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European Filmmakers Grapple With the Continent’s Far Right

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 06:00 AM PST

Just as the election of Donald Trump has seemingly validated the xenophobic right wing in the U.S., there is also a resurgence of far-right sentiment sweeping across Europe, where anti-immigrant populist parties are gaining traction, especially in Eastern Europe, but also in Germany and Italy, prompting Euro film directors to grapple with the fascist fallout.

The most recent manifestations of this alarming phenomenon have seen Polish marchers chanting slogans such as “Europe will be white or uninhabited” on Poland’s independence day last November, while a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s new center-right force in Italy, Attilio Fontana, recently called for Italians to defend the country’s “white race” against the massive onslaught of refugees that reach Italy’s shores, mostly from Africa.

Germany, in particular, has been grappling with clashes between immigrants and locals. In a well-covered mid-January incident, a group of right-wingers attacked a group of immigrants, stabbing two and electrocuting one with a stun gun, in the town of Wurzen. Incidents like that provided the basis for German director Fatih Akin‘s “In the Fade,” winner of this year’s Golden Globe for foreign language film.

Due to his Turkish background, Akin says he feels like “the other” in Germany. “I have black hair, my parents are from Turkey. Somehow, I’m the perfect target for these xenophobic attacks,” the director told Variety when “In the Fade” premiered last year in Cannes. “A couple of years ago there was a list on a website called Nuremburg 2.0, and they listed politicians, artists. My name was on the list as a target for neo-Nazis.”

Akin wrote and shot “Fade,” which is about a white German woman who takes revenge after her Kurdish husband and son are murdered by a neo-Nazi group precisely because he had become a possible target for these groups. “What I did with this film was kind of like strike back.”
Film directors and producers have been trying to strike back against the allegedly politically motivated sacking a few months ago of the head of the Polish Film Institute, which drives the local industry.

In Poland, the vital Polish Film Institute, which administers millions in funding for film production, among many other functions, has a new director. The previous head of the PFI, the well-respected general director Magdalena Sroka, was fired last October by Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, a member of the ruling far-right populist Law and Justice party. Her ouster prompted street demonstrations at the Warsaw Film Festival and an open letter from hundreds of Polish industryites to the government denouncing Sroka’s ouster as illegal.

“It’s obvious: when a populist authoritarian government starts to rule, they want to have influence over the content that they are financing,” says director Agnieszka Holland from Warsaw, where she is shooting the first two episodes of her untitled Netflix series that will be the first from the streaming site in Polish.

“The European cinema world is very sensitive to the current political and social situation,” Holland adds. The climate impacts directors in terms of narratives but also, crucially, “in terms of its impact on film financing.” She adds, “in Europe, unlike the U.S., most films are financed by some kind of public funding.”

The new head of the PFI, Radoslaw Smigulski, has worked at pubcaster TVP, and his ties to the government have not quieted any criticism of his appointment; however, it’s fairly early days into his administration as the Polish film community studies the PFI’s moves. (The PFI is one of the funders behind politically charged filmmaker Malgorzata Szumowska, whose “Mug” is playing in Berlin.)

In France, where the extreme right has suffered a serious defeat, Europe’s pressing migrant crisis has provided cinematic fodder most potently perhaps in 2017 Cannes Jury Prize winner “A Season in France,” by Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun. It is the story of an African high school teacher and the white French woman he falls in love with. The pic provides a hard-hitting look at the pride and pain of illegal African immigrants, known as “sans papiers,” as they struggle with French courts. “European filmmakers have told stories of migrants flocking to their continent; but none has found the depth, clarity and emotion of this film,” said Toronto artistic Cameron Bailey during the pic’s North American launch.

Haroun, who has spent much of his career in Paris — but last year returned to Chad to become the country’s culture minister — has pointed out to French newspaper Liberation that “black people often feel like undesirables” in France. “They are often considered suspects … susceptible to being submitted to identity checks even when no crime has been committed,” he noted.

Though France is not led by a right-wing prime minister, the country is experiencing its own far-right upsurge with the rising popularity of the National Front. It’s a phenomenon that versatile auteur Bruno Dumont is weaving in to “Coincoin and the Extra-humans” a sequel to his absurdist murder-mystery TV series “Li’l Quinquin,” which has a pre-teen as its title character. “Quinquin in the sequel has become a Nationalist,” Dumont says. “I will try to depict present-day France with its problems and political issues, like immigration. But do it in a very humorous way.”

In Italy, former prime minister Berlusconi is tipped by polls as the politician with the best chance of forming a government following elections on March 4. The populist conservative media-mogul-turned-pol who has drawn comparisons with U.S. President Trump is not likely to become prime minister again since he is banned from office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction — though he has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino is in post on a hotly anticipated Berlusconi biopic toplining Toni Servillo (“The Great Beauty”) that has hopes of bowing in Cannes. It’s titled “Loro,” which means “Them” in Italian and is an allusion to Berlusconi’s loyal entourage but also a play on “L’Oro,” which in Italian means “the gold” — a possible reference to Berlusconi’s fortune and the bunga bunga girls he tried to lure with it. Berlusconi has said he is nervous about “Loro” being a “political attack” but Sorrentino claims he is “interested in the man that’s behind the politics,” which may make the Berlusconi portrayal worse.

Holland notes that while she’s certainly alarmed about xenophobic right wing populism gaining traction in Europe, she also sees it as a wake-up call that should take directors out of their comfort zone.

“It’s somehow good for the identity of filmmakers. It makes their films stronger and more defined; more personal and courageous.

“They have to ask themselves more questions, such as: ‘What stories should I tell?’ ‘Who am I talking to?’ ‘Why am I making movies?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘Do I have to respond to the most dramatic questions of modernity?'”

Charades Pre-Sells Animated Adventure ‘The Queen’s Corgi’ to Key Territories

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:56 AM PST

Paris-based company Charades has clinched a raft of pre-sales of Ben Stassen‘s 3D animated adventure tale “The Queen’s Corgi” to key territories, including France and China.

Produced by Stassen’s Brussels-based nWave, “The Queen’s Corgi” has been picked up by Bona Film Group for China, and by Apollo Films – the newly launched banner of former Gaumont and Studiocanal exec Francois Clerc – and TF1 Studio for theatrical and VOD/DVD distribution in France, respectively. The sale to TF1 Studio also covers Monaco, Andorra and French-speaking Africa.

“The Queen’s Corgi” is expected to be Stassen’s most creatively ambitious project to date, as well as one of Europe’s biggest animated features slated for 2019.

The feature, which will be delivered in the first quarter of next year, was written by Rob Sprackling and Johnny Smith, whose credits include “Gnomeo and Juliet.” Stassen is co-directing the film with Vincent Kesteloot (“Sammy 2”).

“nWave produced an authentic comedy and its know-how in creating quality animation has already been proven,” said Clerc. “Animation is part of Apollo Film’s DNA and we’re proud to be trusted by one of Europe’s best animation studios.”

Yohann Comte, who co-founded Charades a year ago with Pierre Mazars and Carole Baraton, said the French company was “very honored to work with Bona on an nWave film for the first time,with the shared belief that ‘The Queen’s Corgi’ is surely their most ambitious and mainstream film ever.”

Beyond France and China, Charades has pre-sold “The Queen’s Corgi” to Latin America (Leda), South Korea (Isu C&e), Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria (Vertical Distribution Limited), Russia, CEI (Volgafilm), South Africa (Times Media Films), Poland (Monolith Films Ltd.), Greece (Odeon S.a.), Portugal (Cinemundo), Israel (Forum Film), Baltics (Acme Film), Czech Republic (Aqs A.s.), Bulgaria, ex-Yugoslavia (Blitz Film & Video Distribution), Vietnam (Blue Lantern Entertainment International), Turkey (Chypra), PVR Pictures (India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) and Middle East (Selim Ramia & Co).

Budgeted at more than $20 million, “Corgi” follows the adventure of Rex, the British monarch’s most beloved dog, who loses track of his mistress and stumbles across a fight club with dogs of all kinds confronting each other. During his epic journey to find the queen again, Rex falls in love and discovers his true self.

Charades introduced the project to buyers at last November’s AFM, pitching it as a heartwarming family adventure in the spirit of Disney’s canine classics such as “The Fox and the Hound” and “Lady and the Tramp.”

A pioneer of 3D animation in Europe, Stassen’s credits include “A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures,” “The House of Magic,” “The Wild Life” and “The Son of Bigfoot,” among others.

Frustrations at the White House and the Pentagon

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:47 AM PST

In early February, months-long tensions between the White House and the Pentagon over how to address North Korea spilled out into the public scene. As officials revealed to the New York Times, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster had demanded that the Pentagon provide a menu of detailed military plans, including a “bloody nose” strike against North Korean nuclear facilities, in order to bring credibility to President Donald Trump’s threats. But the Pentagon, these officials noted, appeared reluctant to deliver on the request, seemingly worried that the White House lacked an appreciation of how quickly a military strike could escalate.

The reality is more nuanced. The Pentagon’s apparent refusal to deliver the White House’s desired military plans most likely derived from a number of factors unrelated to the Department of Defense’s feelings about the president or his foreign policy. In this case, the parameters likely set by the White House-low risk to U.S. forces, low risk to South Korea, low risk in provoking a North Korean response, but high damage to Pyongyang’s nuclear program or broader conventional force-may have simply been untenable. There is, after all, no effective surgical strike option for North Korea, no “bloody nose” that could reliably inflict determinative damage on military facilities without prompting devastating retaliation. The Pentagon always works more slowly than desired in the development of military plans, but ultimately cannot deliver on an impossible request-and is likely disinclined to offer less robust options. 

Such friction between the National Security Council (NSC) and the Pentagon, however, particularly when it comes to military planning, is not unique to this administration. In fact, past administrations have routinely found themselves at similar odds with the Defense Department when their lofty goals met with Pentagon practicality and perfectionism. Both agencies have distinct roles to play in the development of military options, but neither plays their part exactly as the other might wish. Each has been known to overstep the boundaries of their respective authorities, take an unhelpful and combative “we know best” attitude, and talk past each other. Both agencies have also been known to interpret typical miscommunication and bureaucratic regular order as disrespect, or even, as Peter Feaver calls it, in his studies of civil-military relations, the “shirking” of responsibility.

One doesn’t have to go too far back in time to find variations on the same theme. When President Barack Obama asked the Pentagon to map out a potential plan for intervention in Syria during the conflict’s early stages, he received only one proposal, and it wasn’t the one he or his national security staff were hoping for-namely, an opportunity to shape the conflict with minimal risk to U.S. personnel. When the White House asked for other options, it appeared from its perspective as if the Defense Department kept delivering the same plan, one that required the deployment of thousands of troops. In turn, while the National Security Council staff felt the Pentagon was hiding something or boxing them in, Pentagon planners were frustrated by the administration’s tendency to set maximalist political goals and then waver when the true cost of such objectives was laid out. A cyclical debate of “what do you want to do?” and “well, what can you do?” resulted in little more than animosity in the Situation Room.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, George W. Bush’s White House had its own share of conflict with the Pentagon over troop numbers and plans, particularly over the approach to stabilizing Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rejected the military’s robust plan for post-conflict stabilization; he and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki for suggesting to Congress that it would be necessary to send “[s]omething on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.” In the end, the United States tragically underestimated the requirements for stabilizing the country, and seriously damaged its attempts at reconciliation and recovery in Iraq.

The Clinton administration also found itself divided over military planning, particularly during the Balkan Wars. In 1993, President Bill Clinton’s top national security advisers met in the Situation Room to examine options for freeing the Sarajevo airport from Serbian artillery. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, stressed the need for overwhelming force, but noted that it would force the United States into spending billions of dollars and deploying thousands of soldiers. Madeleine Albright, then U.N. Ambassador, having heard similar warnings before, which at least in her mind were fueling U.S. inaction, grew agitated and famously asked Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

One could write books (and many have) about episodes like these, in which civilian leaders grow impatient with military planners’ inflexibility and military planners become frustrated by civilian leaders who ask for plans that aren’t militarily viable. Some level of tension is normal and inevitable, and even healthy. Outside commentators should not necessarily read a slow-moving Pentagon as insubordinate, or a frustrated White House as unreasonable. Military planning takes time, more time than civilians appreciate. Political leaders are rarely trained in the byzantine process and vocabulary of developing such plans, and thus frequently ask for the wrong thing. Uniformed men and women feel more comfortable delivering what they view as the single best option. The White House prefers the flexibility of a range.

Although an obvious solution might be to establish clear expectations of what can be done and offer training to both incoming political appointees and military personnel on how to interact with each other, administrations usually opt to muddle through with unfortunate compromises. As an example, the president may start his day asking to receive military options on a particular situation by the end of the day, but the Pentagon can’t develop anything they consider to be “best military advice” for weeks, if not months. Given the tight deadline, it is usually the NSC staff who draft the memo. They tend to have little understanding of military planning or the military in general, unless they have been detailed from the Pentagon. That makes for some tough civilian-military conversations-and some even worse military options. Such dynamics shaped occasional debates around U.S. commitments in Afghanistan and Libya, to no one’s ultimate satisfaction.

But the fault isn’t always on the side of the NSC. Military planners don’t always understand or appreciate political goals and geostrategic tradeoffs. Sometimes they do box civilians in with their lack of interest in iterating or collaborating. Sometimes the world doesn’t fit nicely into ways, means, and ends. And sometimes the ideal military solution would cause substantial tension or riffs with key political allies in and out of the United States.

Several early commenters anticipated that McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and, early on, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, all military men, would improve this dynamic by understanding the battle rhythms, constraints, and vocabulary of the Pentagon. But by giving the president multiple avenues from which to receive preliminary military advice, these appointments have almost certainly complicated an already complex process. The president regularly refers to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster as “his generals” and seems to have little understanding of the responsibility of civilian control or the substantial analytic apparatus behind the military advice of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. Such role reversals still frustrate Trump. Last summer, for example, McMaster found himself the lead advocate of a strategy to substantially increase the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan. But rather than act as a neutral arbiter, McMaster reportedly pushed his own options and found himself occasionally at odds with the rest of this NSC and the president himself-consequentially delaying Trump’s Afghanistan strategy. 

As frustration grows between the Pentagon and the White House, both are dragging out a dangerous game. Absent palatable options from the Pentagon, the White House may be inclined to develop its own and insist that Mattis and Dunford flesh them out. As the saying goes in the Pentagon: If you want it bad, you get it bad. The Defense Department will ultimately salute and execute even those presidentially-approved plans it knows to be flawed. Alternatively, with another push from the NSC, the Pentagon’s planning machine may crank out some options, outpacing any possible diplomatic track, and strengthening the inevitability of a kinetic approach. 

Ultimately, it’s not the tension between the NSC and the Pentagon that’s plaguing the administration’s North Korea strategy. It’s that the White House doesn’t have one or that it outlines the parameters of a new one every few days. Yes, McMaster has the right to ask the Pentagon for plans. But he also desperately needs a functioning interagency process that can craft a viable and sustainable strategy, cabinet members that stay on message, a fully-staffed State Department, a U.S. ambassador in South Korea, and an open channel with our allies, who seem increasingly frustrated as they try to decode U.S. policy and presidential tweets. Whether one is sitting in the State Department, Seoul, or Pyongyang, it’s hard to know what the White House actually wants.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Israel Boycotts Opening of Film Festival in Paris Over ‘Foxtrot’

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:46 AM PST

The Israeli government is boycotting the opening of a Paris film festival it helped fund, out of anger that organizers chose a controversial movie centering on the Israeli military as the event’s headliner.

Samuel Maoz‘s “Foxtrot,” which explores grief and military duty among three generations of an Israeli family, is set to open the Israeli Film Festival in Paris on March 13. The film earned the Grand Jury Prize in Venice, swept Israel‘s Ophir Awards – the Jewish state’s equivalent of the Academy Awards – and was shortlisted for the Oscar for best foreign-language film before falling short of this year’s list of five nominees.

Despite widespread critical acclaim and a North American distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics, “Foxtrot” has proven to be a bugbear of Israel‘s culture minister, Miri Regev, who has repeatedly denounced the film over a controversial scene in which the Israeli military covers up the deaths of a carload of Palestinian teenagers.

Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, has been outspoken on social media about her disgust for the film, which she admits to having never watched in full. After its triumph at Venice, she wrote on Facebook, “When an Israeli film wins an international prize, the heart fills with pride and my natural desire is to strengthen and encourage the Israeli success….This rule has one exception – when the international embrace is the result of self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.”

Maoz, as well as the film’s leading man, Lior Ashkenazi, have been accused of being traitors and anti-government agents in a flurry of online posts following Regev’s denunciations. Maoz says that he has been threatened with acid attacks in posts that listed his private home address, and Ashkenazi’s 5-year-old daughter was even the subject of death threats.

Regev has refused to back down, publicly rejoicing when “Foxtrot” failed to earn an Oscar nomination last month and telling Israel Radio: “I think the decision saved us from bitter disappointment and prevented an untruthful worldwide representation of the Israeli army.”

The Israeli Film Festival in Paris is run by the French film association Kolnoah (the Hebrew word for “cinema”). In addition to a stipend from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, it receives backing from the Israeli Film Fund, the Israeli Film Council and a handful of French-Jewish organizations.

It is too late for the Israeli Foreign Ministry to withdraw the funding it has already provided for the 2018 festival, but the decision to headline the festival with “Foxtrot” is likely to have an impact on discussions for funding in 2019 and beyond.

The Israeli government’s decision to boycott the festival’s opening night comes after the Israel’s ambassador to France, Aliza Ben-Nun, asked organizers to pull “Foxtrot” from the lineup and was rebuffed.

Maoz says that, while the government’s dissatisfaction with his film has earned him a significant amount of press, it saddens him as an Israeli. “Every humanistic society should strive to be better, to improve itself,” he told Variety. “And the basic and necessary condition for improvement is the ability to accept self-criticism.”

Testing the Legal Limits of the War on Terrorism

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:32 AM PST

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump vowed to pursue more aggressive detention and interrogation policies for terrorism suspects. He supported sending detainees to Guantánamo Bay (“We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me”) and torturing suspects (“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work-torture works”). Yet for all of Trump’s bluster, his administration’s actions on those matters have proved decidedly modest. For example, an executive order signed by Trump in January generally preserved the status quo for the 41 foreign citizens still in U.S. military custody at Guantánamo, none of whom were sent there by Trump. For better or worse, the Trump administration has shown little interest in pushing the boundaries of who may be held, and under what conditions, in conjunction with the ongoing armed conflict between the United States and al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Yet despite the administration’s reticence, those limits are being tested by a lawsuit that has flown largely under the public radar. Known as Doe v. Mattis,it involves an unnamed American citizen who allegedly fought alongside the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Syria and who has been detained by the U.S. military in Iraq since September 14, 2017. It raises questions that go to the core of U.S. counterterrorism policy: Has Congress authorized the government to use military force against ISIS? Even if it has, can such force be used against American citizens? And the case has posed an even more fundamental question: For how long can the U.S. government detain one of its own citizens without giving a legal rationale for doing so by impeding the courts’ ability to entertain such a lawsuit? If the tortuous path the case has taken so far is any indication, the answer is not reassuring.

AUTHORIZING ENDLESS WAR

One week after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush signed into law the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the statute that, to this day, provides the principal source of the U.S. government’s domestic legal authority to use military force against terrorists. Although the AUMF is often characterized as declaring war on terrorism, Congress was, in fact, far more nuanced. It empowered the president to use military force only against “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the [September 11 attacks], or harbored such organizations or persons.” Thus, the AUMF raised, but did not answer, two enormous legal questions: Which nations, organizations, or persons would fall within its aegis? And, less obviously, could the U.S. government use military force against American citizens? (The Non-Detention Act, a 1971 statute enacted partly in response to World War II-era internment camps, requires specific authorization from Congress before the government can detain its own citizens.)

In 2004, the Supreme Court took a half step toward answering the latter question when it concluded in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the AUMF did authorize the military detention of a U.S. citizen who had been captured during active combat in Afghanistan while fighting alongside the Taliban against U.S. forces. But Hamdi is a notoriously narrow ruling. As Justice Stephen Breyer (who cast the key vote in favor of the government in that case) wrote in 2014, Hamdi said nothing about detention of people (Americans or foreigners) captured outside Afghanistan, or whether, even assuming their initial detention was lawful, there were any legal constraints on how long the government could hold them.

Hamdi also did not address what has become the dominant question surrounding the AUMF: just how far beyond al Qaeda and the Taliban its authority stretches. Both the Bush and Obama administrations argued that Congress had authorized military operations against any “associated force” of al Qaeda, a reading that, by the middle of 2016, meant that the AUMF had been used to authorize 37 distinct military campaigns in 14 different countries. But that interpretation has never been blessed by the Supreme Court, and even if it is a fair reading of the 2001 statute, it doesn’t encompass ISIS, a group that broke from al Qaeda and thus can’t be said to have “entered the fight alongside” it, part of the official definition of “associated force” used by the Obama administration.

Instead, the United States has based its campaign against ISIS on the notion that the organization is a “derivative group” of al Qaeda and therefore within the ambit of the AUMF, much as a splinter group that broke off from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II would have been covered by the 1941 U.S. declaration of war against Germany. It’s not an implausible argument, but it’s also not self-evident (indeed, Congress separately declared war against each of Germany’s co-belligerents during World War II). That’s why, for the better part of the last four years, a bipartisan array of politicians, policymakers, and commentators (including President Barack Obama himself) have called for a new AUMF that would specifically identify those groups and individuals against which the United States may use military force and which would respond to the ways the antiterrorist campaign has changed since 2001. But despite widespread rhetorical support, such proposals have stalled in Congress, both because the devil is in the details and because there has been no pressing legal imperative for such a clarification. Thanks to Doe v. Mattis, that may soon change.

THE CASE OF JOHN DOE

At the heart of the case is John Doe, a dual citizen of the United States and Saudi Arabia who was allegedly fighting on behalf of ISIS in Syria in September 2017 when he turned himself in to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S. ally. The SDF promptly handed Doe to the U.S. military, which transported him to Iraq, where he has since been detained at an undisclosed location as an enemy combatant.

On October 5, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a habeas petition on Doe’s behalf. Although the ACLU had no relationship with him (and had no idea who he was), it argued that, because the government refused to identify Doe (and, therefore, allow lawyers to contact family members who could authorize such a suit), someone had to be allowed to ascertain whether Doe wanted to challenge the legality of his detention. The government objected, arguing that the ACLU was trying to bootstrap its way into court, and that even if Doe had a right to judicial review at some point he didn’t have it yet, because the government was still deciding what to do with him. On December 23, exactly 100 days after Doe was transferred to U.S. custody, D.C. federal district judge Tanya Chutkan agreed with the ACLU and ordered the government to allow ACLU lawyers access to Doe. Two weeks later, the ACLU reported back that Doe did indeed want to challenge his detention and that he wanted the ACLU to represent him.

With that procedural underbrush cleared, Chutkan may now finally be poised to decide the key question: whether the 2001 AUMF allows the use of military force against ISIS. Moreover, even if she rules that it does, Doe’s status as a U.S. citizen will complicate the matter, because it’s possible that, thanks to the Non-Detention Act, a clearer statement of Congress’ intent is required for the government to detain an American. Thus Doe v. Mattis could prompt Congress to finally revisit the AUMF and reassess the entire legal framework for U.S. counterterrorism policy.

Perhaps wary of such a decision’s potential impact, the Trump administration has apparently been hard at work trying to moot the case by arranging to transfer Doe to foreign custody-possibly, given his dual citizenship, to Saudi Arabia. On January 23, Chutkan ruled that the government had to provide Doe and the court with 72 hours’ notice before transferring him, in case there were legal grounds on which Doe could object. The government is appealing that ruling (the appeal will be argued on April 5), but unless it is overturned, it seems likely that the district court will have to settle the merits of Doe’s detention, one way or the other.

AN UNSETTLING PRECEDENT

In one sense, then, the true significance of Doe v. Mattis remains to be seen. It is still an open question what, if anything, the court will say about the AUMF’s applicability to ISIS and those fighting on ISIS’ behalf and whether, before the case gets that far, it settles the circumstances in which U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism can be transferred to foreign custody.

Yet Doe has already set an important and disturbing precedent. For months on end, the U.S. government has detained one of its own citizens without having had to provide any legal rationale for doing so, let alone one that could win in court. In ordinary criminal cases, the Supreme Court has long held that an individual must be presented before a neutral magistrate within 48 hours of his or her arrest. Two days may not be long enough for citizens captured on foreign battlefields, but Doe will shortly enter his sixth month of military detention without even a preliminary ruling from a federal judge as to its legality.

It’s easy to be unsympathetic to the plight of an American who left home to fight for ISIS in Syria. But without the judicial review that the government has spent the last six months impeding, what’s to say that that’s what really happened? And what’s to stop the government from pushing the boundaries even further next time? No matter what happens in John Doe’s case, the government’s ability to stall the legal process may be its most significant-and troubling-legacy.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Ed Sheeran Splits With Elton John’s Rocket Music

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:30 AM PST

Ed Sheeran‘s manager Stuart Camp has left Elton John’s Rocket Music, more than a decade after joining the company and three years into a joint venture.

The split is apparently an amicable one: A press release from John’s rep reads: “Elton and Rocket Music bid a fond farewell to Ed Sheeran‘s manager Stuart Camp after a three-year joint venture as he takes his management company independent.”

Camp began working with Rocket in 2007, signed Sheeran to the company in 2011 and then launched a joint venture to operate his own Grumpy Old Management from within Rocket Music in 2015.

In a statement, Camp said: “Rocket was a great home to me for 10 years, with invaluable support and care from Elton and everyone there, which I will always be grateful for.”

John added: “After many incredible years of working together I would like to wish a heartfelt and fond farewell to Ed, Stuart and his team, with whom we have shared some amazing moments over nearly a decade long relationship. It has been a very rewarding and exciting experience supporting them through their fantastic journey. We are immensely proud of all our achievements together and look forward to seeing Stu’s company and Ed’s success go from strength to strength.”

Less than two weeks ago, Sheeran attended a special Grammy Tribute concert dedicated to John, although he did not attend the awards themselves, where he won two: Best Pop Vocal Album (for 2017’s “Divide”) and Best Pop Solo Performance (for the album’s single “Shape of You”).

Last year, John spoke at length with Rolling Stone about Sheeran and their friendship and working relationship. “The thing I love about Ed is he’s always asking for advice,” John said. “For example, when the first album, ‘Plus,’ came out, he phoned me up and said, ‘Listen, the record company wants me to go and make another album straight away. But I’ve been offered an 88-date tour with Taylor Swift. What do I do?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s a no-brainer. You do the Taylor Swift Tour because, A) it’s not particularly your audience, B) she’s a friend of yours. You’ll be playing to half-empty audiences coming in. But it’ll be the most incredible experience for you. It’ll give you everything you need when you make it further on really big.

“He reminds me of me when I first started out; his enthusiasm and his love,” John continued. “He’s always doing something, whether he’s writing his own stuff or he’s writing with other people. And that’s how I remember myself being in 1970 when I first came to America. It was just all systems go. Nothing was impossible. You’re working on adrenaline and [the] sheer fact that you’re a success. I mean, he started out playing people’s living rooms, busking, doing all that. So he’s paid his dues. And just the fact that he’s got the balls to go and do that in front of 90,000 people – that takes a lot of balls.”

How the Original ‘Star Trek’ Theme Landed in the ‘Discovery’ Finale

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:30 AM PST

(Note: Spoilers ahead.) The season-finale cliffhanger of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which aired Sunday on CBS All Access, contained a startling revelation: the first sight of the USS Enterprise and a reference to “Captain Pike” – the immediate predecessor of the more famous Captain James T. Kirk of the original “Star Trek” series.

What’s more, it was accompanied by the right music: Alexander Courage’s original “Star Trek” fanfare, followed by a stunning new recording of Courage’s theme for the 1966-69 series, whetting audience appetites for more of the Enterprise in season 2 of “Discovery.”

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” says composer Jeff Russo of invoking the famous eight-note “Trek” fanfare (which he also excerpts in his own “Discovery” series theme). “It is the Enterprise, so I must play the Enterprise’s theme.”

The bigger surprise was the fresh take on Courage’s ’60s “Trek” theme that played under the end credits, performed by a 74-piece orchestra – more than twice the 29 musicians that Courage had when he first recorded the “Star Trek” theme in 1965.

Like the original, it featured a wordless soprano voice. And that, in fact, is how Russo came to re-record that iconic piece of music. Late last year, studio singer Ayana Haviv was at Russo’s studio to record arias from the Kasseelian opera that figures in Episodes 12 and 13. In a moment of inspiration, he asked her to sing the famous vocal part of the ’60s theme.

“I filmed it on my iPhone,” Russo tells Variety. “I thought it sounded great, so I just texted that to [executive producer] Alex Kurtzman with a note like ‘Isn’t this the coolest thing?’ He immediately texted me back,” Russo adds, suggesting that the composer record the entire piece as the end-credits music for the season finale.

So Russo set out to create “an updated, modernized version of the original,” with Haviv singing the solo part.

Haviv called it “an amazing thrill. You can’t help having heard [the original] a million times,” she adds. “It’s a part of pop culture and one of the great TV themes. I felt a responsibility to be true to that iconic ’60s feel. My training is classical voice [but] you have to color it in a certain way to make it sound like that ’60s style.”

Haviv had sung the TV theme before, but as part of a chorus on the film “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and not the solo.

Variety was on hand for the Jan. 15 recording at the Warner Bros. scoring stage, and the excitement in the room was palpable. After a take of the classic Courage fanfare, Russo told the musicians, “That never gets old. Ever.” Applause in the recording booth followed several takes of the theme.

“Conducting a pretty large orchestra in the music of one of my favorite shows as a kid was like a dream literally coming true,” he said in an interview after the session. “It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had on the podium.”

Kurtzman notes that scoring with a full orchestra was always the plan with “Star Trek: Discovery.” “We wanted it to feel epic,” he says. He has insisted on real themes, with recognizable melodies, throughout the season: “Whether or not you’re totally conscious of those themes, it affects your emotional reaction to the storytelling. In a way, it’s another part of the screenwriting process.”

Russo – who also scores “Legion,” “Altered Carbon,” “Counterpart” and won an Emmy for “Fargo” – is aware of the stellar company he is now in, having joined the ranks of Oscar winners Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Leonard Rosenman and Michael Giacchino, and Emmy winners Courage, Gerald Fried, Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway, all of whom have contributed to “Star Trek” music over the decades.

“It’s terrifying and yet unbelievable to me,” he says, “to be counted among the musical contributors to a franchise that includes those people.”

Kurtzman confirmed that Russo, who scored all of the first season, will be back on musical chores for the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” which begins shooting in April.

Pickup Trucks: Pickup Trucks 101: Payload Classifications

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:00 AM PST


By Mike Magda

Are the terms half ton, three-quarter ton and one ton being completely pushed out of the truck owner’s lexicon in favor of the 1500, 2500 and 3500 designations?

As PickupTrucks.com reportednearly six years ago, the terms originated in the early 1900s when the military and truck manufacturers assigned verified payload capacities to different models. Eventually, three distinct classes of consumer trucks evolved using those terms to identify each class even though the actual payload capacities dramatically exceeded the original weight ratings.

The Ratings Game

Most truck owners — especially those with World War II backgrounds — had no problem identifying consumer pickup classes with those terms, and eventually passed the informal terminology along to the next generation.

Half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks now represent a range of gross vehicle weight ratings to help consumers select the truck that fits their hauling and towing needs. Not wanting to confuse those buyers, truck manufacturers started branding those three weight classes with their own designations: GM and Ram use 1500, 2500 and 3500, while Ford uses 150, 250 and 350. For extreme trailering applications, the automakers now make their once-commercial-only 4500 and 450 medium-duty trucks available to the general consumer market.

However popular the half-, three-quarter- and one-ton terms are with the pickup enthusiasts, automakers no longer recognize them in their promotional or dealer-training materials.

What Dealers Say

“Today’s truck customers are much more sophisticated and educated on the capability of the truck,” said Brian Rathsburg, Ford Super Duty marketing manager. “We educate with the facts — configurations first, then drive-specific payload and towing requirements.”

“Those terms don’t come up as much, except [with] some of the older buyers who have been around trucks all their lives,” agreed Travis Theel, assistant sales manager at Liberty Superstores, a Ram dealership that serves a large ranching region in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. “We ask what they’re pulling and how they use their truck before making a recommendation. Most of the customers are already knowledgeable about what they need.”

Theel said some veteran truck buyers from his agriculture-heavy region routinely asked for a new one-ton or 3500 truck because that was the only model that could pull their livestock trailers 10 or 15 years ago.

“They didn’t realize that the new 2500 models can handle their needs while offering a better ride unloaded,” Theel added.

What About Outlier Loads?

When the market supported lightweight pickups like the Datsun 520, the term quarter-ton truck was occasionally used to distinguish them from full-size pickups even though payload ratings for those vehicles were as much as 1,000 pounds or more. However, the growing popularity of the 4500/450 series (some might want to call them 1.5-ton trucks) for consumer use in towing large travel trailers has yet to generate a complementary term using the nostalgic expressions.

“That terminology is unscientific and irrelevant in today’s truck,” Rathsburg confirmed. “Based on official GVWR classification, the [Ford] F-450 is a Class III pickup with a GVWR under 14,000 pounds, so it competes with similar products.”

Where We Are Today

As noted in our 2012 story, designating specific payload ratings was an important milestone in the historical development of today’s pickup truck. Moving away from colloquial terms that are often confusing to first-time buyers is a positive step. It won’t be long before the actual payload and the vehicle’s recommended limitations will be common information on dashboard displays, so there won’t be any driver uncertainty. Until then, automakers and dealers need to be more candid with shoppers regarding actual payload capacities well before they purchase a vehicle.

Most marketing materials advertise a maximum payload capacity for an entire family of pickups, such as a 1500 lineup. However, we know that maximum payload numbers are generally assigned only to one or two low-volume specific configurations — usually a two-wheel-drive, regular-cab long bed with a heavy-duty suspension and gearing package. The much more popular configurations, like the four-wheel-drive, crew-cab short bed with a more comfortable base suspension, is likely to have a much lower payload rating.

To avoid any deception, misleading recommendations or improper purchases, it might be more informative to advertise a payload range for each class of pickup, instead of just the maximum payload weight across the lineup. Who knows? Maybe someday the actual payload or towing capacity of a given pickup will be written across the windshield along with its price.

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams, Christian Lantry


As Broadband Launch Looms, ESPN Touts TV and More in Ad Effort

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:00 AM PST

The Worldwide Leader in Sports wants to make sure people know that famous slogan doesn’t apply only to TV.

With just weeks to go before ESPN is expected to launch a new streaming sports-media outlet, the network known for “Monday Night Football” and “SportsCenter” is telling advertisers to think of it as “ESPN The Platform,” not just another cable network.

“When people go to view content, they don’t think, ‘I’m going to have a television experience,’ or ‘I’m going to have a digital experience,'” says Patricia Betron. ESPN’s senior vice president of multimedia sales. “They say, ‘I’m going to see highlights’ or ‘I’m going to check the score.'”

The Walt Disney-backed sports giant is this week launching an ad campaign that talks up its reach among consumers as well as the way its content crosses media venues. “Need a 6th man for your brand?” asks one print ad in the series. “Double-digital ratings growth for NBA on ESPN across key demos.” The ads are slated to begin appearing Monday in Cynopsis, AdWeek, Ad Age, The Wall Street Journal and Television Week, and will run through the 23rd of the month.

They appear as advertisers are starting to focus more intently on the industry’s annual “upfront” sales session, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their inventory related to TV programming ahead of the next season. But they also surface before the anticipated Spring launch of “ESPN Plus,”a $4.99-per-month broadband service that is supposed to offer live-sports coverage not available via traditional ESPN outlets.

The campaign subtly makes the point that “ESPN is a place where you can cume large audiences in a live environment,” says Betron.

Marketing aficionados will have noticed that this is not the first time ESPN has tried to position itself as being of better quality than many digital upstarts.

In May, ESPN used a trade campaign to position itself as a safer environment than that provided by newer digital outlets, at a time when YouTube and other new-era outlets were coming under intense scrutiny for featuring unsavory content. In 2016, ESPN ran ads suggesting that new-tech activities like binge-watching or social-media scanning could be done at any time a consumer wants, while live sports, ESPN’s stock in trade, remains perishable.

To be certain, ESPN isn’t ignoring the part of its business that still brings in the most cash. “Mind a little touchdown dance?” asks one new ad. “Monday Night Football won amongst ALL networks and ALL key male and adult demos.” Part of the ESPN “Platform” obviously includes TV.

Kristin Scott Thomas allergic to compliments

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 05:00 AM PST

Dame Kristin Scott Thomas is “allergic” to compliments.

The 57-year-old actress had her big break when the late Prince cast her in his 1986 film ‘Under The Cherry Moon’ and she thinks the way he showered her with praise was because of his nationality, while her “cringing” response was due to her own British attitude.

Kristin told The Talks: “I never ever forget that he was the one that gave me my first job. He said, ‘You’ve got an amazing talent.’ And being American, that’s what they do, isn’t it? They beef you up. Me being English, we Brits, we’re allergic to that. You just don’t know what to do with it. I was kind of cringing when he did that, but he did it and he believed in me and he kept being a huge supporter. So I have nothing but thanks for that.”

In 2014 Kristin declared she “cannot cope with another film”, and that she was “bored” by her work – prompting reports she was quitting.

But she has since continued to appear in films, including starring opposite Gary Oldman in the Oscar-nominated ‘Darkest Hour’.

Now she has said of her comments: “I was just fed up you know? Just fed up, just burnt out, basically. But I do enjoy it. I just have to be in the right place at the right time, working with the right people.”

Kristin also revealed that it was Hugh Grant who got her the part of Fiona in hit 1994 romantic comedy ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’, for which she is so well remembered.

The ‘Mission: Impossible’ actress said: “I made ‘Bitter Moon’ with Hugh Grant. It was because of ‘Bitter Moon’ that ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ came about because Hugh read it and sort of said, ‘You should read that. There’s a really good part in it for you.’ So I read it and thought, ‘This is a really good part for me. This is my part. I can do this better than anyone else.’ That’s how you should feel when you read a part. You have to believe that you’d be better at it than anybody else.”