Karlie Kloss marries Jared Kushner’s brother

Photo by the Associated Press

Supermodel Karlie Kloss has married businessman Joshua Kushner.

Kloss posted a photo of her in a wedding dress and Kushner in a tuxedo—both of them beaming—on Instagram and Twitter Thursday night. People magazine reports the couple married at a small ceremony in upstate New York and will have a larger ceremony in the spring.

Kloss’ publicists did not return an email seeking details about the wedding Thursday.

Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers.

Kloss has modeled for Victoria’s Secret and numerous luxury brands, and will be the new host of “Project Runway.”

From the Associated Press.

U.S. home sales fell in September to slowest pace in 3 years

U.S. home sales fell for the sixth straight month in September, a sign that housing has increasingly become a weak spot for the economy.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that sales declined 3.4 percent last month, the biggest drop in 2 ½ years, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million. That’s the lowest sales pace since November 2015.

Hurricane Florence dragged sales in North Carolina, but even excluding the storm’s effects, sales would have fallen more than 2 percent, the NAR said. After reaching the highest level in a decade last year, sales of existing homes have declined steadily in 2018 amid rapid price increases, higher mortgage rates and a tight supply of available houses.

Still, analysts are mostly optimistic about the broader economy. Most forecast growth will top 3 percent at an annual rate in the July-September quarter, after a robust expansion of 4.2 percent in the second quarter.

“Housing is no longer a tail wind for the economy, but the headwinds are blowing very gently,” said Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, before the report was released.

Housing will likely weaken further in the coming months. September’s weakness came before mortgage rates jumped further this month to their highest levels in seven years. Sales fell 4.1 percent in September from a year ago.

“Without a doubt there is a clear shift in the market,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

One sign of the shift is that demand for existing homes is slowing. Home prices are rising at a slower rate and the supply of available houses, while low, is increasing. Buyer traffic has also declined, Yun said.

And with rents also stabilizing in many cities, many would-be buyers may not feel as much pressure to buy a new home.

“Renting itself may be seen as a better bargain as rising mortgage interest rates, still-rising home prices and sluggish wage growth dent the affordability advantage of a typical mortgage,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at real estate data provider Zillow.

Sales have fallen by the most in the West, where most of the nation’s hottest real estate markets are located and where prices have soared for several years. Sales tumbled 12.2 percent in that region in the past year, compared with just 5.6 percent in the Northeast and 1.5 percent in the Midwest. They dropped just 0.5 percent in the South from a year earlier, despite a sharp decline in September due to Hurricane Florence.

The highest-priced homes are also reporting slower sales, a shift from earlier this year, when sales slowdowns were concentrated in mid-priced and cheaper homes. Homes priced at $1 million and higher saw sales drop 2 percent from a year ago.

Higher borrowing costs are making housing less affordable. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage slipped this week but remained near a seven-year high of 4.85 percent. A year ago, it stood at 3.88 percent.

There are also signs that home owners are increasingly unwilling to sell as mortgage rates rise. That’s because many have rates below 4 percent, so selling a home and buying a new one would require them to accept a higher rate.

The Realtors surveyed consumers and found that 16 percent are unwilling to give up their mortgage rate and buy a new home. That’s up from a typical level of 10 percent.

From the Associated Press.

Songwriter wins $44M in lawsuit

Photo by Loren Wohl

A Philadelphia songwriter who claims he was cut out of profits and credit from a song that was recorded by R&B star Usher has been awarded more than $44 million in damages in a suit that targeted the track’s other co-writers.

A jury last week awarded the sum to Daniel Marino. His former co-writer William Guice was ordered to pay $6.75 million in compensatory damages, and $20.25 million in punitive damages.

Also last week Destro Music Productions, owned by co-defendant Dante Barton, agreed to pay Marino $17.35 million. That brings his total award to $44.35 million.

The lawsuit stemmed from Marino’s work on a song called “Club Girl”. Daniel Marino says he created most of the song, including its guitar hook, tempo and chord progression.

The song was recorded by Usher in 2004 and renamed “Bad Girl”.

Usher wasn’t named in the suit.

U.S. worried by foreign voter-influence

U.S. intelligence officials said they are concerned about “ongoing campaigns” by Russia, China, Iran and other countries to undermine confidence in the American democratic process.

In a joint statement the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Department, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say they’re worried about activities that “seek to influence voter perceptions and decision-making” in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

The agencies say the “ongoing campaigns” could take many forms. Examples include attempts to influence voters through social media, sponsoring content in English language media such as the Russian outlet RT (Russia Today), or “seeding disinformation through sympathetic spokespersons regarding political candidates and disseminating foreign propaganda.”

The joint statement follows recent reports throughout Texas accusing the Texas Democratic Party of sending voting applications with the citizenship box pre-checked to non-citizens, as reported by Fox News.

It also comes amid independent campaigns led by citizens in the United Kingdom and U.S. to expose private entities influencing elections like the Knights Templar International and their U.S.-based Knights Templar Order International group, which have been constantly reported on by the U.K.-based group IRBF.

Turkey questions Saudi Consulate staff in Khashoggi case

Photo by the Associated Press

Investigators on Friday questioned staff from the Saudi Consulate about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and explored whether his remains could have been dumped outside Istanbul after his suspected killing, Turkish media and a security official said.

Turkey’s foreign minister said his country would share some “evidence” with the rest of the world but rejected a report that it already has shared with the U.S. an alleged audio recording of the slaying of the columnist for The Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia has rejected reports that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside the consulate as baseless, but it faces growing pressure to explain what happened to him after he entered the consulate Oct. 2 for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée. He has not been seen since.

Turkish crime scene investigators this week searched the building and the nearby residence of the Saudi consul general and came out carrying bags and boxes. The 15 Turkish employees brought to give testimony included the consul general’s driver, technicians, accountants and telephone operators, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

A journalist for the Associated Press saw a group of people leaving the consulate in a van. Later in the day, the same people were seen in video from a courthouse, where Turkish media said they had given testimony.

A Turkish official told AP that investigators are looking into the possibility that Khashoggi’s remains may have been taken outside Istanbul. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, the official said police have established that two vehicles belonging to the consulate left the building Oct. 2. One traveled to the Belgrade Forest on the city’s outskirts, while the other went to the city of Yalova, across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, the official said.

It was not immediately clear if police had already searched those locations.

Turkish officials have released few details about the investigation, but pro-government media have published surveillance video and other material suggesting Khashoggi, whose 60th birthday was Oct. 13, was killed by an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prominent journalist had written columns critical of the Saudi government while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak, citing what it described as an audio recording of Khashoggi’s slaying, said the squad immediately accosted the journalist after he entered the consulate, cutting off his fingers and later decapitating him.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that it “certainly looks” as though Khashoggi is dead, and that the consequences for the Saudis “will have to be very severe” if they are found to have killed him.

Saudi Arabia has not responded to repeated requests for comment from the AP and other news agencies in recent days over Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Citing an anonymous senior Turkish official, ABC News reported Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heard the alleged recording during meetings in Turkey this week and received a transcript of it. Pompeo dismissed that report, telling reporters on a plane to Mexico that he’s neither seen nor heard such a recording.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also denied sharing any audio recordings with U.S. officials, saying “it’s out of the question” for Turkey to share material from the investigation with the U.S. or other countries at this stage.

“Of course, as a result of the investigation so far, Turkey does have some information and evidence,” he said. “We will share them with the world when they become fully clear because the whole world, understandably, wants to know what happened to Khashoggi and how it happened.”

Earlier this week, Trump said the U.S. has asked for the recording “if it exists.”

Turkey’s pro-government Sabah newspaper on Friday printed more surveillance camera photos showing members of the group of Saudis who arrived Oct. 2. A leaked surveillance photo published by the paper Thursday showed that a member of Prince Mohammed’s entourage during several trips abroad had walked into the Saudi Consulate, just before Khashoggi vanished. The man, identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, has been photographed in the background of Prince Mohammed’s trips to the United States, France and Spain this year.

Khashoggi’s disappearance has rattled Saudi Arabia’s relations with the West. Senior government officials from the U.S., France, Britain and the Netherlands have withdrawn from a high-profile investment conference to be held next week in Riyadh. Several top business executives have also cancelled their plans to attend, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister Imran Khan would attend the conference and meet with Saudi King Salman. Khan has been trying to secure bailout loans from IMF to avoid an economic meltdown and is also seeking loans from Riyadh.

From the Associated Press

Mega Millions jackpot hits $1B

Friday night’s Mega Millions jackpot estimated grand prize has hit a staggering $1 billion, continuing a trend of giant jackpots.

It is the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history and joins five other top 10 drawings in the last three years.

President Trump supports pushing Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court

Photo by Gage Skidmore

President Donald Trump on Thursday night told Fox News he thinks Brett Kavanaugh is “an outstanding person”, adding “I don’t think you can delay it any longer.”

The remarks came during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity ahead of a “Make America Great Again” rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is up for re-election.

Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, when Kavanaugh was 17 and she was 15.

Ahead of the rally, Trump added that Ford should be given an opportunity to “have her say and let’s see how it all works out.”

“But I don’t think you can delay it any longer. They’ve delayed it a week already,” President Trump continued.

“I say, let her say what she has to say. And let’s see how it all comes out. But they’ve delayed it a week. And they have to get on with it,” Trump said.

In the wide-ranging interview with Hannity, the president also briefly touched on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation, calling it a “witch hunt.”

“Well it has to come to an end. It’s so bad for our country. I call it the witch hunt. It is so bad for our country,” Trump said.