23 June 2017

Review of the new Blade Runner

Esquire has a column by Matt Miller about the upcoming Blade Runner:

So far, we only know very basic plot details about Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece. We know it'll star Harrison Ford reviving his character Rick Deckard, Ryan Gosling as an NYPD officer, and Jared Leto. And we know the date it will take place, as is conveniently explained in the film's title. Other than that, the film remains a glowing, neon mystery. But there is one thing we know from the early footage released so far: the film will be absolutely beautiful.
If the first trailer's weren't enough, there's a new featurette (below), which explores the making of the film. While it doesn't give many details beyond the actors hyping up the project, it does show some new scenes from the film, and holy hell they're gorgeous. Every single shot looks different, like some sort of near-future Renaissance painting. There's an insane diversity of settings from the classic rainy and luminous urban setting of Los Angeles, but also a new desert landscape, post-Apocalyptic rubble, clubs, museums, casinos, vehicles, and more.
"I've never worked on a film with so many sets and different lighting patterns," says director of photography Roger Deakins. And that's very clear in this featurette for the film:
Given the detailed and stunningly composed look of director Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, he's proven to bring a artist's eye to crafting these shots. If he can make a nerdy linguistics movie exciting and visionary, imagine what he can do with one of the most groundbreaking styles in modern science fiction.
What's really promising is a quote from art director Paul Inglis: "It's not just a replica of the first film. We're marrying the familiar with the slightly divergent in order to give ourselves an identity."
So many sequels and reboots have attempted to create a carbon copy of the original in order to deliver on nostalgia for the viewer. But what a sequel really needs to do is expand on the primary material. Visually, at least, we know Blade Runner 2049 will deliver that. Let's hope the rest lives up.
Rico says he'll see it, just for Harrison Ford...

An unnecessarily thorough review of an unnecessary movie: Henry

Esquire has a review by Dave Holmes of a movie, Henry, that he didn't like:

I just saw The Book of Henry, and I feel like I've been mugged by a Decemberists song. I am confused, annoyed, and exhausted, but that doesn't mean I don't recommend it. I actually want everyone to see The Book of Henry, just so I don't have to be in this club by myself.
I will confess that I knew nothing about it going in. I had heard the trailer was berserk, but extreme reactions about movie trailers are nothing new. I had come across vague tweets about how bananas the movie was, but everybody knows not to put too much stock in what one hears on Twitter. Still, I was intrigued, and I decided that if I was going in, I was going in blind.
Allow me to spoil it all right now, and to assure you that knowing all of the plot details will not diminish your enjoyment of this movie in the least. It is all in the execution, and the execution is fuuuuuucked uuuuuppp.
Colin Trevorrow's first movie Safety Not Guaranteed was about a genius manchild. The Book of Henry is about a genius childman. Henry is the smartest kid in all the land, which is apparently The Land of People Who Don't Give a Fuck, because nobody's put him into any kind of special school or even an accelerated study program. No, he's just there in his regular fifth-grade class, giving long speeches about His Legacy, and wasting time that his classmates could probably spend learning how to add or whatever. And then he goes home and makes cupcakes for his little brother (played by the kid from Room) with some kind of Rube Goldberg Easy Bake Oven in a treehouse he built. He does a thing where he opens a package of soap flakes near a fan and makes the house look like it's snowing, and his mom comes home from work and loves it. So, right away: super plausible.
Henry's mother is played by Naomi Watts, and she's put him in charge of her finances. He's in charge of everything in her life, really. She's a waitress, and she lives in a great big house, and she plays video games leaning way forward so you can tell she's really into it. She runs all her decisions past her eleven-year-old son, and he gives her good counsel, and then she gets drunk with her fellow waitress Sarah Silverman, who has a flirty, negging-heavy relationship with Henry and a tattoo on her right breast that I think might be lichen.
Oh, and then next door, there is The Most Beautiful Girl in Henry's Class, with whom Naomi Watts has a secret handshake. Beautiful Girl lives with her stepdad, because her mom is dead and nobody has any relatives you don't see on camera. Beautiful Girl's stepdad is Hank from Breaking Bad, and he's also the Police Commissioner, and he molests her, but he does it in her bedroom, three feet away from the bedroom window of Henry, the smartest kid in all the land. This is a town with no good applicants for the position of parent or Police Commissioner.
So of course Henry knows what's going on, and he alerts the principal, who is played by Tonya Pinkins, because this movie is trying to break me. Or rather, he has alerted the principal, because he bursts into her office and says, "Goddammit, Janice— when the fuck are you going to do something about this?" Principal Pinkins says she can't call the police without hard evidence, even though so far she has seen bruises on this girl and had to pull her out to send her to the emergency room. Remember this; it will come back later.
Okay, so obviously Henry calls Child Protective Services, whose number he has written down in his Big Red Notebook, which will also come back later. (He has also written down "*67 makes the call anonymous," which you would think was information he could retain because he is the smartest kid in all the land. (I remember what *67 does without writing it down, and I'm dumb enough to have forgotten to keep a receipt for my ticket.) He calls, and they send a person to investigate, and the person does so by coming out to the Police Commissioner's house and asking him, "Hey, are you molesting your stepdaughter? You aren't? Okay, cool," right there on the front porch. Then Henry pulls out the Child Protective Services brochure, and on the back of it is a photo of the guy who came out to investigate, and his name is, like, Steve, The Police Commissioner's Brother. You know how Child Protective Services has brochures, and on those brochures, there's a picture of the smiling face of the guy who's going to do all the investigations, like a realtor ad on a bus bench? Just normal, everyday stuff that we all recognize and identify with.
So then Henry, the smartest kid in all the land, is like, "Well, I guess I'd better assassinate the Police Commissioner." He draws up big elaborate sketches of the town's bridge. He does all kinds of math-y analysis on where a person would need to stand so that their body would fall into the river. He walks right into a gun store and prices sniper rifles.
And then he gets a brain tumor and dies in two seconds.
No, I'm serious.
He has a seizure, and they rush him to the hospital for emergency brain surgery, which isn't successful, and which also doesn't require them to cut his hair even a little bit. So the doctor, who is played by Lee Pace, sits this eleven-year-old kid down, and is like: "Well, you're super going to die." And Henry is like, "Oh, is this a neuroblompazoid," or whatever, and asks a million questions about radiation and critical structures, because somehow he's gone to medical school in between making cupcakes, managing his mother's investments, and trying to murder Hank from Breaking Bad. So anyway, Sarah Silverman kisses him on the mouth and then he dies, and the second smartest person in all the land becomes the smartest person in all the land, and that's Naomi Watts, and Naomi Watts is an idiot.
Also, throughout all of this, the school is preparing for a talent show. Just hang on to that fact. It's coming back, too.
Before dying, Henry has told the kid from Room to make sure Naomi Watts reads the Big Red Notebook. So the kid takes a peek at the Notebook, and immediately deciphers it, and says: "Mom, Henry wants us to kill Hank from Breaking Bad." And Naomi Watts says: "Okay, we'll just have to think about that." And then she decides: Yes. Yes, I am going to fulfill the wishes of my dead genius child who was also my stockbroker, and I am going to murder my neighbor. She goes to the safe in her basement, where Henry has left a recorder with tapes of instructions, because he had snuck out of the hospital where he was dying of the world's fastest brain tumor to record them and put them there, and also he had access to a those little answering-machine tapes in a world where people have cell phones. So Naomi Watts follows his instructions and buys a sniper rifle, because Henry has even taught her how to bribe and threaten the guy behind the counter. She does target practice out of Henry's treehouse, which is close enough to her house that she would let her young sons play in it unsupervised, but far enough that the Police Commissioner, who lives next door, wouldn't hear sniper-rifle target practice.
Okay, so a child molester is about to get shot in the head by Naomi Watts, who's following the orders of a dead eleven-year-old. It's time for the talent show! Naomi Watts drives the kid from Room and Beautiful Girl to the event, and once it starts, she sneaks away to carry out the plan. The talent show begins with a rapping ginger kid whose rap ends with "I'm the shiznit" and a mic drop that puts the final nail in the coffin of mic drops, and not a moment too soon. And then a kid burps the alphabet. You know how grade-school talent shows are like that? The teachers and administrators say "We'll just stay completely out of your way," and offer no supervision or guidance at all. "Surprise us, children!"
So then Naomi Watts goes to the treehouse to kill Hank from Breaking Bad at a great distance with a sniper rifle, because she listened to a ninety-minute tape from her dead son and now she's in the Mossad. The plan is that she will do a little yoo-hoo whistle into one walkie-talkie, and the other walkie-talkie will be right at the spot on the bridge where Hank needs to stand so he can be shot. Hank is in his study, and he hears a faint yoo-hoo whistle off in the distance, so of course he goes right out to investigate, with his handgun. (Rifle fire: not worth checking out. A whistle in the middle of the woods, which is presumably full of birds: investigate at once.) Naomi Watts aims. Henry is still in her earbuds, giving her motivational messages. But then she slips and activates one of Henry's Rube Goldberg things, which ends up lowering a bunch of Polaroids of Henry from the ceiling. And she looks at those pictures, really looks at them, and it hits her: "I can't do this. Henry, you're a child." So then she runs back to her car, with her sniper rifle in her hands, and this is fine with everyone.
Beautiful Girl's talent show performance is an interpretive dance. Principal Pinkins watches from offstage, and she sees Beautiful Girl's eyes, and she's like: "This girl is being molested." Principal Pinkins has seen bruises, has sent her to the emergency room, has heard the testimony of the smartest kid in all the land, but it's modern dance that finally convinces her to call the police. And a school principal's description of a talent-show dance performance is sufficient for the police to send multiple cars out to Hank from Breaking Bad's house, sirens wailing. He of course shoots himself, so nice one, Henry.
The kid from Room goes last at the talent show, and everyone's wondering what he's going to do, because that's the way these things work. He comes out in a magician's cape, with a big trunk, and he says, "When I open this trunk, my brother is going to be alive again." And all the teachers and parents are like, "This would never happen in real life," and you're like, "I know, but we're nearly out of here, let's see what's in that trunk." So he says some magic words, and he opens the trunk, and all kinds of soap-flake snow shoots out of it! And also from the ceiling, I guess, because suddenly everyone's covered in it, all the way to the back of the auditorium. And then he looks around to find Naomi Watts, and she emerges from the darkness, and Beautiful Girl comes to live with them, and Naomi Watts becomes a children's book author, which I guess is what she wanted to be all along, and everyone lives happily ever after except Hank from Breaking Bad and the dead genius kid whose special wish was to murder him.
We are left to wonder whether Henry actually wanted Hank dead, or whether the whole thing was a long con to make Naomi Watts act like an adult for once. But here's the thing: In that moment when Naomi Watts looked at the pictures of young Henry and came to her senses, I actually said Yes! (Really! Out loud! But it was okay because I was the only person in the theater.) Messages are important, and this one is especially resonant at this moment in history. We do not need to follow the instructions of children! We are allowed to be adults if we want to! It is acceptable, proper, even, to stop going to Disneyland after a certain age! There is something to be said for embracing maturity, for taking responsibility of your own life, even if you have to follow a child's assassination plan for a little while to get there.
Anyway, Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars Episode IX, a movie everyone on Twitter will be furious about because some character's laser helmet will be the wrong color, and that's if we're lucky and our game-show-host President doesn't get us killed before then. I feel like the central message of The Book of Henry comes just a moment too late.
Go see it. Don't make me bear this alone.
Rico says the guy's on his own; he won't be seeing this POS...

Call it Maggie

Travel & Leisure has an article by Andrea Romano about the Outer Banks:

There’s always a new place to be discovered on this little blue marble of ours.
A new island, just off the tip of Cape Point in Buxton, North Carolina, has crept up almost overnight. The island is approximately a mile long and three football fields wide.
“It was just a little bump in April,” said Janice Reagan to The Virginian-Pilot. Her son, Caleb, named it Shelly Island for the scores of untouched seashells that are found nearby.
The island has plenty to offer in the way of quirky historical facts, geographical travel obstacles, and must-sees that only the locals know about.
Dave Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which oversees the area of Cape Point, warns that getting to the island is dangerous, and that people should not attempt to walk or swim across the current to get there.
Since the area is a popular fishing spot, there can be many discarded fishing hooks on the sea bottom. Bill Smith, president of the North Carolina Beach Buggy Association, also told The Virginian-Pilot that five-foot-long sharks and stingrays “as large as a hood of a truck” like to hunt in those waters. Still, some visitors have been rowing rafts across to the island.
According to Hallac, Cape Point is constantly changing. The sand moves and expands depending on currents and storms, which means Shelly Island could easily disappear just as quickly as it came to be. Or it can expand and even connect to Cape Point, making fishing even more of a draw in the area.
If you do happen to visit Cape Point, you’ll never know what to expect.
Rico says, given the timing and the place, it's gotta be named for his late mother...

Mueller for the day UF

Time has an article by David Von Drehle about the latest phase in the Russia investigation:

In Washington, DC, the 'first law of holes' is one of those shopworn maxims that are so familiar, they need not be spoken. It's like what you should do if you want a friend in the capital: 'get a dog' goes without saying.
But maybe things are different where Donald Trump came from. And maybe that's why he didn't know what to do when he found his young presidency in a small hole involving contacts between a few of his underlings and Russian officials.
Now he's learning the local folklore the hard way. The first law of holes is, if you're in one, stop digging. Three times, Trump heard assurances from former FBI director James Comey that the Russia investigation was not aimed at him. Instead of putting his shovel down, though, Trump worked it furiously. According to Comey's sworn testimony, Trump pushed the G-man for a public exoneration, and when Comey demurred, he may have pressed his case with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers. Unsatisfied, he fired Comey in ham-fisted fashion, then reportedly boasted to Russian visitors that he did it to take pressure off the investigation. Now he's in the hounded condition of various predecessors: struggling to regain control of the agenda, lashing out at aides, shouting at television sets and peppering his dig-the-hole-deeper tweets with all-caps exasperation.
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He blames his enemies, but guess what? All Presidents have enemies. Successful ones try to outsmart them. Trump's own actions have turned a small hole into a yawning abyss: a special counsel's investigation that could run from the Oval Office to Trump Tower and command headlines for the next year or more. Trump has traded the anguished Hamlet Comey for the adamantine Marine Robert Mueller, the Justice Department ramrod who remade the FBI after 9/11. As special counsel appointed in the wake of the Comey firing, Mueller has one job, no deadline and bottomless resources, and he is assembling an all-star team of veteran prosecutors whose expert backgrounds go beyond counterintelligence to include money laundering, corporate fraud and the limits of Executive Branch power.
Sensing the trouble he had dug himself into, Trump tweeted, "You are witnessing the single greatest Witch hunt in American political history." Perhaps all Presidents feel the same way if they find themselves under the withering gaze of a high-profile investigator. Whether called a "special prosecutor" in the Richard Nixon era or "independent counsel" in the Bill Clinton years or "special counsel" today, the specific powers change, but the overall effect is quite the same. Trump's predecessors could tell him that such investigations are sometimes survivable, but they are not controllable. Trump is at the front end of political cancer treatment: live or die, it will be a draining, miserable experience.
But the President won't go through it alone. The whole country will be dragged along. From congressional hideaways to country-club fairways, from newsrooms to lunchrooms, from skyscraper to silo, the realization is sinking in: this is going to be with us for quite a while.
Former FBI boss Comey testifies before a Senate committee on June 8 about his dealings with Trump.Former FBI boss Comey testifies before a Senate committee on June 8 about his dealings with Trump. Christopher Morris—VII for TIME
So, like hurricane watchers dashing to the grocery store, Washington's ruling Republicans are trying to jam through a health-care bill before the investigation inundates the capital. Decimated Democrats are squabbling over a party identity to give shape to their rising hopes. Interest groups, having geared up for fights over taxes and regulations, are pivoting to wage war on this new battleground. Out in America, meanwhile, many battered and anxious voters find themselves back at seemingly unmovable square one: Who, or what, can lead the country out of this sour patch of history?
It's safe to say the investigation won't be a source of national unity. With Internet speed, pro- and anti-Trump factions have created rational and plausible--yet utterly irreconcilable--histories of an investigation that has barely even begun. To Trump supporters, this is the story of an unconventional agent of change elected to break up a failed status quo. In their view, the elites, with help from their leaky minions embedded throughout the government, have turned on the new President to protect their own power. When Trump fired Comey in hopes of piercing the empty Russia balloon, Comey took his revenge in classic insider style: he arranged to have a friend leak memos that would prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And that turned out to be Mueller, a longtime Comey associate who, despite his straight-arrow reputation, has installed Democratic donors on his prosecutorial dream team.
The veteran Washington knife fighter Newt Gingrich, after initially praising the Mueller appointment, has swung to this version of the story with gusto. He sicced a team of researchers on the question of political activity at the Department of Justice and at law firm WilmerHale, where Mueller had been working. The researchers found this: of more than $600,000 in campaign donations from employees at the two institutions to major presidential nominees in the 2016 election, less than $10,000 went to Trump; the rest went to Hillary Clinton. Gingrich sent the numbers to the White House. "It's just one more realization of the desperation of the deep state to do everything it can to prevent change," Gingrich told TIME.
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Trump's foes tell a very different story. Theirs involves a billionaire whose undisclosed business interests may involve rich Russians as financiers and customers. After winning a narrow victory in an election plagued by Russian hacking, the new President surrounded himself with aides and advisers who had undisclosed Russian contacts. And when the FBI opened an investigation, the President abruptly fired the bureau's director. Comey's subsequent testimony about his awkward interactions with Trump raised the specter of obstruction of justice--made meatier by the President's admission that he was trying to make the Russia issue go away. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from the matter because of his role with the Trump campaign, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had no choice but to name a special counsel, and the veteran Mueller was an obvious choice.
Is there enough common ground between those two realities to give hope of a clear resolution? The answer hinges on the behavior of the two men now lashed together in a grimly familiar Washington drama. Mueller must be careful and measured and honest and open. If he finds offenses, he must lay them out clearly, with every t crossed. If he finds none, he must issue equally clear and compelling exonerations. America is hungry for fair dealers: Mueller can do his part by proving himself to be one.
Trump at the White House June 12.Trump at the White House June 12. Carlos Barria—Reuters
Trump's task is more difficult. To lead the country out of the deep hole he has excavated, he must be patient and disciplined, two qualities so far missing in the unpredictable and instinctive disrupter. Indeed, his White House advisers and GOP leaders in Congress are bracing themselves for a worst-case scenario in which the President trades his shovel for a backhoe by firing Mueller. Two years after his late-in-life entry into politics, Trump has yet to play the role of a healer. His gift for locating sore spots and poking at them is undeniable, but part of a President's job is to bring people together.
Trump might start by thickening his own skin. The criticism he is taking now is part of the job--and not so different from the attacks he dished out gleefully when he was a private gadfly demanding to see Barack Obama's birth certificate. Another of those tried but true Washington maxims should govern Trump's future tweetrums: he's in the kitchen now, and he has to learn to take the heat.
The special counsel is, like Trump, the scion of a wealthy family, raised at a boarding school and educated in the Ivy League. But the life choices of Robert Swan Mueller III, 72, suggest a decidedly different temperament from the one that occupies the Oval Office. Unlike Trump, who says he has few if any personal heroes, Mueller's path was marked by a profound admiration for a role model he met at Princeton, a student a year ahead of him named David Spencer Hackett.
"I played lacrosse with David," Mueller explained last year in a speech at West Point. "He was not necessarily the best on the team, but he was a determined and a natural leader." Hackett's decision to join the Marine Corps, and his death in 1967 while rallying his platoon during an ambush in Vietnam, moved Mueller to follow in Hackett's footsteps. "Many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be," Mueller said.
Trump once joked with radio shock jock Howard Stern that chasing women while risking STDs was his version of Vietnam, adding, "It is very dangerous." He might have chosen a different analogy if he had served as Mueller did. Commissioned in the Marine Corps and trained at Army Ranger School, Lieut. Mueller led a rifle platoon in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. Wounded in combat, he received a Bronze Star with a V for valor as well as a Purple Heart and two Navy Commendation Medals.
Mueller told his West Point audience that his military experience instilled in him a desire to continue to serve his country. After earning a law degree from the University of Virginia and learning the ropes as an associate at a large law firm, he joined the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, where he rose to chief of the criminal division.
In 1989, Mueller moved to Washington, where he soon took charge of the entire Justice Department's criminal division. Under his watch, department lawyers prosecuted major cases involving terrorism, organized crime, drugs and money laundering. Although his voter registration said Republican, Mueller earned the confidence of leaders in both parties. In 1998, Democrat Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. Attorney for Northern California. Republican George W. Bush called him back to Washington as Deputy Attorney General, then picked him to lead the FBI in 2001.
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Mueller's first official day at the Hoover Building was Sept. 4. A week later, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington plunged the bureau into one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. Mueller's challenge was to transform a primarily domestic law-enforcement agency into a global counterterrorism force--while breaking down cultural barriers to information sharing and pulling the paper-pushing bureau into the digital age. Many agents found Mueller to be bullheaded as he shook up personnel rules and rammed through technology updates. And he made mistakes, including a botched investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in D.C., Florida, New York and New Jersey, in which an innocent man was hounded in the press while Mueller and his agents ignored the real killer. But overall, in the judgment of FBI historian Ronald Kessler, no director in the modern era "has had a greater positive impact on the bureau than Mueller."
As director, Mueller worked closely with Comey, who was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 2003. Together, they threatened to resign in 2004 over a White House plan to preserve a program of warrantless wiretaps. Their frantic dash to the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to ward off a delegation of White House arm twisters on a mission to save the program was a heroic high point for friends of Mueller and Comey--and an example of their sanctimony to their detractors. Either way, they won: Bush agreed to make changes to the program. When Mueller's extended term at the FBI ended in 2013, few were surprised that Obama installed Comey in his place.
Praise was widespread and bipartisan for Mueller's appointment on May 17 as special counsel. But that enthusiasm was not shared at the White House. As the gravity of his miscalculation sets in, Trump has been lashing about for someone to blame. Attorney General Sessions, one of his earliest supporters, offered to resign after a bawling out from Trump, who feels that he would not be in this pickle if Sessions had not recused himself from the Russia investigation.
Trump is also furious with the flip-flopping Democrats who went from hating Comey (they blamed his public hand-wringing over her emails for Hillary Clinton's loss in November) to hailing him as a martyr. "The Democrats should be ashamed," Trump tweeted. "This is a disgrace!"
And then there's Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who wrote a memo at Trump's request that the White House briefly used to justify the Comey firing, then appointed the special counsel. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!" the President tweeted. "Witch hunt!" That June 16 outburst caught Capitol Hill Republicans flat-footed. "Is this part of a new plan?" an adviser to House Speaker Paul Ryan asked a White House aide. Of course not, the aide answered. "Do you think we would plan to have the President of the United States implicate himself?"
Friends report that the wrathful President discussed the possibility of firing Mueller, an idea that horrifies White House advisers and terrifies veteran congressional Republicans. The last President to try such a thing was Nixon, who sparked the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 by ordering the ouster of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Beyond the disastrous politics of such a move, it's unclear how Trump could execute this step. Justice Department regulations tightly govern the removal of a special counsel, which can be done "only by the personal action of the Attorney General" and only for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or for other good cause." With Sessions recused, the power of removal passed to Rosenstein--but his involvement in the Comey firing could force his recusal as well. Rosenstein has assured a Senate committee that he would not carry out an unjustified firing. "If there were not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says," he averred. If Rosenstein refused to fire the special counsel, the order would go next to another Senate-confirmed Justice official. With the Solicitor General's office still unfilled, that leaves Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who hasn't said publicly how she would respond.
Trump's alternative to this uncertainty might be to exercise his constitutional authority to rewrite the Justice Department regulations, giving himself the firing authority. Such a step would smack of despotism in a capital that cherishes checks on power.
Voters cast their ballots in Chesterfield, Va., on Nov. 8, 2016.Voters cast their ballots in Chesterfield, Va., on Nov. 8, 2016. Shelby Lum—Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP
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For now, the White House is trying to compartmentalize the investigation, while such allies as Gingrich launch counterattacks. Rather than fire Mueller--and risk sparking a backlash--the plan seems to be to discredit the investigation with voters. The Republican National Committee is cranking out messages designed to make Mueller and Comey the new Hillary and Bill. Their friendship snarls Mueller in a flagrant conflict of interest, the attack goes, and Mueller's team is rife with partisans. At least three of his recruits have written checks in partisan campaigns, including two--James Quarles and Jeannie Rhee--who gave the maximum allowable amount to Hillary Clinton for her race against Trump last year.
A fact of Washington life that ought to be a maxim, but isn't: not every important moment gets a headline. One such moment was a largely overlooked exchange in May between Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Comey, who still held his job at the FBI.
"It's not uncommon to seek and use tax returns in a criminal investigation?" asked the Senator, himself a former prosecutor, who was well aware of the answer.
"Not uncommon," Comey replied on cue. "Especially in complex financial cases, it's a relatively common tool."
Whitehouse went on to ask about Russian strategies for compromising U.S. business partners by giving them highly favorable deals and to explore the use of shell corporations in laundering dirty money through untraceable transactions with American companies. "And that's not a good thing?" Whitehouse asked in conclusion.
Comey: "I don't think it is."
Investigations like Mueller's have a way of moving from Topic A to Topic Z, from Ozarks real estate to an intern's blue dress as one question begets another and clue leads to clue. The Senator's questions and Comey's answers mapped several paths by which an investigation of Trump's actions as President--Was he trying to obstruct justice?--could become a dissection of the inner workings of his private business. The tax returns he has steadfastly refused to publish. The conflicting accounts he and his sons have given about Russian investments in Trump projects. The sharp rise in the number of Trump-branded luxury condos bought by shell corporations since his nomination, as first reported by USA Today. And so on.
For now, the leak-prone Administration has mostly gone quiet, the better to showcase displays of presidential normalcy. An infrastructure week. A summit with tech CEOs. "The media and the Democrats talk about Russia," says Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. "The President talks about America." Mueller-related questions are steered to outside counsel, part of a Sisyphean effort to professionalize the chaotic White House. Still, aides live in the shadow of the boss's shifting moods.
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence is driving Republican leaders hard to change the subject by passing legislation. Even as he hired attorney Richard Cullen--another Comey friend--to guard his own flank in the investigation, Pence shuttled between the White House and Congress, pleading for a win on health care to cheer the embattled President. But the Fourth of July recess loomed with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell still short of a majority for any Trump-blessed reform, leaving lawmakers to face the prospect of going home empty-handed while the President sulks with his Twitter.
It was tempting, as the wheels of another Washington investigation accelerated away from the station, to say that we've seen this all before, though never with a protagonist quite like President Trump. In his outsize personality and unmasked audacity, he's making it clear that this all-too-familiar story has roots much deeper than even the most shopworn Washington lore. It goes back to the Greeks, who understood that the peril of kings was hubris, and that hubris was an invitation to the avenging goddess called Nemesis. In Robert Mueller, Trump may have found his.
Rico says WHAT

Ironic death for the day

Melissa Chan has a Time article, with additional reporting by Olivier Laurent, about eating the wrong food:
A popular lifestyle blogger in France has died after a whipped cream dispenser exploded and hit her in the chest, her family said.
Rebecca Burger (photo, top) who had a large following on Instagram and often wrote about fashion, food, and fitness, was killed in the canister blast inside her home on Sunday, Burger’s family confirmed on her social media pages.
The blogger’s relatives posted a photo (above) on Instagram of the high-pressure whipped cream dispenser, which was recalled four years ago. "Here's an example of a whipped cream dispenser that exploded and struck Rebecca's thorax, causing her death," her family wrote, warning others not to use the dispenser.
The dispenser has been recalled since early 2013 due to concerns of the plastic top "bursting" off, according to Ard'time, the kitchenware company that produced the product.
Burger's official cause of death is unclear. Prosecutors in France are investigating the incident, and will determine whether the canister was to blame for her death, according to The Associated Press.
Burger often shared photos of her travels and posted images of herself in fitness clothes and swimsuits on Instagram, where she now has nearly two hundred thousand followers. Less than a week ago, she expressed her gratitude for her "beautiful" life and her successes while looking forward to the future.
"A beautiful day comes to an end," she wrote in French. "Lots of travel plans coming up and new projects. Sometimes I take a moment to reflect on everything I've already accomplished and what I'm about to live. That's when I tell myself that life is beautiful. We don't have a credit on time so let's enjoy it to the fullest."
Rico says he knew whipped cream was dangerous, but this is silly...

History for the day: 1992: Teflon Don sentenced to life


Teflon Don sentenced to life
Mafia boss John Gotti, who was nicknamed the "Teflon Don" after escaping unscathed from several trials during the 1980s, is sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty on 14 accounts of conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering. Moments after his sentence was read in a federal courthouse... read more »
American Revolution
Commodore Parker prepares for a naval strike on Charleston »
"Mercedes" registered as a brand name »
Civil War
Lee confers with his generals before the Seven Days' Battles »
Cold War
Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Aleksei Kosygin »
Even without the corpse, a murderer is uncovered »
Tornadoes hit West Virginia and Pennsylvania »
General Interest
Nasser elected president »
Klaus Fuchs released »
Wallenda makes Grand Canyon crossing on high wire »
Batman released »
Michael Shaara, author of The Killer Angels, is born »
Tiffany visits the mall on her way to stardom »
Old West
Frontiersman Martin Sweeny is murdered »
Newspaper reveals Coolidge will be adopted into Sioux tribe »
Nixon signs Higher Education Act »
Haldeman encourages Nixon to ward off FBI »
Title IX enacted »
Vietnam War
Johnson announces new ambassador to South Vietnam »
North Vietnamese encircle Ben Het »
World War I
First Battle of the Isonzo »
World War II
Hitler takes a tour of Paris »
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22 June 2017

Death from afar

Rico's friend Kelley forwards Gayathri Anuradha's Yahoo article in the International Business Times about a really long shot:

A Canada special elite forces sniper broke the world record for the longest kill shot in the military history. According to The Globe and Mail, the sniper (whose name was withheld for security reasons), fired from a stunning distance of nearly four thousand meters. He is a part of Joint Task Force 2 in the Iraqi Civil War.
The target was an ISIS operative and, by killing him, the sniper broke the previous record by almost a thousand meters. He stood on a high-rise during an operation that took place within the last month in Iraq and fired. It took the bullet under ten seconds to hit the target. The report said that the kill was independently verified by video and camera data. An unnamed military source was quoted saying: “Hard data on this. It isn’t an opinion. It isn’t an approximation. There is a second location with eyes on with all the right equipment to capture exactly what the shot was.”
The weapon used was a McMillan Tac-50 and the ammunition was Hornady A-MAX.50, .50 BMG. The windage and curvature of the earth were factors that had to be considered. “The shot in question actually disrupted an ISIS attack on Iraqi security forces. Instead of dropping a bomb that could potentially kill civilians in the area, it is a very precise application of force and because it was so far way, the bad guys didn’t have a clue what was happening,” another military source said. He also emphasized that the operation fell within the boundaries of a government-assist mission.
The names of the sniper and his partner were not revealed for reasons of operational security. They were reportedly sent to many dangerous locations to find and do away with insurgents. An expert in training Canadian Special Forces told The Globe and Mail that it would take an immense amount of concentration to fire from a higher location. In such situations, the ballistics of the bullet as well as the direction of wind would need to be accounted for.
With this shot, the sniper broke the previous record of 2,475 meter by Corporal of Horse Craig Harrison of the United Kingdom, who shot a Taliban gunner in the Afghanistan War. Prior to Harrison, the title was held by another Canadian sniper, Rob Furlong, when he shot and killed an Afghan insurgent carrying an RPK machine gun during Operation Anaconda. Before Furlong, Canadian Master Corporal Arron Perry from the same battalion held the record for a few weeks after he killed an insurgent from a distance of 2,310 meters during the same operation. US Sergeant. Bryan Kremer has the longest confirmed sniper kill shot by a U.S. soldier in 2004 in Iraq, when he shot an insurgent standing at a distance of twenty-three hundred meters.
Although the Canadian army is not a member of the Multi-National Force, Iraq, which consists of military from the US, the UK, Australia, Spain, and Poland, the current government of Justin Trudeau has expanded the military commitment in Iraq, committing 207 Canadian Special Forces trainers in an assist, train and advise. Joint Task Force 2, to which the sniper belongs, is one of the special operations forces of the Canadian Armed Forces. Canadian commandos are not to be involved in direct combat.
Just a month ago, an unnamed British SAS sniper killed an ISIS fighter (who was himself a sniper) in Mosul, firing from 1.5 miles away. According to The Daily Mail, the shot took three full seconds to travel from the shooter to the target. The gun: a CheyTac M200
Rico says the dead guys would never hear the shot that killed them...

Clooney ain't poor, either

Bloomberg has an article about George getting rich(er):

George Clooney may be the face of fancy coffee, but it’s in premium tequila that he has hit the real jackpot.
Diageo Plc agreed to acquire fast-growing tequila brand Casamigos, co-founded four years ago by Clooney, for as much as a billion dollars. The deal expands the London, England-based distiller’s lineup in a fast-growing category, where it already owns the Don Julio, DeLeon, and Peligroso brands.
The purchase will be Diageo’s biggest since its three billion dollar acquisition of United Spirits Ltd. in 2014. After that deal boosted its presence in India, the owner of the Smirnoff brand is moving to strengthen its US business, which has returned to growth after a difficult stretch following a slowdown in vodka sales. Meanwhile, tequila volume in the US more than doubled from 2002 through 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
Clooney, better known for his role in movies such as Ocean’s Eleven and as a pitchman for Nespresso coffee, created Casamigos in 2013 with developer Mike Meldman and entertainment entrepreneur Rande Gerber, who’s married to model Cindy Crawford. They got in on the tequila boom after tasting together in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where Clooney and Gerber had built vacation homes. Now they’re cashing out with an initial consideration of seven hundred million dollars that could be followed by a further three hundred million, based on a performance-linked earn-out over ten years, according to a Diageo statement. “The price looks high,” Trevor Stirling, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein said by phone. “So much of this depends on their belief in the growth rate of this brand.”
Casamigos is growing at forty to fifty percent and is on track to sell nearly two hundred thousand twelve-bottle cases this year, Diageo North America President Deirdre Mahlan said on a call. That compares with about twenty-six million cases of Smirnoff vodka Diageo sells annually. Brands growing at such a pace are “notoriously challenging to value under traditional methods,” Mahlan said.
Casamigos, packaged in clear bottles with Clooney’s signature adorning the label, is distilled by an undisclosed partner in Mexico. Casamigos is sold in three expressions, at $45 to $55: Blanco, which is clear, Reposado, which is golden-colored, and Anejo, a dark amber variant and the brand’s oldest.
The brand has been marketed with pictures of the founders enjoying it, captioned with the slogan, “Brought to you by those who drink it.” Clooney, Gerber, and Meldman will continue to promote the brand. Their stakes were not disclosed.
Drinkers are increasingly drawn to alcohol with a Mexican heritage amid a change in the way it’s served: bartenders in the US are stocking more expensive tequilas fit for sipping neat rather than mixing in margarita cocktails. In response, Diageo and its rivals have been expanding their lineups of tequila and mezcal, both of which are produced from the agave plant. Pernod Ricard SA this month agreed to acquire Del Maguey mezcal, following a distribution agreement by Diageo with Mezcal Union signed in February of 2016.
The Casamigos purchase “supports our strategy to focus on the high growth super-premium-and-above segments of the category,” Diageo Chief Executive Officer Ivan Menezes said in the statement. He added that the company aims to expand the brand’s presence outside the US.
The initial price tag of seven hundred million essentially uses up the company’s three-year, five-hundred-million-pound ($633 million) cost-savings program, wrote Duncan Fox, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
The deal will be funded through a combination of cash and debt, and Diageo expects it to have limited impact on earnings per share for the first three years and to be accretive thereafter. Diageo said the agreement, which was reached without a formal auction process, should close in the second half.
Rico says he's never felt sorry for Clooney, the good-looking bastard...

21 June 2017

Poor Trump (not really)

Bloomberg has an article by Caleb Melby about Trump's declining wealth: Trump's Net Worth Slips as New York Towers Underperform

President Trump’s office properties aren’t bringing in as much cash as the banks that loaned him money had expected. That’s the biggest finding in an updated assessment of the president’s net worth, which has slipped to just under three billion dollars, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, down from three billion dollars a year ago. The calculation, five months after Trump’s inauguration, relies on figures compiled from lenders, mortgage documents, annual reports, market data, and a new financial disclosure released on 16 June 2017.
The decrease is driven mostly by a drop in the value of three office properties in Manhattan, where financial data compiled by Trump’s lenders offer a consistent picture: they’re underperforming appraisals conducted when Trump was issued loans. The buildings, at 40 Wall Street, Trump Tower, and 1290 Avenue of the Americas, a tower in which Trump holds a thirty percent stake, are victims of a changing New York City office market, where gleaming new skyscrapers are attracting tenants and demand for space in vintage properties is falling.
The Bloomberg calculation, which previously relied in part on banks’ estimates and appraisals, is now based solely on the three properties’ actual financial results disclosed by managers of mortgage-security trusts that hold Trump debt. The present value of the three properties has been revised down by a combined $380 million.
Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, and Jeffrey McConney, the company’s controller, didn’t respond to emails about Bloomberg’s methodology. An outside spokeswoman didn’t return calls for comment. Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, didn’t respond to emails.
The decrease in the value of the three towers was almost offset by successes in other corners of Trump’s empire. His portfolio of liquid assets, including cash, has jumped to $230 million from $170 million following condo sales and other payouts from the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, as well as the sale of a Manhattan penthouse apartment. He sold most of his stock portfolio last summer, a spokesman said in December.
Trump’s companies received new licensing fees for branded projects in Vancouver and Kolkata, the financial disclosure shows. On an annualized basis, revenue at his sixteen golf and resort properties rose three percent. Mar-a-Lago, which Trump has visited frequently since the election, saw a twenty-five percent jump in sales. The properties now have a combined value of $720 million, up from $710 million, according to the index, an increase damped by declining multiples for golf course properties.
At the same time, Trump’s debt load has shrunk to at least $550 million from about $630 million last year, according to lender data and repayment schedules.
The 40 Wall Street building, appraised at $540 million in 2015, had projected annual net operating income of $22.6 million, according to documents shared at the time with potential investors in the property’s debt. It earned $17.4 million in 2016, a year in which it was on a lender watchlist for three months because rental income barely covered debt payments. The property was removed from the list as its situation improved. The index values the property at $400 million based on last year’s performance.
Trump Tower, the President’s home and headquarters before he moved to the White House, is facing a similar problem. Its offices and stores were appraised at $480 million in 2012, with net income estimated at $20.4 million. The property generated $14.1 million of net income last year after higher expenses ate into revenue, lender documents show. The building, including Trump’s penthouse apartment, is now valued at $450 million.
The office tower at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, which Trump owns in partnership with Vornado Realty Trust, also has failed to meet lender expectations. The building was appraised at two billion dollars in 2012 on the assumption it would throw off $97.7 million of annual net income, but it generated only $77.7 million last year.
“We’re in the biggest development pipeline in Manhattan since the 1980s,” said Keith DeCoster, director of real estate analytics at Savills Studley. “Older buildings, circa 1980s, 1990s, are having a tougher time competing.”
Trump has retained his ownership interest in his companies. Unlike previous occupants of the Oval Office, he neither divested his assets nor set up a blind trust. Instead, he transferred his holdings to a revocable trust managed by his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s CFO.
Trump’s own estimates of his net worth are frequently higher than independent appraisals. When he announced his candidacy in 2015, his campaign released a document stating he had a net worth of just under nine billion dollars. Later that year, when Bloomberg first assessed his net worth at $3 billion, he described it as “a stupid report", and later repeatedly asserted he was worth more than ten billion.
One difference between Trump’s estimates and Bloomberg’s is the value of his personal brand. The 2015 document released by Trump’s campaign said his ability to license his name and likeness to everything from international hotels to mattresses is worth just over three billion. Bloomberg assigns it a value of thirty-five million, for one times sales from ongoing licensing deals. That value hasn’t changed since Trump won the Republican nomination last July.
Rico says he refuses to feel sorry for a guy who's worth only ten billion...

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