Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 25 2014 5:59 PM

Ukraine Government Tape Purports to Capture Russians and Rebels Talking Money, PR 

Ukraine's SBU security service has released tapes of purported conversations between Ukrainian rebels and Russian officials, and BuzzFeed's Max Seddon—on the ground in Donetsk—has translated them. Caveat: "The new tapes could not be independently verified," Seddon writes, "though the content of some other conversations previously leaked by the SBU — some of which involve the same men — has been proven genuine."

If legit, the first of the tapes makes for a fascinating, almost absurd look into the details of a war operation. At one point, the alleged Russian official dictates to the alleged rebel official what he'd like a second rebel official to tell the press about Vladimir Putin—all at the behest, apparently, of a fourth person, a high-ranking figure in the Russian Orthodox church.

The man says that Strelkov should give an interview to make clear that his “commander-in-chief” is Putin to dispel notions of a split between the rebels on the ground and their ostensible patrons in Moscow. “‘At the present time I’m understandably not carrying out his direct orders, because I’m in a different country, but I have the utmost respect for him and believe him to be the most brilliant leader of modern times, thanks to whom Russia rose from its knees, and we all look at him with hope,’” the man says, putting words in Strelkov’s mouth.

Here's that tape (warning, not in English):

Other subjects discussed on the tapes include finances, military targets, and the downing of MH17. Read Seddon's piece here.

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July 25 2014 4:30 PM

GOP Congressman Addresses Dark-Skinned U.S. Officials as if They Are Indian Diplomats

Florida Rep. Curt Clawson repeatedly addressed two United States government officials as if they were representatives of the Indian government during a congressional hearing on Thursday—presumably because they both had dark skin and South Asian names. Foreign Policy has the scoop. Some video (Foreign Policy has a few more uncomfortable moments at their site):

Writes FP: "The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department." (They are both Indian-American.)


Clawson won election to reprent Florida's 19th District ...


Wikipedia/Public domain

... after the previous officeholder, Trey Radel, was arrested for cocaine possession and resigned.

This post has been updated with video.

July 25 2014 3:35 PM

Holy Smokes, Look at This Giant Collapsing Iceberg

Via Mother Jones: video of an iceberg collapsing, shot from a boat, as a woman yells frantically at her husband, Rick, who's driving the boat, to get the goddang heck away from the collapsing iceberg.

The video was shot in Newfoundland's Bay of Exploits (!) by a Canadian woman named Wanda Stead, and she spoke to the CBC:

With her husband hitting their boat's engine, the couple were able to move to a safer position, although Stead told CBC News on Thursday that her impression at the time was that their lives were in immediate peril. 
"All I could see was this tidal wave coming toward us," she said.

"I think my heart came up, and I swallowed it," Stead said. Do not mess with the Bay of Exploits.

July 25 2014 2:31 PM

Chinese River Runs Red at Dawn With ... Food Coloring, Maybe

ABC has the story of a river in eastern China that mysteriously ran RED ... at DAWN ... with what was probably some sort of dye or food coloring. Per the Wenzhou Environmental Protection Bureau:

“We suspect that somebody dumped artificial coloring in the water because he thought the typhoon yesterday would cause heavy rain, and nobody would notice [the color],” Jianfeng Xiao, Chief of the bureau told China News ...
Xiao said there is a paper manufacturer, a food coloring company and clothing-maker a long the river. The bureau is still investigating the incident.

Click through for ABC's picture; the one above is from a similar incident a few years ago. (Water pollution is a persistent problem in China.)

July 25 2014 12:36 PM

Israel Spokesperson Taunts Brazil Over World Cup Loss After Brazil Criticizes Gaza Attacks

Adam Taylor at the Washington Post flags an almost unbelievably inappropriate statement made by Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor in response to the government of Brazil's criticism over what it called the "disproportionate use of force" in Gaza:

"Israel's response is perfectly proportioned in accordance with international law," Palmor said in an interview with the Jornal Nacional TV show late Thursday. "This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it's disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law."

A timely reference! To explain: Jornal Nacional is a Brazilian news program. Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in the World Cup, an embarrassing loss. Palmor's logic, such as it is, appears to be that there is no such thing as running up the score in war so long as you are justified in attacking to begin with. In the "game" between Israel and Hamas, 836 "goals" (people) have "been scored" (died).

July 25 2014 11:39 AM

One of Vladimir Putin's Daughters Reportedly Lives in the Netherlands

More than half of the passengers on flight MH17, which was possibly shot down by a Russian-supplied missile, were citizens of the Netherlands. That fact has turned attention on past reports that Maria Putin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughters, is dating a Dutch national and has a home in the country.

... there have been persistent rumours linking Maria with Dutch citizen Jorrit Faassen. Dutch media claimed that Putin visited the couple last year, something his spokesman denied.
Dutch and Russian news reports have connected Maria Putin to Jorrit Faassen, a Dutchman who has held high-level positions at subsidiaries of the Russian state gas company, Gazprom...The article quoted a Dutch oil executive who said he met Maria Putin at a party in Moscow.

Putin's daughters are extremely secretive; there are very few known photos of Maria as an adult, and Slate doesn't have the rights to run any of them, though you can see some here.

The Guardian points to a recent item in the Dutch paper De Telegraaf that identifies the area where Putin is thought to live:

Ukrainians living in Holland have also called for a peaceful protest outside Putin's daughter's flat, according to De Telegraaf newspaper. It published a photograph of the apartment complex where Maria is said to live alongside the article on Monday.

The apartment is in Voorschoten, which is near The Hague.


Google Maps

July 25 2014 10:22 AM

International Flight Aborts Landing in Tel Aviv After Rocket Fire

NBC News reports that an Air Canada flight into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel's largest, was forced to temporarily abort its landing today after Hamas fired rockets into the area. Several airlines suspended service to Tel Aviv on Tuesday after a rocket landed in an adjacent suburb, but many have subsequently resumed flights. From NBC:

The Boeing 767 was just five miles from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport when it was advised by air traffic control to keep flying "until airspace conditions could be confirmed as safe for landing," Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur told NBC News. After altering course, Flight AC84 landed 10 minutes later at 12:07 p.m. local time (5:07 a.m. ET). The jet originated at Toronto's Pearson airport.

Hamas says it fired three rockets at Ben Gurion Airport; it's not clear whether the Air Canada flight was affected by these rockets or a subsequent false alarm or abundance of caution.

As Slate's Joshua Keating wrote Tuesday, the security of Ben Gurion Airport is crucial to Israel's effort to keep its tourism and business sectors "well-insulated" from Gaza-related violence, while the downing of Flight MH17 in the Ukraine has likely made airlines (and passengers) especially conscious of the dangers of flying in war zones.

July 24 2014 9:06 PM

The Airbnb Guest Who Never Leaves and Now Lives in Your House Instead of You

Airbnb is an example of the sharing economy. But as a recent Airbnb-themed horror story out of California shows, not everyone learned how to share as a kid. If you rent your house or apartment out on Airbnb along, with it comes your run-of-the-mill tenant/owner concerns that something like, say, this could happen. But usually you take it as a given that your temporary houseguest is just that—temporary. That’s what one California woman—Cory Tschogl—assumed, too. What she got instead was the squatter from hell as “a guest who rented her Palm Springs vacation condominium, then stopped paying rent, refused to leave and threatened her with legal action,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

How bad was the guest? Let’s just say if this happened to Justin Timberlake, you’d assume it was an episode of Punk’d.  


Here’s what happened via the Chronicle:

"When he first checked in, he complained about the tap water - it's hard water with minerals because it's in the desert," Tschogl said. "My gut alarm-bell went off. I agreed to give him a full refund, not even charging a cleaning fee. But then he changed his mind and decided to stay." The guest booked the space for 44 days from May 25 to July 8 and paid for the first month in advance through Airbnb. After 30 days, Airbnb notified Tschogl that its attempts to collect the balance due "did not succeed" without specifying why… After numerous e-mails and calls from Tschogl, Airbnb offered to pay for the man to stay at a hotel for 30 days, but said he didn't respond to e-mails and his phone was disconnected.
Once the 44 days were up, Tschogl texted the renter that his reservation contract was over and that the power would be shut off in 24 hours.The guest texted back saying he was legally occupying the condo and that loss of electricity would threaten the work he does at home that brings in $1,000 to $7,000 a day. The texts threatened to press charges for "blackmail and damages caused by your negligence and malicious misconduct, including $3,800 PID Espresso machine as well as medical bills for my brother's hospital visit after he got sick here drinking unfiltered tap water." Tschogl realized that she couldn't legally cut off the electricity, although her SoCal Edison account showed daily usage was triple to quadruple normal. Her father went by the unit several times and photographed it with the sliding glass doors and windows wide open, presumably while the air conditioning was going full blast to combat the 114-degree heat.

“Under California rental law, a squatter acquires tenant rights after living in and paying rent for a unit for 30 days,” according to Mashable. “Those rights mean that Tschogl must initiate formal eviction proceedings.” So, this could take awhile.

July 24 2014 7:45 PM

In NFL, Smoking Pot Can Get You Suspended Longer Than Allegedly Knocking Your Wife Unconscious

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was involved in a very ugly offseason incident in which he reportedly knocked his now-wife unconscious at an Atlantic City casino, and his punishment from the NFL—made public today—has been widely derided as inadequate.

After Rice's February arrest, one of his attorneys called the precipitating incident a "very minor physical altercation," but a police report said that "after viewing surveillance footage" the responding Atlantic City officer concluded that Rice had "struck" Janay Palmer—while video from that night leaked to TMZ showed Rice dragging an apparently unconscious Palmer out of an elevator. (A subsequent police document posted here on Deadspin explicitly charged that Rice had knocked Palmer unconscious; Palmer was also arrested, for striking Rice.)


Rice was indicted by a grand jury on a felony assault charge, but avoided further prosecution by agreeing to participate in a pretrial intervention program. Rice and Palmer—who were married the day after the indictment—then held a press conference in which Rice, unbelievably, used the metaphor of getting "knocked down" to describe how he would recover from the incident, while Palmer apologized for her role in getting (allegedly) knocked unconscious. These statements were, even more unbelievably, publicized by the Baltimore Ravens' official Twitter account.



For his role in this avalanche of publicly documented abhorrence, Rice was suspended two games today by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Meanwhile, under the terms of the NFL's substance abuse policy, a player who smokes marijuana three times—during the offseason!—can be suspended for four games.

For Goodell, comparing the two types of offense is not an abstract hypothetical; the NFL regularly issues marijuana suspensions. Whatever his reasoning, the NFL's commissioner seems to have almost gone out of his way to treat Rice with pronounced lenience. And it is not going over well.

July 24 2014 7:31 PM

U.S. Says Russia Is Firing Across Border on Ukraine Military

While no link has been established implicating Russia in the firing of a missile that downed MH17 last week, the U.S., on Thursday, said there is evidence of Russian troops pulling the trigger and firing across the border at the Ukrainian military. "For several days the Russians have been firing artillery into Ukraine," a Pentagon spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement with the separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine, but a State Department spokeswoman said there is new evidence that Russia is planning to supply heavier and more powerful rocket launchers across the border to pro-Russia rebels.

Here’s more from the Journal:

Although used mainly to harass Ukrainian forces, U.S. officials remain worried that a sustained artillery barrage by Russian forces eventually could counter recent Ukrainian advances… U.S. officials say the escalation by Russia is a risk and represents a sign that Moscow is worried about the Ukrainian government's counteroffensive against the separatists. Moscow, U.S. officials say, is worried that if the separatists don't turn back the Ukrainian government's advances, the separatist cause could be severely damaged or even lost. Russia has between 15,000 and 18,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, but officials said there hasn't been a significant buildup of firepower since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner. Russian motorized infantry units all have artillery and rocket launchers assigned to them. The strikes, officials said, are a sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't going to back down in his support for the separatists, even in the wake of the shootdown of the Malaysian airliner.

“The United States learned about the artillery fire through ‘technical and overhead’ intelligence systems,” a U.S. official told the Associated Press, “an apparent reference to spy satellites and signals-intelligence collection.”