March 27, 2017

Last Thursday, Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian lawmaker who had fled to Ukraine and become a strident critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on a Kiev sidewalk in broad daylight. A few days earlier, Voronenkov had told The Washington Post that he and his wife knew they were in danger. "For our personal safety, we can't let them know where we are," he said. "The system has lost its mind. They say we are traitors in Russia."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the attack an "act of state terrorism by Russia," a charge Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed as a "fabrication."

Voronenkov is one of a handful of Putin critics and Russian diplomats who have died suddenly and sometimes mysteriously in the past few months. "I have an impression — I hope it's only an impression — that the practice of killing political opponents has started spreading in Russia," Gennady Gudkov, a former Russian lawmaker and security services officer, told The Moscow Times.

Two days before Voronenkov's murder, Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the family of Sergei Magnitsky — himself killed in police custody after uncovering $230 million in Russian government fraud — fell from his apartment window. Russian authorities say Gorokhov, who survived the fall, was trying to hoist a bathtub up to his apartment when he fell; Bill Browder, a financier who had hired Magnitsky, alleges that somebody pushed Gorokhov. In another apparent near-miss, Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza narrowly survived what appears to be a second poison attack.

On Dec. 26, Oleg Erovinkin, a former top Russian intelligence official and the chief-of-staff to Igor Sechin, the president of state-owned oil firm Rosneft, was found dead in his car on the streets of Moscow; no official cause of death has been given. There has been speculation that Erovinkin was the main source of the dossier on President Trump and Russia compiled by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele.

Stranger still, since November, at least six Russian diplomats have died, some from gunshot wounds and others of apparent natural causes. Among these is Andrey Karlov, 62, the Russian ambassador to Turkey who was shot in an Ankara art gallery, and Vitaly Churkin, 64, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations who died in New York City. The New York Chief Medical Examiner's office said in mid-March that it would "not publicly disclose the cause and manner of death of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin" due to diplomatic protocols.

The deaths and near-deaths may well be totally unconnected. But it's sure a lot of coincidences. Peter Weber

2:06 p.m.

Outside of Game of Thrones' predictable domination, the Emmys nominee list this year is full of some real head-turners.

From notable snubs to unexpected additions, let's take a look at some of the biggest surprises from this year's nominees.

1. Voters love Schitt's Creek and Fleabag - The previously-snubbed cult comedy Schitt's Creek unexpectedly snuck into the Outstanding Comedy Series category, also scoring nominations for its lead actors, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. Similarly, Fleabag after being previously snubbed scored not just a nomination in the top category but also 10 more, including for its star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

2. The Kominsky Method and GLOW miss - Netflix's The Kominsky Method, meanwhile, didn't get a nod in the top comedy category as expected, nor did GLOW, despite being nominated last year.

3. The Big Bang Theory and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt don't get a final season boost - The Big Bang Theory with its last season didn't get a nomination in the top comedy category nor, as was more likely, one for Jim Parsons, while Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's last episodes earned it no love, either.

4. Jon Snow edges out Robb Stark - Game of Thrones alum Richard Madden seemed to have a strong shot at a lead actor in a drama nominee for Bodyguard, but while that series was nominated, he was left out. Instead, it was Thrones' Kit Harington who was nominated after being snubbed last time, while Thrones co-stars Alfie Allen and Sophie Turner also got their first nods.

5. Jim Carrey, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Emma Stone are snubbed - These four traditionally movie-focused stars who headed to TV with Kidding, Homecoming, Catch 22, and Maniac respectively were all snubbed. Other actors who missed out on nominations included Allison Janney, Pamela Adlon,Tracee Ellis Ross, and Kieran Culkin.

6. Netflix nails it - Netflix's baking competition show Nailed It!, an online favorite, managed to make its way into the Outstanding Competition Program category. Better luck next time, The Masked Singer. Brendan Morrow

2:06 p.m.

Say goodbye to @rogerjstonejr.

Roger Stone, President Trump's longtime and now former adviser, on Tuesday was found in violation of a gag order he's been subject to since February. So U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ordered Stone to stay off Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter until his November trial, she announced Tuesday.

Berman Jackson had previously ordered that Stone not comment "in the media or in public settings about the Special Counsel’s investigation or this case" to avoid coloring a potential jury's opinion of him. Yet Stone has maintained social media accounts that constantly post declarations of his innocence, namely through T-shirts that read "Roger Stone did nothing wrong." He's also posted the occasional prompt to fund his legal defense at StoneDefenseFund.com.

In the Tuesday proceeding, Jackson said her gag order was "clear as day," and then read off several posts where Stone had apparently violated it, The Washington Post reports. Stone's lawyer tried to argue that his small social media following negated the influence of those posts, but Berman Jackson wasn't having it. She ordered that Stone cannot post on social media altogether, but did not expand on how she'd enforce the order.

Stone was indicted in January under former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, and was charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering, and making false statements, among other counts. He's since fought those charges very publicly, both on social media and in court. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:39 p.m.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is known for his anti-immigrant stance and his quest to seal Italy's borders amid increased migration, which has culminated in some maritime conflict. But it turns out the League Party leader isn't just trying to prevent people from entering the country.

Salvini on Tuesday ordered local authorities to map out settlements where traditionally nomadic ethnic communities, including Roma and Sinti people, are living in the country. The order was drawn up to "prepare a plan of clearances" of their camps, despite the fact that the marginalized communities have lived throughout Europe for centuries and many are Italian citizens. But a coalition between Salvini's League party and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio's Five Star Movement agreed last May to close the camps.

Di Maio initially backtracked on the agreement, The Financial Times reports, because he maintained that Salvini's past threats to carry out an ethnically-based census of the Roma minority was unconstitutional. Instead, he argued, all illegal camps should be razed.

Salvini has also called for non-Italians found among the communities to be rounded up and sent back to their countries of origin. Despite the harsh rhetoric, FT writes that Salvini's anti-Roma stance is likely to play in his favor politically. Hate crimes and prejudice against Roma, Sinti, and other communities remain major issues in contemporary Italy, and experts say the newest development will likely stoke even more fear.

"When the bulldozers raze each camp it will have a huge social an economic cost," said Dijana Pavlovic, a spokesman for travelers' rights groups Kovimento Kethane Rom and Sinti per l'Italia. "It will not make the lives of normal Italians better but will only create more insecurity and fear."

Read more about Salvini here at The Week. Tim O'Donnell

1:02 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is making money moves, and they aren't even subject to his often touted wealth taxes.

In a Tuesday tweet, rapper Cardi B said she's been "reading about Bernie Sanders" and felt that "we let him down in 2016." After all, Sanders has "been fighting for equal rights, human rights for such a long time," Cardi continued. And well, she likes it like that.

A Twitter user responded to Cardi B's endorsement to point out she's complained about paying taxes in the past, seeing as Sanders' policies would likely lead to more of them. But Cardi noted she only has an issue with having no idea where her tax dollars end up.

The several conservatives who praised Cardi B's supposedly conservative tax stances may want to reconsider their support, especially after Sanders gratefully accepted Cardi's. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:25 p.m.

A divisive final season didn't prevent Game of Thrones from setting a new Emmys record.

The hit HBO series scored a total of 32 Emmy nominations on Tuesday, including for Outstanding Drama Series and acting nominations for stars Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Alfie Allen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, and Gwendoline Christie. Game of Thrones received not only the most nominations of any show this year but the most nominations that any show has ever received in one year, according to The Associated Press. The previous record was set when NYPD Blue in 1994 earned 27 nominations.

Also making up the Outstanding Drama Series category was Better Call Saul, Bodyguard, Killing Eve, Ozark, Pose, Succession, and This Is Us. The 2017 winner, The Handmaid's Tale, wasn't eligible because it didn't air a full season within the nominating window. The Outstanding Comedy Series category consisted of Barry, Fleabag, The Good Place, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Russian Doll, Schitt's Creek, and Veep.

Some notable surprises from the announcement included the comedy series nod for Schitt's Creek, which also received nominations for stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, and the absence of Bodyguard's Richard Madden from the lead actor in a drama series category.

Thanks both to Game of Thrones and Veep, as well as other nominees like Chernobyl, HBO received the most nominations of any network with 137, with this coming after Netflix stole its thunder by claiming that title last year, The New York Times reports. Netflix, which released Emmy nominees like When They See Us and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, picked up 117 nominations. Thrones and Veep, both of which recently aired their final seasons, are widely expected to take home the top prizes in September, unless Thrones does unexpectedly get dinged for its controversial last set of episodes.

The 2019 Emmys, which don't currently have a host, will take place on Sept. 22. Read the full list of nominees here. Brendan Morrow

11:54 a.m.

Ever heard the one about infrastructure week?

As politicians make calls to rectify the decline of U.S. infrastructure investment, a new study from Leah Brooks of George Washington University and Zachary of Liscow of Yale University provides "suggestive evidence" as to how and why infrastructure costs could have changed over time.

After digitizing annual state-level data on interstate highway construction — one of the largest projects in American history — they found that per-mile construction costs increased dramatically over time, tripling between the early 1960s and the 1980s. But why?

Brooks and Liscow ruled out some old theories such as the idea that highway planners procrastinated and left the most geographically challenging routes for last, or that costs for labor and materials changed. Instead, one possible explanation they found is that as incomes and home values rose, so did demand for more expensive interstates. For example, the doubling in real median per capita income between the '60s and '80s accounts for about half the increase in construction costs per mile. States were also building more bridges and ramps as incomes increased. The study suggests all this could have occurred simply because the more money people had, the more willing they were to spend it.

One other factor that the study finds consistent with the data is the rise of the "citizen voice" in the late '60s and early '70s. That includes the growth of environmental activism, the civil rights movement, and homeowners organizing as lobbyists. Basically, more power to the people possibly meant more expensive highway construction. The timing checks out, at least.

The findings, the paper says, are suggestive, but not causal. Still, it looks like a good start in bettering our understanding of infrastructure investment over time. Read the full study here. Tim O'Donnell

11:31 a.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday insisted that President Trump's tweets telling four minority congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from were not racist.

McCarthy in a press conference was asked whether Trump's weekend tweets were racist, to which he flatly responded, "No," saying that "this is about ideology" and criticizing the so-called "squad" that Trump attacked while not offering a specific defense of the language used. McCarthy also said he will vote against the resolution condemning Trump's tweets, suggesting "individuals on the other side of the isle" have also made comments that should be condemned and insisting that Trump has "clarified" his tweets sufficiently.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) during this conference also said that Republicans' "opposition to our colleagues' beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with race" while arguing that their policies "would destroy America" and that some of their comments are actually what's racist.

This press conference came shortly after Trump once again insisted on Twitter that his tweets were not racist and that he doesn't "have a racist bone in my body!" Trump shortly after the press conference thanked McCarthy for defending him with a misquote of McCarthy's statement, even as he faced backlash from some Republicans. Watch McCarthy's response below. Brendan Morrow

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