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CINEMA: The Bare, Ruined Choirs Of John Mahoney

February 9th, 2018



AV CLUB: There’s a similarly loose resemblance between Mahoney’s character, a floridly boozy Southern author named W.P. Mayhew, and William Faulkner. Ethan Coen has acknowledged that discovering Faulkner had once worked on a wrestling picture starring Wallace Beery (Whaddaya need, a road map?) gave the brothers their way in on Barton Fink—the concept of an eminently serious author debasing themselves in order to, as Mayhew puts it to Barton, “make their way out here to the Great Salt Lick.” Like Faulkner, Mayhew is also a heavy drinker—Barton first discovers him puking in the bathroom—and he speaks in a casually baroque prose filled with references to the Bible and antebellum spirituals. Yet Cohen has also taken pains to say such similarities are “superficial.” Faulkner, like Odets, had his own reservations about the movie business, and he also expressed that contempt a bit more directly—and he had relatively less success in squaring them. At the same time, Faulkner also wrote dozens of short stories, along with some of his best novels, during and after his Hollywood tenure.

Mayhew, by contrast, is an august failure—a genteel mess, a drunk with dignity. Mahoney imbues Mayhew with courtly grace through the smallest of gestures; during his prolific vomiting in the bathroom stall, Mayhew kneels on a silk pocket square, which he then tucks back into his suit with a practiced flourish. “Sorry about the odor,” he says to Barton, with a warm conviviality. As he takes in Barton’s subsequent gushing over his novels, Mahoney gives Mayhew a tight smile that conveys both his inurement to fanboys and the slightest hint of shame at his own lapsed greatness. Mayhew is charming and wittily composed in the way that every boozehound fancies themselves. He even makes his alcoholism sound noble: “I’m buildin’ a levee,” he tells Barton later. “Gulp by gulp, brick by brick. Raisin’ up a levee to keep that ragin’ river of manure from lappin’ at my door.”

Mayhew somehow maintains that nobility even when he’s completely shit-faced. The punchline to Barton and Mayhew’s bathroom encounter, during which Mayhew invites him to come by his office later, is a smash cut to Mayhew bellowing inside his bungalow, with Mahoney giving Mayhew’s drunk voice a wounded and desperate tenor. In their rescheduled conference over a picnic, where the two discuss their differing approaches to writing—Mayhew, a beatific smile on his face, asks, “Ain’t writing peace?” while Barton contends it comes from “a great inner pain”—Mahoney gives his line a wistfulness that implicitly telegraphs just how far from that peace he is. He then drunkenly stumbles off with a droll suggestion of suicide, lashing out at Audrey while barking another purplish epigram—“The truth, my honey, is a tart that does not bear scrutiny!”—that’s just so much poetic nonsense. It’s all funny and pitiable, loathsome yet sad, and it lends some credence to Audrey’s tearful insistence that she really just feels sorry for him. “Empathy requires understanding,” she tells Barton as Mayhew wanders off howling “Old Black Joe.” MORE


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THE RECKONING: Mueller Is Coming

February 7th, 2018

Mueller Is Coming


WIRED: President Trump claimed in a tweet over the weekend that the controversial Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him, clearing him of the cloud of the Russia investigation that has hung over his administration for a year now. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if anything, the Mueller investigation appears to have been picking up steam in the past three weeks—and homing in on a series of targets.

Last summer, I wrote an analysis exploring the “known unknowns” of the Russia investigation—unanswered but knowable questions regarding Mueller’s probe. Today, given a week that saw immense sturm und drang over Devin Nunes’ memo—a document that seems purposefully designed to obfuscate and muddy the waters around Mueller’s investigation—it seems worth asking the opposite question: What are the known knowns of the Mueller investigation, and where might it be heading?

The first thing we know is that we know it is large. We speak about the “Mueller probe” as a single entity, but it’s important to understand that there are no fewer than five (known) separate investigations under the broad umbrella of the special counsel’s office—some threads of these investigations may overlap or intersect, some may be completely free-standing, and some potential targets may be part of multiple threads. But it’s important to understand the different “buckets” of Mueller’s probe.

As special counsel, Mueller has broad authority to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” a catch-all phrase that allows him to pursue other criminality he may stumble across in the course of the investigation. As the acting attorney general overseeing Mueller, Rod Rosenstein has the ability to grant Mueller the ability to expand his investigation as necessary and has been briefed regularly on how the work is unfolding. Yet even without being privy to those conversations, we have a good sense of the purview of his investigation. Right now, we know it involves at least five separate investigative angles: MORE

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The Stolen Valor Of Dick Spencer’s Right Hand Man

February 6th, 2018

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February 6th, 2018

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SPORTS: We Are The Champions

February 5th, 2018


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NPR 4 THE DEAF: In Mueller We Trust

February 2nd, 2018


Illustration by TRACIE CHING via POLITICO

FRESH AIR: As the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election forges on, Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel leading the investigation, has managed to stay largely out of public view. Journalist Garrett Graff says that is in keeping with Mueller’s personality: “This is not someone who in any way has tried to grab the spotlight, but instead has kept his head down and worked hard throughout his career.”

Graff’s 2011 book, The Threat Matrix, explores the transformation of the FBI under Mueller’s leadership. Appointed by President George W. Bush, Mueller took over as director of the FBI one week before the Sept. 11 attacks. After Mueller completed his 10-year term as FBI director, President Barack Obama reappointed him for a two-year term, which required a special act of Congress.

“Bob Mueller is probably about as apolitical and nonpartisan a figure as you could find in Washington, particularly at the levels of government in which he has served,” Graff says. “This is someone who really, Threat Matrix Covertruly believes in truth, justice [and] in the American way, in a way that very few people in American life today anymore do.” MORE

WIRED: Regardless, though, the removal of Mueller wouldn’t necessarily stop the case in its tracks. Whoever was responsible for that firing could appoint another special counsel, for one thing; it was, in fact, the work of Archibald Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, that led to some of the most significant court findings in the Watergate scandal.Even if there was no successor forthcoming, the case and investigation could and probably would continue on its own as a regular FBI inquiry.

Starting an investigation at the FBI is a formal process, requiring agents to demonstrate evidence of a criminal predicate to move to what’s known as a “full field” investigation, and, similarly, closing an investigation requires a formal decision to “decline” charges. The “Mueller probe” isn’t actually a single case; at this point there are multiple independent investigations underway, including into Paul Manafort and Rick Gates’ former business dealings, into the campaign’s separate dealings with Russian officials, and into possible obstruction of justice around Jim Comey’s firing.

Some of those cases were well underway before Mueller took over—it was, in fact, the early work of investigators that led to the guilty pleas last fall of George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn—and others have been launched since. All would and could continue without him. Without Mueller, the assigned FBI agents would return to the Washington Field Office and the prosecution would be placed, most likely, under the supervision of either the US attorney in DC or the Eastern District of Virginia, where the court cases are already playing out.

Perhaps the key lesson of Mueller’s investigation thus far has been that at every step, Mueller and his investigative dream team have known more and been further ahead in their process than the public anticipated or realized. At every stage, Mueller has surprised the public and witnesses before him with his depth of knowledge and detail—and he shocked the public with news last fall that Papadopoulos had been arrested, been cooperating, and pleaded guilty, all without a single hint of a leak. The news last week that Comey himself had testified before Mueller’s team weeks earlier continues the pattern that even amid the most scrutinized investigation in history, Mueller is moving methodically forward, with cards up his sleeve to play.

There’s no reason to believe, in fact, that Mueller—who has surrounded himself with some of the most thoughtful minds of the Justice Department, including Michael Dreeban, arguably the country’s top appellate lawyer, whose career has focused on looking down the road at how cases might play out months or even years later—hasn’t been organizing his investigation since day one with the expectation that he’d someday be fired and worked to ensure that this, his final chapter in a lifetime of public service at the Justice Department, won’t be curtailed before it has gotten to what Mueller calls “ground truth.” MORE

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NUNES MEMO: The House’s Un-American Activities

February 1st, 2018

Nunez Russian


POLITICO: The FBI issued an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, pushing back on the release of a partisan congressional memo alleging the bureau used improper evidence to obtain legal permission to surveil a Trump campaign adviser. We’ve never seen anything like it. “[T]he FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the bureau said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The memo, written by Congressman Devin Nunes and barreling toward public circulation at the president’s discretion, has already created a firestorm, and it is not even out yet. Nunes fired back at the FBI hours later, claiming, “It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign.”

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: This memo is the latest escalation in an eight-month effort to tarnish the Russia investigation that might be the most significant smear campaign against the executive branch since Joe McCarthy—only here, the effort is being led by the head of that branch himself. As the New York Times reported, the Nunes memo seems like a dagger aimed by President Trump at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the Russia probe for the Justice Department. MORE

JUST SECURITY: The House Intelligence Committee has voted to release the Nunes Memo, which allegedly outlines widespread abuses by the DOJ and FBI in obtaining a surveillance order against former national security advisor to the Trump Campaign, Carter Page. As a former FBI agent who has been through the process of obtaining these kinds of warrants under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), I know that such an allegation, if true, would require a vast number of people – across two branches of government – to be on board and willing to put their careers on the line for a conspiracy. To that end, in advance of the memo being released, I want to highlight five questions that the Nunes Memo must clearly address in order for its allegations of abuse to be substantiated and credible.

1. When did the FBI open an investigation on Carter Page?

It’s important to understand that just because the FBI receives information (like the Steele Dossier), the Bureau cannot immediately run to a FISA court and obtain a warrant. A FISA warrant itself does not make a “case;” rather, it’s an investigative tool used in support of an existing national security case, one that normally would have been opened months, if not years, prior. In fact, FISA warrants can be approved only for what are called Full Investigations. These are the most serious class of investigations within the FBI and require an “articulable factual basis” to open: For counterintelligence cases on U.S. persons (USPERs), these cases involve facts demonstrating that the subject is in contact with and working on behalf of a foreign intelligence service. That means that, at some point prior to obtaining the FISA warrant, the FBI opened an investigation on Carter Page, obtained enough factual evidence to justify making it a Full Investigation, and would have done enough investigative activity to be able to put together a FISA

THE TAKEAWAY: If the Nunes Memo does not indicate when the investigation underlying the Page FISA application was opened or how many months/years of investigative activity preceding the dossier is detailed in the Page FISA application, it is not telling a sufficiently complete or accurate story. MORE

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COMMENTARY: The State Of Our Disunion

January 31st, 2018

Trump Public Opinion


Claire MaleneyBY CLAIR MALENEY Listening to the president’s State of the Union speech last night, I was (once again) struck by two things: his perversion of inclusive language to divide and alienate and his warped notion of politics as a high-testosterone blood sport intended to hurt and humiliate anyone who disagrees with him, and thereby is his sworn enemy. Trump has always had a cruel way with phrases. Consider the closing from last night’s speech:

“As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens and trust in our God, we will never fail. Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper and our nation will forever be safe and strong, and proud, and mighty, and free.”

All of these words ring true as words, and yet for every word I thought I could once count on, Trump has supplied an counterfactual definition. He uses phrases I agree with to say exactly the opposite of what I think they mean. America is indeed ‘fractured,’ so much so that we no longer seem to share a common language.

According to Trump, If we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. So who are we? What are we fighting for? If what we are fighting for – as Trump suggests – is the end of visa lotteries and chain migration then I am not proud of who we are and what we are fighting for. If it’s the end of the Iran nuclear deal, the increase in nuclear weapon stockpiling, and the escalation of tensions with North Korea, then I am not proud. If it’s the end of international aid and the beginning of an era which defines the world as ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ then I will not be fighting for this.

In high school we learned pedagogical lessons about America’s values – not only the easily co-opted rhetoric of freedom, liberty, justice – but also that Americans welcome to strangers, and offers a place where people can transcend stigma or social class, and build their own a future. But where is the freedom when children can’t walk to school for fear of their own government arresting them for not having a piece of paper? Where is the liberty when my friend from Florida no longer discusses his opinions in public for fear of inviting physical attack – again. And where is the justice when the millions of dollars sent to rebuild Texas were never even mentioned in regards to Puerto Rico. Also left unsaid was the fact that yesterday FEMA cut off all food and water to Puerto Rico, despite the fact that 30% of residents still have no power more than 120 days after the storm.

Trump says our families will ‘thrive’ and ‘prosper’ – terms he see only as financial. Unemployment is down, he tells us, the stock market is up. But Trump’s jubilation that that African-American and Latino unemployment have reached an all time low (but are still TWICE the unemployment rate of whites) is cold comfort when we have heard him repeatedly degrade and devalue the black and brown lives and refuse to discredit white supremacy in its deadly rampage on Charlottesville’s streets. In Trump’s obsession with being ‘proud’ and ‘mighty’ he will nix the efforts to leave Afghanistan and close Guantanamo, and he has escalated tension with North Korea and offended the entire Arab world.

Trump defines American might and national interest through a very narrow scope of power through domination rather than cooperation. He’s the realist political actor gumming up the works of what what had been becoming an increasingly liberal democratic world order. So then, what do we do with a State of the Union that threatens every value and institution about America we thought we understood? What happens when we are no longer proud of who we are and what we are fighting for and are terrified of what we may be achieving? What if we no longer have confidence in America’s values, faith in America’s citizens, or trust that any God could love or forgive this nation?

Oddly, I take comfort from this section of the State of the Union to which I keep returning – for in truth it is something I agree with. The Resistance needs leadership that does more than squawk like a chickens at Trump’s corruption of our language and nation. We need to recalim Trump’s words and define them for ourselves. We need to find the policies and strategies that will truly make America safe and strong, and proud, and mighty, and free. And only then, when we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for – will be be able to achieve the type of resistance we need to build the inclusive, just, and peaceful future that we all want to see.

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January 31st, 2018

On April 27th, Dr. Dog will release ‘Critical Equation,’ a new album that shows the band pushing themselves into perhaps the most fertile creative period in their history. To record ‘Critical Equation,’ they holed up with producer Gus Seyffert (Beck, Bedouine) and a 16-track tape machine to produce an inspired, playful opus that’s among their most imaginative statements.

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BEING THERE: Snail Mail @ PhilaMOCA

January 30th, 2018


“Can you cut the drum mic,” Lindsey Jordan, the 18 year old frontwoman of Snail Mail, asked Saturday night at PhilaMOCA. Her voice is raspy and nonchalant. I don’t think ever uttered a sentence that cool when I was 18. Snail Mail is her first band. (Once again, much cooler than my first experiences with music in high school, which involved a lot of West Side Story.) Their debut EP, Habit, was released in July 2016. Since then, Jordan has toured with the likes of Beach Fossils, Priests, Waxahatchee, and Girlpool. The PhilaMOCA show may not be their first show here, but it is the last of their own headlining tour until March. Snail Mail recently signed with Matador, and a full album is expected soon.

Until then, the concise but sincere lyrics and effortlessly coiled riffs of Habit are more than enough to tide her fans over. In its entirety, it feels like rereading a high school diary, only to find that there’s somehow nothing childish or embarrassing about the teenage yearning and gloom that once seemed like the end of the world. She captures the extremes of adolescent emotion with maturity and simplicity, but also self-awareness. She doesn’t try to sound older. In fact in, “Dirt,” her young but weary voice, admits, “Baby when I’m 30 I’ll laugh about how dumb it felt.” She encapsulates the ephemerality and acute pain of high school heartbreak with a kind of youthful honesty that so often falls flat, becomes comical.

The crowd is somehow electric and reverent, listening intently as images of a deep sea cave diver and axolotl are projected behind the band. Jordan deftly explores the confusion and need for self-actualization of youth in “Thinning” with lines like “Hot head and dreamless sleep” and “Asking myself ‘Is this who you are?’ And I don’t know It just feels gross.” Drummer Raymond Brown and bassist Alex Russel leave the stage hastily before the last song, an unreleased and especially candid one, “Anytime.” The slowed down, hushed sadness makes it feel like your being told a three-minute secret. I forget she’s 18 until I see her jump off the stage, now shorter than me in her oversized jeans and t-shirt. She jokes, “The last review I got was pretty mean, so” and turns away laughing with her friends at the merch table, purple and red twinkly lights casting a childish glow on her face.–KEELY MCAVENY

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WORTH REPEATING: American Hustle

January 29th, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 2.59.52 PM


THE ATLANTIC: Shortly before the announcement of his job inside Trump’s campaign, Manafort touched base with former colleagues to let them know of his professional return. He exuded his characteristic confidence, but they surprised him with doubts and worries. Throughout his long career, Manafort had advised powerful men—U.S. senators and foreign supreme commanders, imposing generals and presidents-for-life. He’d learned how to soothe them, how to bend their intransigent wills with his calmly delivered, diligently researched arguments. But Manafort simply couldn’t accept the wisdom of his friends, advice that he surely would have dispensed to anyone with a history like his own—the imperative to shy away from unnecessary attention.

His friends, like all Republican political operatives of a certain age, could recite the legend of Paul Manafort, which they did with fascination, envy, and occasional disdain. When Manafort had arrived in Washington in the 1970s, the place reveled in its shabby glories, most notably a self-satisfied sense of high duty. Wealth came in the form of Georgetown mansions, with their antique imperfections and worn rugs projecting power so certain of itself, it needn’t shout. But that old boarding-school establishment wasn’t Manafort’s style. As he made a name for himself, he began to dress differently than the Brooks Brothers crowd on K Street, more European, with funky, colorful blazers and collarless shirts. If he entertained the notion, say, of moving his backyard swimming pool a few feet, nothing stopped him from the expense. Colleagues, amused by his sartorial quirks and his cosmopolitan lifestyle, referred to him as “the Count of Monte Cristo.”

His acts of rebellion were not merely aesthetic. Manafort rewrote the rules of his adopted city. In the early ’80s, he created a consulting firm that ignored the conventions that had previously governed lobbying. When it came to taking on new clients, he was uninhibited by moral limits. In 2016, his friends might not have known the specifics of his Cyprus accounts, all the alleged off-the-books payments to him captured in Cyrillic ledgers in Kiev. But they knew enough to believe that he could never sustain the exposure that comes with running a presidential campaign in the age of opposition research and aggressive media. “The risks couldn’t have been more obvious,” one friend who attempted to dissuade him from the job told me. But in his frayed state, these warnings failed to register.

When Paul Manafort officially joined the Trump campaign, on March 28, 2016, he represented a danger not only to himself but to the political organization he would ultimately run. A lifetime of foreign adventures didn’t just contain scandalous stories, it evinced the character of a man who would very likely commandeer the campaign to serve his own interests, with little concern for the collective consequences.

Over the decades, Manafort had cut a trail of foreign money and influence into Washington, then built that trail into a superhighway. When it comes to serving the interests of the world’s autocrats, he’s been a great innovator. His indictment in October after investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller alleges money laundering, false statements, and other acts of personal corruption. (He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.) But Manafort’s role in Mueller’s broader narrative remains carefully guarded, and unknown to the public. And his personal corruption is less significant, ultimately, than his lifetime role as a corrupter of the American system. That he would be accused of helping a foreign power subvert American democracy is a fitting coda to his life’s story. MORE

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GRAMMYS: Local Boys Make Good

January 29th, 2018



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From The Dept. Of Why We Still Love Rock N’ Roll

January 28th, 2018

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Via BuzzFeed