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The nation's most expensive weapons program isn't done showing U.S. taxpayers how much it will ultimately cost them, with Bloomberg reporting Monday that the F-35 fighter jet budget is now predicted to jump by a cool $27 billion.

Though the estimated future cost of the program had previously hovered at a mind-boggling $379 billion, an updated draft that could be submitted to Congress as early as today will reportedly exceed $406 billion—a nearly 7 percent increase.

The new cost increases may come as a hit to President Donald Trump, who has bragged about his ability to get weapons manufacturers to offer the Pentagon "better deals."

Rob Garver, national correspondent for the Fiscal Times, made the point this way:

Others simply pointed out how ridiculous it is that a weapons program so fraught with failures is allowed to receive such outlandish funding when lawmakers—mostly Republicans, but also many Democrats—continue to argue that the nation is "too broke" to increase spending on social programs that improve education or healthcare.

With the New York Times breaking the story of a June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort with a Russian lawyer (according to Trump Jr. himself) who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the excitement is again mounting among Trump critics that (as an ABC headline put it) “fire peers out from Trump-Russia smoke.” Trump Jr.’s initial claims that he attended the meeting not knowing much about the identity of Natalia Veselnitskaya, and did not initiate the discussions, have been rendered absurd by the release (in his own Twitter thread no less) of the email thread that led up to the meeting. We know that he was explicitly told: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The revelations not only worsen his father’s political situation — they potentially place Junior in legal peril.

But, as the various stages of reporting on the meeting in June 2016 have played out, the reaction from Trumpland’s corner of the news media has not betrayed any fear that the president’s own family might have been caught colluding with an agent of a foreign power who sought to tamper with a U.S. national election. The New York Post’s Michael Walsh called the story a “big yawn” and an effort to revive a “resentful smear cooked up in the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s stunning defeat last fall.” Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff said Team Trump begging for dirt on Clinton was absolutely fine so long as it had not “promised to implement certain policies in exchange for the anti-Clinton information.” (There is, it seems, a fine line between clever politics and treason.) Fox News is focused on undermining the idea that Veselnitskaya was a “Kremlin crony” at the time of the meeting. Kellyanne Conway answered a question from Chris Cuomo on CNN about the new revelations with the deeply entrenched Trump countercharge that his enemies have created the Russia story to distract attention from the administration’s brilliant successes: “Aren’t you the least bit reluctant, if not embarrassed, that you now talk about Russia more than you talk about America? Doesn’t this bother you?”

What bothers me is, there does not seem to be any type of disclosure about Team Trump and Russia that shakes its aggressive self-confidence. And that may be because it had done such a good job of convincing its political base that all criticism is maliciously partisan. At Vox, Lindsay Maizland reports how deeply Trump’s “fake news” charge about the Russia investigation has been absorbed by his fans in precisely those heartland rural and small-town areas that did so much to lift him to the presidency:

When I recently visited my hometown and one other small town in Michigan that went for Trump, I talked with residents about the investigation. Nearly every single person I spoke with said the same thing: The media just needs to leave Trump alone, and the Russia investigation is a distraction.
A message of total disdain for media reporting is certainly falling on receptive ears. As a survey from Pew Research records, among self-identified Republicans the approval/disapproval ratio for “national news media” is 10/85. Republicans have a much, much more positive attitude toward their ancient enemies, the labor unions (they come in at 33/46).

This bad temper toward “the media” has obviously been building for a long time, but Trump seems to be the first national politician to exploit it fully by suggesting that media types aren’t just “biased” or “elitist,” but are consciously fabricating what they report. This gives him, at least among “the base” and its own allied media outlets, an extra layer of heavy insulation against bad news. In Trumpland, to a considerable extent, bad news is by definition fake.

Comparing Trump to previous “troubled” Republican presidents like Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, he has an asset his predecessors could have only dreamed of. Yes, Nixon and Bush both worked hard to arouse tribal cultural loyalties and to identify political and media opponents with the kind of people their supporters intensely disliked. It was Nixon, after all, who first deployed the resentful “silent majority” label for his allegedly despised and disempowered followers, and no one hated the media more than he did. But in an era when the Fourth Estate was both more consolidated and better respected, Nixon had to play a lot of the political game on enemy turf, instead of simply asking his supporters to treat reported facts as ipso facto incredible.

So while Frank Rich is absolutely correct in suggesting that Trump has only begun to experience the agonies that beset the Nixon White House during the much-longer-than-remembered Watergate scandal that led to the 38th president’s resignation, Trump does have this one advantage. He can quite literally talk his “base” into ignoring adverse information. That will in turn make it harder for his Republican Party to abandon him as it abandoned Nixon in 1974.

American democracy is not working. We have a president who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots, a Congress that reflects gerrymandered district lines rather than the will of the people and a voting system that discourages rather than encourages the high turnouts that are needed to establish a genuinely representative democracy.

The Republican Party, which has benefited from this dysfunction, is in no rush to change things. Indeed, it has at its highest levels embraced the voter-suppression lies and scheming of charlatans such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and President Trump’s Orwellian “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” So it falls to progressive Democrats, nonaligned independents and third-party activists to take the lead in the struggle for democratic renewal.

For the Democrats, there are two ways to address the crisis. First, they can carry on as they always have and hope that they get better at being an opposition party within a fundamentally flawed system. Second, they could propose to reform the system in ways that would begin to realize the promise of competitive elections and popular democracy.

Rep. Don Beyer has chosen the bolder route. Last week, the Virginia Democrat proposed the Fair Representation Act, a plan to democratize congressional elections with a bold reform that could also be used to bring real competition to state legislative contests.

Explaining that “polarization and partisanship, both among voters and in Congress, have reached dangerous and scary heights,” Beyer says: “The Fair Representation Act is the bold reform America needs to be sure every vote matters, to defeat gerrymandering and ensure the House of Representatives remains the people’s House.”

Rob Richie, the executive director of FairVote, which has worked with Beyer to promote the measure, says, “The Fair Representation Act is the most comprehensive approach to improving congressional elections in American history.”

FairVote argues that, “Under the Fair Representation Act, all US House members will be elected by ranked-choice voting in new, larger multi-winner districts. This system would replace today’s map of safe red and blue seats that lock voters into uncompetitive districts, and elect members of Congress with little incentive to work together and solve problems…”

Here’s FairVote’s assessment of how the Beyer plan would work:

Smaller states with five or fewer members will elect all representatives from one statewide, at-large district. States with more than six members will draw multiwinner districts of three to five representatives each. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger.

They will be elected through ranked-choice voting, an increasingly common electoral method used in many American cities, whereby voters rank candidates in order of choice, ensuring that as many voters as possible help elect a candidate they support. Under ranked-choice voting, if no candidate reaches the threshold needed to win, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. When a voter’s top choice loses, their vote instantly goes to their second choice. The process repeats until all seats are elected.

Using this approach, 4 in 5 voters would elect someone they support. The number of voters in a position to swing a seat would immediately triple — from less than 15 percent in 2016 to just under half.

The districts themselves will be drawn by state-created, independent commissions made up of ordinary citizens. These larger districts would be nearly impossible to gerrymander for political advantage — and would force politicians to seek out voters with different perspectives and remain accountable to them.

That’s a lot of democracy — more than most partisan Republicans, and a good many partisan Democrats, are prepared to embrace.

But here is why Democrats should take the Beyer plan seriously: It focuses attention on the necessity of breaking the curse of gerrymandering while at the same time presenting the Democrats as a party that embraces competition rather than political gamesmanship.

The Republicans, with tremendous support from billionaire campaign donors such as the Koch brothers, have mastered the art of making elections noncompetitive. Americans hate the current system. They tell pollsters it is too owned by special interests, too mangled by money, too deferential towards political careerists and too disrespectful toward voters.

The people are angry about gerrymandering. They want competitive elections and true representative democracy. (A 2013 Harris poll found that 74 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independents object to the pro-politician, anti-voter methods of redistricting that now prevail in most states for congressional and legislative elections.)


Spider-Man: Homecoming's big $117 million opening weekend means that this summer will more or less be dominated by three comic book superhero movies that opened at the beginning of each month. Walt Disney kicked off the summer with Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. began June with Wonder Woman and now July is off to a big start thanks to Sony (and Marvel)'s Spider-Man: Homecoming. The good news is that big domestic grosses are good news for domestic theaters and that these films are all critically-acclaimed would-be blockbusters. We should note that we can only wring our hands so much when well-reviewed action dramas like Logan clear $600m worldwide, no matter what subgenre they fit into. Good movies are playing to appreciative audiences and making lots of money.

Moreover, I would argue that the problem isn't that Hollywood is making too many bad comic book superhero movies. Actually, this year has (my own critical opinion notwithstanding) offered a spree of fruitful and well-received comic book superhero films. Thus far, The LEGO Batman Movie, Logan, Ghost in the Shell, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming have, with one exception (the poorly-reviewed Ghost in the Shell), made copious cash at least partially because they were well-liked by audiences and critics. We should note that many of the would-be biggies that underperformed or outright flopped this summer were not so much comic book movies as films trying to ape what theoretically works about comic book movies. In other words, Batman Begins isn't hurting the industry, but Pan is.

In a weird irony that should darn well be a teachable moment, Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. has the summer's biggest (domestic) hit and the biggest domestic and worldwide flop in Wonder Woman and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The $175 million Guy Ritchie movie has earned just $140m worldwide. And with just $39m domestic, it is about to be outgrossed by the "almost went to VOD" cheapie 47 Meters Down, which has legged it to $38.4m from an $11.2m opening weekend in mid-June. The Entertainment Studios release, their first, is obviously not a superhero movie. And in a world where huge pictures seemingly open every week, a film like 47 Meters Down or Baby Driver can feel like more of an event than the event movies. But looking at three of the more high-profile whiffs of the season thus far, you'll notice that they are stumbling at least partially because they are trying to mimic MCU-style success.

The Mummy (which, to be fair, will end at over $400 million on a $125m budget), was supposed to kick off a would-be Dark Universe of interconnected monster movies starring the likes of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem. The picture has its issues throughout, but it stumbles hardest toward the end when it announces itself as a glorified prologue/backdoor pilot for whatever comes next. Cue a $31m opening and $78m domestic total and an artistic low point for "big" Tom Cruise movies. Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment in the once king-of-the-mountain franchise, also twisted itself in expository knots to set up a desired Transformers cinematic universe, in turn spending more time offering backstory and world-building than big scenes of giant robots fighting each other. Cue a $69m Wed-Sun debut and a domestic total that may be under $135m for a franchise that once posted a $200m Wed-Sun North American debut.

Guy Ritchie's King Arthur was supposed to set up a multipart franchise, but like all too many origin story movies (Jem and the Holograms, Robin Hood, etc.), it spent the entirety of its running time getting its protagonist to the finish line in terms of being the iconic hero audiences presumably came to see. It is telling that Walt Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($170 million domestic and $740m worldwide thus far), the one "big" exception thus far this summer, did its own thing.  It told a stand-alone story without setting up anything else. Ditto, on a larger scale, Jurassic World two years ago. And ditto, relative speaking, Warner and Legendary's Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island which deliver something entirely sperate from a superhero arc and offer stand-alone films that tie into a bigger picture for those who care about such things.

What the other three films, namely Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, have in common is that they were trying to ape elements from the likes of The Avengers, Batman Begins and the X-Men movies without these iconic characters. The comic book movies are doing well both because they are (relatively) good and because, since we already know the rules of the game, they can diversify in terms of content and genre. Thus Logan can be a grim, R-rated western, Spider-Man: Homecoming can be a high school comedy and Wonder Woman can be a World War I adventure.

Conversely, King Arthur comes off as a generic "refusal of the call" origin story, Transformers: The Last Knight becomes a generic "underappreciated guy is destined to save the world" epic and The Mummy becomes a generic backdoor cinematic universe pilot. The "cinematic universe" qualities to these films end up muting or sacrificing the very elements (sword-and-sorcery fantasy, straight big-budget horror, giant robots clobbering each other for sport) that might have made these movies stand out. But because of the drive to make these seemingly different pictures feel like cinematic universe-y comic book superhero movies, they came off as pale imitations.

Audiences like comic book movies because they like the characters, which is why (for example) Fox can survive an X-Men: Apocalypse and Warner Bros. can make bank from Batman v Superman. Folks don't necessarily want to see cinematic universes, they just wanted to see The Avengers. Audiences don't necessarily flock to prequel origin stories, they just wanted a high-quality movie concerning characters (Batman, James Bond, Captain Kirk, whom they already knew and liked. And, yeah, moviegoers may well have flocked to a high-quality Tom Cruise-starring and straight horror-ish Mummy movie if Universal/Comcast Corp. and friends hadn't put the horse before the cart. And, most importantly, if audiences want to see a film that looks/feels like a comic book superhero movie or a superhero cinematic universe, they will see one of the genuine articles.

If studios want to offer movies alongside or against the comic book superhero movie franchises, they need to offer an alternative, not a pale imitation. Positioned against the genuine article, King Arthur and The Mummy or Pan come off as glorified Asylum versions of the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Why would you eat imitation crab if the real thing is available? And why would anyone rent Transmorphers: Fall of Man when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is readily available?

Feel The Funk / The Politicization of Jay-Z
« on: July 13, 2017, 01:29:15 pm »
Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex. You thought of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did. — James Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy”

Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. — James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

He drifted off to sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place. — Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Some of us even hoped integration would be the answer, but integration was one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made. It made the white man think he could be equal to us. I don’t hate the whites. But we must get ahead in business and then use the white man to work for us. Everyone must have his place and it’s time we took our place as the boss. — James Brown

Jay-Z is selling one-third of his Tidal streaming service to Sprint for $200 million, according to a report released earlier today by Billboard….He initially paid $56 million for Tidal….A Sprint spokesperson confirmed…that Jay-Z and his fellow artist-owners would retain equity in the streaming service. — Forbes, January 2017

The lil radicals now online assailing Jay-Z for propagating that oxymoron Black Capitalism have got it all wrong. Try Black Tribalism, my nuh. Try Black economic nationalism, to be specific. Marcus Garvey wouldn’t be mad at Hov’s 4:44; nor would Garvey’s hero, Booker T. Washington; nor the heir apparent of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam; nor Berry Gordy neither. Not to mention David Bowie, who related how, when he first shook P. Diddy’s hand, Diddy said, “Wow, strong grip — I need to meet your trainer.” To which Bowie retorted, “That grip’s not from the gym, Puff. That’s from forty years of trying to hold on to your money in the music business.”

It’s easy to forget in the fog of marital wars, Bey, and bling that Jay is a Brooklyn-project and New Jersey–public-high-school dropout who rapped his way to running a near billion-dollar empire that has already out-gripped Bowie in its myriad holdings. Now, if you take Hov at his word, he wants to use those Midas resources to go where no musical race-man before him has gone in putting his art, his philanthropy, and his boardroom acquisitions toward Black liberation.

Jay-Z’s thirteenth album is being rightly touted for its True Confessions and marital professions, but read between the coded lines, 4:44 is also a business primer from the only rapper in the top twenty of Forbes’s richest-celebrities list who’s been investing his money into new ventures as fast as he makes it. “Y’all out here still takin’ advances/Me and my niggas takin’ real chances,” Jay tells us on “The Story of O.J.” A cursory look at his wide range of investments — sports bars, sports teams, a sports agent company, real estate, hotels, beverages, clothing, and, at one point, a group looking to build a racetrack casino in Queens — affirms his sense of financial adventurism. The philanthropic bent that saw him setting up trust funds for Sean Bell’s children, bailing out Black Lives Matter activists, and producing a documentary about the brutality at Rikers that drove Kalief Browder to suicide is less apparent from scanning Jay’s Forbes updates.

4:44 finds Jay and innovative, intimacy-obsessed producer No I.D. reinvigorating Jay’s capacity for superlative rap artistry with a dreamy banquet of plaintive tracks that treat samples from Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder as portals to spiritual and pecuniary deliverance. Jay’s in high messianic mode as flawed father, husband, and community business leader throughout. There’s mos def a newfound passion and a purpose to his writing as he ramps up the gravitas of his verses, demands respect for his adulthood, and expands his multigenerational and gender-nonconforming flock like no rapper before him. (“Smile” ’s embrace of his mother Grace’s coming out and his couplet in defense of Young Thug’s dandyism strike us as warm, palpitating gestures in that latter regard.) In terms of sustaining millennial relevancy into middle age, he’s become like the Rolling Stones, the hardest-working measure of how long beyond the age of forty you can sell out stadiums in a youthcentric genre.


NEW YORK ― Republicans are trying to find a way to defund Planned Parenthood as part of an overall effort to limit abortion in America. But doing so had the opposite effect in Texas, according to a new study based on research from Texas A&M University.

The study, conducted by economics professor Analisa Packham (now at Miami University), shows that in the first three years after Texas Republicans slashed the family planning budget in 2011 and shut down more than 80 women’s health clinics, the abortion rate among teenagers in the state rose 3 percent over what it would have been had the clinics remained open. After cutting Planned Parenthood out of the state’s subsidized women’s health program, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) said his “goal” was to “ensure abortions are as rare as possible under existing law.” But the move actually interfered with an overall downward trend in abortions in Texas.

“This certainly isn’t the way to have fewer abortions,” said Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, an OB-GYN in Maryland and an advocate with Physicians for Reproductive Health. “The abortion rates nationally have decreased and are at a historic low. So for Texans to see an increase in adolescent abortions is really telling ― it seemed to have followed the national trend until these clinics were defunded.”

The greatest rises in abortion rates occurred in rural areas, where access to affordable family planning care was already scarce. In Gregg County, where the local health center lost 60 percent of its family planning funding, the abortion rate increased by 191 percent between 2012 and 2014. The Austin American-Statesman reported that at least five counties in East Texas also saw “considerable increases” in abortions over that two-year period.

The overall abortion rate in the state dropped 14 percent between 2013 and 2016 ― but this was largely because in some low-income rural areas, like the Rio Grande Valley, women would have had to drive over 100 miles to find the nearest safe and legal abortion provider. Those women either had to seek out unsafe, do-it-yourself procedures or simply have babies they didn’t want or couldn’t afford.

President Donald Trump and the Republicans in control of Congress now want to “defund” Planned Parenthood nationwide by preventing Medicaid recipients ― who account for more than half of Planned Parenthood’s patients ― from going there for birth control and cancer screenings.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates this would cause 15 percent of women in rural areas to lose access to family planning care entirely, which in turn would lead to more unplanned pregnancies and likely more abortions.

Studies show that 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion, so cutting access to birth control is not the way to reduce the overall abortion rate.

Only a few moderate Republicans, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), seem to understand the flaw in this plan.

“If you’re serious about trying to reduce the number of abortions,” Collins told reporters in March, “the best way to do that is to make family planning more widely available.”

In the 1993 film Menace II Society, when protagonist Caine car jacks a stranger for his rims in line at a drive-thru, he slips in the passenger seat and, gun in hand, demands the driver order him a cheeseburger. The terror of this broad-daylight robbery is undercut by the inanity of the request, the irrationality of the entire stickup exposed. The scene is coolly smart, unpacking hood ethics, community decay, and the absurdity of insufficiency in a single snapshot—as rap often does. Compton rapper MC Eiht’s “Streiht Up Menace” plays faintly from the stereo, foreshadowing the ruin in store for Caine. Down to the speech and the jewelry, the moment was quintessentially hip-hop—and the movie unprecedented in its ability to not only transmit on gangsta rap’s frequency, but speak its language.

Menace turned out the way it did largely because of Allen and Albert Hughes. The brothers started making music videos for Tupac and N.W.A out of high school, which soon led to directing movies. They received widespread recognition in their twenties for Menace (their debut) and went on to direct feature films like Dead Presidents and Book of Eli, as well as the 1999 documentary American Pimp, a close-up view of the pimp game.

With his newest project, Allen Hughes found a certain symmetry with his early work. “The Defiant Ones,” airing this week on HBO, is a four-part docuseries detailing the seemingly unlikely partnership between Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Dre and Iovine founded Beats Electronics together in 2006 (and sold it to Apple in 2014), but their alliance dates back to Dre’s days on Death Row Records, where Iovine, then an Interscope executive, provided distribution and oversight. When Dre left Death Row, he launched Aftermath Records with Interscope. And it was Iovine who brought Eminem to Dre’s attention, leading to a joint deal on both labels. Hughes used finely cut, conversational interviews and rare archival footage to chronicle this decades-old team-up. He recently spoke with Pitchfork about corralling a story this vast, containing the charisma of his old friend Tupac, and learning not to be embarrassed by Menace’s hip-hop legacy.

Pitchfork: Describe the path that led you to make “The Defiant Ones.”

Allen Hughes: I’m a child of rap music. When I was 15 or 16, N.W.A came out with Straight Outta Compton, right in time for us. We needed that energy. I remember ‘88 when “Yo! MTV Raps” came out, I was in high school. So, out of high school we started making music video for these guys: Tupac, some stuff with N.W.A, and Digital Underground. And then obviously came Menace II Society; we were fortunate enough to get that going less than a year after making videos. We were probably some of the first filmmakers directly born out of hip-hop culture. We were 20 years old making a movie about, essentially, 18 and 20 year olds. So the urgency of that film, the angst and the visceral nature of it, came out of our experience.

I think I can draw a straight line—me and my brother had a career together and we’ve worked separately—but I can jump over everything and go right to American Pimp in ’99, which was our first documentary. When I started sitting down with pimps, the reason why they opened up so easily was because it was like talking to a cousin or a brother. The lexicon was the same. It was street. It was hip-hop. It was uniquely black. So they talked to me like they talk to their homie.

I’m biracial. I’m half-Armenian, half-black, and you have to ride that fence that Barack Obama talked about eight years ago. You’re never really welcomed into one side completely and that makes you have a special view of both sides, I think. So, [taking on] this project, I just put in all of my insights about culture and color—and when I say color, I mean that in many different ways. From those music videos to Menace to American Pimp to now, [the commonality is that] I want to talk to people the way they talk to their best friend. But I also developed a rule: When we’re cutting any story, if grandma wouldn’t understand it, it's not going to be in the movie. I didn’t take for granted that people would know who Tupac or Tom Petty is—the stories have got to be great no matter what.


Latest Flicks / MARSHALL Trailer - Directed by Reggie Hudlin
« on: June 22, 2017, 09:38:43 am »
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« on: June 15, 2017, 12:51:12 pm »
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP had almost certainly never heard the name Aaron Zebley before the announcement that the former FBI agent was joining the special counsel investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But to those who have followed the arc of the bureau during the past twenty years, Zebley’s is a name that underscores just how far-reaching and dogged—and potentially long—the probe will likely be.

Just ask Steve Gaudin’s ex-girlfriend.

She wasn’t at all happy when Zebley, her boyfriend’s FBI partner, called at 3 one morning in August, 1999. Despite all of Gaudin’s international travel, chasing al Qaeda long before the terrorist group was a household name, he and his girlfriend had managed to settle down in New York City and carve out a life together in between his overseas terrorist hunts. The couple was even looking forward to an imminent, albeit brief, summer vacation.

But then came the call from Zebley.

“I’ve found Ali Mandela,” Zebley said, excitedly. Mandela, the fugitive terrorist suspected of helping execute the previous year’s bombings of US embassies in East Africa, appeared to still be on the continent, he told Gaudin. Somewhere in South Africa. They had to leave immediately.

Angry at yet another sleepless night—and vacation—ruined by the bureau’s demands, Gaudin’s girlfriend gave him some advice: Don’t bother coming back.

But that was just the way it was for the elite agents on one of the FBI’s most storied squads. Nothing could come between them and their search for justice.

The details of that trip—and the subsequent capture of one of America’s most wanted terrorists by Zebley and Gaudin—help illuminate the makeup of the special counsel team that former FBI director Robert Mueller is assembling. It’s a team that contains some of the nation’s top investigators and leading experts on seemingly every aspect of the potential investigation—from specific crimes like money laundering and campaign finance violations to understanding how to navigate both sprawling globe-spanning cases and the complex local dynamics of Washington power politics.

Meet Mueller's Roster

As Mueller begins investigating Russia’s interference in last year’s election and its possible links to Donald Trump’s campaign, he is quietly recruiting lawyers and staff to the team. And in recent days, Trump associates have stepped up criticism of Mueller and his team—including a report, quickly rejected by the White House, that Trump is considering firing Mueller before he even gets started.
Tuesday morning on Good Morning America, Newt Gingrich blasted Mueller and his still-forming team. “These are bad people,” Newt Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos. “I’m very dubious of the team.”

But that criticism flies in the face of widespread, bipartisan acclaim for the team. In fact, just a day earlier, on the same program, former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr praised Mueller at length. “I don’t think there’s a legitimate concern about Bob Mueller,” Starr said, explaining that the former FBI director was “honest as the day is long.”

From the list of hires, it’s clear, in fact, that Mueller is recruiting perhaps the most high-powered and experienced team of investigators ever assembled by the Justice Department. His team began with three lawyers who also quickly left WilmerHale, the law firm where Mueller has also worked since he left the FBI in 2013—Zebley, James Quarles III, and Jeannie Rhee.

The rapid recruitment of Quarles attracted immediate attention: A famed litigator who was an assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation, Quarles specialized in campaign finance research for the Watergate task force, which surely will be an area of focus for Mueller’s investigation. (The FBI has been serving subpoenas regarding the finances of campaign adviser Michael Flynn and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, both of whom have retroactively registered as foreign agents, admitting that they were paid by foreign governments during the period when they were also advising Trump.) In more recent years, Quarles has risen through the law firm’s ranks to run its DC office, and is an experienced manager. In granting him the firm’s top recognition in 2007, one of his colleagues said that Quarles “represents precisely the values that should define us culturally and reputationally: He is an excellent lawyer, he is an extraordinary hard worker, he is the ultimate team player, and he treats everyone with respect and collegiality.”


House of Cards has become real.

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey is now a subject of the federal probe being headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has expanded to include whether the president obstructed justice, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Mueller is examining whether the president fired Mr. Comey as part of a broader effort to alter the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Moscow, the person said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, denounced the revelation in a statement.

“The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Mr. Corallo said.

Mr. Trump’s reaction to the new turn in Mr. Mueller’s inquiry came early Thursday morning in the form of a tweet. He suggested that he is unhappy with the focus on obstruction of justice, given that he believes there was no underlying crime.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Aides to Mr. Trump have warned him not to tweet about the Russia investigation, an inquiry in which any statement he makes could become fodder for investigators.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mr. Mueller, declined to comment. The special counsel’s pursuit of an obstruction of justice probe was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post.

Mr. Mueller’s team is planning to interview Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers as part of its examination of whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct justice, the person said.

The special counsel also plans to interview Rick Ledgett, who recently retired as the deputy director of the NSA, the person added.

While Mr. Ledgett was still in office, he wrote a memo documenting a phone call that Mr. Rogers had with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. During the call, the president questioned the veracity of the intelligence community’s judgment that Russia had interfered with the election and tried to persuade Mr. Rogers to say there was no evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials, they said.

Russia has denied any government effort to meddle in the U.S. election. Mr. Ledgett declined to comment, and officials at the NSA didn’t respond to a request for comment. An aide to Mr. Coats declined to comment.

Mr. Coats and Mr. Rogers told a Senate panel June 7 that they didn’t feel pressured by Mr. Trump to intervene with Mr. Comey or push back against allegations of possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia. But the top national security officials declined to say what, if anything, Mr. Trump requested they do in relation to the Russia probe.

“If the special prosecutor called upon me to meet with him to ask his questions, I said I would be willing to do that,” Mr. Coats said June 7. Mr. Rogers said he would also be willing to meet with the special counsel’s team.

Mr. Comey told a Senate panel on June 8 that Mr. Trump expressed “hope” in a one-on-one Oval Office meeting that the FBI would drop its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned under pressure for making false statements about his conversations with a Russian diplomat. Mr. Trump has denied making that request.

Mr. Comey said during the testimony that it was up to Mr. Mueller to decide whether the president’s actions amounted to obstruction of justice. The former FBI director also said he had furnished the special counsel with memos he wrote documenting his interactions with the president on the matter.

At a June 13 hearing at a House of Representatives panel, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declined to say who asked him to write a memo justifying Mr. Comey’s firing. The White House initially cited that memo as the reason for the termination, and Mr. Trump later said in an NBC interview that he also was influenced by the Russia investigation. Mr. Rosenstein said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the matter.

“The reason for that is that if it is within the scope of Director Mueller’s investigation, and I’ve been a prosecutor for 27 years, we don’t want people talking publicly about the subjects of ongoing investigations,” Mr. Rosenstein said.

A dozen members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail will face charges for their involvement in a violent attack on protestors in Washington, D.C., last month, two U.S. officials told The New York Times.

D.C. police planned to announce the charges on Thursday, according to the report, which said the State Department and Secret Service had also investigated the incident.

The charges come a month after a number of people were injured when Turkish government security forces charged protestors in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence.

It is the most retaliatory effort taken by the U.S. following the clash. The Trump administration has been forced to proceed carefully in handling the incident involving Turkey, a key NATO ally.

While lawmakers from both parties condemned the attack, the State Department said last month that it was "concerned" by the incident and summoned the Turkish ambassador for a meeting with a senior U.S. official.

Rep. Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican who took care of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-SC) after he was shot Wednesday morning at practice for the annual congressional charity baseball game hasn't changed his mind about gun safety laws. But the lawmaker who has voted against even bipartisan legislation to expand background checks on gun buyers, wants to know more about the background of this shooter.

You can watch the interview with a local Fox affiliate in Alexandria here. That legislation Brooks voted against back in 2014, after the Isla Vista, California mass shooting, would have boosted funding for the criminal background check system. To find out if, for example, this shooter was an ex-felon. As Brooks apparently would now like to know.

By the way, an attempt to gun down members of Congress—resulting in serious injuries—is absolutely not the equivalent of people saying “some really ugly things that hurt other people’s feelings.” Not that that’s what the First Amendment is about, anyway. But he’s just a member of Congress, it’s not like he’s supposed to have a solid grasp of the constitution or anything.

here has been lots of talk about greatness over the past few weeks.

In large part, this has been because the NBA playoffs were lackluster and nondescript. With the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors steamrolling their way to the NBA Finals, the dominance created a vacuum that was filled by debates over greatness: the greatest team, the greatest player.

Could the 1996 Chicago Bulls defeat the Golden State Warriors of the past two seasons?

The NBA has a new champion, the Golden State Warriors, but an old debate rages: Who is the greatest of all time? Who is the GOAT?

The conversations usually boil down to Michael Jordan and LeBron James, although now that James has failed to win a fourth NBA championship, critics say the debate over the GOAT is over.

Hands down, they say, the GOAT is Michael Jordan.

I say, not so fast.

The most intriguing aspect of the debate is that the player rarely brought up in the conversation may be the legitimate GOAT: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Leaving Abdul-Jabbar out of the conversation was so egregious that I was compelled to jump in and make the case: Abdul-Jabbar is either the greatest of all time or, at worst, the second greatest, but he must be in the conversation, even if you include active players such as LeBron James and now Kevin Durant.

Why is Abdul-Jabbar left out of this conversation?

A bias against big men?

His famously sour relationship with the news media?

His early and outspoken embrace of orthodox Islam?

None of this should have anything to do with his legitimate standing as the GOAT, but we know it does. Abdul-Jabbar has an impressive résumé as a winner, as a scholar, as an activist.

Yet he is placed a distant second, or even third, behind Jordan and James and now behind Durant. Often he is not mentioned.

Each of us has our standard of greatness.

For devotees of analytics, greatness is all about the numbers: statistics, cold hard facts, how many titles, how many points.

How much? How many? How often? How many MVP awards, how many points, how many rebounds, field goal percentage. Take your pick.

Abdul-Jabbar is the author and owner of the most unblockable shot in basketball history: the skyhook. He was a six-time NBA MVP, a 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member.

He was a member of six NBA championship teams as a player, two as an assistant coach. Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leader in points scored (38,387). At one point or another, he was also the leader in games played (1,560), minutes played (57,446), field goals made (15,837), field goal attempts (28,307), blocked shots (3,189), defensive rebounds (9,394), career wins (1,074) — and personal fouls (4,657).

I filter greatness through many prisms. I view greatness through the prism of longevity and one’s potential to have an enduring legacy. Viewed in this manner, Abdul-Jabbar wins.

From his career at Power Memorial High School, where he led his team to 71 consecutive victories, to college, where he led UCLA to three consecutive national championships, through the NBA and the sports afterlife, where he has become an author and a filmmaker, Abdul-Jabbar has been a consistent and forceful presence.

I filter greatness through an Afrocentric prism and hold black athletes to a higher, more unique standard.

When you consider the hurdles African-Americans have had to overcome — desegregating sports leagues, integrating intercollegiate athletics, breaking through as head coaches and executives — black athletes in the United States have traveled a hard road to glory.

Indeed, whether you are an athlete, an aspiring partner in a law firm, a journalist or a firefighter, being black, as James said before the NBA Finals, is tough.

My criteria for greatness, then, attempts to project whose presence will resonate across decades because of how they’ve used their platform to advocate for social justice.

Who most effectively performs on the court, while resisting and fighting against racism? Who has made it easier for the next generation? Who has most effectively passed the torch and added to the foundation?

These are factors I consider when discussing the GOAT.

The list shrinks.

As a student at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar joined student protests in the late 1960s. In 1967 at the age of 19, he flew to Cleveland to participate in the Cleveland Summit organized by Jim Brown. Known then as Lew Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar joined other GOATs in supporting Muhammad Ali’s decision, as a conscientious objector, not to be drafted into the U.S. Army.

I can see James making that trip at age 19; I cannot see Jordan making that trip.

Among active players, James edges out Durant.

James and Durant have careers that continue to unfold. James has won more titles and has been more publicly involved on the social justice front. Durant has largely been silent — or, at least, not publicly vocal — on social injustice issues. Perhaps that will change now that his stage has expanded.

But here are the statistics that, in my book, give Abdul-Jabbar the edge: several books published, books that mostly deal with African-American history. His most recent book examines his relationship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. His documentary, On The Shoulders of Giants, offers a revealing look at the Harlem Rens. Abdul-Jabbar recently recorded a documentary tracing his personal journey.

As a college player, Abdul-Jabbar arguably compelled the NCAA rules committee to ban the dunk. The legislation was called the Lew Alcindor rule. And James may have been the inspiration behind the move to block high school athletes from going straight into the NBA.

Jordan advocates point out that Jordan owns an NBA team. That is the sort of economic imperative that Brown advocated as one of the only means of achieving freedom: create jobs, control the means of production as much as possible.

Whose legacy will resonate across decades? Jordan’s? James’? Durant’s? A player still unknown?

Who knows? But for the here and now, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from my perspective, is the GOAT.

You may not put him at the top of your list, but if Abdul-Jabbar is not part of the discussion, you’re having the wrong conversation.

New research suggests that the human brain is almost beyond comprehension because it doesn’t process the world in two dimensions or even three. No, the human brain understands the visual world in up to 11 different dimensions.

The astonishing discovery helps explain why even cutting-edge technologies like functional MRIs have such a hard time explaining what is going on inside our noggins. In a functional MRI, brain activity is monitored and represented as a three-dimensional image that changes over time. However, if the brain is actually working in 11 dimensions, looking at a 3D functional MRI and saying that it explains brain activity would be like looking at the shadow of a head of a pin and saying that it explains the entire universe, plus a multitude of other dimensions.

The team of scientists led by a group from Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland detected the previously unknown complexities of the brain while working on the Blue Brain Project. The project’s goal is to create a biologically accurate recreation of the human brain.

During their research, the scientists created simulations of the brain and applied an advanced form of mathematics, called algebraic topology, to their computer-generated models.

“Algebraic topology is like a telescope and microscope at the same time. It can zoom into networks to find hidden structures — the trees in the forest — and see the empty spaces — the clearings — all at the same time,” said study author Kathryn Hess.

What Hess and her colleagues found was that the brain processes visual information by creating multi-dimensional neurological structures, called cliques, which disintegrate the instant they are understood, according to Newsweek who first reported on the research that was published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.

The cliques have up to 11 different dimensions and form in holes of space, called cavities. Once the brain understands the visual information, both the clique and cavity disappear.

“The appearance of high-dimensional cavities when the brain is processing information means that the neurons in the network react to stimuli in an extremely organized manner,” said researcher Ran Levi.

“It is as if the brain reacts to a stimulus by building then razing a tower of multi-dimensional blocks, starting with rods (1D), then planks (2D), then cubes (3D), and then more complex geometries with 4D, 5D, etc. The progression of activity through the brain resembles a multi-dimensional sandcastle that materializes out of the sand and then disintegrates,” he said.

Henry Markram, director of Blue Brain Project, explained just how momentous a discovery the multi-dimensional structures could be.

“The mathematics usually applied to study networks cannot detect the high-dimensional structures and spaces that we now see clearly,” he said.

“We found a world that we had never imagined. There are tens of millions of these objects even in a small speck of the brain, up through seven dimensions. In some networks, we even found structures with up to 11 dimensions.”

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