January 24, 2020

The Surreal Saga of Disgraced GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter and His Campaign’s Missing $250K
The writers’ room for this season of being alive really balled out when they dreamed up the Duncan Hunter arc. Over the past few years, as details about the conservative congressman’s tenure representing California’s 50th district emerged, the story swung so rapidly from infuriating to hilarious it could have been plucked from an overzealous procedural. Here was a candidate who looked like a golf Channel pundit, the successor to a West Coast political dynasty, who took charge of a Republican stronghold in the bluest state, embezzled some $250,000 in campaign money, got indicted by the feds, and won re-election in spite of it. Then, suddenly he flipped: Hunter pleaded guilty, resigned, and left his seat vulnerable to a Democratic challenger during one of the most engaged and bitter election cycles in recent memory. Add in the staffer affairs, racist dog whistles, 68 unexplained video game payments, an actual rabbit on a plane, and the whole thing sounded like what failed screenwriter Ben Shapiro might call “dramedy.”Wednesday, the Duncan Hunter saga came to the digital screen as a five-part docu-series called The 50th, produced by Samuel Hodgson of The San Diego Union Tribune, the regional newspaper where reporter Morgan Cook first broke the story of Hunter’s campaign spending back in April of 2016. Those looking for hints of dramedy or even just a rendering of the Hunter saga in all its wild detail, will not find it in The 50th. But the series does serve as an informative primer on the congressman’s scandal, the race to replace him, and the reporter who figured it all out. The series starts with an overview of Hunter’s district, a rural territory covering much of San Diego County. It’s easy to see California as a blue monolith, down for legal weed, safe abortions and abundant almond milk. But the 50th—known as the 52nd until 2013, when the area was expanded in a redistricting initiative—votes more like Louisiana than Los Angeles, making it one of just seven Republican districts in the entire state, all clustered inland after the midterms swallowed the remaining red parts on the coast. Hunter took office in 2009, succeeding his father, also named Duncan Hunter, meaning that the 50th district has been overseen by a Republican named Duncan Hunter since 1981. That seemed poised to change in 2018 when, after months of reports that Hunter had misused public money for personal expenses, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment charging the congressman and his wife on several counts of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations, and conspiracy. The 47-page complaint detailed how the couple allegedly leeched campaign funds between 2009 and 2016 to pay for “hotel rooms, airline tickets and upgrades, meals and food, and entertainment expenses for vacations for themselves and their friends and family, including more than $14,000 for a family Thanksgiving vacation in Italy in November 2015,” as well as Star Wars merch, bachelor parties, clothing from Abercrombie & Fitch, a family trip to SeaWorld Aquatica Family Waterpark, and a plane ticket for their pet rabbit on a trip to Washington D.C. For months after the indictment, Hunter denied the allegations, calling the Union-Tribune fake news and mocking the charges as a witch hunt. He won the 2018 election, though a Democratic candidate named Ammar Campa-Najjar came close to taking it from him. In December of 2019, however, Hunter changed his story and pleaded guilty. He resigned from office earlier this month. “I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes and that’s what today was all about.” Hunter says in a press conference clip featured in the first episode. “That being said, I’ll have more statements in the future, about the future.” That all seems like important context for what’s happening now: three Republicans and a Democrat facing off for the chance to become the first non-Duncan Hunter to hold that seat in nearly 40 years. But The 50th inverts the chronology, hinting at the scandal before jumping into the race for 2020, meandering around candidate rallies and conventions, before making its way back to the extremely important catalyst of it all. It may be that the series was structured to save the most exciting parts for last, but the result does not register as suspense, so much as a confusion about where to start the story.But the story starts anyway. The second episode begins after the indictment, but before Hunter’s guilty plea, when the race still has four Republican candidates. There’s Darrell Issa, the former California representative who was scared out of his seat in the neighboring 49th district by the midterm blue wave; Carl De Maio, a smug Never-Trumper who still makes jokes about straws; Brian Jones, a warm, sarcastic cowboy type and the sole candidate who actually lives in the district; and Hunter himself. There’s also another candidate—Campa-Najjar, who appears as the focus of the third episode. Hunter deployed heavily racist tactics, attacking Campa-Najjar, who is half-Palestinian, as an “Islamist” trying to “infiltrate Congress,” even though Campa-Najjar is Christian. But Campa-Najjar came closer than anyone thought he would in the deep red district. In 2020, the young Dem explains in the episode, he’s trying again and, given Hunter’s plummeting popularity, he may have a shot. The fourth episode hops back to the right side of the aisle, into a heated debate before the GOP primary. The candidates don’t really discuss their policies or platforms, choosing instead to attack their opponents—a pitfall the series falls into some itself. The 50th doesn’t attack anyone (it is entirely without bite, as to be expected from a newspaper), but it likewise fails to talk about what, exactly, the contenders are running on. When viewers meet the candidates, it’s at fundraisers or in interviews, during speeches about values, embarrassment over California’s liberal bent, and how to keep America great. Even Campa-Najjar doesn’t do much to differentiate himself or spell out what makes him the better choice. For a show that focuses so much on the election, The 50th doesn’t engage with the ideas that might well get one of them elected. The final episode delivers what everyone was waiting for: Hunter’s downfall. It’s a condensed summary of the saga, skipping over many of the best parts—the odd purchases, Hunter’s blustering explanations (to a Treasurer inquiry about whether a round of golf and beers was campaign-related, Hunter wrote: “Yessir-All good”), the affairs he funded on the side. But The 50th does tell a story that gets much less traction: how San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Megan Cook found the scoop in a stray memo from the S.E.C. In April of 2016, Cook penned a 384-word piece about 68 mysterious payments Hunter had made for video games, and inadvertently stumbled into the saga that would end his career. Maybe it’s to be expected for a docuseries produced by a paper, but The 50th works best when it’s running a victory lap for the journalists who reported Hunter out of office. The full story, pet rabbits and all, can come later. I’m sure Hollywood will have someone on it soon. 
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Star Wars Director Says It's About Time A Woman Makes A Star Wars Movie
Jan 02, 2024
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeed Obaid-Chinoy is directing an upcoming Star Wars movie that brings back Daisy Ridley in the role of Rey. Obaid-Chinoy will become the first woman to direct a Star Wars film, dating back to the franchise's origins in the 1970s. Speaking about this, Obaid-Chinoy told CNN that she is "very thrilled" to make the movie and create something that is "very special.""We're in 2024 now, and I think it's about time we had a woman come forward to shape the story in a galaxy far, far away," she said.Obaid-Chinoy won Best Documentary, Short Subjects Academy Awards for Saving Face (2012) and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015).In 2020, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy told the BBC that a woman would eventually direct a Star Wars movie, saying that would "absolutely" happen, "without question." Victoria Mahoney was a second unit director on The Rise of Skywalker, but a woman has never claimed a top directing credit on a Star Wars movie.On the TV side of things, The Mandalorian has featured a number of female directors, including Deborah Chow and Bryce Dallas Howard. Chow went on to direct the Obi-Wan TV series, too.Another high-profile franchise that has never had a female director is James Bond. Producer Barbara Broccoli and Skyfall director Sam Mendes have both said they want to see a woman direct a future 007 film.As for Obaid-Chinoy's Star Wars movie, little is known about it apart from the fact that Ridley will come back to play Rey. It is expected that this film will be the first of the three new Star Wars films to come to theaters, possibly releasing in December 2025.According to a report, Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is writing the Rey movie, taking over for Damon Lindelof and Justin Britt-Gibson.
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NBA Names Clare Akamanzi CEO Of NBA Africa
Jan 02, 2024 15:29
The NBA named Clare Akamanzi – an accomplished business executive and international trade and investment lawyer – as CEO of NBA Africa. Akamanzi will start her position on Jan. 23, 2024, and report to NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. In this role, Akamanzi will oversee the NBA’s business and basketball development efforts in Africa and will be responsible for continuing to grow the popularity of basketball, the NBA and the Basketball Africa League (BAL) across the continent, including through grassroots basketball development, media distribution, corporate partnerships, and social responsibility initiatives that improve the livelihoods of African youth and families. For the last six and a half years, Akamanzi was CEO of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), where she spearheaded Rwanda’s economic development by enabling private sector growth. Under Akamanzi’s leadership, RDB implemented several business policy reforms and initiatives that led to significant investment and development for the country, including through partnerships with the BAL, Arsenal FC, Paris Saint-Germain FC, FC Bayern Munich and TIME Magazine, among others. “Clare’s business acumen, international experience and familiarity with basketball and the NBA make her the ideal executive to lead our business in Africa,” says Tatum. “NBA Africa and the Basketball Africa League are well-positioned for continued growth, and under Clare’s leadership we believe these initiatives will transform economies, communities and lives across the continent.” “I’ve seen firsthand how sports can positively impact businesses, families and communities in Africa, and the NBA and the BAL are a perfect example of that,” says Akamanzi. “The NBA has done an incredible job growing basketball and the economy around it across the continent, and I’m excited about the enormous opportunities ahead to build on that momentum.” Previously, Akamanzi was Chief Operating Officer of RDB and Head of Strategy and Policy Unit, Office of the President of the Republic of Rwanda. She has extensive international trade, business and diplomatic experience, having previously worked for the Rwandan Government at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and at the Rwandan Embassy in London, England. Akamanzi has worked or studied in seven different countries and holds an honorary LLD from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, in recognition of her work in Rwanda. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious awards for academic excellence and distinguished contribution to the community: the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, the Raymond & Josephine Vernon Award and the Robert Kennedy Public Service Award. In addition, Akamanzi holds a Master of Laws degree in international trade and investments from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and a Bachelor of Laws degree from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. Akamanzi has served on several company boards, including the World Health Organization (WHO) Foundation, ECOBANK and Aviation, Travel and Logistics (ATL) company. She was recognized by Forbes as one of Africa’s Top 50 Powerful Women in 2020.
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