Day: August 24, 2019

‘Breaking Bad’ Netflix movie drops tense first trailer

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Where the hell is Jesse Pinkman?

That’s what cops want to know in the first teaser for the forthcoming Breaking Bad story, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.  And Skinny Pete isn’t saying a word.

“In the wake of his dramatic escape from captivity, Jesse must come to terms with his past in order to forge some kind of future,” a release from Netflix explains.

The thriller is written and directed by Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, and will star Aaron Paul. 

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie hits Netflix Oct. 11 Read more…

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Uber tries to reassure customers that it takes safety seriously, following NYTimes book excerpt

It’s hard at times not to feel sorry for Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, given all that he inherited when he became the ride-share giant’s top boss back in April 2017.

Among his many to-do items: take public a money-losing company whose private-market valuation had already soared past what many thought it was worth, clean-up the organization’s win-at-all-costs image, and win over employees who clearly remained loyal to Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, an inimitable figure who Khosrowshahi was hired to replace.

Things are undoubtedly about to get worse, given the fast-upcoming publication of a tell-all book about Uber authored by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac. In just one excerpt published yesterday by the newspaper, Isaac outlines how Uber misled customers into paying $1 more per ride by telling them Uber would use the proceeds to fund an “industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance.”

The campaign was hugely successful, according to Isaac, who reports that it brought in nearly half a billion dollars for Uber. Alas, according to employees who worked on the project, the fee was devised primarily to add $1 of pure margin to each trip.

Om Malik, a former tech journalist turned venture capitalist, published a tongue-in-cheek tweet yesterday after reading the excerpt, writing, “Apology from @dkhos coming any minute — we are different now.”

Malik was close. Instead of an apology, Uber today sent some of its riders an email titled, somewhat ominously, “Your phone number stays hidden in the app.” The friendly reminder continues on to tell customers that their “phone number stays hidden when you call or text your driver through the app,” that “pickup and dropoff locations are not visible in a driver’s trip history,” and that “for additional privacy, if you don’t want to share your exact address, request a ride to or from the nearest cross streets instead.”

The email was clearly meant to reassure riders, some of whom might be absorbing negative press about Uber and wondering if it cares about them at all. But not everyone follows Uber as closely as industry watchers in Silicon Valley, and either way, what the email mostly accomplishes is to remind customers that riding in an Uber involves life-and-death risk.

Stressing that the company is “committed to safety” is the debating equivalent of a so-called negative pregnant, wherein a denial implies its affirmative opposite. It’s Uber shooting itself in the foot.

Uber

It would have been more effective for Uber to email riders that when it talks about safety, it really does mean business — and not the kind where it swindles its own customers for pure monetary gain.

Either way, the affair underscores the tricky terrain Uber is left to navigate right now. Though campaigns like Uber’s so-called “safe rides fee” was orchestrated under the leadership of Kalanick — who did whatever it took to scale the company — it’s Khosrowshahi’s problem now.

So is the fact that the company’s shares have been sinking since its IPO in early May; that Uber’s cost-cutting measures will be scrutinized at every turn (outsiders particularly relished the company’s decision to save on employees’ work anniversaries by cutting out helium balloons in favor of stickers); and that Uber appears to be losing the battle, city by city, against labor activists who want to push up the minimum wage paid to drivers.

And those are just three of many daunting challenges that Khosrowshahi has been tasked with figuring out  (think food delivery, self-driving technologies, foreign and domestic opponents). No doubt Isaac’s book will highlight plenty of others.

How Uber handles the inevitable wave of bad publicity that comes with it remains to be seen. We don’t expect Khosrowshahi to come out swinging; that’s not his style. But we also hope the company doesn’t take to emailing riders directly, without any context. It’s great if Uber is taking customer safety more seriously than it might have under Kalanick’s leadership, but reaching out to tell riders how to remain safe from their Uber drivers isn’t the way to do it, especially without acknowledging in any way why it’s suddenly so eager to have the conversation.

Internal report exposes cocaine abuse, lax testing, inside SEAL Team 10

The Little Creek, Virginia-based command conducted urinalysis testing on April 9 and April 16, 2018, nabbing six SEALs for allegedly abusing cocaine and other banned substances.

Several SEALs told investigators they previously beat the testing program by swapping out tainted urine for clean samples — but they weren’t screened very often anyway.

“I never once got piss-tested on deployment or on the road, where I was using most often,” one busted SEAL said in a statement.

“When I was in Buenaventura, Colombia, I was using cocaine. I think I was the only one of the four SEAL TEAM TEN guys using cocaine there. It was everywhere.”

The names and other details involving the SEALs are redacted in the copy of the investigation obtained by Navy Times following a Freedom of Information Act request.

Citing regulations designed to protect sailors from “an unwarranted invasion of … personal privacy,” Naval Special Warfare Command spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence declined to name the SEALs netted during the probe or specify the punitive actions taken against them.

But she confirmed that no SEALs went to court-martial in the wake of the urinalysis screening and four were administratively separated from the sea service.

A fifth SEAL “ingested cocaine” at his home on April 15, 2018, and killed himself the following month, the lead investigator wrote.

The sixth SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel Boggs, confirmed to Navy Times that he tested positive and lost his trident.

But records provided by Boggs show an administrative board later cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Boggs, 34, said he was given the option of remaining in the Navy with a different rating, but he plans on exiting the service.

He insists that he never intentionally used cocaine and suspects he unwittingly drank from another SEAL’s cocktail that was laced with the drug.

At least one SEAL told investigators he would splice his drinks with cocaine while at a popular watering hole.

Boggs echoes other SEALs by saying no one in the team took the urinalysis screening system seriously and that he knew other operators were using drugs. But because he avoided illegal substances, he said he “never had to worry about it.”

In the wake of the probe, SEAL Team 10′s superiors at Naval Special Warfare Group 2 updated the urinalysis program, retrained those who administer the tests and hiked the frequency of the screenings, spokeswoman Lawrence said.

“We now test our operators and combat support personnel while in garrison, TDY for training and when deployed,” she said.

Lawrence also indicated that the command investigation shouldn’t be read as an indictment of the entire special warfare community.

“I will not speculate as to the reasons why these service members made the poor decisions that they did, but I will say that the actions of a few are not reflective of the SEAL code or culture,” she said.

“We have tightened our processes. We are focused on performance and we are proud of our progress.”

In the report, the lead investigator wrote that the command found no evidence that drug use by any of the SEALs led to teammates getting hurt.

But one sailor “during Tactical Ground Movement training may have unnecessarily exposed his teammates to greater training risk.”

Despite what often are hectic training and deployment cycles, the investigator who drafted the command report insisted that SEALs should never be exempted from urinalysis screening.

“On deployment, no location should be treated as too remote for testing,” the officer recommended. “No distance or cost should, by its inconvenience, implicitly sanction unlawful drug use or insulate service members from rigid adherence to Navy standards.”

But that was far from the case in mid-2018, according to the investigation. Back then, the testing program “suffered from serious deficiencies, which did not maintain accountability for substance abuse and adversely affected readiness,” the report states.

“Failure to conduct the Urinalysis Program in strict compliance with Navy standards, regulations, and guidance proved corrosive to good order and discipline by allowing drug use to continue undeterred and undetected.”

One SEAL said the system was “easy to cheat” and so there “was no real reason not to use any substance.”

“Most of the time no one had to watch urine leave the hole,” a SEAL told investigators. “It was usually a buddy that would just follow you in and let you piss.”

Because empty urine bottles were left “everywhere,” he’d also sneak one filled with clean urine into the bathroom to swap out the pee.

One SEAL said that others stashed clean urine in their gear cages to use if the command popped a surprise test.

Another described a testing system “so relaxed that once an individual saw his name on the urinalysis list, he commonly asked others to urinate for him into a spare bottle, and then set aside the urine in that bottle for later submission as a sample.”

One several occasions, another SEAL “simply dunked the specimen bottle into the urinal water and gave that fluid as a urine sample,” the report stated.

“The specimen he provided on 9 April 2018 was entirely composed of urinal water,” it added.

Another SEAL “was always worried he would ‘piss hot’ after a ‘big weekend,’ but he made no effort to protect against it,” the probe indicated.

One SEAL told investigators that he was never forced to buy his cocaine or other drugs because he received them for free “when he is at local bars.”

“Random people would offer me cocaine and I would go with them to use drugs,” he added.

One SEAL confessed he used cocaine “while cleaning his gear at his house,” according to the investigation.

Another SEAL who admitted snorting coke in Colombia also recalled years of drug abuse in the United States.

He told investigators that “he ‘partied’ with five service members from (SEAL Team 10)” during a stint at sniper school in September 2017 and also abused drugs during training for armorers in Indiana.

Back home in Virginia Beach, he’d mix cocaine into an “orange crush” drink while hanging out at The Shack, a local bar popular with SEALs, according to the report.

He described buying two of the cocktails to bring to the tavern’s restroom. Once at a stall, he’d dump cocaine into one of the drinks before returning to the bar.

“My normal process was to quickly consume the drink with the cocaine in it, then sip from the other drink so I didn’t have to carry two drinks around,” the SEAL admitted.

“If there was any ice or anything left in the cup from the Orange Crush with the cocaine, I poured the remainder into the other untouched Orange Crush and sipped from that one until the next round.”

The SEAL “stated that he never touched cocaine with his fingers because of its sticky residue” and instead “always used something to scoop the cocaine into his beverages as he stood at the urinal, such as a credit card, or he poured it directly into his ‘Orange Crush’ from the small plastic bag.”

The report indicated that the cocaine “made him very aware of his actions and very interested in conversation with members of the group” and the way he ingested the drug “at the Shack seemed well-rehearsed and calculated.”

A photo of the Virginia Beach bar's restroom shows where a Navy SEAL allegedly poured cocaine into his cocktail. (Navy)

A photo of the Virginia Beach bar’s restroom shows where a Navy SEAL allegedly poured cocaine into his cocktail. (Navy)

The SEAL’s disciplinary review board records are included in the investigation.

The team’s command master chief convened the DRB in May 2018, after the SEAL used cocaine shortly before both urinalysis sweeps, according to the records.

“Member took full responsibility for his actions and openly admits to using cocaine and (ecstasy) numerous times a week for the last three years,” the documents indicate.

He also confessed to using cocaine throughout pre-deployment training, except for a land warfare segment at Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center in rural western Arkansas.

“Apparently, cocaine is hard to find in (Arkansas),” the board’s notes state.

The board recommended he receive non-judicial punishment consisting of reduction in rank and forfeiture of half his pay for two months.

The SEAL’s wife left him and took their three kids across the country in February 2018 due to his “continued drug use” but he also entered substance abuse treatment to get help, according to the DRB records.

Navy SEAL Boss Orders Discipline Crackdown After Embarrassing Scandals

Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green addresses a crowd March 3, 2017, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. He is now the head of Naval Special Warfare. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite)
Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green addresses a crowd March 3, 2017, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. He is now the head of Naval Special Warfare. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite)

Discipline trackers, intrusive leadership and routine inspections: Those are just some of the changes coming to the Naval Special Warfare community after a host of scandals led to an ethics review and a call to restore good order.

Rear Adm. Collin Green sent a four-page memo to his senior leaders this week, ordering a host of changes within the Navy SEAL community, which has been rocked by sexual assault allegations, high-profile legal battles and drug use in the ranks.

The force, Green wrote in a memo first posted by CNN, has drifted from its core values of honor, courage and commitment “due to a lack of action at all levels of Leadership.” The problems have broken down the trust SEALs have earned from their military and civilian leaders and the American people, Green said.

“All Hands will address this issue with urgent, effective and active leadership,” he said. “This drift ends now.”

Officials at Naval Special Warfare Command could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Green’s memo was issued less than three weeks after he told the force they had a problem, calling on all personnel to clean up their behavior. A platoon had just been booted from Iraq over allegations of sexual misconduct and drinking in the war zone. There were also reports of cocaine use in one SEAL team and allegations that a member of another tricked a woman into sending nude photos.

There have also been high-profile legal cases, including that of Chief Special Warfare Operators Adam Matthews and Anthony DeDolph in connection to the death of an Army staff sergeant, and Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher was recently found guilty of wrongfully posing for a photo with a human casualty.

Green is cracking down on bad behavior, calling for a return to routine inspections including strict enforcement of all Navy grooming and uniform standards.

The use and distribution of all unofficial unit insignia, including logos and patches, is banned. Only those with special approval under formal Navy regulations will be allowed to stray from the standard-issue uniform items.

Green also wants to be personally informed when anyone above the rank of E-6 is accused of misbehavior. It’s possible those sailors could be reprimanded directly by the commander, raising questions about whether those cases had been mismanaged in the past.

“I reserve the right to withhold all Non-Judicial Punishment authority for those reports at my level as I deem appropriate,” Green wrote.

Within the next 30 days, Green also wants a force-wide accountability tracker that will ensure transparency of all disciplinary problems across the command. And leaders must be “intrusive,” he said, and assign only the right people to run drug tests and lead suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention and response programs.

SEALs told investigators last year they were able to skirt drug tests easily, Navy Times reported this summer, with operators referring to them as a “joke.” And at least one member of the team booted from Iraq last month was accused of sexual assault.

The Navy SEALs will retain only their best, Green said, keeping quality over quantity. He says he wants only the “right leaders that demonstrate adherence to the highest standards.”

More SEALs will be added to the ranks only after they ensure they have groomed the right number of leaders who have adequate training, certifications, and the “highest standards of character and competence,” Green said.

There will be peer reviews, legal training, lessons on naval special warfare heritage and a leadership development program.

The SEALs’ mission of taking on terrorists, rogue nations and peer adversaries is too important to have anyone compromising their values or standards, the memo states. Everyone in the command must “right the ship and remain the Force our Nation Expects,” Green said.

“We own the problem and the solution,” he said.

‘The Mandalorian’ Star Wars footage raises plenty of questions

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“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Those words, spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars about Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine, have passed into legend. They heralded the arrival of arguably the movie’s most iconic moments, the scenes where it mutates into a Sergio Leone-loving Space Western. Few remember what Kenobi said next: “We must be cautious.”

And cautious is exactly what the Star Wars franchise has been since then, returning to the Mos Eisley template fewer times than you might think. Mos Espa, the Tatooine spaceport in The Phantom Menace, offered pratfalls and podracing rather than tense Western standoffsThe Force Awakens and Rogue One had their desert planet moments, but both focused on those planets’ stormtrooper occupations at the expense of the scum-and-villainy underbelly. The first Star Wars movie to go full Space Western, Solo, was also the first Star Wars movie not to make its budget back at the box office.  Read more…

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Confirmed: Disney is making an Obi-Wan series with Ewan McGregor

The rumors have been suggesting it for a while now, and fans have been pretty much begging for it… and it’s happening: Ewan McGregor will return to the role of Obi-Wan for a new Disney+ series.

Disney dropped the news at a panel during D23 this evening, almost immediately after premiering the trailer for its other live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.

Details are still remarkably light. There’s not even an official name for the series yet. Beyond McGregor’s involvement, the only details mentioned are that the scripts are written, and that shooting should begin in 2020.

JUST ANNOUNCED: Hello there! Ewan McGregor will reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in an untitled series for #DisneyPlus! #D23Expo

— Disney D23 (@DisneyD23) August 24, 2019