Why did a Russian man vandalize a painting of Ivan the Terrible?

After drinking vodka in the café of Moscow’s Tretyakov gallery, a 37-year-old man from the town of Voronezh used a metal pole from a security rope to attack Ilya Repin’s 1885 painting Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581. The painting is now “badly damaged,” the gallery says, the canvas torn in three places.

The painting depicts Ivan the Terrible holding his son after delivering the blow that would kill him. Repin supposedly conceived of the painting a few years earlier, inspired by the theme of vengeance in Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite Antar. Some Russian nationalists have claimed that the bloody incident never happened, although most historians differ (the son was furious with the father for attacking his pregnant wife; relations deteriorated). Some Orthodox Christians even tried to get the gallery to remove the painting, claiming it was offensive. The gallery refused.

Ivan the Terrible is undergoing something of a makeover these days. In 2016, the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky unveiled a statue of the leader, who killed thousands of Russians during his 16th century oprichnina. Look at Charles IX of France, Medinsky pointed out. He killed a lot of Hugenots.

Sophie Pinkham has recently written about the nationalist myths of war and triumph that are being rebuilt around the legacy of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan’s siege of Kazan, immortalized on film in Eisenstein’s film about his life, was in 2003 celebrated in a military history book published by Russia’s defense ministry.

It remains unclear, however, what motivated the unnamed vandal of the painting, who said only that he became “overwhelmed by something” after drinking the vodka.

July 19, 2018

Senator Tim Scott (l) and Trump. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Trump judicial nominee was pulled for his college rants on race and sexual assault.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday withdrew Ryan Bounds, who had been nominated for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, after Republican Senator Tim Scott objected to articles from Bounds’s university days.

As a student at Stanford University, Bounds wrote that multicultural organizations and on-campus activism “divide up by race for their feel-good ethnic hoedowns,” act as a “pestilence” that “threatens to corrupt our scholastic experience,” and “contribute more to restricting consciousness, aggravating intolerance, and pigeonholing cultural identities than many a Nazi bookburning.” He also argued against expelling students accused of sexual assault, claiming that the punishment is “probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery.”

Bounds, a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon, was nominated back on September 7. Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, ignoring the “blue slip” process, went ahead with confirmation hearings over the objections of Bounds’s home-state senators, Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. After Senate debate on Bounds’s nomination concluded yesterday, the Willamette Week reported that he was “likely to win the confirmation.”

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Trump’s military parade will be “tremendously expensive,” by Trump’s standard.

At a press conference following the historic U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12, President Donald Trump told reporters that he planned to end military exercises with South Korea. “We’ve done exercises for a long time, working with South Korea,” he said. “And we call them war games, and I call them war games, and they’re tremendously expensive.” His cancellation of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises saved $14 million, according to the Pentagon.

CNN reported today, however, that Trump’s domestic war games—a planned military parade in Washington, D.C.—is estimated to cost about $12 million. The parade is scheduled for November 10, one day before the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. (President Emmanuel Macron is hosting world leaders at a centennial parade planned for the following day.)

Trump was reportedly inspired by France’s Bastille Day festivities, which he attended last year. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an anonymous official told France24 in February. But Bastille Day featured tanks. Trump’s parade will not, by order of the Department of Defense.

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Trump misses the point about the European Union’s record fine against Google.

On Wednesday, the European Union brought a $5 billion (€4.3 billion) fine against Google for its abuse of its Android mobile operating system. The fine was the result of an investigation into anticompetitive practices that began eight years ago and that led to an earlier $2.7 billion fine relating to its online shopping platform.

But the new fine comes amid an escalating trade war between the United States and the European Union. While the EU fine has nothing to do with the tariffs on steel and cars that have been levied, the president is nevertheless arguing that it is part of the nascent trade war—and proof that the EU has taken advantage of the U.S. for years.

While Trump has been critical of Amazon and Apple, other tech giants like Google and Facebook have escaped his ire. That may be because he is not exactly a technophile: Amazon’s online shopping platform and Apple’s hardware production are less abstract than a search engine and a social network. Politics certainly plays a role as well—Amazon has undoubtedly been singled out because it shares an owner, Jeff Bezos, with The Washington Post, which the president has repeatedly feuded with.

But Trump’s embrace of Google doesn’t really have anything to do with Google. The president is looking for any evidence he can to show that the EU is abusing American companies. The most recent fine isn’t that—it’s part of a decades-long regulatory push. But at this point Trump doesn’t have much evidence that European companies are taking advantage of American ones, so he’ll take what he can get.

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Israel passes a law affirming a Jewish nation-state.

Israel’s parliament voted 62-55 in favor of the long-debated Nation State bill early Thursday morning, enshrining religion-based identity in law. The bill defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people (rather than of Israeli citizens), revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, and affirms Jewish-only settlement as “a national value.”

Knesset (Israeli parliament) members say that the law merely puts the country’s Jewish character into writing. But in actively encouraging Jewish-only settlement, the law elevates the unequal treatment of 1.8 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship—who reports suggest are already discriminated against in employment, social services, and education—to the status of a constitutional norm.

The bill did not pass quietly: thousands of demonstrators gathered for an “emergency rally” in Tel Aviv on Saturday night; 14 American Jewish organizations penned a letter last week to Knesset member Isaac Herzog expressing their opposition to the bill. In a speech at the demonstration, Ayman Odeh, chair of the mostly Arab Joint List party alliance described the law’s purpose as being to “stick a finger in the eyes of a fifth of Israel’s population, spark a dispute and polarize in order to make political gain for the Netanyahu tyranny.” The Joint List party proposed a counter-bill last month that would define Israel as a “state of all its citizens.” The Knesset rejected it.

For decades, the broad appeal of liberal Zionism in America has depended on a supposed equilibrium between the state’s Jewish and democratic values—repeatedly tested by controversies over, for example, the Gaza blockade and associated violence. With this new law, Netanyahu’s government may drive Israel’s liberal supporters further from the fold.

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Republicans disagree with the rest of America about Trump’s handling of Putin.

Two new polls show that a large majority of Americans are unhappy with the president’s performance in his summit with the Russian president in Helsinki on Monday. But Trump’s supporters are still standing by him.

A CBS News poll this week found that 55 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s handling of the summit, where the president sided with Putin on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. (Trump later made an unconvincing effort to walk back his remarks.) That figure included 83 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of voters who described themselves as independent.

Among Republican voters, however, Trump’s support remains largely unchanged. In the CBS poll, 68 percent of Republicans said they approved of the president’s handling of Putin. A new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found similar results: 58 percent of Americans overall disapproved of the summit, but 79 percent of Republicans sided with Trump.

The results track with what we know about Trump’s bond with Republican voters. The president has long enjoyed considerable support with the party’s deeply conservative base, and none of his words or deeds since entering the White House have significantly disrupted it. This week’s polls, coming immediately after the president publicly humiliated himself before a hostile foreign power, are perhaps the starkest reminder yet of that hold.

The polls also suggest that Trump may be able to weather worse storms to come. “Every piece of data, and virtually every public action of elected Republican officials, shows Trump will have overwhelming and probably unbreakable party support, regardless of what Robert Mueller finds with his Russia probe,” Axios’ Mike Allen concluded.

July 18, 2018

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The GOP thinks “Abolish ICE” is going to hurt Democrats.

The House on Wednesday voted on a GOP measure in overwhelming support of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), following a chorus of calls by progressive Democrats to dismantle the agency.

With the resolution passing on a 244-35 vote—18 Democrats voted in favor of the agency, while 34 voted against the measure—the GOP strategically exposed a division within moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. The remaining 133 Dems voted present, withholding their vote at the behest of party leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who have refrained from jumping on the “Abolish ICE” bandwagon.

“The campaign against ICE is the latest rallying cry for open borders, the latest call to prioritize illegal immigrants over American citizens,” said Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA), who sponsored the bill, in the House debate on Wednesday.

The movement to eliminate ICE, the agency established under the Department of Homeland Security by George W. Bush in 2003, has gained traction among some high-profile Democrats following the upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley of New York in June. Ocasio-Cortez made the elimination of ICE a central part of her campaign during the family separation crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have joined the rallying cry.

In attempting to make Democrats take a stand on ICE, Republicans apparently think a vote against the agency could hurt their opponents in the midterms. Polls show that a majority of voters believe ICE should stay.

Democrats roll out their newest midterms slogan: “For the People.”

Party leaders debuted the slogan after a Wednesday meeting of House Democrats, Politico reports. “For the People,” with its populist undertones, will be a rhetorical improvement on “A Better Deal,” which drew widespread criticism for being tepid.

The “For the People” platform focuses on three main aims: health care, wage increases, and a spotlight on Republican corruption. Democrats are now expected to begin incorporating the slogan and its three policy priorities into their messaging.

The slogan represents another bid for a party that’s struggled with unified, coherent messaging. Months away from midterm elections where Democrats must flip 24 Republican-controlled seats to take control of the House, the party was under pressure to get at least roughly on the same page. “I don’t think any of us are claiming this is poetic or this is the end-all-be-all of messaging,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois. “It’s just a way, in a quick way, to put together the answer to what we stand for.”

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Facebook emojis concur: Trump’s America is an angrier America.

On Feb 24 2016, Facebook gave users five more emotions: “love,” “anger,” “wow,” “sad” and “haha.” (As Mark Zuckerberg finally realized, not everything is likable.) In an increasingly polarized America, social media aficionados could now respond, for example, to posts created by members of Congress with white hearts and frowning, red-faced emojis. But, according to a Pew Research Center analysis on Facebook users reactions to lawmakers’ posts, released on Wednesday, “anger” began topping “love” only after the 2016 election.

From the launch of these new reactions until Election Day, the congressional Facebook audience responded to lawmakers’ posts with the “angry” button 3.6 million times. Yet following the election, in the same amount of time, use increased to 14 million. By analyzing 360,173 individual posts from February 2016 to July 2017, Pew Research Center found that the use of the “angry” button had increased by 385 percent, compared with 169 percent for “love.”

Nowhere was the emoji’s widespread use more palpable than at a press conference with then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in January 2017, where a sea of angry faces flooded the event’s Facebook Live footage. This was his first official address as Trump’s Press Secretary and he began the job by lying about the size of the inauguration crowds: “I am saying that it was the total largest audience witnessed in person and around the globe,” Spicer said. According to the Pew Research report, the anger emoji beat out the love emoji shortly following the inauguration.

It would be easy to see the rise of the “anger” emoji as indicative of purely Democratic rage. However, another reason for the increased use is the way both Democrats and Republicans have begun to use Facebook. After Trump’s election, Democratic legislators’ opposition on Facebook spiked, with another Pew Research Center analysis showing they expressed their opposition five times more, while Republicans posted support twice as much. The new emojis, it seems, have become a way to visualize an increasing political divide.

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Trump resumes his Russia denialism.

Is Russia still trying to meddle in American democracy or not? In February, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress that it is: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” The directors of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency all agreed.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said otherwise.

As The New York Times reports, “Trump’s comments were the latest in a dizzying collection of conflicting statements from Mr. Trump since he emerged from a private meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday in Helsinki, Finland.... The president’s changing statements on his perception of Russia’s intentions toward the United States underscore concerns that Mr. Trump does not believe American intelligence officials.”

The arrest earlier this week of Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights advocate accused of what the Times called “a secret Russian effort to influence American politics,” is just the latest evidence of what the intelligence community has long confirmed: that Russians did attempt to interfere with the U.S. electoral process, though it’s still unclear how much they were able to accomplish. (Coats’s predecessor, James Clapper, thinks Russia swung the election to Trump.)

Trump, meanwhile, can’t make up his mind. In his press conference with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump said he didn’t see why Russia would meddle in the 2016 election. He later claimed he misspoke, adding, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.” But then he added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

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The European Union just hit Google with another massive antitrust fine.

On Tuesday morning, European regulators levied a €4.34 billion fine against Google for abusing its Android operating system, which the EU says the company has used to “cement the dominance of its search engine.” The EU, which claims Android’s market share is as high as 90 percent, cites three ways in which Google—which is now part of Alphabet, a larger conglomerate—abused the operating system. According to the complaint, Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome) as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

If Google does not cease these practices in 90 days, it will “face penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily worldwide turnover of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.” In 2017, Alphabet’s global revenue was $111 billion. While the 2018 figure will likely be higher, using last year’s revenue such a fine would come out to nearly $5.5 billion, or $15 million per day.

The EU’s argument is fairly simple: Google has, for the last several years, used the fact that its Android operating system is installed in most mobile phones, to further entrench other aspects of its business, notably its applications. In doing so, it has harmed competition by boxing out developers working on competing browsers, search engines, and other applications. A year ago, the EU hit Google with a $2.7 billion fine for using its search engine to illegally privilege its shopping platform.

Shortly after the EU announced the record fine, Google responded by tweeting that they planned on appealing the fine.

The EU’s investigation of Google, which began eight years ago, remains ongoing.