or Sarah 8 depending on how attractive they considered them out of 10; they still had shouted conversations about their sex lives in front of the women they had slept with but refused to acknowledge.

    That culture was not confined to Wednesday nights. Anna remembers a guy who took her picture as she slept, naked, in the bed they were sharing, and circulated it to another non-university sports team via WhatsApp. She wasnt meant to see it on his phone.

    Ask anyone well-informed where banter resides now, and theyll give the same answer: WhatsApp groups and email threads, the safe spaces of the lad class. What youd get out of those WhatsApp threads, its another world of drama, one former member of the football club said. The details of girls bodies that youd read, a few funny jibes, that was the limit for me. But when it moved on to, like, really, really bad stuff, always about sex it was too much. Those threads are the source of everything.

    If the threads were an outlet, they were by no means the limit. Banter, by common consent, wasnt confined to mocking each other: it was about action. If you dressed up for a night out, one female student remembered, it was just kind of status quo that you could have your arse grabbed. It was just like, Oh, that was kind of weird, but OK, thatll happen. Like everyone else willing to speak about it, her view of that culture was perplexingly nuanced, sometimes contradictory. It sounds scary, she said, but that being said, some of my best nights were there, and like it was fun. But then she said: What was defined as serious just got so pushed. I think for someone to lodge a complaint they would have to be actually hurt.

    Anna remembers lots of sketchy incidents. She recalls nights when her choices faded into a blur, and she wondered if she had really been in control. But at the time, I would never call it out, she said. And then, youre all living in halls together, and the next day, its like: What did you do last night? Thats hilarious. Thats banter.

    When Anna thinks about the behaviour of some of the men she knew at university, she finds it hard to pin down exactly what she thinks of them. Theres one in particular who sticks in her mind. On a Wednesday night, he was a banter guy, she said. He was a Wednesday animal. But the rest of the time, he was my friend.

    Controversial though all this was at the time, no one seems to think that it will have cost the perpetrators much. Ive tried so hard to leave all that behind, said the former member of the football team. But those guys theyre all going on to run banks, or the country, or whatever. The senior rugby man who many held responsible, by the way, has landed on his feet. Today, he has a job at KPMG.

    In 2017, every new instance of banter is immediately spotted and put through the journalistic wringer. (Vices Joel Golby, who wrote the definitive text on the bagel thing, has made a career from his exquisite close readings of the form.) But when each new absolute legend emerges, we dont usually have the context to make the essential judgment: do the proponents tend towards the harmless warmth of Ellis and his mates, or the frank hostility of the LSE rugby boys? Is their love of irony straightforward, or a mask for something else?

    As Richard Keys and Dapper Laughs and their cohorts have polluted the idea of banter, the commercial entities that endorsed its rise have become uneasy with the label. They wanted it to go viral; they hadnt expected it to go postal. Dave, for example, has dropped the home of witty banter slogan. Its not about classic male humour any more, its a little bit smarter, says UKTVs Steve North. We definitely say it less than we used to.

    Trump administration sets new visa rules for travel-ban countries, report says

    The Trump administration on Wednesday set new criteria for visa applicants from six mainly Muslim nations and all refugees that require a “close” family or business tie to the United States.

    The move came after the Supreme Court partially restored President Trump’s executive order that was widely criticized as a ban on Muslims.

    The new rules take effect at 8 p.m. EDT on Thursday.

    Visas that have already been approved will not be revoked, but instructions issued by the State Department say that new applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S. to be eligible.

    The same requirement, with some exceptions, holds for would-be refugees from all nations who are still awaiting approval for admission to the U.S.

    Grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancees or other extended family members are not considered to be close relationships, according to the guidelines that were issued in a cable sent to all U.S. embassies and was obtained by The Associated Press.

    As far as business or professional links are concerned, the State Department said a legitimate relationship must be “formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course rather than for the purpose of evading” the ban.

    Journalists, students, workers or lecturers who have valid invitations or employment contracts in the U.S. would be exempt from the ban. The exemption does not apply to those who seek a relationship with an American business or educational institution purely for the purpose of avoiding the rules, the cable said.  A hotel reservation or car rental contract, even if it was pre-paid, would also not count, it said.

    Consular officers may grant other exemptions to applicants from the six nations if they have “previously established significant contacts with the United States;” `’significant business or professional obligations” in the U.S.; if they are an infant, adopted child or in need of urgent medical care; if they are traveling for business with a recognized international organization or the U.S. government or if they are a legal resident of Canada who applies for a visa in Canada, according to the cable.

    Critics said they are watching closely to see how the guidelines are used.

    “Initial reports suggest that the government may try to unilaterally expand the scope of the ban – for example, by arbitrarily refusing to treat certain categories of familial relationships as `bona fide.’ These reports are deeply concerning. We are watching for official word,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights.

    On Monday, the Supreme Court partially lifted lower court injunctions against Trump’s executive order that had temporarily banned visas for citizens of the six countries. The justices’ ruling exempted applicants from the ban if they could prove a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity, but the court offered only broad guidelines — suggesting they would include a relative, job offer or invitation to lecture in the U.S.  — as to how that should be defined.

    Senior officials from the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security had labored since the decision to clarify the ruling and Wednesday’s instructions were the result. The new guidance will remain in place until the Supreme Court issues a final ruling on the matter. Arguments before the justices will not be held until at least October, so the interim rules will remain in place at least until the fall.

    Earlier this month, the Trump administration approved a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants that asks for social media handles and accounts used during the last five years and travel history, including the source of funding for trips, over the last 15 years, for more rigorous vetting.

    The State Department requested expedited consideration and emergency review from the Office of Management and Budget on May 5 for the new visa application protocol. Fox News can confirm that OMB has approved the new measures.

    Under the new rules, would-be immigrants from the six countries who won a coveted visa in the government’s diversity lottery — a program that randomly awards 50,000 green cards annually to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States — will also have to prove they have a “bona fide relationship” with in the U.S. or are eligible for another waiver or face being banned for at least 90 days. That hurdle may be a difficult one for those immigrants to overcome, as many visa lottery winners don’t have relatives in the U.S. or jobs in advance of arriving in the country.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report

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    Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Hong Kong as mass protests expected

    Hong Kong (CNN)China’s President Xi Jinping underlined his commitment to “one country, two systems” as he arrived in Hong Kong to mark two decades of Chinese rule in the former British territory.

    “For the past 20 years, Hong Kong has always had the strong backing of the central government,” Xi said as he addressed crowds at the city’s airport.
    It’s Xi’s first visit to the Chinese special administrative region, and one that is expected by dogged by protests and a huge annual pro-democracy rally to mark the day when Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese rule.

      From the tarmac, Xi encouraged Hong Kongers to “look forward to the future, making sure ‘one country, two systems’ can work smoothly and continue,” referring to the principle by which Hong Kong retains limited autonomy and freedoms.
      Xi said the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the UK to China on July 1 is a huge event “for the country, and for Hong Kong.”

      Welcoming Xi

      Huge banners have been placed over the highway Xi will take to the city, welcoming him for his “official inspection” and celebrating “20 years of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland.”
      Chinese and Hong Kong flags have also been hung from windows and buildings, though critics of Beijing have taken angrily to social media to denounce the displays.
      Protesters have said they will target Xi at all of his engagements, though it remains to be seen how close they will be able to get to the Chinese leader.
      Late Wednesday, two dozens activists, including former “Umbrella Movement” leader Joshua Wong were arrested after they stormed a public square where Xi will appear later this week.

        Hong Kongers fear new security law

      Huge security operation

      Much of Wan Chai, a bustling business district in the city center where Xi will stay, is on partial lockdown, with 300, 2-ton barricades erected on roads around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The venue will host many events marking the city’s handover from the UK to China.
      Around 11,000 of the city’s 29,000 police officers will be involved in security arrangements for Xi’s visit, according to the South China Morning Post.
      During a visit last year by Zhang Dejiang, the third-highest ranked Chinese leader, sidewalks were glued down in key areas to prevent protesters from breaking them up and using them as missiles.
      Local media reported this week that police were under instructions to prevent banners and signs that might “embarrass” Xi from appearing within his eyesight.
      Barriers were also briefly erected around a statue of Queen Victoria in a central Hong Kong park named for the long-reigning British monarch, but they were removed after complaints.

      Events and celebrations

      While in Hong Kong, Xi will spend little time anywhere near the public.
      On Thursday evening, he is expected to have dinner with Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung and his successor, Carrie Lam, whom Xi will swear in on Saturday.
      Xi is also expected to visit a People’s Liberation Army base. China’s military has always had a major presence in Hong Kong since the handover, but it has kept a low profile until recently.
      An elaborate celebratory gala will be held Friday evening at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, attended by Xi, Leung, Lam and other dignitaries.
      Protests are expected outside the event, and at a separate rally by pro-Hong Kong independence activists, who have called for their supporters to gather together and “crush Chinese colonialism.”
      Xi will leave the city on Saturday after swearing in Lam and attending a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 20 years since China assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong.
      Attention will then turn to the annual July 1 pro-democracy march, which organizers expect to attract hundreds of thousands of people.

      Read more:

      A day in the life of Venezuelans: Anything but normal

      Caracas, Venezuela (CNN)A daily struggle has become the new normal for Venezuelans. Economic and political turmoil regularly send thousands into the streets to protest, both for and against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, sometimes with deadly results.

        The helicopter was apparently stolen and piloted by an officer in the country’s investigative police force, Oscar Perez.The attackers fired gunshots and lobbed grenades as the chopper strafed the court building and the Interior Ministry in Caracas, officials said.
        Away from the streets, Venezuelans struggle to eke out a living in the face of severe shortages in food, medicine and other basic supplies. Here’s how some lives have been disrupted:

        The baker who can’t bake

        Without flour, there is no bread.
          That’s the bleak reality for Javier Dominguez, whose industrial bakery in Caracas is eerily silent.
          Ten industrial ovens are cold. Hundreds of shelves that used to stack loaves are all empty. No bread has been baked since flour deliveries stopped two months ago. Dominguez got his flour delivered by the government, and he isn’t sure why it won’t deliver to him anymore. He blames Maduro’s government for strangling his business.
          Two months ago, 60 people worked here, processing up to 60 sacks of flour (3,000 kilograms) per day.
          Half have now been laid off. The rest will likely follow soon when credit runs out for the business that Dominguez set up with partners in the 1970s.
          Bankruptcy is coming for this baker who can’t bake.
          “I consider all of this gone,” he said, looking around his business.

            The doctor who can’t prescribe medicine

            Dr. Christian Ramos has education, training and experience. But he struggles to treat his patients because neither he nor they can find the medications they need.
            Most drugs and medical supplies are imported to Venezuela, so with the country low on funds, the supply has dried up — sometimes with lethal consequences.
            Simple, curable illnesses can turn into much more serious ones because of a lack of basics such as antibiotics, Ramos said.
              “I might have a complicated patient, but I know how to cure them,” he said.
              “I could solve this case with my skills, but I can’t treat them because the lack of medications.”

              The hairdresser with little running water

              Jesus Lopez, 22, struggles to do even the most basic functions of his trade as a hairdresser.
              “We have water on Monday and Tuesday. The rest (of the week we rely on) a tank. If we did not have a tank, we’d be lost,” Lopez said.
              Even so, he and his colleagues have to conserve water so it will last for the remainder of the week.
              Finding shampoo or shaving gel is another challenge. The stores that once sold beauty supplies have all shuttered their doors.
              “As a business, (hairdressing) tools are really expensive to buy. You might have to invest a couple of months’ salary to buy a single tool and really hope nothing breaks down, because getting replacement parts are a nightmare,” he said.

              The restaurant manager without diners

              Franco Rojas, 58, manages the Tasca de Juancho, a renowned Peruvian restaurant in Caracas. But it’s hard to cook Peruvian food with no rice or pasta.
              In the capital, these two staples can almost solely be found on the black market or by driving hours to other cities.
              Transportation costs ultimately get passed on to consumers.
              “There are less and less people eating out,” Rojas told CNN. They simply can’t afford it, he said.
              Inflation and shortages aren’t the only things hurting his industry.Restaurants in Caracas are having to close earlier in the evening due to the increased fear of violence.

              The mother who misses her daughter

              The misery in Venezuela takes more than just a physical toll. The economic conditions have also split up families.
              “This is impacting us as a generation, the generation of my husband and I, who are seeing our children leave,” says Rosa Blanco, a 53-year-old mother in Chacao, a middle-class neighborhood in Caracas.
              The lack of opportunities and overall insecurity in Venezuela led Blanco’s daughter to flee to Mexico.
              When she was her daughter’s age, Blanco said she would never have thought of leaving the country. “We had it all.”
              Now all she has left is what she called ” ‘frust-rage,’ a mix of frustration and rage.”

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