Ukrainians Are Under Attack by Methods Old and New—and They’re Blaming Russia
Ukraine was the target of two very dramatic attacks on Tuesday. The targets and methods used were very different. But in both cases, while Russian involvement was suspected, the exact culprits will be very hard to identify, much less hold responsible.
In Kiev, a car bombing killed a senior military intelligence official, Maxim Shapoval, in what investigators called a terrorist attack. Shapoval had reportedly been working to collect evidence of Russian involvement in the violence in Eastern Ukraine and is the latest in a string of assassinations or attempted assassinations of enemies of Russia on Ukrainian soil. In March, Denis Voronenkov, a former member of the Russian parliament who had fled to Ukraine after turning against Vladimir Putin’s government, was shot dead in Kiev. That same month, a military intelligence official assigned to the Donetsk region, which is partially under the control of Russian-backed separatists, was killed in a car bombing in the port city of Mariupol. On June 1, a man from Chechnya posing as a reporter for a French newspaper, shot and wounded Adam Osmayev, a Chechen who had gained fame for fighting on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
Unlike in previous cases, the government did not immediately blame Russia for Shapoval’s death, but Ukrainian officials reportedly suspect Russian involvement. In 2006, Russia passed a law permitting the killing of “extremists” on foreign soil.
Also on Tuesday, Ukraine was the epicenter of a massive cyberattack. The ransomware, similar to the “WannaCry” attacks in May, quickly spread to computer systems around the world, but Ukraine was the first and worst hit. ATMs in Kiev were disabled, and services from trains to post offices to the power grid were disrupted. Safety workers at the Chernobyl site were forced to manually monitor radiation at the former nuclear plant after computers failed. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks since the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, including a 2015 power grid hack that left thousands without electricity for hours.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in those attacks and said it had no information about this week’s attack. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned against “unfounded blanket accusations.” Several Russian companies, including state-owned energy giant Rosneft, were also targeted by the ransomware, so if the Russian government was involved, it may have accidentally cyberattacked itself in the process.
The violence between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region has killed more than 10,000 people. While the conflict has fallen out of the headlines lately, it has not abated entirely, as there have been frequent violations of the cease-fire agreements. The European Union extended sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, citing a lack of progress on negotiating an end to the conflict.
While devastating for those living near the front lines, the conflict has mostly settled into an uneasy stasis. The mysterious and often unattributable attacks striking the heart of the country, far from the battlefield, could be much more unnerving.
Don’t Give Congressmen a Housing Subsidy. Make Them Live in Dorms.
On Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz said that members of Congress ought to get a housing stipend along with their salaries: Maintaining residences in both Washington, D.C., and their home districts, the soon-to-be-erstwhile congressman argued, is simply too expensive on a meager $174,000 salary. Detractors quickly piped up that Chaffetz is the same guy who recently recommended that in order to afford health insurance, all Americans have to do is forgo new iPhones: In terms of financial advice, he’s no Suze Orman. But still, maybe he’s onto something; maybe members of Congress do need a housing solution for when the legislature is in session so they’re not sleeping on cots in their offices, as Chaffetz did. And maybe the answer is right in front of us: We should take inspiration from one of America’s greatest institutions, higher education, and make our representatives live in dorms.
Real estate in D.C. is costly, a problem some representatives already address by shacking up together: The Amazon TV show Alpha House was based on the real-life Capitol Hill house that Sens. Dick Dubin and Chuck Schumer shared with Rep. George Miller. But for as long as our government exists in its current form—one hopes that it will for the foreseeable future, though who knows—there will be senators and representatives who need places to stay in D.C. And so until we relieve them of the responsibility of finding somewhere to live, they’ll have to waste valuable time and energy looking for somewhere, time and energy that could be better spent representing their constituents. So why not just build a dorm for ‘em?
This idea has been thrown around before, but let’s really think it through: After the initial construction—is there any way to make Mexico pay for that?—dorms are thrifty. All the members of the House and Senate could probably be squeezed into one or two buildings. A cafeteria could serve their morning and evening meals, and basically all their amenities would be taken care of: More time to pass legislation and make America, uh, whatever they need to make it. These dorms would not be cushy, though. Not every American gets to go to college, so in order to avoid the appearance of elitism, congressional living arrangements would have to be thoroughly average, full of lofted desks and those concrete blocks you put beds on (twin size, naturally) and plastic storage bins. This is Real America, lawmakers: If you want to represent your country, you better be prepared to live abstemiously.
How would it work, under the Slate plan? The dorms would be co-ed, but there would be a special floor just for women-identifying reps that, due to their historic underrepresentation, would be comparatively pristine. No one in the women’s caucus gets pee all over the bathroom floor, that’s for sure. Dorm living would be mandatory for congressional freshmen and subject to a housing lottery thereafter, meaning eventually all the cool Democrats on a certain committee could live together in an upperclassman suite, but first they would have to spend at least a term with a randomly selected roommate who is, in all likelihood, diametrically opposed to everything they stand for. Best of luck to whoever ends up paired with Sen. Ted Cruz: Cruz’s actual college roommate still dines out on tales of the horrors of rooming with him at Princeton. There could be themed halls for people with similar interests: film lovers, sci-fi fans, climate change deniers.
But mostly, it would just be funny to subject these blowhards to dorm life. Let these politicians live with roommates and no air conditioning. Let them be sexiled. Let them try to hide illegal crockpots and drugs from the resident advisers, who would be chosen by internal elections. Let them live with curfews—no lobbyists on the floors after 10 p.m. Let them fight over control of the television in the lounge; let South Carolina’s elected representatives try to secede when Fox News is temporarity banned. Let them try to write laws with the very same people they’re mad at for clogging the toilets. (If you thought Al Franken was pissed when Ted Cruz helped shut down the government, wait’ll you see him after Cruz microwaves fish in the communal kitchen.) Let them get sick of the whole business after their third term and eschew re-election.
Short of campaign finance reform and term limits, it might be the best hope for democracy we’ve got.
Ex-Cop and Action-Movie Star Uses Helicopter to Attack Venezuela’s “Corrupt Government”
Venezuela’s ongoing political turmoil took a dramatic and surreal turn Tuesday when a police helicopter started strafing government buildings in the capital, Caracas, in what President Nicolás Maduro has denounced as an attempted coup.
The helicopter fired at the interior ministry and dropped four grenades on the country’s supreme court. Both institutions are viewed as bastions of support for Maduro. No injuries were reported.
The helicopter was reportedly flown by a former police pilot named Oscar Perez, who posted a video on Instagram, flanked by masked men holding weapons, appealing to Venezuelans to oppose the country’s “corrupt government.”
The helicopter was dumped on the Caribbean coast and Perez is now on the run.
With Venezuela crippled by its economic crisis, there have been massive street protests in recent weeks, leading to dozens of deaths in clashes with security forces. Amid the turmoil, Maduro is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to draft a new constitution for the country to fend off what he has called a “fascist coup.” He has also accused the U.S. of attempting to overthrow him.
Maduro said that Perez used to work for former Intelligence Services chief Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who has recently become a prominent opponent. Rodriguez denied any involvement in the attack.
Venezuela has a history of coup attempts. Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, tried to orchestrate one against then-President Carlos Andrés Peréz in 1992.* After Chávez was elected president six years later, he survived an attempted coup in 2002.
While Perez’s action was no doubt dramatic, it’s not clear whether he is backed by a larger movement. The pilot’s Instagram persona is a bit, shall we say, eccentric:
He also co-produced and starred in a 2015 action film based on his own role in rescuing a kidnapped businessman, titled Suspended Death:
*Correction, June 28, 2017: This post originally misspelled Carlos Andrés Peréz’s middle name.
Florida Cop Cites Imaginary ID Law While Threatening 21-Year-Old Black Man With Jail for Jaywalking
Above: Video taken by a (black) 21-year-old Jacksonville, Florida, resident named Devonte Shipman in which a (white) police officer threatens to take him to jail after stopping him for (allegedly) jaywalking. (Technically, the officer says he will jail Shipman for "disobeying a direct order" and resisting arrest, but he raises the possibility of doing so within 22 seconds of Shipman turning on his camera, which from context seems like it happened fairly soon after their interaction began.)
The Jacksonville Times-Union has a write-up, from which we learn that Shipman fortunately did not end up being sentenced to a lengthy term in a maximum-security prison for doing something that literally everyone always does all the time when crossing the street. He was, however, given two citations, one for failing to obey a walk signal and one for not having a driver's license with him. But as the article notes, laws about carrying a driver's license apply to drivers, not pedestrians. It seems like that will be news to the officer, who tells Shipman during the video that "in the state of Florida you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are." Florida does have a stop-and-frisk law that allows officers to detain individuals under criminal suspicion in order to identify them—but 1) Shipman told the officer his name and date of birth when asked, 2) the stop-and-frisk law is not the statute the police department told the Times-Union that Shipman had violated, and 3) jaywalking is identified as a "noncriminal offense" in Florida code.
Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Is the Press an Enemy of the State, and Should We All Be Imprisoned and Fed to Dogs?
In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.
On Friday, CNN retracted a story it had posted about a Trump supporter and fundraiser named Anthony Scaramucci. On Monday, three journalists involved with the story resigned. Subsequently, the president and his son Donald Jr. (who is friendly with several figures in what we might, a few years ago, have called the white supremacist fringe) sent a total of 18 angry tweets accusing CNN and the rest of the mainstream media of fabricating and promoting fake stories in a sort of collective anti-administration conspiracy. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed those themes at an afternoon press conference before being challenged by a reporter named Brian Karem in an exchange you can watch here.
Presidential administrations in the past, particularly conservative ones, have complained about and scapegoated the media. But suggesting that the media is annoying, biased, and sensationalistic is one thing; truly believing that the entire institution of the press is an enemy operation engaged in bad-faith national sabotage is another. As Gawker's Alex Pareene has pointed out, national politics are increasingly controlled by gullible readers of nationalist/paranoid/extremist blogs and websites, and in their movement the idea of taking pride in free speech (as embodied in the free press) because it's a component of American liberty—even in a chauvinistic way, as in "Americans are the freest people on God's green Earth," etc.—does not seem to exist. The white, anti-cosmopolitan, blue-collar ethnostate of Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon's fantasies is not the kind of place where you disagree with what someone says but you defend to the death their right to say it.
That doesn't really change Donald Trump's chances of getting impeached, but it does make me hope that, if he does, we can clean this entire toxic ideology out of the national consciousness, and send it back to the sewers, where it can be eaten by rats, and vanish.
Former Trump Campaign Chief Manafort Registers as Foreign Agent for Ukraine Lobbying
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort registered as a foreign agent Tuesday for the work his consulting group did on behalf of Ukraine from 2012 to 2014. Manafort becomes the second high-ranking Trump campaign official—along with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who filed for his work with the Turkish government earlier this year—to retroactively register with the Department of Justice under The Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires U.S. citizens lobbying on behalf of a foreign government to disclose their work.
Manafort’s filing shows his firm earned $17.1 million from 2012 to 2014 for its work for Ukraine’s Party of Regions, the pro-Russia party of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. Other prominent U.S. lobbying groups have also retroactively filed paperwork with the DOJ for their work with Ukraine. Failure to report lobbying work under FARA is a felony, but prosecutions for violations are rare. Instead, those in violation are usually prompted by the DOJ to make disclosures to get on the right side of the law, even if retroactively.
Manafort’s DOJ filing is the latest bit of evidence of the murky financial dealings of Trump’s former campaign chief, who has operated out on the political fringes for years.
Chicago Grand Jury Indicts Three Officers for Alleged Cover-Up of Laquan McDonald Shooting
Three of the Chicago police officers on the scene when Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald in 2014 have been indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct. They stand accused of lying on incident reports about the moments leading up to Van Dyke’s use of deadly force against the black 17-year-old.
The indictment, which is written in a way that suggests more officers could still be charged for participating in the cover-up, accuses David March, Joseph Walsh, and Thomas Gaffney of allegedly coordinating with Van Dyke—who has been charged with murder—to provide false accounts of the shooting “in order to shield their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution.”
In a report submitted to the Chicago Police Department, March wrote that McDonald had “committed aggravated assaults against the three officers, finally forcing [Van Dyke], in defense of his life, to shoot and kill” him. In a separate report, Walsh wrote that “when MCDONALD got to within 12 to 15 feet of the officers he swung the knife toward the officers in an aggressive manner.” Gaffney submitted a report that said three officers had been “battered” during the run-up to the shooting.
All of these claims were revealed to be lies upon the release of a dashcam video that showed McDonald’s final moments. The release of the video, which sparked protests and led to the ouster of Chicago’s police superintendent, proved McDonald had not threatened or acted in an aggressive manner toward any of the officers in the moments before Van Dyke shot him 16 times.
In the indictment, the officers are accused of mischaracterizing “the video recordings so that independent criminal investigators would not know the truth about the Laquan McDonald killing and the public would not see the video recordings of the events.” It’s unclear at what point the three officers named in the indictment watched the dashcam footage, and what role their descriptions of it may have played in the city’s decision to keep the video out of public view until a judge ordered its release in November 2015.
The outcry over McDonald’s death in the wake of the video’s release spurred the Obama-era Department of Justice to launch an investigation into policing in Chicago. That effort led to a blistering report that found, among other things, that “a code of silence among Chicago police officers exists, extending to lying and affirmative efforts to conceal evidence.”
The Justice Department’s report was supposed to lead to a court-enforced consent decree that would have mandated a reform agenda. The Trump administration, however, has scuttled plans for that consent decree to take effect.
Modi and Trump’s Meeting Went Great, Unless You Are an Indian Worried About H1-B Visas
According to Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first visit between the two leaders was a huge success. "The relationship between India and the United States has never been stronger, never been better," Trump said after their meeting on Monday. Modi tweeted that he was “delighted” to meet Trump and looked forward to welcoming him in India for the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The two leaders also issued a joint statement shortly after their meeting, affirming their commitment to work together to defeat global terrorism and strengthen trade ties.
Indian media, however, was not too happy with their prime minister, who, according to reports, did not bring up Trump’s possible restrictions on H1-B visas—an issue that before the visit was expected to cause friction.
Prior to Modi’s visit to the U.S., Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told Indian media that the PM would voice his concerns. “I would like to assure the country that we are in touch with the members of the U.S. Congress and the administration on this matter,” Swaraj said. “When the Prime Minister travels there, this is one of the issues that he is planning to raise.”
Indian media noticed that he didn’t. Livemint, an Indian online magazine, wrote that the issue confronting Indian professionals and outsourcing firms should have been an integral part of the talks on Monday.
With the Trump administration undertaking a review of the H1B visa, the most sought-after by Indian IT professionals, the issue had taken centrestage ahead of Modi’s US visit with the issue expected to figure prominently in bilateral discussions. However, the H1B issue specifically did not figure in the talks, with foreign secretary S. Jaishankar telling reporters that there was a lot of discussion with business leaders and the two leaders about the digital partnership when asked about whether H1B visa issue figured in the talks.
“There is recognition that the Indian-American community has played an extraordinary role in building this relationship. When you value something it is obvious that you will take care of what you value,” Jaishankar said.
The H1-B visa allows American companies to temporarily hire foreign workers in specialized fields like technology, science, and finance. In order to obtain the visa, applicants have to undergo a substantive process and meet high standards of specialized knowledge and education. The U.S. currently grants 85,000 H1-B visas every year and, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of applications can be up to three times more than this number.
A 2015 report to Congress from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services noted that Indians were the top beneficiaries of the H1-B policy. According to the report, 220,286 Indians were successful in obtaining the work visa in fiscal year 2014. A list in the New York Times of the 13 global outsourcing companies that won one-third of all H1-B visas granted in 2014 included seven Indian outsourcing firms. Indeed, the country’s outsourcing industry is valued at a staggering $150 billion.
This is expected to take a hit under the Trump administration. In April, Trump signed the “Buy and Hire American” executive order, calling for a multiagency report, including Labor and State, to recommend changes to the H1-B program by November. Ahead of signing the order, the president spoke at a rally of workers in Wisconsin. “Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers from all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job, for, sometimes, less pay.” While the report is still underway, McKinsey India reported in May that at least 200,000 software engineers in India will lose their jobs each year over the next three years due to denial of H1-B visas.
“Modi missed a golden opportunity to raise the visa issue despite the Indians in the US making a pressing case for it,” the First Post, another Indian media outlet, wrote after the meeting. “Trump’s policy on foreign workers isn’t anything new. Modi had enough time to work on a prompt way to appropriately pitch this issue during the high-profile meet. But he missed the chance.”
Republican Senate Leaders Will Delay Vote on Health Care Bill That Everyone Hates
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing back this week's planned vote on the Republican health care bill, every news outlet on Capitol Hill has simultaneously reported. The Republican Senate caucus is also said to be meeting with Donald Trump at the White House at 4 p.m.
As every publication and individual person who has been following this story also simultaneously noted/realized, GOP House leaders famously canceled a planned health care vote earlier this year before passing a slightly modified version of their bill about a month later. So this does not mean that the Obamacare replacement effort is dead. It does, however, seemingly mean that the objections that many Republican senators raised to their chamber's bill—especially after its CBO score was released Monday—were not just empty posturing. (As Nate Silver notes, a GOP health bill was going to always be more difficult to pass in the Senate than in the House because the party holds a smaller majority in the upper chamber.)
For the bill's opponents, the delay means a chance to exert more pressure on vulnerable Republican moderates, who will (presumably) be returning to their states to march in parades and whatnot over the Fourth of July holiday. On the other hand, as Politico reported, Monday's CBO score also indicated that the bill would be $188 billion cheaper than Republicans had planned for—which in practice means that the party's leaders now have $188 billion to give out to placate wavering members.
The Noninsane Person’s Guide to the CNN Scandal the President Spent His Morning Yelling About
Last week, CNN's investigative unit published a piece that asserted that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Treasury Department were looking into potentially inappropriate activity related to a meeting between Wall Street bigshot/Trump 2016 fundraiser Anthony Scaramucci and an executive at the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Late Friday night, CNN retracted and deleted the story. On Monday, three CNN employees involved with the piece—the reporter who wrote it, the executive editor for investigations, and an assistant managing editor for investigations—resigned. Since then, President Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. have been tweeting nearly nonstop about CNN. For example:
Are the Donalds Trump right? Did CNN finally get caught doing FAKE NEWS for real? Should we be mad at CNN for screwing up and giving Trump the opportunity to bash the media for cause? Let's take a deep breath and figure out what is happening.
What was wrong with the CNN story?
CNN says the piece "did not meet CNN's editorial standards." Politico reports that the piece's publication violated internal rules requiring that stories involving anonymous sources be shown to an executive editor before publication. Politico also says the network's legal team "had not fully reviewed the final piece." (It's common practice in journalism to have lawyers vet stories that involve accusations of criminal or otherwise inappropriate behavior.) BuzzFeed notes that the CNN piece cited only a "single, unnamed source" and says the network is instituting further pre-publication guidelines regarding the handling of stories involving Trump and Russia.
But what was actually wrong with the story?
CNN hasn't said, but we can gather some clues from a copy of the story that's been accidentally preserved on the website of a local TV station in New York. The piece revolves around a Jan. 16 meeting between Scaramucci and Russia Direct Investment Fund chief executive Kirill Dmitriev. CNN spoke to Scaramucci for its piece, and he described the "meeting" to the network as a brief, incidental interaction at a restaurant in Switzerland during a conference. The since-retracted piece says that Scaramucci discussed this interaction on Bloomberg TV the day after it happened, which is true. Scaramucci told Bloomberg that he spoke to Dmitriev about the possibility of facilitating relationships between the Russian fund and American executives. He also noted to Bloomberg that he would have to conduct any such activity within appropriate ethical guidelines. (At the time, Scaramucci was expected to take an official job in the Trump administration, but that didn't end up happening.)
The CNN story said the Treasury Department was investigating the Scarmucci/Dmitriev meeting at the behest of two Democratic senators (Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren and Maryland's Ben Cardin) who wanted to know whether it had involved a discussion of the economic sanctions the Obama administration had imposed on Russia. Again, though, the entire story has been retracted. The only thing we should have confidence in is what Scaramucci confirmed: that a conversation between he and Dmitriev took place on Jan. 16.
Reading between the lines, it seems like what happened is that CNN hyped up a story about the Scaramucci/Dmitriev conversation even though 1) Scaramucci had already acknowledged the conversation publicly while noting that any action he took as a result of it would have to be governed by ethics rules and 2) There's no evidence that any investigative body has found evidence of inappropriate activity involving Scaramucci or the fund. (The CNN story said the Senate Intelligence Committee is "examining" the Russian fund, which could mean anything or nothing, and that the Treasury Department is "looking into" the Jan. 16 conversation, which is equally vague. If you read the story closely you'll notice that it doesn't say that the Senate committee is investigating the Jan. 16 conversation, even though the framing of the piece would give you that impression.)
But Trump is melting down and claiming in an extended Twitter rant that this quickly acknowledged error in editorial judgment on CNN's part proves that everything negative that's ever been published about him anywhere is made up.
Is there anything else going on in the world that the president should be worrying about instead of a retracted story, which didn't even make much news when it was originally published, involving a peripheral campaign figure?
The further deterioration of the situation in Syria and the pending legislation that would reduce the government's spending on health coverage for low- and middle-income Americans by a trillion dollars.
So, nothing important.
That's correct. Cable news is more important than those things.
James O'Keefe is also back in the news because of CNN.
Yes, O'Keefe, the infamous right-wing provocateur, has re-emerged with another one of his famous "sting" videos, which purports to show a CNN producer admitting that Trump-Russia stories are overhyped for ratings purposes. Trump's son Donald Jr. has been pushing O'Keefe's video on Twitter. However, O'Keefe has a history of editing videos misleadingly and engaging in other unethical behavior, and the CNN producer in O'Keefe's video covers medical subjects such as pediatric heart surgery and the Ice Bucket Challenge, not news or politics.
Is the whole Russia story fake news?
No. While some Russia stories are, indeed, overhyped by Twitter conspiracy theorists and news outlets who know that readers will click-click-click-clickety-click on them, they are not all made up for ratings. For instance, Trump's first national security adviser, who had previously been paid tens of thousands of dollars by entities related to the Russian government, resigned because he lied about a potentially inappropriate conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. Donald Trump then asked the director of the FBI to stop investigating the case. Those things really happened in reality and are not fake.
What is Anthony Scaramucci saying about all of this?
Scaramucci accepted CNN's apology.
Should CNN Jeff Zucker resign and live the rest of his life in disgrace as a hobo?
Yes, but not because of this.