Early Friday, Ukraine launched an "anti-terrorist" offensive to retake Slovyansk and other eastern Ukraine cities it has lost to pro-Russia militias. Moscow sharply criticized Ukraine's decision to try to reassert control over its own territory; Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov warned ominously that Ukraine's "punitive operation" essentially destroys "all hope for the viability of the Geneva agreements" to halt the violence.
The Geneva agreement, of course, required the pro-Russia militias to lay down their arms, too, and instead they've just taken over more cities. Russia has amassed troops along the Ukraine border, for military "exercise," and denies that its special forces are in Ukraine guiding the separatist uprising. There's a growing body of inconclusive evidence suggesting otherwise, but if not Russian "green men," who exactly is organizing the well-armed, well-coordinated capture of eastern Ukraine?
Ukraine's invasion, launched early Friday morning, isn't going well so far: Pro-Russian militants shot down two Ukrainian attack helicopters with shoulder-fired missile launchers, killing two Ukrainian servicemen, and shot at a third helicopter carrying medics. The expert use of anti-aircraft missiles is proof that "trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists" are operating in Slovyansk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, the domestic intelligence agency SBU told Reuters, "and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores."
The SBU is hardly a disinterested source, but Russia doesn't seem to have an answer for that. Earlier this week, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of world leaders last Friday that "intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language." Kerry added: "It's not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine," and Russia's denial of involvement "is insulting to everybody's intelligence."
That, or Russia just doesn't care what we think. Peter Weber
The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to rescind Obama-era net neutrality rules. Supporters of the change argue it will foster innovation and give customers more options, while opponents raise the specter of the "end of the internet as we know it" — and they have the sympathy of 83 percent of voters (including 75 percent of Republicans).
That broad support for retaining the previous regulatory scheme may fuel efforts to revive net neutrality in Congress. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Friday he intends to force a net neutrality vote under the terms of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). "It's in our power to do that," Schumer said. "Sometimes we don't like [administrative rule changes] but now we can use the CRA to our benefit, and we intend to." Were a net neutrality law passed by Congress, it would be more impervious to repeal than the agency-level policy the FCC rescinded.
Meanwhile, public interest groups and attorneys general in states including New York, Oregon, and Washington are gearing up to sue the federal government over this week's decision. "I don't think the courts are going to approve of the wholesale deregulation of telecom," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told The Hill. Bonnie Kristian
A civil rights lawyer named Lisa Bloom solicited donations to pay women who have made or were considering making sexual harassment allegations against President Trump, The Hill reported Friday. Documents reviewed by The Hill date these efforts to the final months of the 2016 election and suggest that people associated with political action committees supporting Hillary Clinton were among those Bloom contacted.
"Bloom's efforts included offering to sell alleged victims' stories to TV outlets in return for a commission for herself," The Hill story says, as well as "arranging a donor to pay off one Trump accuser's mortgage and attempting to secure a six-figure payment for another woman who ultimately declined to come forward after being offered as much as $750,000."
Bloom told The Hill donors came to her with the money, not vice versa, and "said her goal in securing money was not to pressure the women to come forward, but rather to help them relocate or arrange security" if they felt they were in danger after speaking out.
In an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America on Saturday, Bloom again denied soliciting money, saying "donors reached out" to her "and said, 'Oh my God, what can we do to help these women?'" "If you're a single mom unemployed on the verge of bankruptcy and thinking about speaking out against Donald Trump," she added, "an offer of relocation and round-the-clock security is very meaningful to you." Bonnie Kristian
GOP voters approve of their own party's congressional contingent for the first time since June, CNN reported Saturday, citing a new Quinnipiac University poll. The shift in Republicans' views correlates with the release of the completed GOP tax plan on Friday after conference between House and Senate leadership. Before the legislation was finalized, 60 percent of GOP voters disapproved of congressional Republicans; now a plurality of 47 percent approve.
"Political analysts say it's all about the 2018 midterm elections," The Washington Post reports, because "most Americans are getting a tax cut under this plan, and if growth gets even hotter and unemployment gets even lower by Election Day, voters could reward the GOP." However, critics argue the reform plan's supporters are unrealistically optimistic in their projections of the bill's effects on economic growth. Bonnie Kristian
Southern California is expecting very strong winds and low humidity for a 24-hour period beginning Saturday and ending Sunday. The weather conditions will pose a new challenge to the thousands of firefighters battling wildfires in the region, especially those dealing with the Thomas Fire, which is now the fourth-largest wildfire in California's recorded history.
— CIIMT1 (@Info_CIIMT1) December 16, 2017
A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction against the Trump administration's modification of ObamaCare's contraception mandate.
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to pay for birth control as part of employee health plans, with limited exemptions. The Trump White House issued a new rule expanding those exemptions to allow almost any business to decline to offer contraception coverage for religious or moral reasons.
Judge Wendy Beetlestone of Pennsylvania wrote in her opinion that the rule could cause "enormous and irreversible" harm, worrying that employers could seek to drive women out of the workplace entirely by changing their coverage policies.
While Beetlestone argued it "is difficult to comprehend a rule that does more to undermine the contraceptive mandate or that intrudes more into the lives of women," religious liberty advocates argue that business owners with sincere religious or moral opposition to birth control methods — like the morning-after pill, which can stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall — should not be forced to offer coverage. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump on Saturday tweeted an endorsement of a new book purporting to offer the inside scoop on his presidential campaign:
Congratulations to two great and hardworking guys, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, on the success of their just out book, “Let Trump Be Trump.” Finally people with real knowledge are writing about our wonderful and exciting campaign!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2017
Let Trump Be Trump is written by Corey Lewandowski, the fired Trump campaign manager who may be best known for allegedly manhandling a Breitbart News reporter, and David Bossie, Trump's former deputy campaign manager and current president of Citizens United. The book claims to tell "the greatest political tale in the history of our republic," a "once-in-a-millennial [sic] event."
A review of Let Trump Be Trump by David Frum for The Washington Post describes the work as "by turns gullible, dishonest, and weirdly careless," noting that it never mentions WikiLeaks but does spend 20 pages on the Access Hollywood scandal. An early excerpt of the book revealed the president's single-sitting fast food consumption on the campaign trail was typically "two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish" — minus the buns — "and a chocolate malted" milkshake. Bonnie Kristian
Moore told supporters in an email that the election "battle is NOT OVER" while soliciting donations to his "election integrity fund" to pay for investigations into voter fraud he claims may have cost him victory. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has not found any evidence of voter fraud. Merrill said his office has investigation reports of irregularities and has "not discovered any that have been proven factual in nature."
Also Friday, President Trump said Moore should admit his defeat. "He tried. I want to support, always, I want to support the person running," Trump said, but at this point, Moore "certainly" should concede. Bonnie Kristian