Does an ice pick in the back await the man who betrayed Anna Chapman?

An unnamed Russian official has told Russia's generally reputable Kommersant newspaper that an assassin has been dispatched to dispense some Soviet-style justice against a former SVR colonel identified only as Shcherbakov, who allegedly controlled the ring of sleeper agents arrested in the United States last June and fled Russia just days before they were arrested: 

"You can have no doubt -- a Mercader has already been sent after him."

Ramón Mercader was the KGB-hired Spanish communist who was sent to kill Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in Mexico in 1940. [...]

"The fate of such a person is unenviable. All his life he will drag this with him, living every day in fear of retribution."

So for blowing Russia's inside source on the Montclair Parent-Teacher Association, this guy gets elevated to the level of Leon Trotsky?

It's true that the arrest of "the illegals" can be seen as a sign of the return to KGB-era espionage tactics after a period during which the SVR tried unsuccessfully to distance itself from its past. And the involvement of Russian intelligence has been suspected in a number of other assassinations, notably former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by polonium poisoning in London in 2006. 

But telegraphing an assassination plan in advance is going to make plausible deniability a bit tough if something happens to Shcherbakov in the near future. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was a bit subtler back in July, saying, "The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what these laws are" and "Traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts."


'Grumpy the Clown' elected to Brazil's Congress, but can he read?

Earlier this year we ran a piece by Julia Ioffe on some of the eccentrics and entertainers elected to Russia's Duma under the front-page headline "Send in the Clowns." Now I feel like we may have used that one too early:

Grumpy the clown won election in a laugher, getting more votes than any other candidate for Brazil's Congress. Now he has to prove that he can read and write.

The Sao Paulo Electoral Court held a closed-door exam for the clown turned congressman-elect on Thursday to determine if he meets a constitutional mandate that federal lawmakers be literate.

Francisco Silva became famous as Tiririca -- "Grumpy" in Portuguese -- and received about 1.3 million votes, nearly twice as many as the next-highest vote-getter in last month's congressional elections. His campaign videos drew millions of viewers on the Internet, with slogans such as "It can't get any worse" and "What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don't know. But vote for me and you'll find out."

But a less humorous element emerged during the campaign: Allegations that Silva, like 10 percent of Brazilians, is illiterate. Judge Aloisio Silveira ruled that there were discrepancies between the handwriting on Silva's application to run for Congress and that on the document in which he swears he can read and write and in autographs he gave to fans.

The exam was held on Thursday and apparently Tiririca both "read and wrote" during it, though it's not yet clear if he was proficient enough to hold office. 

Just for the record, in Brazil, people like Tiririca and "Chico bin Laden" are allowed to run for office, but professional comedians aren't allowed to make fun of them. This makes a lot of sense.