Fact Check: 'We Don't Have Health Care In This Country,' Trump Says

In a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the White House on Thursday, President Trump said the Affordable Care Act “is collapsing.”

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Andrew Harnik/AP

President Trump gave a eulogy on Thursday for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Obamacare is collapsing. It’s dead. It’s gone,” Trump said in a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

“There’s nothing to compare it to because we don’t have health care in this country,” he went on.

That left some Obamacare customers scratching their heads — figuratively — on Twitter.

Doktor Zoom, for example, wondered why he’s still paying a premium.

Damn, Obamacare is dead and gone? Funny, i’m still paying my premium, seeing my doctor, and filling my prescriptions. I could be wrong.

— Doktor Zoom (@DoktorZoom) May 18, 2017

In fact, we do have health care in this country — quite a lot of it. The U.S. spent about $3.2 trillion on health care in 2015, or nearly $10,000 per person. It accounts for 17.8 percent of GDP.

But the president wasn’t talking about health care per se. He was talking about Obamacare, which Republicans are trying to replace with legislation currently in the hands of the Senate.

Even the picture of the current health law isn’t as bad as Trump tried to paint it, though. In the years since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, the uninsured rate fell toabout 10 percent, the lowest level in U.S. history. About 10 million people have bought insurance through the exchanges created by the health care law. Another 10 million got coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.

.@realDonaldTrump: “#Obamacare is dead…a fallacy…nothing there…it’s gone.” I;m sure the 20+million ppl on it will disagree w/u. #trump

— Andy Ostroy (@AndyOstroy) May 18, 2017

That’s not to say the Obamacare marketplaces aren’t struggling. In some states insurers are pulling out of the markets because they’re losing money, as Trump pointed out.

“Aetna just pulled out. Other insurance companies are pulling out,” he said.

That’s true. Aetna pulled out of all the Obamacare exchanges. In some states — Tennessee and Iowa, for example — there are areas that risk having no insurer at all. And premiums have been rising across the country.

Still, the overall Obamacare picture isn’t so stark.

Standard & Poors, for example, said last month that insurance companies that offer health plans on the exchanges are losing less money than ever, and the markets are becoming more stable. The Kaiser Family Foundation says more than half the population has the choice of three or more insurers if it wants to buy a policy on the exchanges. And most people who get insurance through the Affordable Care Act receive subsidies to offset the rate increases.

Several insurance companies, however, have said the uncertainty caused by Republican efforts to repeal the law have led them to either pull out of the markets or raise their rates for next year.

So when Trump says, as he did today, “Obamacare is a fallacy. It’s dead,” that’s not exactly true.

But he hopes to help make it so.

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Senator Wants A List of Trump Business Associates; Mnuchin Wants A Note

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, questions Treasury Secretary-designate Steven Mnuchin at his confirmation hearing in January. On Thursday, Brown asked Mnuchin for a list of Trump business associates.

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

At a Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, accused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of failing to answer his questions about President Trump’s business ties to people who might be violating money laundering and other U.S. laws.

Mnuchin responded by suggesting Brown “just send me a note on what you are looking for.”

Brown pointed out that he had already sent a two-page letter.

The Senate Banking Committee hearing provided the kind of sharp exchange that underscores the gap between what Democrats in Congress want to know about Trump’s business dealings, and what Trump administration officials appear ready to provide.

Here’s the back-and-forth between Brown and Mnuchin:

“I haven’t received an answer that I asked for — about potential conflicts of interest and ownership in the [Trump] administration,” Brown said, referring to a March 2 letter he wrote to Treasury.

The letter requested a “comprehensive list” of the Trump family’s “investors, business partners, politically exposed persons and related actors.”

Such a list is needed to reveal whether Trump’s associates and investors have been in compliance with laws related to bank secrecy, sanctions, money laundering and other regulations, Brown said.

“Would you commit to us to get a complete list of Trump business associates and financial ties?” Brown demanded. “People want to know about those entanglements.”

Mnuchin replied by saying he had checked to make sure “my staff had fully responded to all the inquiries from you and the committee, and I believe we have.” He pointed to a March 31 letter that Treasury had sent to Brown.

That brief letter contained no list of Trump associates. Instead, the two-paragraph response said only that Treasury officials would “work with agency personnel to address and mitigate potential conflicts if and when they arise.”

Mnuchin then suggested Brown send a note about what he wants, and “we will review internally whether it’s appropriate to come from us or somewhere else.”

Brown again said that he already had asked his question and, “it was not answered.”

He added that he would write to Treasury again requesting a “complete list” of Trump associates because “people in this country are troubled by the president’s business connections” who might be involved in crimes.

Mnuchin replied by saying, “I can assure you that if there were any cases that involved the president or any members of his family, that they would be treated very seriously.”

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PWR BTTM Issues New Statement Addressing Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct

Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM.

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PWR BTTM has responded at length and in detail to allegations of sexual misconduct directed towards Ben Hopkins, a member of the Brooklyn-based duo. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Hopkins acknowledges a sexual relationship with a woman who accused the musician of rape in an anonymous interview posted on Jezebel last week, but but reports a different version of events. “[T]he statements made about me by the anonymous source did not line up with any sexual experience I have ever had,” Hopkins writes in the statement.

“We met the night before a show in March of 2016,” Hopkins writes. “After the show, she invited me back to her house and we eventually engaged in sex. Based on the nature of our communications and our interactions with one another, I understood our interactions to be fully consensual.”

It’s been just over a week since the allegations, which began circulating in social media posts and were further detailed in an anonymous interview, began getting reported widely. Within days, the band’s music had been pulled from streaming services — including a brand-new record, Pageant, released last Friday. Bands scheduled to accompany PWR BTTM on a tour promoting Pageant pulled out of those performances. The group was dropped by its management and at least one festival had removed it from the lineup.

As the story was breaking, PWR BTTM issued an initial statement saying the group was surprised by the allegations and that Hopkins had never been “contacted by any survivor(s) of abuse.” But last Friday, after the band’s statement had been released, Jezebel published an article in which an anonymous woman said that Hopkins had sex with her without her permission and while she was intoxicated, following a PWR BTTM show in the spring of 2016. She is quoted in the piece as saying Hopkins assaulted her for the second time a month after the first, and that she came to the realization she had been the victim of sexual assault some time later, after talking over the experience with friends.

The new statement is split into three parts — one from Hopkins, one from Bruce and one from the band as a whole. PWR BTTM attempts to explain the discrepancies created by its first public address of the controversy, to address the allegations against Hopkins and to retract the band’s much-criticized attempt at mediation presented in its initial statement. (The full statement is below.)

Hopkins’ statement offers a different perspective of the events. “Based on the nature of our communications and our interactions with one another, I understood our interactions to be fully consensual,” Hopkins writes.

“That being said,” the statement continues, “in keeping with my commitment to my principles, I believe it is my responsibility to be accountable to this individual’s perspective and to honor it accordingly.”

The account in Jezebel‘s article conflicted with band’s earlier statement of having been surprised by the accusations; the accuser told Jezebel that she had contacted Hopkins’ bandmate Liv Bruce earlier this year. In the new statement, Bruce acknowledges contacting Hopkins’ accuser in February, and of keeping the conversation from Hopkins until last Friday.

NPR Music has covered or partnered with PWR BTTM on several occasions. It premiered Pageant on May 4 as part of its First Listen series; invited the band to play a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016; Hopkins was a judge in the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest; and PWR BTTM performed at NPR Music’s 2017 SXSW showcase.


PWR BTTM’s full statement:

From Ben [Hopkins]:

What has transpired over the past several days has been emotionally overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. Last Thursday, I learned that an anonymous individual had made an allegation of sexual assault against me. This allegation was devastating to me as it is contrary to the intentional way I seek to interact with those around me. As I digested the allegations, I tried to figure out who the individual might be so that I could try to reconcile what I had read with my memory of any particular sexual interaction. I’ve waited to respond to the Jezebel article because the statements made about me by the anonymous source did not line up with any sexual experience I have ever had.

Over the past several days, I was able to figure out who the individual was based on what I was reading and my subsequent conversations with Liv. I am not going to breach the anonymity of the person interviewed in the Jezebel article, but given the serious nature of what was published and its impact, I have to unpack the claims and provide perspective on the details within. We met the night before a show in March of 2016 and spent most of the following day together. After the show, she invited me back to her house and we eventually engaged in sex. Based on the nature of our communications and our interactions with one another, I understood our interactions to be fully consensual. We stayed in touch over the course of several weeks by exchanging texts and pictures. Later, she asked if she could stay with me at my home, where we had sex several more times over the course of those days. Again, I understood these interactions to be fully consensual, especially since our ongoing communications continued to be mutual, positive and reciprocal in nature. We did not see each other much after that but when we did it was entirely pleasant and we continued to exchange texts, including as recently as March of this year. I had no indication before last week that she had any concerns about our interaction.

Last week I learned that, in February of this year, this person had expressed concerns to others about what had transpired between us. I fully embrace and respect this individual’s right to speak out in any manner or forum they choose, including in a Facebook post or anonymously to a Jezebel reporter. It does not diminish that person’s experience or perception. After the initial shock of learning about her concerns, I have tried to understand her experience of our interactions. It would be antithetical to my values to attack, blame, or shame someone who is using the power of call-out culture to name their experience and hold others accountable, even when – or especially if – the individual they seek to hold accountable is me. I fully appreciate that someone’s views about the dynamics of intimate interactions can change and are not always apparent in the moment. While I am open to understanding this person’s perspective, I strongly contest the account put forth in Jezebel. I am firmly committed to consent, to communication, and to mutual expression of sexual interest. The accusations in Jezebel directly conflict with my experience, as it is not my practice to engage in sexual contact without protection, without discussing the issue with my partner, or to engage in the other conduct alleged in the Jezebel article. That being said, in keeping with my commitment to my principles, I believe it is my responsibility to be accountable to this individual’s perspective and to honor it accordingly.

One more thing. I have seen posts about people raising concerns about having their boundaries crossed when I have greeted our fans after our shows, something Liv and I do after every performance, taking selfies and thanking folks for coming. This is, again, incredibly shocking news to me, as the safety and well-being of PWR BTTM fans is the most paramount concern I have as a member of this band on and

off stage. If my physical contact has made anyone feel uncomfortable, I sincerely apologize and will work hard to have an increased awareness of boundaries moving forward consistent with our commitment to our fans.

From Liv [Bruce]:

In February, I made contact with the anonymous individual interviewed by Jezebel, someone I knew casually, after hearing that she had made inflammatory accusations about Ben in a private online forum. My intent in reaching out was to learn more and to make myself available in the event that I could be of any help. Our conversation was friendly, but it ended without a plan for any specific next steps. Based upon our discussion, my understanding was that she did not want me to share her identity with Ben unless I had her explicit permission to do so, and I assured her that I would not do so.

After our conversation, I wanted to discuss with Ben the issues she had raised but I quickly realized that doing so would inevitably reveal her identity. I did not know how to proceed nor did I know where to seek advice about how to move forward.

After Ben ascertained the individual’s identity on Friday I decided that my withholding information was no longer protecting her privacy and I told Ben about the conversation she and I had.

From PWR BTTM:

As some of you know, we set up a separate email address back in mid-May so that anyone with information relevant to the situation that was then unfolding could privately share what they knew. At the time we thought it was the right thing to do. We now see that we were putting the onus on others to do something that only works if it is what they want. We have concluded that there is no viable way to do what we were trying to accomplish, with the result that we are going to shut that email address down (we have not and will not look at any emails that may have been sent there to date).

Finally, to our fans, our friends, our family and those who have supported us unfailingly and who continue to support us unfailingly: thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Having enjoyed the enthusiastic support of so many incredible people throughout our music careers has been a blessing. We love playing music, we love sharing music with others and we want nothing more than to be back performing together soon.

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It Began At The Ditto Tavern: Chris Cornell's Life As Grunge's True Seattle Son

Chris Cornell, performing in the Netherlands in 1992.

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Of course it’s a story about death and Seattle music.

I woke up this morning after bad dreams last night, only to find the real nightmare — that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden was dead. As with all these losses it seems surreal, untrue, unimaginable. But there it is.

If there was one Seattle band of the “grunge” era that seemed more “Seattle” than any other, it was Soundgarden. Nirvana was actually from Aberdeen, and not a single member lived in Seattle until 1992; Pearl Jam didn’t become a band until Eddie Vedder arrived from San Diego. But Soundgarden was truly Seattle. Chris Cornell went to high school ten blocks from my house, though for accuracy, that’s just outside the Seattle city limits (and, for accuracy, he dropped out of that high school).

Soundgarden also started before all those bands. The Screaming Life EP, which came out on Sub Pop on October 1, 1987, beat all those other bands to the punch. I was editor of the Seattle music magazine The Rocket in those days, and we were the first place to publish on Soundgarden, putting them on our cover when they were playing to just twenty people. That was probably appropriate, in that our magazine was located in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle (now dominated by Amazon), which was low-rent and filled with taverns. Soundgarden made one of these, the Ditto Tavern, one of their homes. Seeing them there early on, you had the sense they truly had something, but there honestly would be only a dozen people in the audience.

Cornell, however, had a singing voice that sounded like stardom. We once put him on the cover of the The Rocket and headlined it “Golden Throats.” During a photo shoot for another cover story we had the members of Soundgarden stand in Green Lake covered with mud, an homage to Mudhoney (another Seattle band in that era still trying to find an audience). Soundgarden was a slow burn, and nowhere near an overnight success. The band was on three record labels before it broke, and its biggest year was 1994, after Kurt Cobain died and when many saw the Seattle scene ebbing. But Superunknown was a record that could not be denied, and “Fell on Black Days” may be my favorite vocal of that entire era.

When they finally got through, Soundgarden’s members had already done their ten-thousand hours — they’d been a band for almost a decade by the time they topped the charts. “We didn’t make four records that all sounded the same and the fourth one sold a lot,” Cornell told me in 1995. “If anyone looks back at our history, our fans who have been around know we’re not going to pull the rug out from under anybody.

“It could be that it’s taken us so long to reach this level of success that our own perceptions haven’t really caught up with it yet,” he told me.

Soundgarden had a few more good years after that, but temporarily broke up in 1997. Cornell joined Audioslave, then did some solo records. There were gems in his post-Soundgarden songs. A few miscues. I wrote a negative review of his attempt to cover Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and he was unhappy about the review. That didn’t really change our relationship. I was the hometown writer, the guy he knew had been at the Ditto Tavern. I interviewed him a bunch after that still, and wrote bio material for Audioslave, and the Temple of the Dog reissue last year.

It was no secret that he had always struggled with depression, but drugs were also something he admitted to the press he’d battled with. That story for Chris — for Seattle, for anyone who has battled with addiction — is so complicated it can’t be easily distilled. We don’t know the full story yet, and words almost can’t capture the level of the loss.

Sometimes that feels like it is a story unique to Seattle music — darkness equals Seattle — but it is not a linkage of just one city and loss. It’s a human story.

Often it was loss that Chris and I talked about, either in official interviews, or when the tape recorder wasn’t running. Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone had been Chris’s roommate when Andrew overdosed, and that loss forever shaped Chris as a musician and as a person. Sometimes you thought that Chris’s entire career — and not just the Temple of the Dog album — was a tribute to Andy.

In one of those conversations, Chris told of me Andy, “I don’t know that we understood the full power of his aura and what he meant to all of us.

“It wasn’t just like that I lost a friend,” he said. “It was bigger than that.”

Later in that same talk, in 2011, Chris looked up and seemed to be grabbing his thoughts, having a hard time keeping it together.

“There are a lot of fallen soldiers out there,” he said.

Today, my bad dream from last night tells me there is one more.


Charles R. Cross is the author of nine books, including three New York Times‘ bestsellers. His 2001 biography of Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven, won the ASCAP Timothy White Award, and has been published in dozens of countries. Cross was Editor of The Rocket, the Seattle music magazine, from 1986 through 2000, which helped launch and break the grunge movement. As a journalist he was written for hundreds of newspapers and magazines including Rolling Stone, Esquire, Spin, Spy, Entertainment Weekly, Guitar World, Us, Salon, The London Times, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Playboy. Q, Mojo, and many more.

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Oxfam: Combined Wealth Of 5 Richest Nigerians Could Lift Country Out Of Poverty

Women who say they have not been fed for five days line up for food in Aug. 2016 at the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

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The five richest men in Nigeria could bring nearly all Nigerians out of extreme poverty for one year, according to a new Oxfam report on inequality in the country.

It’s one of many stark conclusions drawn by the charity. Oxfam Nigeria’s Good Governance Programme Coordinator Celestine Okwudili Odo describes the level of inequality as “obscene”: “Extreme inequality is exacerbating poverty, undermining the economy, and fermenting social unrest. Nigerian leaders must be more determined in tackling this terrible problem.”

Nigerian government officials such as Minister of State for Budget and National Planning Zainab Ahmed criticized the “language, tone and style” of the document, according to the BBC. She also questioned the goals and methodology of the report.

Inequality is growing in the populous West African nation, with more than half of its people living in extreme poverty, according to the report. The number living below the poverty line has grown from 69 million in 2004 to 112 million in 2010.

Here are a few figures from the report:

  • “While more than 112 million people were living in poverty in 2010, the richest Nigerian man will take 42 years to spend all of his wealth at 1 million per day.”
  • “In one day, the richest Nigerian man can earn from his wealth 8,000 times more than what the poorest 10% of Nigerians spend on average in one year for their basic consumption.”
  • “A Nigerian lawmaker receives an annual salary of about $118,000 … 63 times the country’s GDP per capita (2013).”
  • “Between 1960 and 2005, about $20 trillion was stolen from the treasury by public office holders.”

This issue is not due to a lack of resources but “to the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of such resources,” the report argues. “At the root there is a culture of corruption and rent-seeking combined with a political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians.”

It points to a regressive tax system as one source of the growing inequality, as “the burden of taxation mostly falls on poorer companies and individuals.” At the same time, the report states, “big multinationals receive questionable tax waivers and tax holidays, and utilize loopholes in tax laws to shift huge profits generated in the country to low tax jurisdictions.”

@oxfaminnigeria is concerned with the growing gap between the rich and the poor #Inequality#EvenItUp This has to change. pic.twitter.com/LdVk0yz0U7

— Oxfam in Nigeria (@oxfaminnigeria) May 17, 2017

And then, those resources that the government “manages to collect are often spent in an unfair and inefficient way,” the report states.

It describes the country’s governance costs as “astronomical and indefensible.” One memorable scandal happened in 2015, when allegations surfaced that the nation’s 469 lawmakers had been given a combined sum of $43 million as a “wardrobe allowance.”

Responding to the Oxfam report, Tola Odukoya, the Managing Director of FSL Asset Management, told Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper that he believes it is the government’s responsibility, not that of the five wealthiest people, to alleviate poverty in the country:

“The report is not too far from the truth. There is no doubt that there is so much poverty in the country, but I don’t think it’s fair to the people mentioned in the report because they are private businessmen, who have built their wealth through hard work. The level of poverty is something that should be addressed to the government.”

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In 'The Commune,' Where We Live Is Who We Are

Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen in The Commune.

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Magnolia Pictures

It’s the 1970s, and a Copenhagen family has just inherited a very large, rambling mansion on the outskirts of town. What to do with it? The time is right for a group living experiment, and if the new Danish film The Commune were a different sort of movie, it would stage everything that follows — the group skinny-dips, house meetings about dishwashers, and Elton John songs — as warm, raunchy comedy.

But The Commune was directed by Thomas Vinterberg, a filmmaker who is merciless when he digs into human emotion. He was, after all, the co-creator (with Lars von Trier) of the Dogme 95 film collective that advocated for a radically stripped-down filmmaking technique, the better to pummel the audience with the full ugliness of humanity. This is a guy who doesn’t do warmth. What we get instead is the tough, tearful dissolution of a family, just with a few extra witnesses around.

Adapting, with co-writer Tobias Lindholm, his own play about his childhood upbringing in a commune, Vinterberg renders his past in perfect period detail: the jean jackets and smoke-filled TV sets aren’t overkill, they just are. He also gives us a version of himself through the character of the 14-year-old daughter, Freja (magnetic newcomer Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen), a quiet observer with shoulder-length curly hair and sad eyes. She is the spiritual opposite of her parents, who are both high-powered professionals accustomed to yelling or cajoling until they get their way: mother Anna (Trine Dyrholm) is a TV news anchor, while father Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) is an architecture professor. Erik’s childhood home comes into their possession when his father dies. “It’s too big for us,” he sniffs, but Anna sells him on the idea of a commune, desperate to shake up their married life by any means necessary. Call up another family, a few friends, and a stranger or two — hey, why not? — and soon, there are a lot more toothbrushes in the sink.

Ultimately it’s Anna, the communal evangelist, who will wind up eating her words once all these free-love vibes get a hold of the only thing she wanted to keep to herself. Erik starts carrying on an affair with a graduate student named Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann), who’s blonde like his wife, but much younger, and when Anna finds out, she gives her blessing to the relationship in an effort to preserve the commune. Soon Emma has moved in, too, and Anna starts breaking down. Though the whole cast shines in this house, the film is really a showcase for Dyrholm. Her stiff blank face, the stuff of an anchorwoman trained to take bad news, gradually wears down the soul behind it. Her depiction of a matriarch privately spiraling out of control, often as she’s harshly lit in blinding white, is in keeping with the operatic spirit of the home.

Vinterberg has always had a bit of sadism in him, but in his case, that’s a compliment: it means he’s more willing than most directors to push things to extremes, which gives his films the electric charge missing from so many other character-based dramas. He especially loves it when family and friends publicly make enemies of each other: The engrossing 1998 Cannes prizewinner The Celebration revolved around a harrowing accusation a son makes in the middle of a birthday toast for his father, while the hit 2013 thriller The Hunt showed how easy it is for an entire town to turn against one person. It’s disappointing, then, how mild The Commune winds up being by comparison, and you get the feeling the director’s closeness to the story is keeping him from truly pushing it to the outer limits. There’s some nice gallows humor involving a small boy who milks his heart condition for sympathy, but things for the most part stay mellow: the housemates remain out of focus, along with any baggage they might be carrying.

“But wait,” you might think, “this movie is called The Commune, not The Family And Special Guests. Shouldn’t it be more about the freaking commune?”Yes, and no. The film does make a deliberate choice to refocus on the family in its back half. But it was never trying to tackle the wacky comings and goings of a house full of weirdos; it’s about the effect a living situation, any living situation, can have on a family, in ways that extend beyond a time capsule. Here in the U.S., where the homeownership rate is at its lowest in 50 years, we are beginning to see how our relationship to property is changing our relationship to each other. Our physical spaces are bleeding into our mental ones and forcing us to determine if “family” is just another word for “permanent roommate.” We can learn a lot from a film like this.

In a scene toward the end, there’s a long shot of the table where the motley crew eats their meals and conducts their meetings, in the minutes after someone has aired some explosive charges (apparently such scenes are the Vinterberg specialty). Slowly, the other residents clear the table and exit the frame. They leave behind only Anna, Erik, and Freja: the family unit, together again, drowning among empty chairs.

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'Alien: Covenant' Continues To Mine Old Ground

Katherine Waterston as Daniels in Alien: Covenant.

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Almost 40 years ago, Alien was a B-movie with A+ production values and performances, and the scariest monster the movies ever gave us. The new Alien: Covenant is a shamelessly high-minded, Byron-and-Shelley-quoting existential inquiry into the origin of three species and the nature of belief that goes slumming in genre territory just enough to get itself greenlit.

Guess which one is going to last? My money’s on the one that already has.

At least Covenant is an artistic upgrade to Prometheus, the frustrating 2012 preamble to which it is a direct sequel. In that film, septuagenarian director Ridley Scott returned to the Alien-iverse he created and then left to others. Specifically, others who’ve had careers as celebrated and far more consistent than his own: James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Their follow-ups varied in quality and ambition (and yes, Aliens is a masterpiece in its own right), but none addressed where their nightmare beasts came from, or who the long-dead, inhuman “space jockey” seen briefly in Alien was. To Scott, this apparently amounted to artistic negligence. Because after 35 years away from the chest-bursting game, the thrice-Oscar-nominated director of the wretched Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, among too many other films, opted to answer these questions… in the most ponderous, deflating way possible.

Prometheus left enough of us — and some members of its own creative team — confounded that Sir Ridley has been forced to make a few concessions this time: Putting the word Alien in the movie’s name, using the opening title cards from his 1979 landmark, and reprising elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting Alien score. These remedies all come from the latter-day “legacyquel” playbook that helped the likes of Jurassic World and Creed and Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens give their long-running franchises a second or third generation of fans. For Covenant‘s CGI-slathered, perfunctory-feeling all-action finale, Scott even revives the classic H.R. Giger-designed “xenomorph” incarnation of the species, despite having publicly opined for years that too much acid-blood had been wrung from that particular stone.

As in Prometheus, a religious subtext is introduced and then immediately abandoned. The mostly doomed space travelers this time around are 22nd-century pilgrims, ferrying a couple of thousand or so hibernating humans (and unborn human embryos) to their new lives on the off-world colonies. (The distance between these movies and Blade Runner, Scott’s other landmark sci-fi movie, grows narrower still.) After an exciting series of in-flight catastrophes, the Starship Covenant’s shaky new captain (a superb Billy Crudup) redirects the ship to a previously undetected planet—one suspiciously suitable for human habitation. Katherine Waterston steps into Sigourney Weaver’s sweaty old flight-suit to challenge this decision. She does an admirable job as the movie’s surrogate Ripley, the skeptical problem-solver who is clearly smarter and more reliable than the dude (always a dude) above her in the chain of command. Comedian Danny McBride plays Tennessee, a pilot whose enthusiasm for 20th century country music becomes one of Covenant‘s weirder plot points. There are a lot of other crew members, but they don’t make an impression the way the crew of the Nostromo or the squad of Marines aboard the Sulaco did. (I did not have to look up the names of these spacecraft, people.)

But even more than Prometheus did, Covenant belongs to Michael Fassbender. As David — the megalomaniacal, Lawrence of Arabia-loving android whose betrayal of his human creators is the sustained chord between these two 21st century Alien flicks — he is the only character in whom Scott seems truly interested. Fassbender occupies two roles in Covenant, the unbound David and also Walter, a later-model synthetic who is outwardly identical, but with hardwired inhibitions on his behavior and thinking. (David evokes Ash, the devious Ian Holm android from Alien, while Walter represents Lance Henriksen’s tried-and-true Bishop from Aliens.) The scenes wherein Fassbender engages himself in an existential rap session (and attempted seduction!) are surreal and campy and the freshest part of the movie. When David hands Walter a wind instrument to put in his mouth and says, “I’ll handle the fingering,” the snickering in the theatre will likely drown out the androids’ duet: It’s the title theme from Prometheus, a weirdly meta… touch.

It’s also a clue that viewers of a certain stripe (hi!) will once again find it more fulfilling to mine this thing for subtext than to take anything Scott shows us at facehugging value. Though he certainly works himself into a lather trying to make Covenant’s third act feel like the first two, universally beloved Alien flicks, his emphasis on Fassbender represents a dramatic course-change for the series. The first trio of films presented unchecked intergalactic capitalism as a villain as vicious and amoral as any slime-dripping beast. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation was willing to bear whatever loss of life was necessary to obtain and patent xeno specimens. Scott’s latter-day chapters aren’t concerned with economic justice. Their Big Bad isn’t a corporation, but an individual, one endowed by his creator with free will and impatient with the weakness of the puny humans to whom he must feign subservience. “No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams,” David murmurs.

Ridley Scott knows the feeling.

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Bryan Cranston Hides And Watches In 'Wakefield'

Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a man who leaves his family to become a man who watches his family.

Gilles Mingasson/IFC Films

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Gilles Mingasson/IFC Films

There’s a whiff of John Cheever-ish unease in Wakefield, a quietly unsettling drama about a man who disappears from his suburban home, only to spy on his family’s response from a house across the street. In fact, the movie is based on a 2008 New Yorker short story by E.L. Doctorow, which in turn was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale with the same premise, written in 1837.

That is a big chunk of male gaze down the years, but here comes a woman, writer-director Robin Swicord, who both respects the material and neatly corrals it for her own purposes. She gets splendidly creepy help from Bryan Cranston, an actor of great versatility whose rictus grin and beady-eyed glare predict he may never outrun typecasting. Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a well-heeled, cranky Manhattan litigator who, at the end of an evening commute home, hurls his briefcase at a foraging raccoon on his quiet suburban street. Pursuing the animal into the cluttered attic of an abandoned (foreclosed, presumably — the setting is contemporary) house opposite his own, he discovers that he can spy on his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and their teenaged twin daughters from an upstairs window.

Howard settles in for some rear-window espionage, and what began as a moment of perverse whimsy soon devolves into what may be a permanent absence from a marriage that Howard — who guides us through his family history in jaundiced voiceover — believes has grown dull and hostile through long familiarity and sexual boredom. Fifteen years earlier, we learn from copious flashbacks, Howard had seduced Diana, an intelligent, honest former dancer, away from a gullible junior colleague. Snickering, he watches his wife grow distraught as his absence lengthens into weeks and then months, calling in help from friends and colleagues whom Howard despises.

Wakefield is Swicord’s second tour as director, and a much stronger work than her pleasant, market-driven The Jane Austen Book Club back in 2007. A longtime screenwriter, she has turned Doctorow’s tale into a pleasingly old-school noir sprinkled with bleak black comedy. Cranston is queasy fun to watch as, increasingly undone in straggly, unwashed hair, Howard does his own raccoon-style foraging in trashcans, armed with something that looks like a squash racket. Soon, his facetious glee curdles into a mounting unease that comes with watching the life he thought he had left move on without him.

It quickly grows clear that the cunning operator is also a spectacularly unreliable narrator who’s overdue for a major correction. Swicord’s adaptation is tactful and elegant, but in trying to explore what might drive a man like Howard Wakefield — about which Doctorow is properly reticent — she draws connections that are more than a touch glib. Broad hints are dropped that Howard’s Darwinian lust for mastery, his misogyny (Beverly D’Angelo holds up nicely as Diana’s busily supportive friend), his paranoid take on human relations, are a product of late-capitalist corporate culture. Suburbia becomes, yet again, the locus for a discussion of how quickly the thin veneer of civilization breaks down under duress, or cracks to reveal the animal within. All true perhaps, yet the argument fails to answer to all the suburbanites who live decent, honorable lives without putting their families through the mill of their own escape fantasies.

Toward the end of Wakefield we see Howard moving toward his own front door, running his head through alternate scenes of delight and rejection from his loved ones. Has his self-inflicted ordeal made him a new man, the kind of man who willingly shares space with raccoons and exchanges playful kindness with the disabled children next door? Or was this just a weird interlude from which he’s learned nothing and remains the same old animal? For the answer to that and his fate, happily, the filmmaker keeps perfect faith with the author.

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Brazilian President Says He Won't Resign Over Hush Money Allegations

Brazilian President Michel Temer delivers a speech at the Palacio do Planalto in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 12. On Thursday he denied allegations of corruption and rejected calls for his resignation.

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Brazilian President Michel Temer says he won’t be resigning over allegations that he endorsed hush money payments to a former ally, denying the charges in an address on TV.

A major newspaper in Brazil, O Globo, is reporting that Temer was caught on tape discussing bribery payments.

Temer has been in office for just over a year. He came to power as interim president after embattled former president Dilma Rousseff was suspended and impeached on charges of financial mismanagement.

At the same time a massive corruption scandal involving the state oil company Petrobras was unfolding. Rousseff was not directly implicated; Temer, however, was accused of participating in the graft.

The new allegations of bribery are tied to that larger political crisis.

There were reports that Temer was planning to resign over the accusations, but instead, he gave a defiant speech, NPR’s Philip Reeves reports:

“Temer’s weathered many crises during his short term in office, but this is by far the most serious. A leading newspaper says Temer was caught on tape endorsing payments to buy the silence of a former ally caught up in Brazil’s massive “Car Wash” corruption investigation.

“The news sent stocks into a tailspin, amid investor fears that Temer will now be unable to carry through his long plans to overhaul pension and labor laws — and pull Brazil’s economy out of deep recession.

Temer denies wrongdoing, but his political support’s ebbing, and his ratings are in single figures. The latest scandal’s being met with a chorus of voices calling on him to stand down, or face impeachment.”

Instead, Temer said he plans to fight the charges.

“I will not resign. I know what I have done,” he said, according to a BBC translation. “I never authorized any payments for someone to be silent. I did not buy anyone’s silence. I fear no accusations.”

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Watch Live: Laura Marling, The Mavericks, Real Estate, More

VuHaus

Beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 18, watch Laura Marling, The Mavericks, Real Estate and more perform during the second night of public radio’s Non-Comm 2017. The show streams live via VuHaus from World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.

Find Thursday evening’s full schedule below; all set times are shown in Eastern time and are subject to change.

Thursday, May 18

7 p.m. — Kyle Craft

7:30 p.m. — Baskery

8 p.m. — Mondo Cozmo

8:30 p.m. — Laura Marling

9 p.m. — The Mavericks

9:35 p.m. — Real Estate

10:05 p.m. — Gov’t Mule

10:50 p.m. — Ron Gallo


Non-Comm runs Wednesday, May 17 through Friday, May 19. Check out the full schedule of performances.

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