Watch an RT Anchor's Take Down of Russian Intervention in Crimea
Uh oh, someone's about to get called down to the Kremlin. Abby Martin, an anchor for the Russian government-funded RT news network (perhaps known better by its former name: Russia Today), is apparently not a fan of Russia's recent sabre-rattling in Crimea, and used her show Breaking the Set as the platform for voicing her displeasure.
"Just because I work here, for RT, does not mean that I don't have editorial independence," she began. "And I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs. What Russia did is wrong."
RT, which Reporters Without Borders has described as a "step of the state to control information," is notoriously Putin-friendly, most recently describing the Russian military as "a stabilizing force for Ukraine" and generally framing Moscow’s intervention as a necessary evil.
Martin, who admitted to not being an expert on the intricacies of Ukrainian politics (an example that many pundits would do well to follow), finished her diatribe with a flourish of pro-Ukrainian sentiment. "Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game. They're the real losers here," she said. "All we can do now is hope for a peaceful outcome for a terrible situation and prevent another full-blown Cold War between multiple superpowers. Until then, I'll keep telling the truth as I see it."
In response to Martin's tongue lashing of her employer's main benefactor, RT has responded in a way that can best be described as passive aggressive: They're dispatching her to Crimea. "In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea," the network said in a statement. "As such we’ll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicentre of the story."
Despite that, Martin recently told the Telegraph that that was not the case, saying "I am not going to Crimea despite the statement RT has made."
Slatest PM: Putin Refuses to Rule Out the Use of Military Force in Ukraine
Putin Speaks: New York Times: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia broke his silence over the Ukraine crisis on Tuesday for the first time since it boiled over into a possible armed confrontation, asserting that he saw no reason for Russian forces to intervene in eastern Ukraine at the moment but leaving open the possibility of military action, saying that Russia 'reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect' Russian speakers in the country’s south and east if they are in danger. Mr. Putin’s comments — in an hourlong unscripted news conference in Moscow in which he described events in Ukraine as an unconstitutional coup and expressed contempt toward the United States — came as East-West tensions escalated in the former Soviet republic on Russia’s doorstep, which has been convulsed in a political and economic crisis for months. The crisis escalated sharply last week when Russia moved to strengthen control over Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula, home to the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet."
Obama Responds: Washington Post: Putin "also asserted that the troops wearing unmarked uniforms in Crimea are local self-defense groups — not Russian forces, as observers on the scene have said. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry both rejected Putin’s assertions Tuesday, with Kerry charging during a visit to Ukraine that 'Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further.' They said it was not true that Russia needs to send in troops to safeguard Russians or Russian-speakers in Ukraine from violent reprisals. Dismissing that alleged concern in remarks in Washington, Obama said Russia was 'seeking through force to exert influence on a neighboring country.'"
Mardi Gras' YOLO-Inspired Vandalism
You might only live once, but the same can't be said for the sign out front of Loyola University in Uptown New Orleans.
Local affiliate WDSU reports that school officials woke up this morning to find the first four letters of a concrete sculpture that spells Loyola on the campus' front lawn had gone missing. The school told the station that it had been a "victim of Mardi Gras"—although I suppose you could also say it was a victim of Drake. (For anyone who hasn't put it together by now, it wouldn't take a lot of effort to reorganize the stolen letters to spell YOLO.)
If your first thought when you saw the photo above was: How the heck hasn't that happened before? The answer is: It has. Apparently a lot. "It happens during the normal times even when it's not a holiday," Meredith Hartley, the school's director of public affairs, told the Times-Picayune. A quick search of the New Orleans newpaper's archives suggests that is indeed the case. Not only has the sign suffered similar YOLO-themed damage before, Hartley told the paper last year that the sign is damaged so often—sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident by people posing for pictures—that the university actually keeps replacement letters on hand just in case.
School officials say the letters will be back up tomorrow once the school's facilities operations team returns to work. (It probably goes without saying that by waiting until Wednesday the school ensures that most of the Mardi Gras crowd will either have headed home or will be too hungover to do much repeat vandalizing.)
One quick note about the embedded photo up top: There's a bit of forced perspective at work. If you head on over to the Times-Picayune you'll find a photo gallery that has a shot that includes a person in the frame to give you an idea of the scale we're talking about here.
Kentucky Will Hire a New Lawyer After AG Refuses to Appeal Gay-Marriage Ruling
The battle over same-sex marriage in Kentucky isn't over just yet. Gov. Steve Beshear announced today that he'll appeal Judge John Heyburn's recent ruling that Kentucky must recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states. While Beshear's decision isn't in itself a surprise, the timing of it was given it came only moments after state Attorney General Jack Conway, a fellow Democrat, gave an emotional speech saying he thought the judge's ruling was the right one, via USA Today:
"Judge Heyburn got it right," said Conway. ...
By appealing, Conway said, he would be defending discrimination "and that I will not do." Conway said he had prayed on the decision and felt he is doing what is right. He said that he was sworn to defend both the constitutions of Kentucky and the United States. "It's about placing people over politics," he said.
He began choking up at the end of the statement before leaving without taking questions.
Conway had initially asked for a 90-day delay to decide if the state would try to appeal the ruling and also to decide how to enforce the law. Given Conway no longer has any plans to appeal, Beshear will need to hire outside counsel to represent the state in federal court.
As my colleague Mark Stern explained last month, Heyburn used his preliminary ruling to stick his thumb directly in the eye of Justice Scalia, who had lamented how easy it would be to apply Windsor’s logic to state-level gay marriage bans. Elsewhere in Slate: David S. Cohen and Dahlia Lithwick discuss marriage equality's perfect record post-Windsor, and explain why gay marriage can't lose in the courts.
Wait, Wait... NPR's Carl Kasell to Retire
Carl Kasell, the official judge and scorekeeper of NPR's Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!, will call it a career this spring, the 79-year-old radio personality and NPR announced Tuesday.
Kasel spent three decades as a news reader for NPR's Morning Edition, a resume that only made it that much funnier when listeners would tune in to Wait Wait and hear him read fill-in-the-blank limericks or any of the other number of outlandish things that found themselves in the show's scripts. "He was the voice people woke up to," Eric Nuzum, NPR's vice president for programming, told staff in a memo. "They opened their eyes, and for 30 years, he was there, reassuring them the world was still in one piece. In 1998 he was recruited to provide gravitas to NPR's new news-quiz, where his title, Official Judge and Scorekeeper, belied his key role as the show's straight man. Carl delighted in the role, and we all know the audience delighted in him."
According to the Chicago Tribune, Kasell will become Scorekeeper Emeritus upon his retirement later this year, making occasional appearances and continuing to record voice-mail or answering-machine greetings for those callers who win one of the show's contests. According to NPR, Wait Wait is planning farewell shows in Chicago and Washington, D.C., in between now and when Kasell officially hangs up his mic sometime "this spring."
President Obama's Budget Proposal Is Back to Being a Liberal Wish List
Last year, President Obama used his annual budget proposal as an olive branch in his quest to bring Republicans to the table to hash out a sweeping fiscal deal, including things like a chained CPI proposal and an offer to reduce the benefit increases for Social Security. That bargain, of course, never came to pass. Fast forward to this year and we see the White House has returned to the basics with a blue print that resembles a liberal wish list of sorts, via the New York Times:
President Obama on Tuesday sent Congress an election-year budget request that reflects Democratic ideals, emphasizing increased spending on domestic initiatives for education, public works and research paid for by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and some corporations, rather than continued budget cutting.
Mr. Obama’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 is mostly a familiar volume that seeks, for the sixth time, to balance investments to help the economy and spread economic opportunities, against continued spending cuts and tax increases to continue reducing annual deficits. But the theme of this year’s budget reflects Mr. Obama’s call to have the nation address the growing inequality of incomes and economic opportunity. ....
Gone are the concessions the president proposed to Republicans last year, as his second term began, to reduce future Social Security payments to arrest the projected growth of federal debt.
Very little of the proposal is expected to become law, let alone even seriously be considered in Congress. Instead, the president's proposal serves as an early benchmark for the 2014 midterm elections, one that Democrats hope will highlight their differences with Republicans on the campaign trail.
The proposal's bottom line numbers for 2015: $3.9 trillion in spending and $3.3 trillion in revenues. More than two-thirds of the former is earmarked for mandatory spending on things like entitlement benefits and interest on the federal debt. Meanwhile, the blue print projects the national deficit will fall to $649 billion this year, to $564 billion the following year (a figure that is less than half in dollar terms of the deficit he inherited when he was sworn in in 2009, according to the Times), and to $434 billion in 2024 (or 1.6 percent of the overall economy, down from 3.7 percent this year, according to the Washington Post).
Slate will have more coverage of the president's budget proposal later.
Warning Shots in Crimea
My colleague Joshua Keating is providing excellent coverage of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine over on The World, but the above video is worth flagging here. It comes by way of Sky News, and will give you an on-the-ground look at just how tense the situation is in Crimea, where an estimated 16,000 Russian troops were deployed over the weekend as Moscow looked to tighten its grip on the Black Sea peninsula.
The dramatic footage is from the Belbek air base in Sevastopil, which pro-Russian troops had seized control of days ago. Today, around 300 Ukrainian soldiers reportedly marched toward the base to regain control, waving flags and singing their country's national anthem in the process. As you'll see, however, their progress was ultimately halted at a check-point near the base, where pro-Russian troops began firing warning shots. Here's Sky with the play-by-play:
At the Belbek base in Sevastopol, around a dozen Russian soldiers warned the unarmed Ukrainian servicemen to back away as they tried to take their positions back. The Russians then fired several shots into the air, saying they would shoot the Ukrainians. A video of the confrontation shows a Russian soldier saying to the Ukrainians: "I want your officer here. We'll be shooting your legs." A Ukrainian soldier responds: "You will pay for this. You'll be responsible." ...
Sky's Katie Stallard, who is at the airbase, said wives and mothers of the Ukrainian servicemen were standing between the two lines to prevent any bloodshed. She said: "There are around a dozen women, wives and mothers, standing in front of their men because they believe they (Russian soldiers) will be more reluctant to fire on them."
The armed troops (it's a little unclear whether they are pro-Russian militia or full-fledged Russian troops, although the difference is largely one of semantics) eventually agreed to negotiations between commanders from both sides, but hours after the incident it remained unclear what the outcome of those talks was. Earlier in the day, Vladimir Putin ordered those Russian troops taking part in what Moscow is somewhat dubiously billing as "military exercises" close to the Ukrainian border to return to their bases, although current reports suggest that some troops are still on the ground near Sevastopil. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Kiev today in a show of support for the new government.
For much more on the unfolding crisis, head on over to The World.
This post has been updated.
Slatest PM: Tensions Rise With Reports of an Ultimatum From Russia
A Russian Ultimatum?: New York Times: "The besieged new government of Ukraine accused Russian forces of a major escalation in pressure over control of the Crimea on Monday night, saying the Russians had demanded that Ukrainian forces there surrender within hours or face armed assault. Russia denied it had issued any ultimatum but was clearly moving to strengthen its grip on Crimea, brushing aside new admonitions from President Obama and European leaders of economic punishment and isolation. The Interfax-Ukrainian news agency quoted an unidentified Ukrainian Defense Ministry official as saying Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander had set a deadline of 5 a.m. Tuesday — 10 p.m. Monday Eastern time — for Ukrainian forces stationed in Crimea to lay down their weapons. Russia’s Interfax news agency said the Black Sea Fleet had no such plans. The conflicting reports only further served to worsen tensions in the Ukraine crisis, which has grown drastically in scope within the past few weeks to a new confrontation between Russia and the West reminiscent of low points in the Cold War."
Obama's Response: Politico: "President Barack Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that continued military presence in Ukraine is a 'costly proposition' that would 'isolate Russia' from the international community. 'I think the world is largely united that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of international law' and that Russia is 'on the wrong side of history,' Obama said in the Oval Office as heavy snow tapered off across Washington. 'Over time, this will be a costly proposition for Russia.' ... [The president said] that some of the most likely responses are those discussed Sunday by Secretary of State John Kerry, including freezes on the assets of Russian businesses and a visa ban by the 'global community,' not just the United States. The State Department is already preparing sanctions against Russia and the Obama administration is “likely moving down that path” to implement them, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on a conference call with reporters."
The World: All Your Ukraine/Crimea Questions Answered
Disney Cuts Future Funding to Boy Scouts Over Anti-Gay Policy
The Walt Disney Company announced this past weekend that it will cut funding to the Boy Scouts of American beginning next year because of the group's policy that bars gays from being adult leaders in the organization.
It’s important to note that Disney itself does not directly give to the Boy Scouts. Rather, the company gives cash to some troops in exchange for volunteer hours completed by Disney employees. (The program is called, I kid you not, VoluntEARS.) In 2010, Disney employees volunteered for 548,000 hours, raising $4.8 million for charities in the process, according to its website—although the site doesn’t specify how much of that cash went to Boy Scout troops.
Via CNN, here's where the Boys Scouts ran afoul of Disney's charity rules:
According to Disney's charitable giving guidelines, groups become ineligible to receive Disney funding if they "discriminate in the provision of services unlawfully or in a manner inconsistent with Disney's policies on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, marital status, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation."
Although the Boy Scouts have allowed gay youths to join, it still bars gays as Scout leaders. The BSA has responded to the news and expressed its disappointment in Disney's decision. Disney said the policy will not affect employees who volunteer with the BSA.
Pope Francis Accidentally Dropped an Expletive During His Weekly Prayer
The above clip is from Pope Francis' weekly blessing from the Vatican, footage of which normally goes unnoticed by your Twitter feed and mine. Then again it's not everyday that the Holy See accidentally drops a curse word while speaking from a window in St. Peter's Square.
To be fair, this was a verbal stumble we're talking about, not a hot-mic mishap. Still, as harmless as it was, it was nonetheless plenty entertaining. The pope, who is a native Spanish speaker, meant to say "caso," which is Italian for "example" or "case." Instead, he said "cazzo," which depending on which Italian-to-English dictionary you use translates either to some variation of "prick" or your more classic F-bomb. Or, as my colleague Andrew McCarthy aptly put it in an email, cazzo is more or less the "Swiss army knife of Italian curses." (On a related note, McCarthy would like his parents to know that his semester abroad back in college wasn't actually a complete waste.)
Here's a translation of Francis' verbal miscue and quick correction: "If each one of us does not amass riches only for oneself, but half for the service of others, in this [insert your expletive of choice here] ... in this case the providence of God will become visible through this gesture of solidarity."
This post has been updated.