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The Bleak Commercial Politics of ‘Space Jam’ – POLITICO

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The semi-animated 1996 basketball movie “Space Jam” was an unlikely cult classic. Goofy and shamelessly commercial, it got a lukewarm critical reception at best; the film was literally based on a Nike TV ad. But its feather-light touch and zeitgeist-y flair made it a touchstone for the generation who grew up during the reign of Michael Jordan and the ascendancy of the Dream Team and the general post-history vibe of the 1990s.

This weekend — a quarter-century later, as every millennial reading this will cringe to acknowledge — Warner Bros. released its sequel, “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” On the surface, they’re alike in almost every way: equally slight, accompanied by a slew of merchandising tie-ins, Michael Jordan neatly replaced by his basketball successor LeBron James. The main differences are superficial, with the passage of time reflected in both the new film’s video-game-quality CG animation and a slew of updated cultural references and cameos.

But to anyone paying attention to the world outside, they’re radically different in one important way. The original “Space Jam,” crass as it may have been, was harmless ‘90s fluff. Its successor, arriving in 2021, borders on a moral affront.

Over the past decade, the NBA has become the world’s most aggressively activist major sports organization. Its players have stumped for voting access, put the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on NBA courts, and nearly boycotted last year’s playoffs en masse amid the protests over the murder of George Floyd. It has been a dramatic and socially significant evolution from the days of Jordan, the famously apolitical uber-jock who once quipped that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

So to watch James in 2021, the league’s standard-bearer both as a player and political activist, traipse through the sealed-off virtual landscape of “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” it’s impossible to think of anything but what the league and its players aren’t saying. The film is carefully neutered to appeal to an apolitical global cinematic marketplace dominated by China. You spend its 115 minutes not recalling the lightweight delights of the 1990s, but of the moment in 2019 when NBA front-office guru Daryl Morey expressed support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, and a clearly peeved James slapped him down, accusing him of harming NBA players “financially… physically. Emotionally. Spiritually,” saying “we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”

Less than two years later, it’s Hong Kong, rather than the NBA’s revenue stream, that seems to have taken the brunt of the “negative.” The once-vibrant democracy is now largely under Beijing’s boot while the NBA continues to earn billions of dollars in China, its stars picking up lucrative endorsements amid rampant human rights abuses. Oddly, the “Space Jam” sequel is not currently scheduled for a release in China — Warner Bros. didn’t respond by time of publication to the question of whether it would be — but it bears the sanded-down, quirk-free character of the global film industry for which the country increasingly sets the terms. (As founder of the co-producing SpringHill Company, James also stands to benefit from whatever success it reaches in the global market.)

In fairness, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a children’s film, not built to carry heavy messages, and the compromises of doing business in China aren’t exclusive to the NBA. James and his peers have no inherent obligation to speak out on the behalf of Hong Kongers, or Uyghurs, or the state of American democracy, or anything else. But given the moral authority the league has flexed of late, especially over the past year, it’s hard to watch “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and think: all that hand-waving, self-censorship, and equivocating around global politics … all to preserve the opportunity to do this?

The movie itself is a smooth-edged piece of product that betrays nothing of its stutter-step origin story. It was originally helmed by the surrealist Black auteur (and Guggenheim fellow) Terence Nance, creator of HBO’s “Random Acts of Flyness,” who left the project in 2019 due to “different takes on [its] creative vision.” To judge by the result, that meant he wanted to do something creative, and the studio didn’t.

The finished movie follows its predecessor’s structure almost beat-by-beat, down to a hagiographic opening montage of James’ real-life career highlights. Its major updates reflect changing trends not just in pop culture, but media itself: Instead of outer space, James is threatened with imprisonment in the Warner Bros. “Server-verse,” where it’s bleakly posited that its intellectual properties orbit each other as self-contained, hermetic theme parks.

Imagining works from “Casablanca,” to “The Iron Giant,” to, insanely, “A Clockwork Orange,” as interchangeable cogs of “content” is cynical enough for one of America’s oldest and most venerable film studios. And then the film engages in a weird sort of double cynicism about its premise: Its villain is an anthropomorphized computer algorithm played by Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle, who enacts a nefarious scheme to absorb the real world into his virtual fantasia. But the film is based on the very premise that modern audiences will respond better to its groan-worthy, universe-colliding “crossover event” than the relatively modest, if dopey, scale of the original film. Its villain is pursuing, more or less, the same strategy as its creators.

Most stifling, ultimately, is the extent to which the real world is simply absent from “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Even its predecessor touched on something genuine; it has a reference to the real-life and still then very recent death of Jordan’s father, and drops a knowing joke about the NBA’s racial dynamics that it’s hard to imagine would pass today’s boardroom gauntlet. Here, however, the entire plot, a thinly sketched family drama aside, is premised on corporate synergy and “content creation”; the Looney Tunes appear more as brand ambassadors than anything resembling their origins as anarchic and boundary-pushing Chuck Jones or Tex Avery creations.

The 1996 film’s villain was a cigar-chomping, W.C. Fields-style misanthrope who wanted to imprison Michael Jordan for all eternity as a circus entertainer, condemning him to literally “shut up and dribble.” This is the same mindset that NBA players — James pre-eminent among them — have openly, and successfully, been fighting for the past few years, both in their political stances and assertion of their own agency as athletes and public figures. But the past few years have revealed clearly where they won’t step. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” feels like precisely the product of an algorithm written to scrub out anything that might threaten its, and the NBA’s, global ambitions. It’s impossible to sit through the movie and conclude anything other than that its villain has already triumphed.

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Playing politics with the Governor-General's constitutional role – The Globe and Mail

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When Jagmeet Singh sent a letter to Mary Simon urging her to refuse any request from Justin Trudeau to call an election, the NDP Leader knew perfectly well she would have no choice but to grant the Prime Minister’s request.

But such grandstanding is nothing new. It seems to be an unspoken role of the Governor-General to serve as a foil for opportunistic politicians who know that many Canadians don’t really understand what the Queen’s representative can or cannot do.

Mr. Singh urged Ms. Simon, who had been on the job one whole day, not to dissolve the 43rd Parliament if Mr. Trudeau requested it, because the Liberal minority government had won every vote of confidence, and the fixed election date is still more than two years away.

Governor-General will agree to a Trudeau request to call a snap election, expert says

Mr. Singh was speaking nonsense. If Mr. Trudeau were to ask Ms. Simon to dissolve Parliament and issue writs of election, “she would have no choice but to comply,” said D. Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. “There is no constitutional reason why she should decline the advice of the Prime Minister.”

“The Governor-General’s only option is to acquiesce and dissolve Parliament,” said Andrew Heard, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University who specializes in constitutional issues, though he said he did not think the Prime Minister should be making such a request.

Because Canada’s Westminster-style constitution is largely unwritten, not everyone agrees on everything. But generally speaking, here is how things work:

After a federal or provincial election, the party in power before the legislature dissolved may remain in power, even if that party won fewer seats than another party, provided it has the confidence of the legislature. After the 1925 federal election, Liberal prime minister Mackenzie King chose to meet Parliament, even though Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives had won more seats. Mr. King was able to govern, for a time, with the support of the Progressive Party.

If the governing party loses a vote of confidence after it meets the legislature, the governor-general or lieutenant-governor does have a choice. On April 29, 2017, Liberal premier Christy Clark visited B.C.’s then lieutenant-governor, Judith Guichon, after the Liberals were defeated in a vote of confidence following the provincial election.

Ms. Clark advised Ms. Guichon to dissolve the legislature and call another election. Ms. Guichon could have done that. Instead, she invited NDP Leader John Horgan to test the confidence of the legislature. The Greens had already announced they would support the NDP.

“If there is a viable alternative government, within a relatively short period after an election, the governor-general can consider refusing the advice for an election,” said Mr. Heard. But Mr. Trudeau has governed in this Parliament for almost two years.

In 2008, when prime minister Stephen Harper asked then governor-general Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament, even though the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois had announced they were ready to defeat his government and install Liberal leader Stéphane Dion as prime minister, Ms. Jean followed Mr. Harper’s advice, because his government had survived a vote of confidence on the throne speech, several weeks before.

In 1926, when Mackenzie King finally lost the confidence of the House, he advised governor-general Julian Byng to dissolve Parliament. Instead, Mr. Byng called on Mr. Meighen to form a government. Since Mr. King had governed at that point for several months, he should not have done that. In any case, Mr. Meighen’s government was swiftly defeated and Mr. Byng had no choice but to call for an election, which Mr. King won.

Politicians understand how the system works: Apart from the very early days of a hung Parliament, the governor-general does whatever the prime minister advises. But sometimes opposition politicians play games. After the 2004 election – when Liberal prime minister Paul Martin helmed a minority government – Mr. Harper, as opposition leader, NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe sent governor-general Adrienne Clarkson a letter urging her not to dissolve Parliament if Mr. Martin failed to obtain the confidence of the House. That letter was also grandstanding: Ms. Clarkson well knew her prerogatives.

The governor-general, as the Queen does, has the right to advise, to encourage and to warn her prime minister. If Mr. Trudeau does ask for dissolution, Ms. Simon might very well advise, encourage, or warn. But she will say that in private, and then she will do her duty.

As Jagmeet Singh knows perfectly well.

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Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times

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The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

“Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

“The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

“Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

Max Rossi/Reuters

Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

“They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters

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A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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