Like you, we’re counting down the days until July 4. Not because it’s Independence Day, but because Season 3 of Stranger Things will finally be available to stream on Netflix. But the streaming platform isn’t the only thing that’s getting stranger. The cast of the hit series just joined Jimmy Fallon at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in New York City to scare some of their biggest fans, and yeah, things got spooky.
On Wednesday’s episode of The Tonight Show (June 26), Fallon pretended to be a wax figure of Season 1’s Barb alongside Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, Caleb McLaughlin, and Sadie Sink. For the most part, they were able to stay completely still for long enough to get unsuspecting fans seated and posed for a photo. But soon after, those same fans would be jumping out of their seats only to find the real-life actors standing right behind them.
Brown was the first to kick off the hijinks, making her way in between two fans and letting out a high-pitched shriek. Luckily, we got to watch their initial fear turn quickly into laughter and disbelief that they were hanging with the cast of one of their all-time favorite shows. But who could blame ’em? We mean, it’s the cast of Stranger Things!
The pranks continued with several other groups of fans, many of whom couldn’t believe how real the figures looked. But little did they know, they were real! In one instance, Sadie sat herself down right next to two people as they were posing, and after that, Caleb blew his cover by asking one fan for a tissue.
But while the actual cast was able to trick mostly everyone, Jimmy, well, not so much. After exposing himself as Jimmy Fallon, one fan looked him right in the eyes and said, “You look so stupid.” Sorry, Jimmy! It turns out you can’t pull off Barb quite as well as you thought you could.
Democrats broke into open warfare Thursday over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s surrender to the Senate’s emergency border aid package, with the caucus’s long-simmering divide between progressives and centrists playing out in dramatic fashion on the House floor.
Some lawmakers even resorted to public name-calling, with progressive leader Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) accusing moderate Democrats of favoring child abuse — an exchange on Twitter that prompted a pair of freshmen centrists to confront him directly on the floor, with other lawmakers looking on in shock.
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Pelosi has spent months deftly navigating a diverse caucus brimming with political novices, deeply split on ideological lines and itching to throw the president out of office. But this week’s fiasco exposed fissures in Pelosi’s rank-and-file, in her leadership and in her relationship with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“She is a very experienced legislator, but I think this is a very rough patch,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“We can’t say that we have a lawless administration or a president who should be in prison, or whatever people want to say about him, but then cave,” she added. “You have to fight for what you believe.”
And the conclusion of the four-day whiplash battle within the caucus proved Pelosi, who often describes herself as a “master negotiator,” is not invincible. The battle further illustrates the hurdles Pelosi faces in the fall as she tries to keep her caucus united while negotiating with Republicans to avoid a fiscal cliff and debt default.
Just before the vote, Pocan, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, inflamed tensions further when he called the Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan group of moderates that pushed Pelosi to take up the Senate bill — the “Child Abuse Caucus.”
The stinging attack was a reference to the Senate bill’s lack of additional language to protect migrant children that House progressives had fought aggressively for.
“Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus?” Pocan wrote on Twitter.
Reps. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), both members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, confronted Pocan on the House floor over his tweet. According to sources familiar with the conversation, Rose used expletives, and Pocan said he did not apologize.
“I said, how come you can’t stay 24 hours to do your job?” Pocan said of his retort to Rose on the floor. “He said, ‘My mother thinks I’m a child abuser.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell your mother you’re not a child abuser.’”
Rose, whom his party considers to be vulnerable in 2020, vented his frustration Thursday shortly after the exchange, calling Pocan’s tweet “crazy, crazy language.”
“Mark’s tweet just speaks to why everyone hates this place. He’s just trying to get retweets. That’s all he cares about,” Rose told POLITICO.
Their spat continued on Twitter, with Pocan responding: “Maybe the REAL problem is someone who thinks this is about retweets and not about bad contractors, awful conditions and kids.”
More than 90 Democrats voted against the Senate bill, including members of leadership like Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — a sign of the deep discontent simmering within the caucus. In a shocking move, Pelosi’s entire team of negotiators on the border aid bill, including House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also voted no.
Progressives, including Pocan, said they felt stung by the stunning course-reversal by Pelosi, where she swiftly bowed to pressure from moderates who had threatened to tank the House version of the bill — which contained hard-fought wins for the liberal Democrats. And Pocan warned that it could fire up the 90-member Congressional Progressive Caucus to take more hardline stances on key bills in the coming months.
“I just think it’s hard to ask our caucus to help deliver votes to pass things,” Pocan said. “It’s just going to be a lot harder for us to care to help deliver votes.”
Multiple other liberal Democrats were also publicly seething at their centrist colleagues for forcing Pelosi to abandon her initial plan to vote on an amended version of the Senate bill that contained additional protections for migrant children.
House centrists, meanwhile, took a victory lap for their earlier efforts to pressure Pelosi into taking up the Senate bill.
“You have to understand, you’re not going to get everything you want,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, said in an interview after the bill passed. “We just wanted to make sure that none of us went home without getting something done for children and families at the border.”
Hours earlier, Gottheimer and other Democratic moderates began privately lobbying their colleagues to threaten to oppose their own caucus’s version of the border bill, arguing that Pelosi should simply take up the Senate version. Those members, who belonged to both the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Blue Dog Coalition, ultimately totaled 18 — enough to tank the bill.
Pelosi went back to the negotiating table, speaking with Vice President Mike Pence for an hour before huddling with her leadership team. Pence agreed to some “administrative fixes” that addressed some Democratic concerns — and Pelosi announced her House would vote on the clean Senate bill as a result — but it wasn’t enough to calm furious liberals.
“I think the Problem Solvers Caucus is emerging to be this tea party within our own Democratic Party,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO. “I find their tactics to be extremely concerning. It’s horrifying. It’s horrifying.”
The New York Democrat said she blames the centrist group for the House getting stuck with the Senate’s funding package.
But other members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, who pride themselves on being bipartisan and largely staying out of the headlines, were privately livid.
Facing an uprising from both the right and left wings of the caucus, Pelosi struggled to contain members’ outrage on Thursday over being forced to concede to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to entertain Democratic demands that he amend the Senate bill.
The end result also left House Democrats fuming at Schumer and Senate Democrats, who voted overwhelmingly for the Senate’s border aid package, weakening the House majority’s negotiating position, they said.
“It obviously significantly undermined our leverage and our ability to keep these important protections in the bill,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of House leadership who voted against the bill Thursday.
Pelosi expressed her own unhappiness with Schumer at a Democratic leadership meeting Thursday, complaining that he couldn’t corral his members to support the House bill, according to a source in the room.
Progressive lawmakers were much sharper — and public — in their criticism. Jayapal said Senate Democrats should have grown a “spine” and not voted with Senate Republicans on Wednesday.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a progressive firebrand, declined to fault House leaders, placing the blame instead squarely on the shoulders of Senate Democrats, most of whom backed the Senate bill.
“Let’s focus on the fact that Senate Democrats joined the leadership behind McConnell in support of something that had no safeguards, no basic human rights for these children,” she said. “What are you doing? You’re just throwing money and saying, ‘continue what you’re doing President Trump, you’re doing a fine job.’”
Senate Democratic sources privately blamed House Democrats, saying they pulled out of bipartisan border aid negotiations in May after the Congressional Hispanic Caucus objected. Some House Democrats also privately blamed Jayapal, who they say inflamed the CHC, urging them to pressure leadership to pull out of the negotiations in May. Others argued that some of the demands from both progressives and Hispanic members came too late in negotiations.
That resulted in the Senate moving forward on its own, with the Senate Appropriations Committee approving its bipartisan package 30-1 before it overwhelmingly passed on the floor.
“Senate Democrats were with the House Dems all the way, but their bill couldn’t pass the Senate,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “By refusing to participate in a four-corner negotiation for weeks, House Dems never allowed themselves the chance to have a say in a bill that could actually become law, so they only have themselves to blame for that.”
House Democratic leaders sought to tamp down the controversy but acknowledged they weren’t able to get the job done, refusing to blame their Senate colleagues.
“It’s done. It’s not time for blame,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “We would have hoped that we would have had the opportunity to get the vision that we think should have been supported by the Senate. We were disappointed we weren’t able to get that in there.”
John Bresnahan, Jake Sherman, Melanie Zanona and Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.
Free agency will dominate the thoughts and social media streams of NBA fans for the next several weeks, but don’t forget about the other way to add or subtract talent from a roster.
Trade chatter gets overshadowed at this time of year, but a well-timed deal can make just as much of an impact as a marquee signing.
Here, we’ll round up the players subject to trade rumors ahead of free agency and even climb out on limbs to predict where they’ll end up—if they move at all.
These guys aren’t free agents, but they might want to keep their bags packed anyway.
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Two years into the Chris Paul–James Harden union, a lot of people’s first instincts are looking belatedly sound.
When the Houston Rockets traded for Paul in 2017, concerns about how they’d coexist cropped up everywhere. The thinking: Paul and Harden, two historically ball-dominant guards used to running offenses themselves, couldn’t possibly make this work. One of them would eventually get frustrated or resent taking on a lesser role.
For the better part of two seasons, Harden, Paul and the Rockets made those worries seem overblown.
Yet here we are now, with Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reporting the Paul-Harden relationship is “unsalvageable” and that Paul demanded a trade. CP3 and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey disputed talk of friction, but that’s exactly what smart players and executives should do when they’re trying to preserve leverage ahead of a potential trade.
Why advertise to the rest of the league that you have no choice but to move this guy? Please commence with the lowball offers!
Moving a declining 34-year-old player with durability concerns and $124 million incoming over the next three years is a massive challenge, even if it might be the best thing for the Rockets’ future.
On the bright side, seemingly immovable players change destinations all the time. Blake Griffin went from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Detroit Pistons in the first year of his massive five-year max deal in 2018, so anything is possible.
Still, Paul’s situation differs in important ways. He’s older than Griffin and has a well-established history as an opinionated, sometimes overbearing personality. It’s difficult to imagine the “right” team for him to land on.
Not only that, but the Golden State Warriors’ injury and free-agency issues mean the West is more open than it’s been in years. If Paul and Harden can find a way to coexist for another season, they might break through and reach the Finals.
So while it seems that there’s likely tension between Paul and Harden and a trade might make some sense, the difficulty of moving Paul and the upside of holding this thing together for another year should preserve the status quo for a while longer.
Prediction: Paul lasts in Houston until at least the trade deadline.
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Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
The latest on a potential Bradley Beal trade comes from Beal himself, via Ben Golliver of the Washington Post:
“Beal said that [team owner Ted] Leonsis, [interim general manager Tommy] Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.
“‘They’ve been very transparent and that’s been great,’ Beal said. ‘They’re not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It’s great having that peace of mind.’”
Nothing to see here then, apparently. Beal isn’t going anywhere.
Except we’ve heard declarations like this from the Washington Wizards’ decision-makers before. And the last time Leonsis made a pledge to keep certain players around, Washington dealt Otto Porter Jr. to the Chicago Bulls shortly thereafter.
So, let’s not rule a Beal deal out yet.
John Wall‘s supermax contract has the Wizards in a tough spot. They have few paths to flexibility, and though Beal is clearly their most valuable on-court asset, he might also be their only ticket to longer-term wiggle room.
With that said, any potential Beal trade will likely come later in the 2019-20 season. By then, perhaps Beal will see the bleak future ahead in Washington and make it known to the team that he intends to explore free agency in 2021. That’s how trade demands work in the modern NBA: give your current team a not-so-subtle note about your intentions so it can recoup some value for you while it still can.
Bet on Beal starting the season with the Wizards, but expect rumblings of a potential move to grow if the losses pile up and it becomes clearer that help isn’t on the way.
Prediction: Beal stays…for now
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Unless they cut salary, the Oklahoma City Thunder are headed for the luxury tax again in 2019-20.
Hence the recent chatter surrounding a possible Steven Adams trade from Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated and A.Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, the latter of whom specifically mentioned the Boston Celtics as a possible landing spot for Adams.
Adams, who averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds during his age-25 season last year, is due $25.8 million in 2019-20 and $27.5 million in 2020-21 And while his toughness, rebounding and low-usage impact are valuable, it may be difficult for OKC to justify spending a star’s salary on a role player, especially with the punitive tax looming.
Boston dealt Aron Baynes on draft night and seems likely to lose Al Horford in free agency, which would leave a huge void in the middle. The Celtics figure to build around young wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on offense, so they could do worse than adding a defensive anchor and interior finisher in Adams.
Still, Adams is a bit of an anomaly: a $100 million conventional center in an era that decreasingly values players like him. That’ll make him difficult to move.
There’s always the possibility that a cash-rich team could take him into cap space with picks attached (think along the lines of the Sacramento Kings), but would the Thunder include future assets just to get off Adams’ contract? As hard as that may be to imagine, the Thunder might do it, especially if they can backfill Adams’ position by using the mid-level exception on someone like Dewayne Dedmon or Ed Davis.
Prediction: OKC moves Adams to the Boston Celtics.
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JR Smith should be an attractive trade candidate.
An acquiring team could send out salary to match the $15.7 million Smith is owed for next year and then waive him before his guarantee date of June 30, paying him only $3.9 million instead. The Cleveland Cavaliers can also cut Smith and save $11.8 million, but it would behoove them to take on matching money with a pick or young player attached in the bargain.
Some team would assuredly part ways with an unwanted contract for $11.8 million in savings next year.
The problem may be on Cleveland’s end, though.
The Cavs would be a projected taxpayer if they added money in exchange for Smith. That comes with a whole heap of future problems to solve, as GM Koby Altman explained to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:
“We’re definitely going to investigate what we can do there. There’s a pain threshold of doing it, going into the tax, which we would have to do in terms of taking back money and the rest of the NBA knowing that we’re in the tax and my job would be getting us out of the tax. Is there enough value there to do that, to put ourselves out there like that?”
In the end, it might make the most sense for the Cavs to waive Smith, save what little money they can and give up on the idea of squeezing an asset out of a trade. The league has known about Smith’s unusual contract for plenty of time. If there were a beneficial offer out there, the Cavs would have seen it by now.
Yahoo Sports’ Chris B. Haynes likes Smith’s odds to end up with the Los Angeles Lakers one way or another.
Prediction: No trade. Cleveland waives Smith and pockets $11.8 million in savings. Smith signs and reunites with LeBron James in L.A.
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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the Houston Rockets are trying to trade Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and/or PJ Tucker into another team’s cap space as a first step toward building a sign-and-trade package for Philadelphia 76ers free agent Jimmy Butler.
It’s a bold strategy with a seemingly low chance of success.
The Sixers can offer Butler a fifth year and up to $189.7 million, but he could only collect $140.6 million over four years in Houston’s preferred scenario. Unless Philadelphia thinks Butler is going to walk away from what amounts to an additional year and $50 million in salary, it has no incentive to play ball with Houston.
Sure, the Sixers could take on one or two of the Rockets’ three available starters or carve out a major trade exception by shipping them to a third team, but why wouldn’t they rather have the added flexibility created by Butler’s departure instead?
Plus, we already know Butler can behave badly enough to get himself traded whenever the mood strikes. He just did it to get out of Minnesota last season. If he wants to play somewhere other than Philadelphia, he can take the Sixers’ roughly $190 million and extricate himself later on. There’s little incentive for him to embrace the Rockets’ plan.
Credit the Rockets for getting predictably creative in trying to add star talent. You can always count on them for that. But unless there are some unreported shoes left to drop, it’s hard to understand why the Sixers or Butler would have interest in engaging with Houston on its sign-and-trade plan.
Prediction: Butler re-signs with the Sixers for the five-year max.
The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that federal courts have no business deciding how much partisan gerrymandering is too much didn’t end the fight over how politicians draw political lines — it just moved the battlefield.
Democrats and reformers wanted the high court to set standards for when politically-motivated map-making goes too far. Instead, justices accelerated the race between the two parties to tilt the system to their advantage by electing as many governors and legislators as possible or, in some states, getting voters to support ballot measures to take the redistricting process out of politicians’ hands by 2021.
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That’s when states will redraw their maps to conform to the 2020 census — now, without a worry that federal courts will throw them out for being excessively partisan.
But this is hardly the end of the story.
While the justices closed off filing legal challenges to gerrymandering in federal courts, they explicitly said those lawsuits are still fair game in state courts. It was there that Democratic-aligned plaintiffs successfully demolished Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional map before the 2018 elections.
“We’ll be fighting in the states to ensure that we have a fair redistricting process,” said Eric Holder, the former attorney general, who is now the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “We will use the state courts where we are no longer able to use the federal courts.”
That means the high court’s ruling not only raises the stakes for legislative elections, it also heightens the importance of securing liberal or conservative majorities on state high courts, whether they are appointed by governors or directly elected by voters. Because the U.S. Supreme Court has a limited role in overseeing how state supreme courts interpret state laws, those state judges could become the final authority determining which maps stand or fall after the next round of nationwide redistricting.
The new importance of state courts will be on full display next month in North Carolina, where Democratic-linked plaintiffs allege GOP state legislators violated state law in drawing the congressional map. While the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday preserved North Carolina’s GOP-drawn congressional map, Democrats can now take a similar case to the state Supreme Court. Six of the seven justices on that court ran as Democrats.
“We believe that this is a fruitful avenue,” said Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director at Common Cause, the good-government group that brought the North Carolina litigation to overturn the map.
Republicans expect Democratic groups to pick up the strategy and unleash it across the country after the 2020 census, after their success in Pennsylvania and the attempt in North Carolina.
“It’s clear, and Democrats have already signaled this, that they’re going to be taking these cases to state courts,” said Jason Torchinsky, general counsel for the National Republican Redistricting Trust. “That opens a Pandora’s box at the state level. State judiciaries are going to have to wrestle with the same questions” that the Supreme Court just did, Torchinsky continued — except in dozens of courtrooms around the country with different judges and different provisions of state constitutions at play.
Republicans also plan to fight Democrats outside the courtroom, said Adam Kincaid, NRRT’s executive director. “The next phase of redistricting is going to be about [Democratic] groups doubling down on their attempts to flip state courts,” Kincaid said, noting that Republican groups had recently boosted a conservative judge to victory in a nationally watched Wisconsin court race.
While the Supreme Court says federal judges can’t police partisan gerrymandering, it doesn’t mean that all gerrymandering is constitutional. Roberts stressed that Thursday’s ruling does not make racial gerrymandering — using race or ethnicity to pack voters into districts — permissible, and federal courts will still police that issue.
But Paul Mitchell, the vice president of Political Data Inc., said he worried that — because the federal courts now can’t evaluate partisan gerrymandering claims — legislators who draw gerrymandered maps will cloak race-based mapmaking as actually motivated by party.
“We know partisanship can be used as a proxy for ethnicity, so this could provide the pretext for a type of racial gerrymandering where people say ‘Democrat’ instead of ‘Latino’ or ‘black,’ and ‘Republican’ instead of ‘white.’ And now, ‘Ok, you can gerrymander,’” said Mitchell.
Democrats say litigation is only one page in their playbook, however. Already, some states have independent redistricting commissions or other guardrails against extreme partisan gerrymandering — including a number that have adopted them in recent years.
As if to draw a roadmap, Chief Justice John Roberts cited a number of state-level reforms in his majority opinion. He mentioned Florida’s “Fair Districts” amendments to the state constitution, which state courts used to throw out that state’s congressional maps in 2015 after finding GOP lawmakers violated the amendment’s prohibitions against any political consideration in redistricting.
Roberts also cited amendments to state constitutions approved by voters in Colorado and Michigan in the 2018 midterms that created redistricting commissions. Voters in Ohio also approved a proposal earlier in 2018 to give the minority party in the legislature more power in the redistricting process moving forward.
Democrats want to expand the practice. Holder said his organization — which also has the explicit backing of former President Barack Obama — was exploring pushing changes to the redistricting process in Arkansas, New Hampshire and Oklahoma in 2020.
Moves toward independent commissions aren’t just coming from Democrats, however. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a second-term Republican, ran on redistricting reform and had urged the Supreme Court to strike down his state’s map, a Democratic gerrymander. After the court declined on Thursday, Hogan called the ruling “terribly disappointing” — but pledged to continue the fight for a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines.
“It is, and will continue to be, one of my highest priorities as governor,” said Hogan.
But some of those commissions may also be in peril at the high court. In 2014, justices ruled 5-4 that Arizona’s independent commission, which was approved by voters, did not violate the constitutional provision that state legislatures govern congressional elections. Then-Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s liberal bloc to form the majority in that case, with Roberts writing a blistering dissent.
Kennedy was a moderate on redistricting cases — he suggested that gerrymandering could go too far but never was able to marshal a majority of justices to agree on a single standard. Since his replacement on the court by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, reformers have worried that the precedent set in Arizona could be at risk, with the new conservative majority ruling that only legislatures themselves can redraw congressional lines.
“It is something that gives me some degree of concern,” Holder said Thursday, adding that it would be “appalling” if the court overturned that decision.
Holder expressed some measure of optimism, however, noting that Roberts mentioned some of these voter-approved commissions in his majority opinion as evidence that the states can police themselves.
“It seems like there is an acceptance of the existence of these commissions,” said Holder.
The first footage of the Elizabeth Banks-helmed reboot of the classic TV and film series Charlie’s Angels is here, and it looks quite promising already. Oh, and it’s got a lethal dose of girl power, just as you’d expect.
Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska take on the roles of Sabina and Jane, agents who already know a thing or two about kicking butt and taking names. They soon meet newbie Elena (Naomi Scott) and start teaching her the tools of the trade.
In a nutshell, the girls will be taking on some sort of lethal tech that could be transformed into a formidable weapon. The Angels need to make sure they wrangle this advancement before the bad guys take hold of it. Then they’ve got to blow plenty of stuff up and punch dudes in the face. What else do you need from an action flick, anyway?
There’s plenty of attitude to spare in this vision of the Charlie’s Angels storyline, and it looks like it’s going to be a good time for everyone. This time around, the show’s Bosley role (basically “Charlie’s” intermediary) is being shared by three actors: Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, and Djimon Hounsou. Oh, and check out Noah Centineo as the “handsome nerd.”
The trailer also gives us a brief glimpse at the new theme song from Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey. At first listen, it doesn’t immediately grab you like Destiny’s Child’s 2000 banger “Independent Women,” but it’s really hard to judge yet from just a snippet. The entirety of the soundtrack is being co-executive-produced by Grande herself, though (great news) and will be available via Republic Records. There’s probably lots more to hear than just the track previewed in the trailer.
Charlie’s Angels are set to report to theaters on November 15.
Iran’s foreign minister has dismissed US President Donald Trump‘s claim that a war between their countries would be short-lived, as Washington sought NATO’s help to build an anti-Tehran coalition.
“‘Short war’ with Iran is an illusion,” Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter on Thursday, a day after Trump said he did not want a war with Iran but warned that if fighting did break out, it “wouldn’t last very long”.
Tehran has accused the United States of “economic terrorism” and “psychological warfare” over the Trump administration’s application of punishing sanctions after the US president last year unilaterally withdrew Washington from an historic nuclear deal with world powers. Under the 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
In his Twitter post, Zarif said the reimposed and tightened US sanctions “aren’t an alternative to war – they are war”.
Also on Thursday, Iran’s parliamentary speaker warned the US against violating the country’s borders, cautioning such a move would draw a “stronger” reaction than the downing of a US drone a week ago.
In comments carried by Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency on Thursday, Speaker Ali Larijani said the shootdown of the unmanned aerial vehicle was “a good experience for them to avoid any aggression”.
“Iran’s reaction will be stronger if they repeat their mistake of violating our borders,” Larijani said.
Tehran said the Global Hawk surveillance drone was in its territory when it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile on June 20. Washington rebuffed that claim, saying the aircraft was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz when it was hit.
Trump ordered retaliatory attacks on Iranian installations over the incident – which marked the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets amid an escalating crisis between the two powers – before calling them off at the last minute. The US president later said too many people would have died had the attacks gone ahead.
The war of words between Washington and Tehran has since escalated, with Trump this week threatening Iran’s “obliteration” after President Hassan Rouhani called the White House’s actions “mentally retarded”.
On Wednesday, Trump said any war between Iran and the US would be swift, but reiterated his desire to avoid a military confrontation.
The US leader has been a frequent critic of Iran’s leaders, accusing them of sowing disorder and unrest in the Middle East.
Amid rising tension, the acting US defence chief on Thursday pressed NATO allies to join Washington’s efforts to squeeze Iran and ensure the safety of ships in the Gulf after a series of mysterious incidents that caused damage to commercial ships near the shipping lane of Strait of Hormuz, which the US has blamed on Iran over Iranian denials.
Mark Esper urged allies to “consider public statements condemning Iran’s bad behaviour and making the point that we need to have freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz”.
He also sought to “internationalise” the Iran issue, at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels devoted to discussing the Iran-US crisis.
INSIDE STORY: Will the US attack Iran? (25:51)
Tehran said earlier this month it would breach the limit of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium mandated under the deal by Thursday, and threatened to take further steps on July 7 to increase uranium enrichment purity levels over the 3.67 percent limit set in the agreement.
Citing unnamed diplomats, the Reuters agency reported Iran was still short of the cap on enriched uranium, however, but was on course to reach that limit at the weekend.
On Wednesday, the UN nuclear watchdog verified Iran had roughly 200kg of low-enriched uranium, below the deal’s 202.8kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters.
Tehran’s announced plan to breach the deal was widely interpreted as a bid to ramp up pressure on the agreement’s remaining signatories – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia – to deliver protection from the US sanctions for Iran’s faltering economy.
Iran’s European partners are expected to announce a multimillion-dollar credit line at a summit in the Austria’s capital, Vienna, on Friday.
The credit line is aimed at keeping alive economic ties between European governments and Tehran by helping a special mechanism establish a route for trade between Iran and the West, unnamed officials told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
Amid European efforts to salvage the deal, US officials also launched a diplomatic campaign to rally their allies in the face of the escalating crisis.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East on Monday to meet leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Gulf Arab states that favour the toughest possible line against Iran.
On Thursday, the US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, will meet British, German and French officials in Paris for talks.
Hook is expected to receive a frosty reception from Washington’s European allies, who support the nuclear deal and believe Trump’s decision to quit the accord was a mistake that has strengthened Iran’s hardline faction, weakened its pragmatists, and raised the prospect of open conflict in the Middle East.
Since quitting the deal, Trump has deployed more military assets to the region along with thousands of additional troops.
The moves coincided with a series of mysterious attacks on oil assets in the Gulf that Washington has blamed on Tehran, which has in turn repeatedly denied responsibility for the explosions.