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March 26 2017 6:40 PM

Hundreds Arrested at Huge Anti-Corruption Protests Across Russia

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other major cities across Russia on Sunday to protest against official government corruption in what certainly looked like the largest show of anti-Kremlin defiance since 2012. Hundreds of people were arrested, including prominent opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was one of the main organizers of the rally. Navalny fueled outrage by releasing a video that alleged the country’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, had amassed a huge fortune as a public servant.

Navany downplayed his detention and called on people to keep on marching. “Today we are discussing (and condemning) corruption, not the detentions. Well, I was detained. So what. It ok. There are things in life that are worth being detained for,” Navalny tweeted. He was not the only one who apparently felt that way. One group said that at least 800 people were arrested in Moscow alone, although figures were hard to come by. Police officially said that 7,000 people took part in the rally in Moscow, but photos suggest the real number was much higher. One independent Moscow radio station estimated some 60,000 people took part in 82 protests across the country.

Although Russian opposition is often derided by the Kremlin as nothing more than Western puppets who live in urban centers, on Sunday protesters gathered in towns far from the cities. The protests are taking place a year before a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fourth term in office.

Guardian reporter Alec Luhn was among those arrested in Moscow, detained while he was photographing the police detaining other protesters. The paper reports:

Police searched him, confiscated his phone and put him in a police bus, where he was held for two hours before being driven to a police station on the outskirts of Moscow with 16 other detainees. He was told he would be charged with “participating in an unsanctioned protest”, despite repeatedly telling police he was a journalist and showing Russian foreign ministry accreditation. He was released after more than five hours in detention, after the foreign ministry intervened.

March 26 2017 5:27 PM

Watch Ted Koppel Tell Sean Hannity He’s Bad for America

Veteran journalist Ted Koppel didn’t hide his true feelings toward President Donald Trump’s No. 1 media cheerleader, Sean Hannity, telling him in no uncertain terms that his brand of “journalism” is hurting the country. During a CBS Sunday Morning segment on the polarization of the United States, Koppel explores why it is that 81 percent of voters say they can’t agree with the other side on even basic facts. Little wonder then, he ends up sitting face-to-face with Hannity, who often seems as though he’s living in his own alternative universe.

Hannity, however, defended himself by accusing Koppel of treating viewers as if they’re dumb. “We have to give some credit to the American people that they are somewhat intelligent and that they know the difference between an opinion show and a news show,” Hannity said. But it was clear to the Fox News host that Koppel was not buying it: “You’re cynical,” he added.

“I am cynical,” Koppel agreed.

“Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?”

Koppel didn’t hesitate: “Yeah.” He then went on to explain himself. Or try to at least, which was a bit difficult with Hannity’s constant interruptions:

“Really? That’s sad, Ted. That’s sad.”
“No, you know why? Because you’re very good at what you do, and because you have attracted a significantly more influential—”
“You are selling the American people short.”
“No, let me finish the sentence before you do that.”
“I’m listening. With all due respect. Take the floor.”
“You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts.”

Sean Hannity was not happy with the clip, which ended up spreading like wildfire on social media. The Fox News host took to Twitter on Sunday afternoon to criticize the “fake ‘edited’ news,” saying he sat down for a 45-minute interview that was whittled down to less than two minutes. He also called on CBS to release the entire interview so viewers could judge it for themselves.

March 26 2017 4:02 PM

Relax, You Can Wear Leggings on United (but Airline Still Says It Has Right to Police Clothing)

United Airlines suddenly found itself on the receiving end of mass social media outrage on Sunday morning when a Twitter user sounded the alarm that young girls wearing leggings were not allowed to board a domestic United flight. United Airlines took to Twitter to repeatedly defend the right of the gate agent to refuse boarding to anyone deemed no to be dressed appropriately. But then the company came out to clarify that the girls prevented from boarding were what are known as “pass riders,” or those who fly for free or sharply reduced rates because they’re employees or their relatives.

The company insisted regular paying customers are more than welcome to wear leggings on United flights, but there are special rules for pass riders. “Our regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing leggings or yoga pants,” a spokesman said. “But when flying as a pass traveler, we require this pass travelers to follow rules, and that is one of those rules.

The whole controversy began when Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, wrote that two girls were barred from boarding a Denver-Minneapolis flight Sunday morning because they were wearing leggings. Another girl was allowed to board once she put on a dress. “She’s forcing them to change or put dresses on over leggings or they can’t board,” Watts wrote on Twitter. “Since when does @united police women’s clothing?”

United’s immediate response? Since always. As outrage grew on social media, United Airlines took to its own Twitter account and repeatedly defended the gate agent’s actions. “United shall have the right to refuse passengers who are not properly clothed via our Contract of Carriage,” the company wrote on Twitter to people who asked about the policy. When pressed, the company directed people to Point 21 of its “contract of carriage” that notes passengers can be refused if they’re “barefoot or not properly clothed.”

Seemingly realizing it had a PR disaster of its own making in its hands, the company quickly changed tack and started to clarify that the passengers in question were pass riders who had to adhere to stricter rules. Flip flops, for example, aren’t allowed for pass riders either, a company spokesman said.

Many of those who raised their initial concerns insisted the company was applying a sexist rule. Watts, for example, quickly pointed out that the man flying with the two girls was wearing shorts.

Although United refused to release a copy of its dress code rules for pass travelers, one found online specifically notes that shorts are allowed as long as they “are no more than three inches above the knee.” If the dress code posted online is authentic, it seems many of the rules are specifically directed at women and are particularly vague, forbidding “form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants and dresses” and “attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing, or see-through.”

March 26 2017 2:10 PM

Trump Reportedly Handed Merkel a $374 Billion Invoice for NATO

We all knew that the White House meeting between President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been awkward. But things were even more uncomfortable than we thought. Turns out Trump’s version of diplomacy with one of the country’s most important allies in Europe involves handing over a bill for billions of dollars that the White House believes it owes NATO, according to the Times of London.

One German minister did not hesitate to qualify the invoice as “outrageous,” saying the intent was clear. “The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

Although no one confirmed how much the total invoice was for, a calculation by the Times suggests the total was around $312 billion for the shortfall in spending and around $62 billion in interest.

Trump has long criticized Germany and numerous other NATO countries for failing to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, as they had pledged to do in 2014. So how did the White House get to $374 billion? It went further back, taking 2002 as a starting point, noting that was when Merkel’s predecessor vowed to boost spending on defense.

“The president has a very unorthodox view on NATO defense spending,” an official tells the Times. That is one polite way of putting it; others have flat out said that Trump’s statements on NATO suggest he really does not understand how the alliance is funded.

Merkel reportedly “ignored the provocation.” She appears to be a bit more adept at diplomacy than her U.S. counterpart.

March 26 2017 1:02 PM

Shooting at Cincinnati Nightclub Kills One, Injures 15

A packed nightclub with a history of violence in Cincinnati, Ohio erupted into chaos early Sunday morning when several people reportedly opened fire after an altercation. The shooters escaped.

"Several local men got into some type of dispute inside the bar and it escalated into shots being fired from several individuals," Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said. One person was killed and 15 others were injured, including one who was “in extremely critical condition.” Law enforcement officials say there is no sign that the shooting at the Cameo Nightlife club was in any way related to terrorism.

"At this point it's unclear exactly what instigated the shooting," Captain Kimberly Williams said at a briefing. "Just a lot of chaos when the shots went off." Although the local police chief first said there were several gunmen involved, a top official later took to Twitter to say that so far there was only one reported gunman.

Police are having trouble obtaining a description of the suspects because witnesses are reluctant to cooperate. "We need people to come forward," Mayor John Cranley said. "We need people to have courage to come forward to identify the shooter or shooters in this case."

Williams said there had been “multiple problems” at Cameo in the past. There had last been a shooting inside the club on New Year’s Day in 2015, and another shootout broke out in the club’s parking lot in September.

March 26 2017 11:45 AM

Fox News Host Calls on Paul Ryan to Step Down Hours After Trump Plugged Her Show

President Donald Trump sent out two tweets on Saturday morning, after the collapse of his first big legislative effort. First, he repeated a message from the night before, gleefully telling people not to worry because “ObamaCare will explode” and then “we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE.” Shortly thereafter, the commander in chief called on followers to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News that evening.

Ten and a half hours later, Pirro called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down for the failure to pass health care reform.

"Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House. The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare, the one that he had seven years to work on, the one he had under lock and key in the basement of Congress, the one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass,” Pirro said. “But this bill didn’t just fail, it failed when Republicans had the Senate, the House and the White House. The timing? It failed in the first 70 days of Donald Trump’s administration.”

As far as Pirro is concerned, none of this is Trump’s fault. After all, he’s new to Washington. “No one expected a business man to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process,” the Fox News host said. Ryan, however, is a different story. "You come in with all your swagger and experience and sell them a bill of goods which ends up a complete and total failure and you allow our president, in his first 100 days, to come out of the box like that, based on what?" Pirro said.

Since the Friday collapse of health care, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have repeatedly said they continue to support Ryan as speaker. And Pirro, well aware that people would make a connection between the president’s tweet and what she was saying, assured viewers she had not discussed her opening statement with Trump. "When he tweeted, 'Watch Judge Jeanine tonight,' he and I had absolutely no conversation, no discussion, no email, nothing," she said.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denied there was any coordination between the White House and Pirro. “First of all, I will go on record, we do love Judge Jeanine, and so does the president,” Priebus said. “I think it was more coincidental.” Host Chris Wallace seemed to have a hard time believing that: “Come on.” Although Priebus acknowledged that he had not talked to the president about his tweet, he insisted, “There is no preplanning here.” And when he was asked directly whether Trump wanted Ryan to resign, Priebus didn’t hesitate: “No, he doesn’t.”

March 25 2017 6:09 PM

Will Reince Priebus Become the Fall Guy for Trumpcare’s Failure?

As Washington starts to digest the spectacular failure that was President Donald Trump’s first big agenda item, the inevitable question becomes who will be blamed for essentially assuring that the administration won’t have any big legislative victories in its first 100 days. An obvious candidate? Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Sure, House Speaker Paul Ryan may be the most clear choice, but Trump has at least publicly expressed support for the lawmaker. Inside the White House, some are saying that Trump is looking at his own staff, blaming them for steering him down the wrong path.

CNN reports:

The source close to Trump described a president who felt bamboozled by Ryan and his own staff, duped into thinking that passing health care would be the quick victory he needed to make good on a campaign promise central to his election and push forward on other policy fronts.
Trump is likely to blame Ryan and his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the source said, since he "bought" into Ryan’s plan and helped convince Trump to get on board, according to another senior administration official.

The New York Times also hears a similar message:

Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated the initial legislative strategy on the health care repeal with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsin native, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions.

Priebus would also be the most convenient fall guy, notes T.A. Frank in Vanity Fair:

Trump needs Ryan … and there’s no obvious replacement for him, either. Pence remains important as an emissary, even if his counsel will suffer a drop in value. So, if Trump needs someone to abuse, it’s going to be Reince. Perhaps Priebus will be instructed to bend over when approached by Trump, to allow for easier kicking.

With all this talk, it’s hardly surprising that some are already starting to hear that Trump could be considering getting rid of Priebus. “Source close to @POTUS says he’s being advised to replace @Reince45 & is open to possibility,” wrote Politico’s Tara Palmeri on Twitter.

Some are hearing a different message though. BuzzFeed’s Adrian Carrasquillo, for example, says that a “senior White House official” told him that the “Reince Priebus job is not in jeopardy.”

Others also point out that some Trump loyalists inside the White House have been wanting to get Priebus fired for weeks. (Case in point: Earlier this month, Politico published a story under the headline “Knives are out for Reince.”) So it should hardly be surprising that some are taking the opportunity to push that angle more after the health care debacle. Whether Trump will suddenly be willing to listen to the anti-Priebus faction inside the White House after the health care failure remains to be seen.

March 25 2017 3:45 PM

Bannon Pushed Trump to Use Health Care Vote to Write Up “Enemies List”

Following the embarrassing collapse of Trumpcare, everyone is asking the same question: What went wrong? And while there are several different angles to answer the question, there seems to be one constant, the president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has no patience for negotiating with Congress and is more comfortable with threats than compromise. The New York Times reports that Bannon kept on pushing President Donald Trump to pressure the health care vote to move forward so that an “enemies list” could be compiled of all those who voted against the measure. The president’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, was also pushing the same idea.

Unsurprisingly, Speaker Paul Ryan repeatedly told the president that making enemies out of fellow Republicans in the House was not the smartest idea considering that he would need them for other pieces of legislation in the future. In the end, Trump decided to listen to Ryan and back down.

The Times story appears to confirm earlier reports from the Daily Beast that quoted an official saying that Bannon called on the president “to keep a shit list on this.” The unnamed official added: “Not sure if I’d call it an ‘enemies list,’ per se, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.” Another aide described it as a “hit list” for Republicans who were not loyal to the president.

Earlier, Bannon had basically told Republican lawmakers they had no choice but to vote for the bill. In Axios, Mike Allen writes that when members of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, Bannon had a very undiplomatic opening line: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill,” Bannon said. Needless to say, the lawmakers were decidedly unimpressed. “The last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either,” one lawmaker answered.

March 25 2017 2:43 PM

U.S. Airstrikes May Have Killed As Many As 200 Civilians in Mosul

The U.S.–led military coalition in Iraq is investigating reports that as many as 200 civilians were killed in recent airstrikes it carried out in Mosul. In the meantime, Iraqi military leaders have called for a pause in the push to retake Mosul from ISIS as things get clerared up.

For now, the Pentagon has said that an initial review confirmed that airstrikes did take place on March 17 at locations where lots of civilians were reportedly killed when buildings collapsed. Investigators are now trying to determine whether the buildings collapsed because of the airstrikes or whether ISIS used the airstrikes “as an opportunity to detonate an explosive in the building,” reports the New York Times. A local lawmaker and two residents claim the airstrikes may have detonated an ISIS truck filled with explosives that was in the area, and that’s what caused several surrounding buildings to collapse.

The U.S.–led coalition said on Saturday that it had carried out the airstrikes at the request of Iraqi forces. “The Coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality,” according to a statement. “Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the Coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods.”

Rescue workers have pulled more than 140 bodies from the rubble of three buildings that collapsed in the aftermath of the airstrikes, and dozens more are thought to remain buried. If confirmed, it could mean the March 17 airstrikes were among the deadliest for civilians since the United States first invaded Iraq in 2003.

The increasing concern about casualties in Mosul comes as senior military leaders are also investigating claims of large numbers of civilian deaths in two separate airstrikes in Syria. In total, as many as 350 civilians may have been killed, according to NBC News.

March 25 2017 1:45 PM

Today in Conservative Media: AHCA Failure Proves Trump Is a True Artist of the Deal


A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

After the American Health Care Act’s collapse on Friday, conservative media outlets rushed to process the news and, in typical form, assure their audiences that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Most publications and commentators were clear on one thing: None of this was Trump’s fault. To the contrary, it might well be a mark of his genius.

Maintaining an idea  that he had pushed in the past, Sean Hannity continued to assert that Trump had done “everything in his power to get this bill across the finish line.” He promised, however that “snowflake Democrats … would not be smiling for long” and reiterated a claim supported by the president, warning that premiums would continue to skyrocket:

The exemplar of the Trump-as-master-strategist line came, however, not from Hannity, but from a Breitbart essay arguing that Trump had acted according to principles he laid out in The Art of the Deal. Facing “irreconcilable factions,” it proposed, the president knew that he had to “bring them together — to ‘deliver the goods,’ a key rule in The Art of the Deal. But first he must show them ‘the downside’ — and convince them they will fail on their own.” The article proceeded to lay out Trump’s next moves before ending with a quotation from The Matrix: Reloaded.

A Gateway Pundit post suggested that the debacle had been deliberate, a reminder that Trump is a true artist of the deal:

Did Trump give Paul Ryan just enough rope to hang himself? It is no secret that Paul Ryan has contempt for President Trump and is working to sabotage him. This may [be] Trump’s plan to have Paul Ryan ousted and replaced.

Many outlets also reported uncritically on the president’s suggestion that Democrats were at fault. Fox News, for example, headlined one article “Trump Blames Democrats for GOP Health Care Bill Failure, Says ObamaCare Is ‘Imploding’ ” and Breitbart ran a post titled “Donald Trump Blames Democrats for Health Care Failure, Promises Better Plan in the Future.”

Though that Breitbart article noted that Trump had “thanked his staff, Republican leadership, and even Speaker Paul Ryan,” the site challenged Ryan in other articles. In a lengthy, reported “exclusive,” Breitbart suggested that Ryan might be on the way out as speaker and claimed that White House sources indicated Trump was upset with Ryan: “House Republicans are also questioning whether Ryan can remain as Speaker after this abysmal failure.” LifeZette also featured Ryan on its list of the effort’s most prominent losers, writing, “In the biggest test of his leadership, Friday’s outcome is a big, fat failure.

Gateway Pundit, meanwhile, took the opportunity to identify an unusual comparative metric:

Compared to President Trump, Paul Ryan’s House of Representatives looks stagnant! The President has signed 38 game changing executive actions to six rather insignificant pieces of legislation signed into law since the President’s inauguration.

Others pointed the finger at the House Freedom Caucus, which was, the Daily Caller claimed, “taking heat for thwarting Republicans’ Obamacare replacement bill.” In a Fox News editorial titled, “Freedom Caucus Drives Dagger Into Heart of Young Trump Presidency,” commentator Elizabeth Peek embraced this angle, writing that “the damage is not limited to healthcare reform … [Trump’s] credibility and credentials now lie in tatters. All that optimism that has stoked the stock market and boosted investment plans – all that may fade.”

A few dissenting voices on the right did acknowledge that Trump may have played a role in the bill’s failure. The editors of National Review, for example, attributed it not just to “Speaker Ryan’s high-handedness,” but also to “President Trump’s erratic leadership.” The publication went on to suggest that Republicans should continue working on the issue, though doing so would require “more patient cajoling and less last-minute bullying.” A second National Review article argued that Trump’s lack of interest in the bill’s details was his greatest fault:

A strong leader can help sort out conflicting priorities, but there’s little sign that President Trump had any interest in that role. Throughout the last days of arm-twisting, there were ominous reports that he was quite passionately attempting to persuade House Republicans to pass the bill, without really understanding what was in the legislation that made them so reluctant to vote for it.

Amid the uncertainty, some conservative publications still found time for some schadenfreude of their own. The Daily Caller, in particular, mocked House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi who was “briefly stalled by an uncooperative microphone” when she “and several other House Democrats held a press conference on Friday afternoon to gloat over Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to cancel the vote.”

On Facebook, a post from Trump’s official account promised that Obamacare would “explode” but everything would be fine: