Russian voting is under way, with President Vladimir Putin expected to overwhelmingly win re-election. That would cement his place in history as the Kremlin’s longest-serving leader after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. But there are speed bumps: The Central Election Commission reported an unsuccessful attempt at a denial-of-service hacking attack on its website, along with some ballot-stuffing, resulting in votes being invalidated. Meanwhile, banned opposition candidate Alexei Navalny urged a boycott, while authorities in one of Russia’s coldest regions offered iPhones for those who post polling-place selfies.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired Friday — two days short of full retirement — for allegedly misleading internal investigators about press leaks. He responded that President Donald Trump was undercutting former special counsel Robert Mueller’s independent investigation of Trump campaign Kremlin links. On Saturday, a Trump lawyer called for the probe’s end while reports emerged that McCabe had given Mueller notes of conversations with Trump. Those are believed to support allegations that the president obstructed justice in firing FBI Director James Comey, who tweeted that Americans “will hear my story very soon.”
It was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the nerve agent attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, said Britain’s foreign secretary last week. That sparked a tit-for-tat diplomatic battle that saw 23 diplomats expelled from each nation just as U.K. police probe another Russian exile’s strangulation death. The earlier attack left the two victims in critical condition. U.S. officials shared Britain’s concern, just as they imposed new Kremlin sanctions for 2016 election meddling and issued warnings on pervasive U.S. infrastructure hacking.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to be the one person standing between President Donald Trump and canceling the 2015 pact to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Now Tillerson’s out, replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who’s consistently criticized what he called a “disastrous” deal, which he’s said he wants to kill. The situation is such that European allies and Iran reportedly expect Trump — who cited Tillerson’s support of the deal in firing him — to withdraw from the agreement and are planning for what comes next.
Can they get money for nothing? As music streaming giant Spotify prepares to go public, its business model isn’t sounding pitch-perfect. Just weeks short of what may be the biggest entertainment IPO since Netflix in 2002, American copyright authorities, empowered by a 1909 law, massively increased songwriters’ royalty share. That’s thrown off the company’s revenue formula, although co-founder Daniel Ek doesn’t seem too concerned. While the service has yet to turn a profit, 60,000 new subscribers are signing up every day, and new products will be rolling out in the coming months.
The Week Ahead: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday on a free speech challenge to a California law requiring anti-abortion pregnancy clinics to inform clients that affordable abortions are available elsewhere. On Thursday and Friday, a European Union summit plans to address U.S. metal tariffs. And immigration promises to be a sticking point again as Congress pushes up against Friday’s new federal budget deadline.
Know This: The remains of five victims were recovered Saturday from beneath a Florida bridge that collapsed Thursday — the same day authorities met to discuss a crack in the structure. Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighters have reportedly entered a Kurdish stronghold in central Afrin. And the New York Times reports that the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, credited with aiding President Trump’s election and suspended by Facebook for abusing user data, met with Russian oil executives interested in targeting U.S. voters.
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It’s being called the greatest college basketball upset ever. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a 5,000-to-1 longshot in Las Vegas betting parlors, beat the Virginia Cavaliers, 75-54, in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 in Charlotte, N.C. Before Friday’s game, UMBC had trouble getting Marylanders to pay attention, much less the nation. No more. Beating a team widely expected to go all the way means the underdogs, whose mascot is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, “should have a decent shot,” opines a local sportswriter, at beating No. 9 seed Kansas State today.
Ignoring southern Iraq’s dangers, two Qatari royals hunted prized houbara bustards there in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Iran-allied Shiite militiamen kidnapped them, prompting a byzantine ransom scheme involving the somewhat deadly relocation of besieged Syrian Sunnis and Shiites. And there were bags of cash, including payments to multiple terrorist-designated forces, perhaps totaling $1 billion. The hostages were freed last April, but not before Iraqi authorities confiscated $360 million at a Baghdad airport VIP lounge — helping to spark Gulf nations’ yet-unresolved blockade of Qatar, whose payments continue to fuel the region’s ongoing violence.
Each American discards an average of 82 pounds of clothing a year. That’s a waste, especially considering that only 10 percent of donated clothing is deemed fit for resale. But savvy Mexican entrepreneurs have cottoned on to the idea of picking up American castoffs to be sold south of the border. Mexico’s heavily protected textile industry is fuming, accusing the illegal operators, who smuggle their wares by the bag, “ant-style,” of undermining legitimate business. But for many of their countrymen, these are the only manufactured clothes they can afford.
Its sights are timeless. But the noises that permeate Istanbul’s bustling markets and thoroughfares are being muted. As the city develops, new infrastructure is paving over some of its most beloved sounds. So a team of field recordists are capturing that hubbub before the bulldozers bring a new din. Such recordings have become the basis for music inspired by the upheaval of Turkey’s politics, an archive of urban racket and an online sound-map of the city — so aficionados the world over can experience the richness of Istanbul’s streets.
As pressing equality issues like the gender pay gap and sexual harassment come under unprecedented scrutiny, some women remain in the shadows. They’re employed as janitors, farmhands and domestic workers — often in precarious situations with few resources to combat rampant sexual assault and workplace violations. The rise of subcontracting has helped reduce both wages and accountability, particularly in cleaning jobs. Organizations like the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund help workers, often undocumented, file complaints but say that even progressive states like California must do more to protect them.
Financial adviser Marty Blazer was in trouble: Facing federal fraud allegations, partly from misappropriating clients’ money to bankroll a horror film that tanked, he needed to keep prosecutors at bay. So he volunteered his services as a cooperating witness, exposing college basketball’s dirty deeds through detailing his payoffs to coaches for steering players into pro recruitment schemes. As March Madness begins, some observers of college basketball’s corruption hope Blazer can repay his debt to society by helping to clean up the game — perhaps inspiring a screenplay worth filming.