When a young man or woman joins the United States military, one of the first things they do before even being shipped off to boot camp is take the loyalty oath. “I (state your name) do solemnly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” The oath of enlistment goes on to say that the service member will follow orders of the president and the officers appointed over them per the regulations of the uniformed code of military justice. Most service members, at least I hope anyway, understand that there are illegal orders, and any order that goes against the Constitution is, in fact, an illegal order.
This oath means something to military personnel because most of us joined to defend the rights and liberties of all Americans, even those that don’t share our views. Sadly, many people have been inundated with the belief that the Constitution is an oppressive document that stands in the way of government creating the perfect paradise. In fact, in a report called Rightwing extremism: Current economic and political climate fueling resurgence in radicalization and recruitment the government calls anyone who refers to the Constitution and the limits of government power a domestic terrorist. Anyone who owns a gun is a terrorist, anyone who didn’t vote for Obama is a racist terrorist and anyone who is buying more than seven days of food at a time is now even referred to as a potential terrorist. Veterans are potential terrorists, probably because the government fears them finding out how they have been used, abused and lied to. Also, those who hold anti-abortion views are domestic terrorists.
Many of you may be wondering what the significance of all of this is. Harry Reid just referred to the Bundy ranch protesters as domestic terrorists and claimed that he was told a special task force is being set up to “deal with them.” A task force, mind you that is not loyal to the U.S. Constitution, but has likely been beaten down with the same lies and propaganda that is published in that fallacious report.
I don’t about the rest of you, but I have seen the way the U.S. government deals with terrorists. The fact that they are referring to their own people as possible terrorists should concern all of us.
How did we get to the point where a sleazy politician like Harry Reid, who for days now, reports have been surfacing exposing his involvement in this federal land grab, can get away with it and call average citizens domestic terrorists? I will tell you how, but you are not going to like it America. You became fat, lazy, and uninterested in defending the very liberties that were passed on to you from previous generations. You let the politics of envy, employed by selfish radicals and their lies; beat you into submission out of fear of appearing “uncompassionate” or uncaring. You let the politics of fear overwhelm your senses as little by little mental associations were created between what you fear the most and the unknown, until the point came when you let the government convince you that your neighbor shouldn’t be trusted if he questions the motives of big government. In other words America, you went to sleep and passed on your responsibility to someone else who didn’t share your same values.
The hour is later and much darker than most care to know. Many in America see no problem with the federal government that has the intestinal fortitude to surround one man and his family with three hundred armed troops, and then lie by claiming it’s about taxes and turtles. There are so many other ways this situation could have been dealt with folks, especially if Cliven Bundy was truly in the wrong. They intentionally set out to spark a confrontation so they could identify the resistors as domestic terrorists. Everything they need to eliminate the opposition is written into law or policy. The Patriot Act, The National Defense Authorization Act, both give the government broad powers when dealing with domestic terrorism. Some of us realized many years ago that someday those powers would be turned on us; others went to sleep, allowing the government to classify us as domestic terrorists for being concerned about such a thing.
This is the ultimate betrayal to all those who served in this nation’s uniform. They swore to defend the liberties of American citizens, and some gave their lives doing so while others showed up at the Bundy ranch to do it again. There is nothing in the Constitution that grants the government the right to do anything outside of its delegated authority folks. I know one thing for certain, sicking 300 armed federal agents on one man, from an unaccountable bureaucracy, is not in the job description of the federal government. If you are a liberal and can’t see this, then there is no hope for you. If you can’t understand that this power will turn on you the minute you disagree with them, then you get what you deserve. In my honest opinion, anything that happens from this point on is squarely in the hands of all of those on the right or the left that sat on the sidelines and did nothing.
It’s time for Western states to take control of federal lands within their borders, lawmakers and county commissioners from Western states said at Utah’s Capitol on Friday.
More than 50 political leaders from nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal: wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.
“It’s simply time,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder. “The urgency is now.”
Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, was flanked by a dozen participants, including her counterparts from Idaho and Montana, during a press conference after the daylong closed-door summit. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee addressed the group over lunch, Ivory said. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington also were represented.
The summit was in the works before this month’s tense standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing, Lockhart said.
“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” Lockhart said.
Fielder, who described herself as “just a person who lives in the woods,” said federal land management is hamstrung by bad policies, politicized science and severe federal budget cuts.
“Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,” Fielder said, who lives in the northwestern Montana town of Thompson Falls.
“We have to start managing these lands. It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms,” Fielder said.
Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said Idaho forests and rangeland managed by the state have suffered less damage and watershed degradation from wildfire than have lands managed by federal agencies.
“It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Bedke said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”
Ivory said the issue is of interest to urban as well as rural lawmakers, in part because they see oilfields and other resources that could be developed to create jobs and fund education.
Moreover, the federal government’s debt threatens both its management of vast tracts of the West as well as its ability to come through with payments in lieu of taxes to the states, he said. Utah gets 32 percent of its revenue from the federal government, much of it unrelated to public lands.
“If we don’t stand up and act, seeing that trajectory of what’s coming… those problems are going to get bigger,” Ivory said.
He was the sponsor two years of ago of legislation, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, that demands the federal government relinquish title to federal lands in Utah. The lawmakers and governor said they were only asking the federal government to make good on promises made in the 1894 Enabling Act for Utah to become a state.
The intent was never to take over national parks and wilderness created by an act of Congress Lockhart said. “We are not interested in having control of every acre,” she said. “There are lands that are off the table that rightly have been designated by the federal government.”
A study is underway at the University of Utah to analyze how Utah could manage the land now in federal control. That was called for in HB142, passed by the 2013 Utah Legislature.
None of the other Western states has gone as far as Utah, demanding Congress turn over federal lands. But five have task forces or other analyses underway to get a handle on the costs and benefits, Fielder said.
“Utah has been way ahead on this,” Fielder said.
Senator Rand Paul scolded Democrat Harry Reid last night for rhetoric Paul claims will lead to violence. Harry Reid called the Bundy Ranch supporters “domestic terrorists” several times this week after the standoff last weekend.
The Daily Caller reported:
Republican Senator Rand Paul called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “calm the rhetoric” on Cliven Bundy, arguing the Nevada senator’s “domestic terrorist” comment was “liable to stir up” the situation and lead to violence.
The Kentucky senator spoke Thursday night with Fox News’ Eric Bolling, who was filling in for Sean Hannity. “Is there any need to call Americans domestic terrorists?” Bolling asked.
“No, I think what we should all be calling for is for calmer heads to prevail,” Paul said. “I don’t want to see violence on either side.”
“There is a legitimate constitutional question here about whether the state should be in charge of endangered species or whether the federal government should be,” Paul admitted. “But I don’t think calling people names is going to calm this down.”
“I think it’s liable to stir it up,” he continued. “So I think all parties – including Senator Reid – should calm the rhetoric a little bit. Let’s try to have a peaceful resolution to this.”
The EPA is in the process, right this very minute, of seizing control over all private land in the United States. They are following the United Nations blueprint, their minion Gina McCarthy is implementing it, and B. Hussein Obama is facilitating it.
Anywhere in America where it rains or where water collects or through which water moves will now, according to this new rule change they are implementing, be under their control. Not because Congress or the people give them that authority or jurisdiction, but simply because they are seizing the power. It is just another component of the illegitimate tyranny which is oppressing the American people.
On Tuesday the agency which operates as the misnamed Environmental Protection Agency unveiled their proposed change to the Clean Water Act, which would extend their regulatory control to temporary wetlands and waterways.
This definition consists of any water, including seasonal ponds, streams, runoff and collection areas and irrigation water. It could include runoff from watering your lawn, or puddles on your own property. They will control the presence of and can prohibit through regulation, your right to the water and your actions regarding water upon your own land. The opportunities for their abuse would be limitless.
Louisiana Senator David Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, offered an understated precautionary objection stating, “The… rule may be one of the most significant private property grabs in U.S. history.”
The EPA proposal would extend their authority to include “pollution regulations” to “intermittent and ephemeral streams and wetlands” – which are created temporarily during wet seasons or following rainfall.
Recognize this for what it is America; The EPA is giving themselves legal jurisdiction to replace our rights with their permissions anywhere it rains or water exists.
They are expanding the same kind of California fish-based drought or Nevada tortoise land restrictions or Oregon spotted owl tyranny to every square inch of the United States.
The EPA is asserting that all ground water, whether temporary or not and regardless of size is part of the “waters of the United States.”
Their position is in contradiction to the Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006, restricting the EPA to flowing and sizeable, “relatively” permanent bodies of water such as “oceans, rivers, streams and lakes.” Of course, progressives just keep trying until they get what they want, and they never have enough.
The proposed rule change is now in a 90 day comment period during which they will assess just how much they can get away with, based upon public outcry and pushback.
Senator Vitter accused the EPA of “picking and choosing” their science and of attempting to “take another step toward outright permitting authority over virtually any wet area in the country.” He also warned that if approved, more private owners could expect to be sued by “environmental groups.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) shares Vitter’s concerns, warning of potential economic damage and questioning the EPA’s motivations.
She said, “[I]t appears that the EPA is seeking to dramatically expand its jurisdictional reach under the Clean Water Act. If EPA is not careful, this rule could effectively give the federal government control of nearly all of our state.
Of course, that is exactly what they are after, as well as 49 other states and territories.
Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza traveled to Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., on Friday to embark on a “fact-finding” mission. Prior to attending a “big rally” made up of hundreds of the cattle rancher’s supporters, D’Souza planned to talk to some of the people who Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has labeled “domestic terrorists.”
Broadcasting live from Bundy’s Nevada ranch on “The Kelly File,” he revealed that supporters – made up of men, women and children – were wearing “domestic terrorist” name tags on Friday. D’Souza said seeing children wearing the tags shows just how absurd Reid’s allegations are.
He also told Megyn Kelly that he is now “sensitive” to situations where an individual is targeted by the federal government because of his current case involving a violation of campaign finance law. Some have speculated he was targeted following his anti-Obama documentary.
“My case is going to trial in May and I am preparing for it. It’s created to in me a feeling of vulnerability and, of course, a sensitivity to these kinds of issues of justice,” he said. “But, of course, I didn’t have SWAT teams on me, I wasn’t in the sights of snipers – so I feel that these guys have been facing some real domestic terror from their own government and that’s a very scary idea here in America.”
The filmmaker behind “2016: Obama’s America” and the soon-to-be released film, “America,” told TheBlaze in a phone interview that he is “less concerned about the specifics of the case and whether [Bundy] paid his grazing fees” and more concerned about federal overreach and questions surrounding whether the government is treating all people and groups equally under the law.
“There is a big clash going on between people who see themselves as patriots standing up for the principles of 1776, equal rights under the Constitution, and the federal government,” D’Souza said. “We want to live in a country where Lady Justice is blind and you don’t have her looking out through just one eye.”
D’Souza also characterized Reid’s inflammatory remarks as a “vastly unjust portrayal of domestic terrorism.” He argued the senator is intentionally “stirring the pot” and called on President Barack Obama to condemn Reid’s statements and urge him to apologize.
However, that seemed unlikely to happen as Reid doubled down on his “terrorist” comments on Friday.
The conservative filmmaker urged Bundy and all of his supporters to refuse to let that kind of rhetoric cause them lose their cool. It’s the kind of case that can “make your emotions run away with you,” so both sides need to show restraint and prevent the situation from escalating into a Ruby Ridge-type of incident, he added.
One of the themes in his new documentary, “America,” which is scheduled to be released in June, revolves around “equal justice,” D’Souza said. That’s part of the reason he decided to make the trip to Nevada and try to figure out who Bundy and his supporters really are.
“The issue of equal justice transcends politics completely,” D’Souza told TheBlaze. “Unfortunately, there’s a sense that this core issue is being manipulated.”
He cited the Obama administration’s habit of selectively choosing which laws it enforces, bringing up same-sex marriage and federal immigration law as examples. The IRS targeting scandal also raises concerns about “equal justice” under the law.
As TheBlaze has previously reported, “Bundy reportedly owes the federal government roughly $1 million in grazing fees, an amount he accumulated after he “fired” the Bureau of Land Management in 1993 over its decision to turn public land into a protective habitat for the state’s desert tortoise.”
Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid refused to back down from his inflammatory branding of Cliven Bundy supporters as “domestic terrorists,” calling people who turned out to support the rancher “domestic, violent terrorist wannabes” on Friday and sparring with his Republican counterpart who labelled them “patriots.”
Reid took hits from many sides yesterday for his controversial comments – including from Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who called on Reid to “calm the rhetoric” or risk inciting real violence.
But instead of cooling it, Reid doubled down during an appearance with Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller on “What’s Your Point,” a local Las Vegas news program.
“Bundy doesn’t believe that the American government is valid, he believes the United States is a foreign government,” Reid claimed. “He doesn’t pay his taxes, he doesn’t follow the law. He doesn’t pay his fees.”
“And if anyone thinks by any figment of their imagination that what happened up there last week was, people rallying to somebody that was oppressed,” he continued, “600 people came in, armed. They had practiced, they had maneuvered. They knew what they were doing.”
He noted that some of the protesters had set up firing positions opposite Bureau of Land Management agents, who had been menacing unarmed Americans with high-grade military weaponry for days.
“If there were ever an example of people who were domestic, violent terrorist wannabes, these are the guys,” he declared.
“But no one called Bundy a domestic terrorist,” Reid also hastened to add. “I said the people that came there were.”
Heller had a very different interpretation. “What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” he asserted.
Reid hit back: “If these people think they’re patriots, they’re not,” he said. “I use that word typically. But if they’re patriots, we’re in big trouble.”
“Well it’s a pretty broad brush,” Heller countered. “Pretty broad brush when you have Boy Scouts there. You have veterans at the event. You have grandparents at the event.”
“I take more issue at the BLM coming in with a paramilitary army than individuals with snipers,” the Republican lawmaker. “And I’m talking to people and groups that were there at the event. And having your own government with sniper lenses on you, it made a lot of people very uncomfortable.”
“There was no army!” Reid replied. “And that land – 300,000 acres, federal land – has been basically decimated by this guy.”
Conservative activist and founder of True the Vote, Catherine Engelbrecht, filed an ethics complaint against far left Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in February. Engelbrecht accused Cummings of harassment and intimidation.
Catherine Engelbrecht testified before Congress in February.
She was visited by FBI, IRS, ATF, and OSHA after she filed for tax exempt status for her voters rights group.
Engelbrecht said her testimony before Congress and Cummings,
“Frankly, to sit before my accuser and be silent in the face of what he did was unconscionable.”
Today, Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) accused Elijah Cummings of colluding with the IRS to target True the Vote.
National Review reported:
The war between Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa and the committee’s ranking member, Elijah Cummings, rages on.
Issa on Wednesday accused the Maryland Democrat of colluding with the Internal Revenue Service in its targeting of the conservative nonprofit group True the Vote, whose founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, said she received multiple letters from Cummings in 2012 and personal visits from the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives. Engelbrecht’s True the Vote is one of the many conservative groups that claims to have been improperly targeted by the IRS while it scrutinized the applications of tea-party groups.
In a letter signed by his five subcommittee chairmen, Issa raised the possibility that Cummings coordinated with the IRS, “surreptitiously” contacting the agency to request information about True the Vote.
E-mails unearthed in the course of Issa’s investigation into the IRS’s inappropriate targeting of right-leaning groups show that in January 2013, a member of Cummings’s staff contacted the IRS asking for any publicly available information on True the Vote. The matter was discussed by IRS officials that included Lois Lerner, the former exempt-organizations chief who retired in the wake of the targeting scandal. One of Lerner’s deputies, Holly Paz, subsequently sent the organization’s 990 forms to Cummings and his staff – not an illegal disclosure of taxpayer information, though sources say the exchange of such information was not routine.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa on Wednesday accused his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, of coordinating with the IRS to attack one of the tea party groups that was targeted by the tax agency for intrusive scrutiny and long delays.
Mr. Issa and five other top Republicans said they have just last week been given emails showing Mr. Cummings sought information from the IRS about True the Vote, a conservative tax-exempt organization that drew the ire of liberals for pushing states to eliminate potentially bogus names from their voter rolls.
Mr. Issa said the IRS employees appear to have discussed confidential taxpayer information as they debated how to respond to the request from Mr. Cummings – though it’s unclear what response they ended up giving to the Maryland lawmaker, who is the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee.
“It is unclear whether the IRS shared True the Vote’s confidential taxpayer information with you or your staff through either official or unofficial channels,” Mr. Issa said, though he stressed that the IRS didn’t convey any of the information to the GOP, nor did they even alert Republicans of the request for information. Mr. Issa indicated he thought that was hypocritical since Mr. Cummings has repeatedly accused Republicans of refusing to share their requests or information they received.
Mr. Cummings‘ office didn’t immediate reply to a request for comment on the accusation.
At one point in public testimony earlier this year, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for True the Vote, wondered allowed whether congressional staffers “might have been involved in putting True the Vote on the radar screen of some of these federal agencies.”
Mr. Cummings vehemently denied that, calling it “absolutely incorrect and not true.”
But Mr. Issa laid out a series of questions that Mr. Cummings asked of True the Vote, which he said were so similar to the questions the IRS asked that they raised questions of coordination. The questions involved the computer software True the Vote uses, its training procedures and a list of jurisdictions the group has targeted for cleaner voting rolls.
“The timeline and pattern of inquiries raises concerns that the IRS improperly shared protected taxpayer information with your staff,” Mr. Issa wrote.
True the Vote applied for status as a 501(c )(3). The founders also created another organization, King Street Patriots, which applied for 501(c )(4) status. Catherine Engelbrecht, who founded both organizations, said soon after their creation, she, the groups and her business were subjected to multiple investigations, audits and inquiries from federal agencies ranging from the FBI and IRS to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Wednesday’s letter marks the latest escalation in what’s become a bitter relationship between the two men. Mr. Issa last month cut off Mr. Cummings’s microphone at a hearing with former IRS employee Lois G. Lerner, and Mr. Cummings demanded and received an apology.
Then, over the last week, Mr. Issa accused Mr. Cummings of trying to work out a secret deal with Ms. Lerner, and Mr. Cummings vehemently denied that.
The two men will likely clash again Thursday when the committee is slated to meet and consider holding Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer the committee’s questions. She has asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Mr. Cummings argues Mr. Issa botched the proceedings and tainted any contempt finding, and he is backed by more than two dozen lawyers who have issued memos or quotes saying contempt shouldn’t happen in this case.
On Wednesday, Mr. Cummings released a report from the Congressional Research Service arguing that there is no historical precedent for the House to find Ms. Lerner in contempt.
In the report, CRS went back to the 1950s, when then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy was investigating communists in the U.S. government. In an instance that appears to be similar to Ms. Lerner’s exchange with Mr. Issa, a witness testifying to Mr. McCarthy asserted her innocence and then refused to answer follow-ups.
A federal court upheld the woman’s right to remain silent.
“Sixty years ago, Joe McCarthy tried-and failed-to hold an American citizen in contempt after she professed her innocence and asserted her rights under the Fifth Amendment. I reject Chairman Issa’s attempts to re-create our committee in Joe McCarthy’s image, and I object to his effort to drag us back to that shameful era in which Congress tried to strip away the Constitutional rights of American citizens under the bright lights of hearings that had nothing to do with responsible oversight and everything to do with the most dishonorable kind of partisan politics,” Mr. Cummings said.
House Republicans on Wednesday accused former IRS official Lois Lerner of breaking agency rules by aggressively urging denial of tax-exempt status to Crossroads GPS, the giant political nonprofit founded by Karl Rove.
The House Ways and Means Committee released emails showing the former chief of the tax-exempt unit took a special interest in Crossroads GPS in early 2013 – inquiring with IRS officials why they hadn’t been audited. Around the same time an email suggested she might be applying for a job with a pro-President Barack Obama group, Organizing For Action, though it is unclear if she was joking.
Democrats decried the release, calling it an election year gimmick to win over the party’s political base. One campaign finance group came to the defense of Lerner, who has denied any wrongdoing, calling the probe a partisan witch hunt.
The Republican committee letter calls her actions an “aggressive and improper pursuit of Crossroads… but no evidence [that] she directed review of similarly situated left-leaning groups.”
The documents were released after a rare, closed-door Ways and Means markup, where the panel voted 23-14 along party lines to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting he take the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division to court – though the department already has an ongoing investigation.
The scandal, spurred when Lerner publicly acknowledged extra scrutiny of tea party groups followed by a critical inspector general report, has surged back into the spotlight in recent months as congressional committees finish their investigations.
Lerner became a lightning rod for Republicans after she pleaded the Fifth and refused to testify before a House panel. The original inspector general report found that the targeting was inappropriate but found no evidence of partisan motivations.
Republicans want her charged for improperly influencing the IRS to take action against conservative organizations; disclosing confidential taxpayer info, a felony; and impeding an investigation.
Democrats cried foul play, accusing Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) of releasing private taxpayer information, and said its protests have nothing to do with holding Lerner accountable.
“This executive session isn’t about any of us condoning the mismanagement at the IRS tax-exempt division,” top panel Democrat Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said after the public was dismissed from the hearing, according to a release. “It now seems clear that Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee have decided that they do not want to be left behind in the Republican campaign to declare this a scandal and keep it going until November.”
Lerner’s lawyer William Taylor III said he had not heard from Ways and Means on the issue, and maintained his client’s innocence.
“Ms. Lerner has done nothing wrong,” Taylor, a partner of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP said in a statement. “She did not violate any law or regulation. She did not mislead Congress. She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption. Those are the facts.”
Camp defended the release.
“We have a right and obligation to protect the American people and to oversee the IRS and to hold them to account for their actions,” he said. “This was a career employee at the IRS so we have to make sure the signal goes out that this can’t happen again.”
The Justice Department said it will review the letter and noted it is already probing the matter.
“It remains a high priority of the Department,” Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce said.
The actions come a day before the House Oversight Committee will vote to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions on the controversy.
Advocates for reform of campaign finance rules say the scandal obscures an important policy debate about whether such politically active groups deserve tax-exempt status in the first place.
Crossroads spent $176 million during the 2012 election cycle – 99 percent of the time to back Republicans and bash Obama and Democrats. Its nonprofit arm spent about $70 million.
Paul S. Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates stricter campaign finance rules, said it is perfectly appropriate for Lerner to advocate denial of tax-exempt status if it was based on agency review of facts. He called the data dump part of a witch hunt against a career civil servant.
“If she was pushing for a denial based on facts that had been ascertained by her agency, that sounds to me that she was doing her job,” said Ryan, who attended one of the meetings cited in the letter. He said Lerner did not reveal any sensitive taxpayer information and in fact he left the meeting frustrated.
He also said the focus on Crossroads and not for example, the pro-Obama Priorities USA, was understandable given that the latter had raised scant funds at the time, compared to Crossroads.
So-called tax-exempt social welfare groups, organized under section 50(c) 4 of the tax code, are barred from using a significant amount of their resources for political purposes, though the standard is murky after an IRS regulation later changed the benchmark.
The documents released Wednesday include those that suggest Lerner was misleading when asked about the timeline of when she found out that “tea party” was a trigger word on a be-on-the-lookout list for groups that should get extra IRS scrutiny.
In an interview with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Lerner said she first learned of the BOLO on June 29, 2011.
But the panel has evidence that she knew that “tea party” cases were being treated differently as early as April 2010, when the whole shebang started, although whether she knew of the list is unclear.
On April 28, 2010, Lerner received an email alerting her that “there are 13 tea party cases out in EO Determinations.”
A few months later, on Aug. 3, 2010, Lerner asked her assistant to print the sensitive case report that detailed how the tea party groups were being handled. A few months later, in early 2011, she would write to her colleagues that the “Tea party matter [is] very dangerous.”
That was when she instructed the Cincinnati IRS officials handling the cases to send them to IRS counsel in Washington, D.C., where they would end up sitting for years, virtually untouched.
The documents also show that Lerner met with a group named Democracy 21, which made several complaints about Crossroads between 2010 and 2012. That Jan. 4, 2013 meeting included the Office of Chief Counsel and the Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy, according to the committee letter.
Before that, Lerner sent emails asking what happened to the Crossroads application, including whether the group had been audited or selected for audit.
When IRS official Tom Miller said it had not, she sent an email to IRS officials asking why: “I reviewed the information last night and thought the allegations in the documents were really damning, so wondered why we hadn’t done something with the org,” she wrote, later adding: “You should know that we are working on a denial of the application, which may solve the problem because we probably will say it isn’t exempt.”
The week later she followed up on her instructions: “As I said, we are working on the denial for [Crossroads], so I need to think about whether to open an exam. I think yes, but let me cogitate a bit on it.”
Steven Law, Crossroads GPS president in a statement said “it is now apparent that Ms. Lerner was directly and improperly involved in targeting our application, which may explain why we are still awaiting final action on our 501(c)(4) certification.”
The letter also charged that Lerner targeted conservative groups Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com, America is Not Stupid and A Better America after a January 2013 ProPublica story ran, accusing the “dark money groups” of lying to the IRS and over-engaging in politics when they aren’t supposed to.
Lerner forwarded the email to her colleagues and asked to meet on the groups. Ultimately three of the groups were selected for an audit.
A little later that month, Lerner seemed to be considering a job at a left leaning social welfare organization, Organization For Action.
But it’s unclear if she was serious or joking in her email to an IRS employee in response to a news story about the new group: “Oh – maybe I can get the DC office job!”
The House Ways and Means Committee has voted to 23-14 along party lines to refer former head of tax exempt groups at the IRS Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution. Although the details about exactly what charges will be have not yet been released, lawmakers are arguing Lerner has not been truthful with Congress or the IRS inspector general and leaked confidential tax information.
Last time a referral like this happened, it was to Major League Baseball player Roger Clemens, who was pursued by the Department of Justice for lying to Congress but was exonerated in court.
This is a test for the Department of Justice and the Obama administration. What’s more important? Baseball and steroids? Or the most powerful federal agency abusing its power to target innocent conservative groups?
Last summer President Obama called the targeting “outrageous” and promised to hold people responsible and accountable for what happened. If the Justice Department refuses to pursue charges against Lerner, it’s fair to say one reason is because they don’t want information leading back to the administration coming out in court.
Tomorrow the House Oversight Comittee will vote on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
Former IRS director Lois Lerner, the center figure in the scandal surrounding conservative and Tea Party groups once joked about getting a job with Organizing for Action while investigating the reorganization of President Obama’s former campaign operation into a 501(c)(4) group.
Lerner, the director of Exempt Organizations, emailed a colleague about OFA on January 24, who noted that they would primarily operate out of Chicago – but would have an office in Washington D.C.
“Oh – maybe I can get the DC office job!” Lerner emailed back.
See an image of the email below as provided by the House Ways and Means Committee.
IRS workers in several offices have been openly supporting President Obama, including by donning pro-Obama paraphernalia and urging callers to reelect the president in 2012, according to allegations contained in a new government watchdog report.
A report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, released Wednesday, cited accusations that workers at a Dallas IRS office may have violated federal law by wearing pro-Obama items like shirts, stickers and buttons. The Hatch Act forbids Executive Branch workers from engaging in partisan political activity.
The report comes as two House committees move to take action against former IRS official Lois Lerner regarding the agency’s targeting of conservative groups.
The report, further fueling allegations of bias at the agency, claimed that several accusations were made against the Dallas office claiming pro-Obama gear was “commonplace” there. Employees allegedly wore Obama shirts, buttons and stickers to work and had Obama screensavers on their IRS computers.
The report said it was unclear whether this activity happened before or after the 2012 election, but an advisory was issued to Dallas employees that such activity was prohibited.
Another example cited in the report states an IRS employee in Kentucky also violated the law by touting her political views to a taxpayer during the 2012 election. According to the report, the employee told the caller she was “for” the Democrats because “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and… they’re going to take women back 40 years.”
The employee then told the taxpayer that she was not supposed to disclose her views “so you didn’t hear me saying that.” The report says the employee admitted violating the Hatch Act and will serve a 14-day suspension.
However, the Kentucky example was not the only IRS employee found to be urging taxpayers over the phone to vote for Obama. The report cites another unnamed customer service representative, who was accused of telling multiple callers in 2012 they needed to vote for Obama.
According to the report, the employee told the callers a chant based on Obama’s last name that touted his campaign and urged them to reelect him. The report does not say where the employee was located, but says the Office of Special Counsel is seeking “significant disciplinary action” against him.
The accusations come as a House committee on Wednesday voted to formally ask the Justice Department to consider criminal prosecution against Lerner. A separate committee will vote Thursday on whether to hold her in contempt of Congress for twice refusing to testify on the targeting scandal.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is an independent government watchdog that investigates claims of wrongdoing by federal employees.
A triumphant President Barack Obama declared Tuesday his signature medical insurance overhaul a success, saying it has made America’s health care system ‘a lot better’ in a Rose Garden press conference.
But buried in the 7.1 million enrollments he announced in a heavily staged appearance is a more unsettling reality.
Numbers from a RAND Corporation study that has been kept under wraps suggest that barely 858,000 previously uninsured Americans – nowhere near 7.1 million – have paid for new policies and joined the ranks of the insured by Monday night.
Others were already insured, including millions who lost coverage when their existing policies were suddenly cancelled because they didn’t meet Obamacare’s strict minimum requirements.
Still, he claimed that ‘millions of people who have health insurance would not have it’ without his insurance law.’
‘The goal we’ve set for ourselves – that no American should go without the health care they need… is achievable,’ Obama declared.
The president took no questions from reporters, but celebrated the end of a rocky six-month open-enrollment period by taking pot shots at Republicans who have opposed the law from the beginning as a government-run seizure of one-seventh of the U.S. economy.
‘The debate over repealing this law is over,’ he insisted. ‘The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.’
The president also chided conservatives ‘who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it,’ and praised congressional Democrats for their partisan passage of the law without a single GOP vote.
‘We could not have done it without them, and they should be proud of what they’ve done,’ Obama boasted, in a clear nod to November’s contentious elections in which Republicans are expected to make large gains on an anti-Obamacare platform because of the law’s general lack of popularity.
‘In the end,’ he warned the GOP, ‘history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security… That’s what the Affordable Care Act represents.’
‘“The bottom line is this,’ said Obama: ‘The share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth in the cost of insurance is down. There’s no good reason to go back.’
Republicans will differ with that assessment as Election Day nears. They need to gain a net total of six Senate seats in order to reclaim the majority and control both houses of Congress, a goal that appears reachable since two-thirds of the seats being contested are held by Democratic incumbents.
No national political analyst has predicted a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives.
White House press secretary Jay Carney stopped short of saying ‘I told you so,’ but chided a sparse press corps in the briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for ever doubting that the Obamacare system would enroll more than 7 million Americans.
‘At midnight last night we surpassed everyone’s expectations,’ he boasted, ‘at least everyone in this room.’
While he took great pains to emphasize that the total would grow – saying ‘we’re still waiting on data from state exchanges’ – he dodged tough questions about other statistics that reporters thought he should have had at the ready.
Those numbers included how many Americans have paid for their insurance policies, and are actually insured. Also, he had no answer to the thorny question of how few signups represented people who had no insurance before the Affordable Care Act took effect.
Aside from the issue of the numbers’ likely decrease when non-paying enrollments are taken into account, administration officials have been coy about the RAND Corporation study, which suggests that relatively few Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured.
In addition to his claim of 7.1 million enrollments, Obama also announced that ‘three million young people’ under age 26 have gained coverage as add-ons to their parents’ policies. and ‘millions more… gained access through Medicaid expansion,’ he said.
Those totals – young adults attached to their parents’ insurance and new taxpayer-funded Medicaid subscribers – far exceed the 7.1 million number the White House trumpeted on Tuesday.
The Affordable Care Act carried with it the promise of covering ‘every American,’ and it appears to have fallen tremendously short.
The unpublished RAND study – only the Los Angeles Times has seen it – found that just 23 per cent of new enrollees had no insurance before signing up.
And of those newly insured Americans, just 53 per cent have paid their first month’s premiums.
If those numbers hold, the actual net gain of paid policies among Americans who lacked medical insurance in the pre-Obamacare days would be just 858,298.
Obama’s Rose Garden speech included an acknowledgement that the Affordable Care Act ‘has had its share of problems,’ and has at times been ‘contentious and confusing… That’s part of what change looks like in a Democracy.’
But ‘there are still no death panels,’ he joked amid laughter. ‘Armageddon has not arrived.’
A standing ovation greeted him after his speech. A White House aide said the crowd consisted of ‘”organizations and stakeholder groups who helped lead the enrollment and outreach efforts, as well as Hill lawmakers and staff from HHS, CMS and other agencies involved in implementing the ACA.’
Not among them: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathlen Sebelius, the administration official most responsible for the Obamacare program’s implementation. She also did not appear in the White House press briefing room earlier in the afternoon.
But Carney and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough distributed donuts to reporters in the press center on Tuesday morning – presumably without checking with the first lady – and eagerly pitched talking points to journalists writing about the milestone day.
Questions remain about the effectiveness and affordability of Obama’s plan, which he sold to congressional Democrats and the American people as a scheme to cover the uninsured, and about how the law is contributing to the spiraling cost of medical care.
As information about the chasm between Obamacare’s promises and its reality have reached the public, the program has become more and more unpopular – a fact that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with awkward silence during a Monday television interview in Oklahoma.
‘At last check, 64 percent of Oklahomans aren’t buying into the healthcare plan; they don’t like Obamacare, and they’ve been pretty vocal about it,’ a KWTV-9 reporter told her.
‘Now that’s going to be – still continue to be a tough sell, but we’ll see how that plays out over the coming months.’
Sebelius, a deer trapped in TV’s headlights, offered only a blank stare. Asked if she had lost the audio feed, the icy secretary responded, ‘I can hear you. But I – thanks for having me.’
Hours earlier, she tooted Obama’s horn during a fawning Huffington Post interview, claiming that healthcare.gov saw a surge in traffic when the president appeared on the gonzo show ‘Between Two Ferns’ on the Funny or Die website.
Obamacare ‘definitely saw the Galifianakis bump,’ she said, referring to the show’s host Zach Galifianakis.
‘As a mother of two 30-something sons, I know they’re more likely to get their information on “Funny or Die” than they are on network TV,’ she added.
Americans who missed the online broadcast still knew enough to queue up Monday for panic-induced sign-ups. Crushed with traffic, healthcare.gov crashed twice.
On its way to 7 million, the Obama administration has never answered some key questions about the open enrollment period.
The White House has instead kept to its talking points.
‘What I can tell you is that we expect there to be a good mix of people who were previously uninsured who now have insurance,’ Carney said Monday.
‘Certainly, there’s a significant number who now have qualified for Medicaid in those states that expanded Medicaid who will have insurance who didn’t have it before.’
The midnight deadline for enrollment has become a temporary formality, as the Obama administration has offered extensions to anyone willing to claim they tried in earnest to sign up in time.
Sebelius promised Congress weeks ago that there would be no extension.
The White House has compared it to voters who are permitted to cast ballots if they are in line when the polls close. But conservative opponents note that ballot officials won’t accept voters’ claims the day after an election.
California has also extended its deadline through April 15.
Before getting to the speech itself, it’s worth noting a few things.
When the Democrats passed and Barack Obama signed Obamacare, the majority opposed it. About 56%, in fact. A majority have consistently opposed that law ever since.
The Obama administration touted 7 million sign-ups by March 31 as “success.” When that goal appeared to be unreachable, the administration suggested that maybe 5 or 6 million would be enough. Now, as if by magic, they have their number. Somehow.
All along, the administration has touted false numbers of enrollees. All along, the administration has neglected to admit that Obamacare is causing millions of Americans to lose their insurance, as they were forced to admit that they knew it would.
A simple bit of math shows that even if there are 7 million legitimate sign-ups, there are between 5 and 6 million who lost their healthcare because of Obamacare. What’s the net number? How many of these have even paid their premiums? And how many of them are now facing steeper deductibles?
Premiums are not going down. Access has not been expanded. Provider networks are shrinking, reducing choice. These are all consequences of Obamacare. The president mentioned none of it.
The Obama administration is also neglecting to admit that their law is killing jobs. It is strangling hiring. It is killing the work ethic that built this country. The CBO estimates that we will lose the equivalent of more than 2 million jobs’ worth of work hours. Small businesses say that Obamacare is keeping them from expanding their businesses, and keeping them from hiring and growing their workforces. They also say that Obamacare is forcing them to cut hours, which translates into lost wages, for millions of workers. Obama mentioned none of that.
But most importantly, the Obama administration is not admitting that it used naked, brute force to coerce Americans into signing up for Obamacare. Failing to sign up can get the IRS, with its auditors and armed agents, unleashed on you. When faced with that prospect, sure, it’s not all that hard to persuade people to do what you want. It’s a lesson that feudal chiefs, tyrants, pirates and bandits learned a long time ago.
The 7 million that President Obama touted today is a false number, he knows that it is a false number, and he knows that it is based on the threat of force. In fact, his administration couldn’t even give a solid number until today. How convenient.
So today, the day after the same administration that has cooked the books on deportations, and cooked the books on unemployment, the same administration that lied about Fast and Furious, lied about Benghazi, lied about “green jobs,” lied about last week’s meeting with the Pope, and whose IRS abused the president’s critics – the leader of that administration touted “7.1 million sign-ups” for Obamacare. Even going by the administration’s official numbers, the president’s claim is inflated. The administration only claims 7,041,000 – far from 7.1 million.
The president criticized Americans who donated their own money to run ads opposing Obamacare. But Barack Obama used government force to take Americans’ money and use that money to promote his law – whether we backed his law or not. Which is worse?
Obama said that now that his law is the law of the land, it cannot be repealed. Also false. It’s unpopular even before the employer mandate kicks in, which is destined to cost tens of millions of Americans the healthcare that they now have. We have a system by which laws and even amendments to the Constitution can be repealed.
But the most ghastly aspect of the president’s speech was its celebratory tone. This president stood in the Rose Garden in the lawn of the people’s house. He used force to coerce Americans into doing what he wants for the sake of politics and power. An American president should never celebrate taking freedoms away from Americans. This president has, and he is pleased with himself for doing it. He basks in the applause of those who celebrate with him, as if it’s an achievement to use the full force of government to impose yourself on others.
Outside the gates of his little ceremony, Democrats remain on the run because Obamacare is wreaking havoc on people’s lives. This president’s “mission accomplished” moment has come. The Democrats will still lose the Senate this year, in part because Barack Obama remains so out of touch, aloof, and dishonest.
Mark Levin opened his show tonight livid over Obama’s Castro-like campaign rally on Obamacare today, where he spewed lie after lie to his clapping seal sycophants. And the media just echoes what he says like it’s the truth.
Listen below to his first segment:
On Tuesday, President Obama triumphantly announced that, with the power of the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the threat of the IRS, the mission had been accomplished: 7.1 million Americans had selected an Obamacare plan.
Obama’s tone was nothing short of exuberant: “7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these market places. 7.1! Yep!” He then went on to criticize those who had expressed objections to Obamacare for its deprivations of plans, doctors, drugs, and liberty: “Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance?”
Now, it was always foolhardy for Republicans and conservatives to stake their objections to Obamacare on the number of sign-ups; Social Security is going bankrupt despite 100% enrollment. The reality is that Obama was always destined to hit his required numbers because, after all, he has the power of government to compel action. The real problem with Obamacare has little to do with the number of people signing up, and a lot to do with the restrictions on insurance companies and reimbursement rates to doctors.
Nonetheless, the 7.1 million statistic is a meaningless one. It’s meaningless for a variety of reasons:
It Doesn’t Measure How Many People Have Actually Paid. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted yesterday that of the 6 million people who had signed up for Obamacare at the time, “What we know from insurance companies… tell us that, for their initial customers, it’s somewhere between 80, 85, some say as high as 90 percent, have paid so far.” In other words, about five million people were signed up. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out, “If between 80 and 90 percent of the six million have paid premiums, the number who are fully enrolled would be closer to five million than to six million.” With the increased number of sign-ups in the last days, that percentage number has likely dropped. This is not an unimportant distinction; insurance will not cover those who don’t pay.
7.1 Million Enrollees in the Private Exchanges Doesn’t Mean 7.1 Million Who Were Previously Uninsured. Some five million Americans saw their policies cancelled thanks to Obamacare. Those Americans were forced into the Obamacare exchanges by the government. According to a RAND Corporation study, only 858,000 previously uninsured Americans had actually joined Obamacare. That’s a far cry from 7.1 million.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in March 2010 that 37.3% of all uninsured Americans would gain insurance thanks to Obamacare in 2014. That estimate rose to 38.9% in March 2011. In February 2014, the CBO suggested that in 2014, 22.8% would gain insurance through Obamacare. The actual statistic: 12.5%. In other words, the original estimates were off by approximately 66%.
The Chief Beneficiaries of Obamacare Have Been Medicaid Recipients and 26-Year-Old Basement Dwellers. There are approximately 6.1 million people who have gained coverage through Obamacare’s non-private exchange program. 4.5 million were beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion, and another 1.6 million 26-year-old “children” were forced onto their parents’ policies. That far outweighs any supposed gains in the private insurance market. As Chris Conover of Forbes writes, “At the end of the day, we appear to have covered 1 in 8 uninsured, but to get to this point, we have disrupted coverage for millions, increased premiums for tens of millions more and amplified the pain even further with a blizzard of new taxes and fees that will end up cost even the lowest income families nearly $7,000 over a decade.”
The Huge Majority of Those Signing Up Are Getting Subsidies – and Even Those Who Are Subsidized Aren’t Signing Up. In order for Obamacare’s cost structure to work, millions of Americans must sign up to pay inflated prices; that would help pay for the subsidies to cover insurance company costs on those with pre-existing conditions. In March, the Obama administration reported that 83% of those who had signed up were eligible for subsidies. As Robert Laszewski estimates, in the end, just 27% of those who are eligible for Obamacare subsidies nationwide have signed up.
How Much Will The Numbers Drop? These are all preliminary statistics. We now know that somewhere between 2% and 5% of people who paid their insurance bills in January did not do so in February, to go along with the high percentage of people who signed up and never paid at all (that number in Obamacare success story Washington state, for example, was 39% as of early February).
The 7.1 million statistic is not all that important, in the end. Obama will hit his numbers, by hook or by crook. Likely by crook. But conservative opposition to Obamacare should not be predicated on its ineffectiveness in forcing sign-ups. Instead, it should be based on deprivation of liberty and destruction of medical care.
Welcome to your feel-bad story of the month. Remember Julie Boonstra? She’s the single mother fighting leukemia who appeared in an anti-Obamacare television ad running in Michigan:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assailed Ms. Boonstra, and others like her, in a breathtakingly mean-pirited floor speech – going so far as to say that “all” of their negative experiences were “untrue” and “lies.” Reid now claims he doesn’t remember saying any such thing, but there’s video tape:
In his effort to discredit Boonstra, Reid relied on a Washington Post “fact check,” which effectively ruled her story half true. In fact, every claim Boonstra made in the ad has been confirmed, as explained by the Detroit News’ Dan Calabrese:
Boonstra is on five different medications to help deal with her leukemia. The Blue Cross PR spokesman claimed that they are all covered. But when Boonstra went to fill her prescription for Loratadine – a prescription-level equivalent of Claritin that she uses to control congestion brought on by chemotherapy – she was told that Loratadine is not covered. She has not yet attempted to restock any of her other meds but she is already having to come with strategies to deal with that problem. The $5,100 cap on Boonstra’s out-of-pocket spending is for in-network care only. If she has to go out of network, she could spend an additional $10,200…When Boonstra was first diagnosed, she had to go through a painstaking process to get approval for her chemotherapy drugs to be covered. When she finally found insurance she liked, she had no problem with the chemo drugs. She now says that process is starting all over again. Boonstra has already had to cut back on her bone marrow biopsies, which she was having on a regular schedule she had worked out with her doctor, because she doesn’t have clarification on whether these will be covered. I could go on, but the bottom line is this: Julie Boonstra told the truth, and arrogant media “fact checkers” had a lot of nerve claiming she hadn’t when they never even talked to her.
Nevertheless, Reid’s inaccurate nasty gram touched off a torrent of bile from Obamacare supporters, including this delightful care package Boonstra received in the mail:
Die, because your experience is inconvenient to my “pissed off” ideology. Incidentally, Ms. Boonstra isn’t the only Obamacare victim who received a cancellation notice, and whose subsequent plan presents out-of-pocket hardships:
Breast cancer survivor Ginny Mason was thrilled to get health coverage under the Affordable Care Act despite her pre-existing condition. But when she realized her arthritis medication fell under a particularly costly tier of her plan, she was forced to switch to another brand. Under the plan, her Celebrex would have cost $648 a month until she met her $1,500 prescription deductible, followed by an $85 monthly co-pay. Mason is one of the many Americans with serious illnesses – including cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis – who are indeed finding relatively low monthly premiums under President Barack Obama’s law. But some have been shocked at how much their prescriptions are costing as insurers are sorting drug prices into a complex tier system and in some cases charging co-insurance rates as high as 50 percent. That can leave patients on the hook for thousands.
Another example from North Carolina:
Amy Newbold, a 57-year-old saleswoman from Randolph County, N.C., lost her employer insurance last year. Through HealthCare.gov, she found a mid-tier “silver” plan with premiums that at first blush are $75 a month lower than her previous policy. But there are no savings, she said, since her old premiums were paid with pretax dollars and Obamacare premiums are paid with aftertax dollars. Newbold said she faces substantially higher drug costs for arthritis and psoriasis and worries that an out-of-pocket maximum of $5,000 could put needed medicines out of reach. “I feel left out in the cold, and I don’t know why it has to be that way,” she said.
Maybe Reid can make these “liars” famous, too. Indeed, unleashing left-wing wrath on ordinary people for the sin of speaking out must be a pretty effective method of stifling dissent – which is precisely what Reid wants.
The sky-high costs of Obamacare have forced a Kansas hospital to lay off more than a dozen employees.
Newman Regional Health hospital in Emporia, KS, a limited in-patient and outpatient services facility, has laid off fifteen employees- ten full time workers and five part time workers.
In a statement issued by Newman Regional, the hospital blames the lay offs on the “negative financial impacts of the Affordable Care Act.”
The staff cut is expected to save the hospital $1 million every year.
Bob Wright, CEO of Newman Regional told KTKA-KS, “It’s looking into the future, knowing that we need to make a profit, having the advantage of critical access, getting us most of the way there, but having really to do our part as good stewards of our resources to make sure that we’re profitable.”
When Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., pointed out that the majority of cancer centers in the country aren’t covered under Obamacare while arguing that the law’s problems go beyond early website issues, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., dismissed the critique as too “in the weeds.”
Coburn, a medical doctor battling cancer, panned the coverage offered to cancer patients.
“Nineteen of the cancer centers in this country, only five are covered under Obamacare,” he told the Washington Examiner Tuesday, a data point he attributed to the low payments the Affordable Care Act provides for those treatments.
“You know, it’s a market, and what they’ve done is they’ve priced it where these cancer centers, a lot of them, aren’t going to participate because they don’t get paid to cover the costs,” he said. Coburn, who is retiring at the end of this year, said his cancer center initially refused to accept the government health insurance, but has since reversed that policy.
Reid suggested that Coburn was taking too narrow a view of the law. “Dr. Coburn is very good at getting into the weeds and trying to find something that he thinks makes sense, but I think we need to look at the overall context of this bill,” he replied when asked about Coburn’s comments during a Senate press briefing. “It really brings a lot of people in from the cold so that they have the ability to get health insurance, which they’ve never had the opportunity [to do] before.”
Reid hailed the White House’s announcement that seven million people had enrolled in insurance through Obamacare, but Coburn said the statistic is a “numbers game.”
“You had six million who lost their insurance, how many net new people got covered? How many who lost their insurance don’t have insurance today?” Coburn asked. “And is it affordable? …The ones that lost their insurance now have [Obamacare], and we don’t know what that number is. I guarantee you three-quarters of them are paying a significantly higher cost, have a higher co-pay and a higher deductible.”
Health industry officials say ObamaCare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country, countering claims recently made by the administration.
The expected rate hikes will be announced in the coming months amid an intense election year, when control of the Senate is up for grabs. The sticker shock would likely bolster the GOP’s prospects in November and hamper ObamaCare insurance enrollment efforts in 2015.
The industry complaints come less than a week after Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to downplay concerns about rising premiums in the healthcare sector. She told lawmakers rates would increase in 2015 but grow more slowly than in the past.
“The increases are far less significant than what they were prior to the Affordable Care Act,” the secretary said in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Her comment baffled insurance officials, who said it runs counter to the industry’s consensus about next year.
“It’s pretty shortsighted because I think everybody knows that the way the exchange has rolled out… is going to lead to higher costs,” said one senior insurance executive who requested anonymity.
The insurance official, who hails from a populous swing state, said his company expects to triple its rates next year on the ObamaCare exchange.
The hikes are expected to vary substantially by region, state and carrier.
Areas of the country with older, sicker or smaller populations are likely to be hit hardest, while others might not see substantial increases at all.
Several major companies have been bullish on the healthcare law as a growth opportunity. With investors, especially, the firms downplay the consequences of more older, sicker enrollees in the risk pool.
Much will depend on how firms are coping with the healthcare law’s raft of new fees and regulatory restrictions, according to another industry official.
Some insurers initially underpriced their policies to begin with, expecting to raise rates in the second year.
Others, especially in larger states, will continue to hold rates low in order to remain competitive.
After this story was published, the administration pointed to some independent analyses that have cast doubt on whether the current mix of enrollees will lead to premium hikes.
ObamaCare also includes several programs designed to ease the transition and stave off premium increases. Reinsurance, for example, will send payments to insurers to help shoulder the cost of covering sick patients.
But insurance officials are quick to emphasize that any spikes would be a consequence of delays and changes in ObamaCare’s rollout.
They point out that the administration, after a massive public outcry, eased their policies to allow people to keep their old health plans. That kept some healthy people in place, instead of making them jump into the new exchanges.
Federal health officials have also limited the amount of money the government can spend to help insurers cover the cost of new, sick patients.
Perhaps most important, insurers have been disappointed that young people only make up about one-quarter of the enrollees in plans through the insurance exchanges, according to public figures that were released earlier this year. That ratio might change in the weeks ahead because the administration anticipates many more people in their 20s and 30s will sign up close to the March 31 enrollment deadline. Many insurers, however, don’t share that optimism.
These factors will have the unintended consequence of raising rates, sources said.
“We’re exasperated,” said the senior insurance official. “All of these major delays on very significant portions of the law are going to change what it’s going to cost.”
“My gut tells me that, for some people, these increases will be significant,” said Bill Hoagland, a former executive at Cigna and current senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Hoagland said Sebelius was seeking to “soften up the American public” to the likelihood that premiums will rise, despite promises to the contrary.
Republicans frequently highlight President Obama’s promise on the campaign trail to enact a healthcare law that would “cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.”
“They’re going to have to backpedal on that,” said Hoagland, who called Sebelius’s comment a “pre-emptive strike.”
“This was her way of getting out in front of it,” he added.
HHS didn’t comment for this article.
Insurers will begin the process this spring by filing their rate proposals with state officials.
Insurance commissioners will then release the rates sometime this summer, usually when they’re approved. Insurers could also leak their rates earlier as a political statement.
In some states, commissioners have the authority to deny certain rate increases, which could help prevent the most drastic hikes.
Either way, there will be a slew of bad headlines for the Obama administration just months before the election.
“It’s pretty bad timing,” said one insurance official.
Other health experts say predictions about premiums are premature.
David Cutler, who has been called an architect of Obama-Care, said, “Health premiums increase every year, so the odds are very good that they will increase next year as well. None of that is news. The question is whether it will be a lot or a little. That depends in part on how big the insurers think the exchanges will be.”
Jon Gruber, who also helped design the Affordable Care Act, said, “The bottom line is that we just don’t know. Premiums were rising 7 to 10 percent a year before the law. So the question is whether we will see a continuation of that sort of single digit increase, as Sebelius said, or whether it will be larger.”
The White House and its allies have launched a full-court press to encourage healthy millennials to purchase coverage on the marketplaces.
HHS announced this week that sign-ups have exceeded 5 million, a marked increase since March 1.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday claimed the administration has picked up the pace considerably, saying months ago reporters would have laughed if he “had said there would be 5 million enrollees by March 18.”
It remains unclear how many of those enrollees lost their insurance last year because of the law’s mandates. Critics have also raised questions about how the administration is counting people who signed up for insurance plans.
Political operatives will be watching premium increases this summer, most notably in states where there are contested Senate races.
In Iowa, which hosts the first presidential caucus in the nation and has a competitive Senate race this year, rates are expected to rise 100 percent on the exchange and by double digits on the larger, employer-based market, according to a recent article in the Business Record.
Concerns about cancer centers under health law
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR | March 18, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) – Some of America’s best cancer hospitals are off-limits to many of the people now signing up for coverage under the nation’s new health care program. Doctors and administrators say they’re concerned. So are some state insurance regulators.
With that missing Malaysian airliner getting all of the news media’s attention, the AP must think it is safe to finally get around to reporting on how the better hospitals are refusing to take Obama-Care.
An Associated Press survey found examples coast to coast. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is excluded by five out of eight insurers in Washington’s insurance exchange. MD Anderson Cancer Center says it’s in less than half of the plans in the Houston area. Memorial Sloan-Kettering is included by two of nine insurers in New York City and has out-of-network agreements with two more.
In all, only four of 19 nationally recognized comprehensive cancer centers that responded to AP’s survey said patients have access through all the insurance companies in their states’ exchanges…
Those patients may not be able get the most advanced treatment, including clinical trials of new medications…
Tough toe nails. This is social justice. Not real justice, or even fairness.
To keep premiums low, insurers have designed narrow networks of hospitals and doctors. The government-subsidized private plans on the exchanges typically offer less choice than Medicare or employer plans.
Less choice than Medicare? How wonderful. But choice only matters when it comes to getting an abortion, anyway.
By not including a top cancer center an insurer can cut costs. It may also shield itself from risk, delivering an implicit message to cancer survivors or people with a strong family history of the disease that they should look elsewhere…
Still, look on the bright side. Thanks to Obama-Care you can get a ‘free’ sex change operation. And ‘free’ birth control pills.
After all, it’s not like people buy health insurance to get cancer treatment.
Obamacare does not have enough young people paying into the system to keep it all from collapsing. So President Obama is making a last ditch effort to shame America’s youth into signing up for Obamacare in these last weeks before the deadline hits.
The President appeared on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show to urge young people to hurry up and get signed on with Obamacare before the March 31 deadline. Fittingly, the very next day after the deadline is April 1, known across the nation as April Fools Day.
On Seacrest’s show, Obama scolded young people for not signing up in sufficient numbers and warned them that if they don’t come out and support him, he’ll have to fine them.
“If you can afford it–you just decide you don’t want to get it because your attitude is ‘nothing’s ever going to happen to me’–then you’ll be charged a penalty,” he told Seacrest.
The President is desperate to get more people under 35 years of age to sign up because it is that age group who will be footing the bills for Obamacare. Millions of young, healthy people who won’t be using the coverage any time soon are need to pay into the system so that the older generation can pull money out without bankrupting the whole thing.
The Obama administration has estimated that it needs some 38 percent of those enrolled and paying premiums to be made up of the important age demographic. Unfortunately for Obama, only about 27 percent of those signed up thus far fit into that age demo.
Experts warn that unless more young people sign up, the current premiums will have to go up for everyone in order to compensate for the lopsided statistics.
Obama is already under fire for his years of claiming that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will actually be affordable. He continually said that premiums would be cheaper than a cell phone bill, but those promises have turned out to be false. And now, if the already high premiums have to go up to compensate for a lack of young enrollees, that lie will only grow in stature.
Speaking of his faltering “cell phone bill” analogy, recently, the President drew criticism when he told a Latino audience at a Spanish language townhall that they should cancel their cell phones and cable bills so that they could pay their expensive new Obamacare premiums.
Finally, Healthcare.gov launched its own scolding campaign with a new ad featuring a stern looking mother figure warning kids that they’d better get covered – or else!
One of America’s most well known and trusted organizations has given potential health care seekers yet another concern over the Patient Affordable Care Act.
According to Consumer Reports the government’s healthcare.gov web site, which is the primary entry point for millions of people needing to sign up for health care plans, is a “mess.”
Citing numerous issues including login problems, non functioning activation emails and a near 97% failure rate for account creation, the consumer watchdog has warned that people should stay away from the site for at least another month.
Frustrated by trying to register on HealthCare.gov? You’re hardly alone. Of the 9.47 million people who tried to register in the first week, only 271,00 were able to create an account, according to one analysis. That’s about 1 in 35. Many people couldn’t even create user names and passwords.
If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made. The coverage available through the marketplaces won’t begin until Jan. 1, 2014, at the earliest, and you have until Dec. 15 to enroll if you need insurance that starts promptly.
Historically, when Consumer Reports issues product warnings manufacturers, distributors and retailers may initiate a product recall, advising consumers of the dangers involved. In a free market involving the free exchange of goods and service Consumer Reports’ warnings are often heeded in an effort to prevent a public relations nightmare and the potential for class-action lawsuits.
In this case, however, the warning involves government mandated services, so the normal rules don’t apply because, frankly, government officials could care less.
In a perfect world we could just issue a recall, take the product of the shelves, and send the promoters to prison for false advertising and consumer endangerment.
The Obama administration has, for months now, been peddling nice-sounding numbers as to how many people are gaining health coverage due to Obamacare. But their numbers have been inflated on two fronts. First, not everyone who has “selected a marketplace plan” under Obamacare has actually paid the required premiums, payment being required to actually gain coverage. Second, only a fraction of people on the exchanges were previously uninsured. A new survey from McKinsey gives us a better view into the real numbers. Of the 3.3 million people that the White House has touted as Obamacare exchange “sign-ups,” less than 500,000 are actual uninsured people who have actually gained health coverage.
Many Obamacare ‘enrollees’ aren’t actually enrolled
McKinsey, the leading management consulting firm, has been conducting monthly surveys of the exchange-eligible population under the auspices of its Center for U.S. Health System Reform. McKinsey’s most recent survey, conducted in February with 2,096 eligible respondents, found that only 48 percent had thus far signed up for a 2014 health plan. Within that 48 percent, three-fifths were previously insured people who liked their old plans and were able to keep them. The remaining two-fifths were the ones who signed up for coverage on the Obamacare exchanges.
Of the Obamacare sign-ups, only 27 percent had been previously uninsured in 2013. And of the 27 percent, nearly half had yet to pay a premium. (By contrast, among the 73 percent who had been previously insured, 86 percent had paid.)
Put all those percentages together, and you get two key stats. Only 19 percent of those who have paid a premium were previously uninsured. Among those that the administration is touting as sign-ups, only 14 percent are previously uninsured enrollees: approximately 472,000 people as of February 1.
Those not signing up cited affordability of plans as biggest issue
Here’s an important finding from McKinsey. The authors of the study – Amit Bhardwaj, Erica Coe, Jenny Cordina, and Mahi Rayasam – asked those who decided not to enroll in a plan what their reasons were for doing so. The most frequent reason – cited by 50 percent of respondents – was that “I could not afford to pay the premium.” Only 27 percent cited technical challenges; 14 percent said they couldn’t find a plan that met their needs. 21 percent said they were still deciding.
This is the biggest problem with the way the “Affordable Care Act” approached coverage expansion. The reason why so many Americans are uninsured is because health insurance in this country is too expensive. Obamacare increases the underlying cost of health insurance, and then uses taxpayer-funded subsidies to offset those costs for some.
AP: 4.7 million Americans have had their plans canceled
Keep in mind another fact: According to the Associated Press, at least 4.7 million Americans who shop for coverage on their own have had their plans canceled because they don’t conform to Obamacare’s regulations. So Obamacare has disrupted the coverage of millions of Americans, requiring many to purchase costlier policies with higher deductibles and narrower doctor networks, for a fairly modest expansion of coverage.
According to the administration, total sign-ups now exceed 4 million. But on a recent HHS conference call, Obamacare implementation point man Gary Cohen was asked the key question: how many of the people who have signed up for Obamacare were previously insured? His response: “That’s not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way.”
So. The whole point of Obamacare was to expand coverage to the uninsured. But for the tens of thousands of regulations that the law has imposed on the country, its authors never bothered to try to measure the one thing that they were actually trying to achieve. That about sums it all up.
President Obama on Tuesday sought to assure legal immigrants that they can sign up for ObamaCare without worrying that “the immigration people” will come for family members who are in the country illegally.
In an interview with Univision Deportes, a Spanish-language sports radio show, Obama said immigration officials won’t have access to the personal information that consumers provide when signing up for healthcare on the new exchanges.
“Well, the main thing for people to know is that any information you get, you know, asked with respect to buying insurance, does not have anything to do with… the rules governing immigration,” Obama said. “And you know, you can qualify if you’re a legal resident, if you are… legally present in the United States.
“You know, if you have a family where some people are citizens or legally here, and others are not documented, the immigration people will never get that information.”
Adolf Falcon, the senior vice president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, told The Hill that Hispanic families are wary of Obama’s assurances because of his record on deportations.
“It is a big concern of mixed status families – they hear [the president’s] assurance, but because of the level of deportations that have happened, there’s a lot of families that don’t know whether they can trust that assurance,” he said. “It creates an atmosphere of concern.”
In Obama’s first four years in office, his administration deported people at a faster rate than any of the four previous administrations.
Falcon said his group fields about 4,000 calls a week from potential Hispanic consumers seeking information about the exchanges. He said that a good deal of the callers are asking about mixed-status families, seeking to make sure their applications can’t be used against family members.
For example, a family with a parent who is in the country illegally, and thus not eligible for ObamaCare, will still have to enroll his or her child who is eligible. This provokes fears in the parent that they are leaving themselves exposed.
Obama on Tuesday sought to allay those fears.
“You know, you will qualify, you know, regardless of what your family’s status is,” Obama said. “So, you know, people should not hold back just because they’re in a mixed-family status.”
The White House has said there are 10.2 million uninsured Hispanics eligible for ObamaCare in the country, and about 8.1 million are likely eligible for tax credits. Hispanics have the highest rate of uninsured of any ethnic group in the country.
The federal government doesn’t require consumers to identify their ethnicity when applying for healthcare coverage, but data from some state health exchanges suggest Hispanics are lagging.
The administration has focused intensely on Hispanics in its final enrollment push through initiatives like the Latino Enrollment Week of Action, and in partnership with a broad array of Spanish-language media outlets.
There are a host of other reasons that Hispanics have been slow to enroll – many are gaining coverage for the first time and worry the costs are prohibitive.
Falcon said the enrollment push depended too much on the technology, rather than in-person assistance. The administration has been criticized for the long delay in releasing the Spanish-language ObamaCare website, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, and some have said the final product was sloppy.
Masked Russian-speaking troops on Wednesday seized control of Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea after it was stormed by militiamen. Pro-Moscow Crimean authorities also detained the Ukrainian navy commander and reportedly blocked the defense minister and another government official from traveling to the peninsula in what they said was a bid to defuse tensions.
Ukraine’s military, which is heavily outnumbered in Crimea, has come under increased pressure since the region was nominally incorporated into Russia on Tuesday.
Members of the Crimean pro-Russian self-defense forces climb up to take down a Ukrainian flag, right, and a Ukrainian navy flag, left, at the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea, Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Crimea’s self-defense forces on Wednesday stormed the Ukrainian navy headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, taking possession without resistance a day after Russia signed a treaty with local authorities to annex the region. In center is a Russian flag. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)
Crimean pro-Russian volunteers in military fatigues line up in a square in front of a statue of Vladimir Lenin, next to the Council of Ministers of Crimea’s building, in Simferopol, on March 14, 2014, two days ahead of the referendum over Crimea’s bid to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. US Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 14 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will make no decision on Ukraine until after Sunday’s referendum on the region of Crimea. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL OLIVAS AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Russian soldiers stand guard near Ukranian soldiers walking inside the Ukranian navy headquarters in Simferopol on March 18, 2014. Russia’s Constitutional Court unanimously ruled on March 19, 2014 that President Vladimir Putin acted legally by signing a treaty to make Crimea part of Russia, in an essential step in the Russian legal process towards ratifying the treaty. AFP PHOTO/ Filippo MONTEFORTE
The several hundred militiamen who captured the base in Sevastopol met no resistance. Sevastopol is also the home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and tens of thousands of Russian-led troops are now patrolling Crimea.
It came a day after a confrontation between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militia left two dead.
The Russian-speaking troops, who arrived on the base after the storming, wore helmets, flak jackets and uniforms with no identifying insignia. By afternoon, they were in full control of the naval headquarters, a set of three-story boxy white concrete buildings with blue trim. It was not immediately clear how many, if any, Ukrainian servicemen remained on the base.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said no one was injured in the raid, which it said was led by pro-Russian militiamen and Cossacks.
The ministry said in its statement that Rear Adm. Sergei Haiduk was detained by unknown people after the storming of the fleet headquarters. The Russian state ITAR-Tass news agency reported that he was being questioned by Crimean prosecutors.
Ukraine’s defense minister and deputy prime minister had planned to travel to Crimea on Wednesday in what they said was a bid to avert an escalation in hostilities.
The prime minister in Crimea warned after the announcement of their departure that they would be turned back, however.
“They are not welcome in Crimea,” Sergei Aksyonov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. “They will not be allowed to enter Crimea. They will be sent back.”
Interfax later cited Welfare Minister Lyudmila Denisova as saying the officials had been denied entry to Crimea. She said an emergency session of the National Security and Defense Council will held in response.
At the Ukrainian navy headquarters, an Associated Press photographer said the militiamen took down the gate and made their way onto the base. They then raised the Russian flag on the square by the headquarters.
The unarmed militiamen waited for an hour on the square and, following the arrival of the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, they took over the building.
The AP photographer was able to enter the headquarters and saw the militia roaming around while the Ukrainian servicemen were packing up and leaving.
On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into Russia following a referendum Sunday in which residents of the region overwhelmingly backed the move.
Jubilant crowds in Moscow and other cities across Russia hailed the annexation, while Ukraine’s new government called Putin a threat to the “civilized world and international security,” and the U.S. and the European Union threatened tougher sanctions against Moscow. On Monday, Washington and Brussels targeted Russian and Crimean officials with visa bans and asset freezes.
Russian news agencies on Wednesday cited Constitutional Court chairman Valery Zorkin as saying the treaty signed by Putin has been ruled valid, thus formally clearing another hurdle for Moscow to annex Crimea. The treaty now only requires ratification by the Russian parliament.
A Ukrainian serviceman and a member of a militia were killed by gunfire in the incident in Crimea on Tuesday.
It is unclear whether the militiaman was a Ukrainian citizen. Although Moscow has insistently denied it has not deployed its own troops in Crimea, people in the peninsula have reported seeing a large number of military vehicles with Russian plates.
Thousands of troops under apparent Russian command took over Crimea two weeks before Sunday’s hastily called referendum, seizing Ukrainian military bases, blockading others and pressuring Ukrainian soldiers to surrender their arms and leave.
Putin insisted Russia’s military presence in Crimea was limited to those stationed under the terms of a treaty with Ukraine that allows Russia to have up to 25,000 troops at its Black Sea fleet base. Ukraine claims that Russia deployed further forces, however, and expressly went against its request for troops to remain confined within their barracks.
Twenty Ukrainian ships were confiscated by the Russians.
(Article was translated)
Those ships and vessels, which are now in the Crimea will formally first in the so-called “maritime self-defense force” of the Crimea, and then in the Battle of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia.
Up to 20 warships and support vessels of the Naval Forces of Ukraine (VMSU) may enter into operation in the Black Sea Fleet of Russia, told RIA Novosti Chairman of Russian State Duma Committee on Defense, former Black Sea Fleet commander Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov.
I’m sure Russia is riddled with fear.
VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) – Issuing an outright warning to Moscow, Vice President Joe Biden declared Wednesday the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies, as Russia’s neighbors looked warily to the escalating crisis in nearby Ukraine.
Standing side by side with a pair of Baltic leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, Biden said the U.S. was “absolutely committed” to defending its allies, adding that President Barack Obama plans to seek concrete commitments from NATO members to ensure the alliance can safeguard its collective security.
In a jab at Russia, he said the U.S. stands resolutely with Baltic states in support of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression.
“Russia cannot escape the fact that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior,” Biden said, after meeting in Vilnius with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins.
Biden’s comments came at the close of a two-day trip to Lithuania and Poland with a two-pronged theme: Sending a stern message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. won’t abide Russian intervention in Ukraine, and reassuring fretful NATO allies that the U.S. and others will come to their defense if necessary.
“We’re in this with you, together,” Biden said.
Amid the tough talk from Biden and the Baltic leaders, Russia’s annexation of Crimea was increasingly looking like a foregone conclusion.
Russian politicians and media were last night demanding Vladimir Putin goes further by grabbing back more former Soviet regions and states.
The nationalistic frenzy whipped up by the return of Crimea – in defiance of the West – has led to calls on state-run TV for Moscow to take back oil and gas-rich Kazakhstan and authoritarian Belarus as well as more slices of a battered Ukraine, already filleted by the Kremlin.
Putin was last night riding the crest of an adulatory wave after righting what many Russians see as an historical wrong and reintegrating Crimea and the Black Sea fleet headquarters of Sevastopol back in to Russia after a gap of 60 years.
Senior politicians openly mocked Western sanctions and discounted Putin’s assertion that he did not seek more of Ukraine as long as the West stops seeking sway in his backyard.
The Russian strongman defiantly told a joint session of the Russian parliament that he would not accept NATO ‘next to our home or on our historic territories’.
Accusing the West of hypocrisy in pushing for self-determination for Kosovo but denying Crimea, he said the peninsula had been ‘robbed’ from Russia in Soviet times while ‘regions of Russia’s historic south’ were only now Ukrainian because of a Bolshevik blunder.
In an emotional and historic address he said: ‘In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia.’
Putin has succeeded in uniting many of his foes behind him but last night it also appeared he had unleashed a tidal wave in favour of more land grabs.
Senior politician Sergei Mironov hailed ‘the great day when the gathering of Russian lands began’.
Sergey Zheleznyak, deputy chairman of lower house, demanded Russian ‘support’ for other Ukrainian regions.
‘We cannot feel calm and happy as long as we realise how our brothers in other regions of Ukraine are suffering,’ he said.
A prime time TV talk show speculated about restoring the sovereign states of Belarus and energy-rich Kazakhstan in a substantial remaking of the Soviet Union, while also calling for the historically Russian cities of Donetsk and Odessa in Ukraine to be returned.
Meanwhile a campaign was underway for the breakaway republic of Transdniestria – in Moldova – to follow Crimea back into the embrace of the Russian bear.
With some parliamentarians in tears during Putin’s historic speech – when he officially welcomed Crimea and Sevastopol back to Russia – only his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, caught napping during the barnstorming address, failed to join the patriotic fervour punctuated by standing ovations.
Politicians queued up to pour scorn on Western sanctions with deputy speaker Sergey Zheleznyak branding them a ‘kindergarten measure’ and close Putin ally Igor Sechin accusing the U.S. and EU of ‘hysteria’.
Stage-managed patriotic celebrations were marked across Russia’s nine time zones yesterday.
In Moscow, residents were urged by officials to fly Russian flags from their balconies to ‘celebrate’ the return of Crimea.
Ukraine watched helplessly as Putin and Crimean leaders penned an agreement restoring the territory to Russia.
Senior diplomat Yevhen Perebyynis warned: ‘What has made the entire world shudder is the real rebirth of Russian imperialism, for which nothing is sacred, neither internationally recognised borders of sovereign states, nor the rights and freedoms of citizens, nor international obligations.’
Kiev protested that the move ‘has nothing in common with law or democracy or common sense’.
But in a warning to the world, the country’s foreign ministry said: ‘Putin’s address very clearly demonstrates just how real the threat is that Russia poses to international security and international security.’
Ukrainian volunteers were queuing to sign up for a newly-created National Guard amid fears that the threat of invasion from Russia remains, or that Putin will use alleged ‘saboteurs’ to spark riots and political protests in major cities.
Kiev claimed it had uncovered ‘convincing evidence of the participation of Russian special services in organizing unrest in the east of our country.’
Last night it was claimed a Ukrainian naval officer was shot twice in the leg seeking to defend a naval facility from pro-Moscow attack in Crimea.
But Putin insisted: ‘The residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia with a request to protect their rights and their lives. We could not have rejected their appeal and left them in trouble.’
He complained that the fall of the USSR left Russia ‘the biggest divided nations in the world’ with millions of compatriots waking up in a foreign country.
In Ukraine, ethnic Russians were undergoing ‘forced assimilation’ in a country where ‘neo-Nazis’ played a key role in decision making.
Western diplomats saw him as using rhetoric which could act as justification for future military adventures to restore other areas of the old USSR.
But Putin told Western leaders to ‘stop the hysteria’ and respect his country’s national interests. ‘They keep trying to drive us into a corner’, and could have grabbed Sevastopol for themselves.
NATO members ‘are great guys, but it’s better for them to come visit us in Sevastopol, than for us to visit them there’.
Crimean clocks are to be switched back two hours later this month, so they tick by Moscow time. Putin ordered three official languages in his new province – Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar.
The Kremlin last night began pouring roubles into Crimea but was eyeing the seizure of 20 warships in the Ukrainian navy which are stranded here.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev – often seen as a Putin critic – hailed Crimea’s vote to join Russia as a ‘happy event.’
While answering questions in the British House of Commons Prime Minister David Cameron was asked by Opposition Leader Ed Miliband, “Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the referendum was illegal, and in direct violation of the terms Ukrainian constitution? Does he all so share my deep concern following the news that a Ukrainian servicemen were shot and killed at a military base in Crimea yesterday?”
Prime Minster David Cameron responded, “Well the right honorable gentleman is absolutely correct that the referendum in the Crimea was illegitimate and illegal. It was brought together in the 10 days and held at the point after Russian Kalashnikov. This can not be accepted legitimatized by international community.”
When asked if he would support further sanctions on the Russia Federation David Cameron answered:
We said if the Russian Federation did not take part in a contact group with the Ukrainian government to take forward discussions, then asset freezes travel bans should follow. Those have been put in place at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday. And I believe further action should be taken at the European Council of Ministers which I will take part in on Thursday. I also think we should be responding to the fact of this annexation. That we said that if there was further action to destabilize the Ukraine and this annexation is that action, further consequences need to follow. We need to set that out, on Thursday, in concert with our European partners and at the same time I think we need to put down a very clear warning that if there was further destabilization for instance, going into the eastern Ukraine in any way, then we would move to a position of sorts of economic sanctions that we discussed in The House last week.
Opposition Leader Ed Miliband told Prime Minster Cameron that he would have the full support of the House of Commons to enact, “for the toughest possible diplomatic and economic measures against the Russian Federation given the totally illegitimate actions they have taken.”
Prime Minster David Cameron finished his remarks by indicating he would be open to expelling Russia from the G-8.
The words came out of my mouth before I could stop them. “I feel sorry for Obama,” I said. As my wife looked at me in disbelief, I quickly added a correction. “Well, almost.”
Beset by failures at home and abroad, the president cuts a lonely and sad figure these days. His aura of grief reflects his profound loss.
His worldview crashed headlong into reality, and reality won. Obamaism is dead, may it rest in peace.
That’s sad for him, but hold the tears – his loss is mankind’s hope. If Obama wakes from his utopian visions and faces the truth, there is a fighting chance to reverse America’s slide and keep the peace.
But first, he must come to grips with the historic dimensions of what has happened, and I’m not sure he’s capable of it. The signs aren’t encouraging.
In many ways, Vladimir Putin’s grab of Crimea is as significant as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 35 years ago.
Then-President Jimmy Carter quickly understood he had been wrong to trust the Soviets, and shifted to offense. His January 1980, speech was defiant and bold. Compared to Obama’s timid rebukes of Putin, Carter sounded like Churchill rousing Great Britain against Hitler.
Obama is still stuck in the belief that Putin is either crazy, or secretly looking for a way to save face and end the confrontation. He hasn’t accepted Putin for what he is because to do so would mean acknowledging that Obama’s whole approach to international relations has been a mistake.
The world, meaning friend and foe alike, already knows the president is uncomfortable with American power. The result is that his once-magical ability to inspire with words is now an international punch line because they are just words. He promised change and delivered disaster.
From Syria and Iran to North Africa and North Korea, the abdication of American leadership is proving calamitous. And now Putin’s move in Europe demolishes once and for all any illusion that Obama’s election would herald a turning point for mankind. Instead of people the world over beating their swords into plowshares, the 21st century is turning out to be a chaotic and bloody mess.
“The tide of war is receding,” Obama insisted.
Like so many of his pronouncements, he was confusing the ideas in his head with reality. It is not clear if he knows the difference.
The world looks to America, and America looks away. “It it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” he declared, as though the Earth would take care of itself in a one-big-happy-family kind of way.
It turns out that the committee system is no better at running the global order than it is at running a corner grocery.
Somebody has to take the lead and assume responsibility for success. Somebody has to set the rules and enforce them.
That somebody used to be America, and it is no accident that when America led, the Earth became a better place for more people. The seven decades after World War II marked a historic era of peace and stability around the globe.
As Robert Kagan wrote in “The World America Made,” his 2012 book, “The most important features of today’s world – the great spread of democracy, the prosperity, the prolonged great-power peace – have depended directly and indirectly on power and influence exercised by the United States.”
But the reverse is also true, and that is what we are witnessing today. As Kagan put it, “when American power declines, the institutions and norms American power supports will decline too.”
All is not lost – yet. But Obama must take off his rose-colored glasses and face the facts.
Putin is his most immediate test. The president’s wrist-slap sanctions at a few functionaries were predictably dismissed, and widely regarded as a sign of weakness. That can only embolden the would-be czar.
Even worse was the timing, with talks on Iran’s nuclear program starting again. Bet the farm the mullahs will take their cue from whether Putin pays a serious price for carving up a country.
If he gets away with it, the Iranians won’t even bother to pretend to care what Obama says. Why should they?
The administration is claiming a limited victory by saying the number of those enrolled in ObamaCare has now hit 5 million with two weeks to go until the March 31 deadline. If accurate, the number does represent a steep increase over the 4.2 million that were said to have signed up at the beginning of the month. At this rate, administration cheerleaders reason, the goal of 7 million enrolled in the Affordable Care Act may yet be reached at some point in the near future, if not quite on time. This burst of enrollments is seen as a vindication of President Obama’s all-out push to promote the law including such questionable activities as appearing on the “Between Two Ferns” web show where he traded barbs with comedian Zach Galifianakis.
But before the president and his team start popping the champagne corks to celebrate their achievement and their faux hipness, it’s time once again to point out that the administration’s Potemkin enrollment figures should be read with a truckload of salt. As the New York Times reported last month, as much as 20 percent of all those enrolled had not actually paid their premiums, meaning they were not covered by the program. While Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told Congress she had no idea what the numbers of unpaid enrollees were, more states are reporting these figures and, as CNBC reported last week, the results are literally all over the map. While some states report high pay rates, others like Maryland say only 54 percent have paid.
All this calls in to question not only the effectiveness of the sales job done by the president and celebrity supporters such as Lebron James. It also means that the odds that this system can sustain itself without mandating vast increases in rates for those who do pay are getting slimmer every day.
For months we’ve been told by the administration that the only problem with ObamaCare was a “glitchy” website that had since been fixed. But what has since become clear is that the effort to convince young and healthy Americans to sign up for insurance that is both expensive and not something they may need is a failure. Though many of those who clearly benefit from the new health law, such as the poor and those with pre-existing conditions, have signed up, the scheme requires large numbers of those who won’t need the coverage as often in order to be economically viable. That problem will be exacerbated by the failure of much larger percentages of customers to pay for their insurance.
As we’ve noted previously, the non-payment of the premium is not a technicality. Many of those purchasing the insurance may be first-time buyers and not understand that they must pay their bill before coverage starts rather than long after the fact, as they can with a credit card transaction. Or it may be that some enrolled with no intention of paying or thinking that the hype about the glories of ObamaCare they’ve heard in the mainstream media and from the president absolved them of the obligation to pay for it. But either way, the large number of non-payments renders the enrollment figures meaningless and ensures that the rates for those who do pay are going up next year by percentages that will shock them.
The president claimed that the number of enrollees has already reached the point where the law will work rather than collapse from lack of participation. But even if we accept his premise that falling millions of customers short of the announced goal of seven million is no big deal, the fact that hundreds of thousands of those being counted in the pool of those he’s counting are not covered because of non-payment of premiums makes his assertion a colossal fraud.
The president may think that a March madness ad blitz during the NCAA basketball tournament may save ObamaCare. But if the past pattern holds, any further surge in enrollment will provide the scheme with a false sense of security. Until we get a full accounting not only of those who signed up on a website but completed the process by paying for the plan they chose, we’ll have no idea how many people truly are enrolled. Seen in that light, the president’s enrollment promises may well turn out to be no different from other pledges he has made about the ACA in the last few years: completely untrue.
The hospital bills are hitting Larry Basich’s mailbox.
That would be OK if Basich had health insurance. But he doesn’t.
Thing is, he should be covered. Basich, 62, bought a plan through the state’s Nevada Health Link insurance exchange in the fall. He’s been paying monthly premiums since November.
Yet the Las Vegan is stranded in a no-man’s-land where no carrier claims him, and his tab is mounting: Basich owes $407,000 for care received in January and February, when his policy was supposed to be in effect. Instead, he’s covered only for March and beyond.
Basich has begged for weeks for help from the exchange and its contractor, Xerox. But Basich’s insurance broker said Xerox seems more interested in lawyering up and covering its hide than in working out Basich’s problems. Nor is Basich the only client facing plan-selection errors through the exchange, she added.
Xerox, meanwhile, said it’s working every day to fix Basich’s problem, and its legal counsel is routine.
In the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its insurance exchanges, you can find a success story for every failure. But Basich’s case is extreme.
Basich said he began trying to enroll on Oct. 1, the day the exchange website went live. Like many consumers, he fought technical flaws during multiple sign-up attempts. In mid-November he finally got through and chose his plan: UnitedHealthcare’s MyHPNSilver1.
“It was like reaching the third level of Doom,” Basich said of the torturous sign-up process.
Basich paid his first premium on Nov. 21, and within days the exchange withdrew the $160.77 payment from his money-market savings account. Because Basich paid a month before the Dec. 23 deadline, his coverage was to begin Jan. 1.
Weeks ticked by, but Basich received nothing to confirm he had insurance. Nevada Health Link kept telling him he was enrolled, but UnitedHealthcare said he wasn’t in their system.
Basich’s predicament went critical on Dec. 31, when he had a heart attack. His treatment, which included a triple bypass on Jan. 3, resulted in $407,000 in medical bills in January and February that no insurer is covering.
Basich and his insurance broker, Tamar Burch of Branch Benefits Consultants, said the issue appears to be confusion at the state exchange. Xerox’s system says Basich chose a plan from another insurer, Nevada Health CO-OP, even though Basich has paperwork that shows he selected MyHPNSilver1. In short, Xerox can’t seem to decide where Basich belongs, Burch said.
So the exchange is trying to compromise, putting Basich with Nevada Health CO-OP for January and February, when he incurred his bills, and with UnitedHealthcare from this month on. But CO-OP officials say Basich is not their member.
Nevada Health CO-OP CEO Tom Zumtobel told the exchange board on Feb. 27 that the nonprofit carrier spent seven days with Xerox determining Basich’s eligibility, only to find that Basich hadn’t chosen the group’s coverage.
“If he had picked our health plan, we would be advocating for a solution. But he didn’t pick us,” Zumtobel said. “We need someone on the board to advocate for him.”
Why have four months passed without a resolution?
“Xerox is truly out of their league. They need to understand they are an administrator, they are not an insurance company,” Burch said. “They need to understand their boundaries. They don’t understand this world. Everybody is at the mercy of Xerox, and they are not doing this right.”
Xerox representatives responded that they’re working hard to make it right.
“Mr. Basich’s issue is complex, and we’re working on it every day. We are in touch with Mr. Basich, his broker, the carriers, (Silver State Health Insurance Exchange) leadership, and the Division of Insurance to sort it out,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Wasmer.
The help didn’t come fast enough, said Basich, who blames his back-and-forth with the exchange in December at least in part for stress that caused his heart attack. That stress has turned up a few notches now that Basich is getting the bills. He fretted in the exchange board’s Thursday meeting about what will happen to his credit rating – and his ability to qualify for a mortgage – if the bills are not covered.
“All I wanted to do when I moved here was buy a house, get a dog and go to some spring training games for the Dodgers,” said Basich, who moved to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2012.
Meanwhile, the exchange sent Basich premium invoices for January and February. He paid them both.
WHO CAN HELP?
Basich has sought help at virtually every level of the system, from the Xerox customer-service reps who answer the phones at the exchange’s Henderson call center all the way to Gov. Brian Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Both Sandoval’s and Reid’s offices have told him they want to help, Basich said, but there’s been no resolution so far.
Even Reid, who took flak for his Feb. 26 statement that “all” Obamacare “horror stories” are “untrue,” is trying to help. Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said one of the senator’s health-care legislative aides has been on the phone with Basich almost daily, “but at this point it’s in the hands of Xerox to see what can be done.”
Sandoval spokesman Mac Bybee said the office “regularly engages” the exchange and Xerox on behalf of any consumer who reaches out with concerns about Nevada Health Link.
Officials with the Nevada Division of Insurance said they’re also watching the situation.
“Mr. Basich’s concerns are certainly on our radar. We have discussed them with our partners at the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, and we feel confident that his concerns will soon be resolved appropriately,” division spokesman Jake Sunderland said.
But there hasn’t been much action. What’s more, when Burch discussed Basich’s case with Xerox executives on March 11, they said they couldn’t tell her much because the company had hired legal counsel. That’s even though Basich has no interest in suing and has not retained a lawyer. He said he merely wants the exchange to keep the promise it made when it withdrew three premium payments from his savings account.
Xerox seems to be spending inordinate time documenting Basich’s phone calls, website access and emails, Burch said. She said a Xerox executive tried to throw blame on Basich for writing four different applications with four separate sets of information.
“I said, ‘Larry’s not the only one who did that. Lots of people have created multiple applications. Nothing is concrete until people pay. If you have a problem with multiple applications, then you’ll have to come to our office and take back hundreds of cases,’” Burch said.
“I believe Xerox is covering themselves because of a huge system error. They don’t want the accountability of saying, ‘Yes, we did mess this up, and here’s the plan you selected.’ It’s like, ‘What did he pay for?’ That’s it. They are making this more complicated than it has to be,” she added.
Wasmer said there was nothing unusual about bringing in Xerox’s attorneys.
“Our internal counsel is part of the extended Xerox team looking into the situation,” she said. “It’s regular practice for a corporation to tap experts across its organization to best understand complicated issues like this one. We’ll continue to keep the goal of resolving Mr. Basich’s issue front and center as we work through its complexities.”
Though Basich’s problem is exceptional for its dollar value, his situation is not unusual, Burch said. She estimates that of nearly 200 Branch Benefits Consultants client sign ups via Nevada Health Link, only 5 percent have gone through problem-free. More than 20 customers have the same plan-selection issue as Basich. One gave up trying to fix it and is sticking with the plan the exchange put her in.
With the March 31 enrollment deadline looming, Burch said she still sees other widespread enrollment problems, including frequent website error messages; inaccurate federal subsidy calculations; payments missing in the system despite clients’ canceled checks; and wrong effective coverage dates. One client chose an effective coverage date of March 1. Her insurance card showed an effective date of Jan. 1. Burch said that when she called to fix the issue, a customer-service rep told her the system showed a start date of April 1.
Burch said her brokerage supports the Affordable Care Act and launched a department to sell exchange plans. But she said the experience is not what she or her clients hoped for.
“We think it’s a great concept for those who need insurance. It’s just unfortunate, with all of the roadblocks we’re dealing with right now,” Burch said. “The bottom line is, we’re talking about people. It’s not a system, it’s people. I think, somehow, Xerox forgot that.”
The state of Massachusetts – touted by President Obama as the model for national health-care reform – is firing the company that designed both its failed state Obamacare enrollment website and also the Obama administration’s federal enrollment site.
Massachusetts is firing Canadian company CGI, which holds a $69 million contract to run the state’s Obamacare site. The state has already paid the company approximately $15.9 million. CGI was previously fired by the federal government in January.
“We have made the decision that we are going to be parting ways with CGI,” said Sarah Iselin, who serves as Governor Deval Patrick’s special assistant on the state’s Obamacare website fix, at a Monday board of directors meeting for the Massachusetts Obamacare exchange.
CGI’s incompetence is costing the state $10 million per month in unforeseen enrollment costs and preventing Massachusetts from having a fully working enrollment website until October 2014, according to an estimate.
But while CGI’s relationship with the Bay State is over, the company is still on good terms with the federal government.
The Daily Caller reported that CGI received six additional contracts from the Obama administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after the disastrous launch of the federal government’s Obamacare enrollment site. The six contracts were awarded between October 1 – when the over $600 million Obamacare website launched – through January 2014.
CGI Federal is the U.S. arm of the Canadian company CGI Group, and was formed in 2009 to bring CGI into the federal contracting business. The company employs Michelle Obama’s Princeton classmate, and 2010 White House Christmas guest, Toni Townes-Whitley as a top executive.
CGI, which received the Obamacare website contract in Obama’s first term, was fired from its role as prime contractor on the federal government website in January. But the company still holds numerous government contracts, including a $6 billion contract with the Department of Homeland Security awarded less than a month before the failed Obamacare site went live and a prime contract on the Army’s much-maligned Human Terrain System, a failed program that sends academics into war zones to help soldiers understand local populations.
Massachusetts’ capital city of Boston now has the longest wait times to see a doctor of any of the 15 major U.S. cities. Bostonians wait an average of 45.5 days for an appointment with a family physician, dermatologist, orthopedic surgeon, or cardiologist.
“And it’s because you guys had a proven model that we built the Affordable Care Act on… Your law was the model for the nation’s law,” Obama said in an October 30 speech at Boston’s Fanueil Hall.
Americans buying health insurance outside the new Obamacare exchanges are being forced to swallow premiums up to 56 percent higher than before the health law took effect because insurers have jumped the cost to cover all the added features of the new Affordable Care Act.
According to a cost report from eHealthInsurance, a nationwide online private insurance exchange, families are paying an average of $663 a month and singles $274 a month, far more than before Obamacare kicked in. What’s more, to save money, most buyers are choosing the lowest level of coverage, the so-called “bronze” plans.
The firm provided the costs to Secrets through their new online price index, which gives the averages of what people are paying for insurance sold through their system. In California, for example, some families are paying a high of $2,604 a month and in New York, $1,845.
The shocking surge in prices show what Americans not in Obamacare or covered by their employer are paying as they seek lower premiums. Typically, they are not eligible for the subsidies Obamacare offers those with low incomes.
“Premiums are increasing primarily because of the new required provisions for 2014 Affordable Care Act compliant plans, including guaranteed issue, essential health benefits, modified community rating and minimum actuarial values,” said Brian Mast, spokesman for eHealthInsurance. “It is also likely that health insurance companies expected additional risk in the risk pool, because people with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied coverage, and may have priced their plans higher to accommodate for this risk,” said Mast.
His firm’s price index also gives an average age for singles buying plans, and the results are worrying for insurers and the Obama administration. That’s because the average age is 36, older than the administration had hoped for.
Explaining the higher costs, Mast said, “There are likely other factors, but what is important is that moving forward, there needs to be a collective effort to enroll as many people as possible and create a broad and diverse risk pool to keep premiums in check. eHealth can help in that effort by enrolling consumers off-exchange and is pushing to be able to enroll people in subsidy-eligible plans as well.”
There is a hint of good news, though, in firm’s the price index. While the current costs for insurance are higher than before Obamacare, they have come down over the past several months.
Below is a cost summary provided by eHealthInsurance:
- Premiums have increased by 39 percent to 56 percent, compared to pre-Obamacare coverage. As of Feb. 24, the average premium for an individual health plan selected through eHealth without a subsidy was $274 per month, a 39 percent increase over the average individual premium for pre-Obamacare coverage.
- The most recent average premium for plans without a subsidy chosen by families was $663 per month, a 56 percent increase over the average family premium in Feb. 2013, which was $426 per month.
- For both individual and family applicants, bronze plans have been the most popular plan type chosen since the beginning of open enrollment.
- Shoppers chose less expensive plans as open enrollment progressed
A pastor recently diagnosed with cancer, and who is covered under Obamacare, tells a local Iowa reporter that there’s “no compassion in the Affordable Care Act.”
“Back in January, Pastor Angran was diagnosed with stage three cancer of the esophagus. He had insurance, but because of a previous heart condition, it did not cover the treatments he needed for his cancer. He found that out just minutes before receiving life-saving chemo,” says the local reporter.
The pastor says, “One of the workers came and said let me talk to you. And so I went to talk to her. She says that we found out that your insurance does not include chemo.”
“Over the past two months, the Angrans have emptied their savings account and racked up $50,000 in debt. They signed up for the Affordable Care Act,” says the local reporter, “but found it to be anything but affordable. It will cost the couple more than $800 per month, money they just don’t have.”
The reporter adds, “As a pastor, Angran has devoted his life to helping others, to being compassionate. He says, ‘There’s no compassion in the Affordable Care Act.’”
The newest Obamacare promotion has the official White House website imitating a March Madness-style bracket featuring gifs of twerking girls, cats and “YOLO” to convince coveted young millennials to sign up.
While President Obama’s campaigns were noted for their successful youth outreach, he has been unable to attract young people to sign up for insurance under Obamacare so far. Last week, Obama tried to up youth exchange enrollment with an appearance on “Between Two Ferns” with the often foul-mouthed star Zack Galifianakis.
Now the White House has moved onto gifs with “The 16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered.”
White House advertising experts spent taxpayer dollars putting together a bracket of new Obamacare benefits, intended to attract young viewers. People are encouraged to vote for their favorite benefit, with an accompanying gif that paints a picture of what Obamacare supposedly does for you.
One features young girl attempting to twerk on a countertop in a public bathroom and failing catastrophically – “because accidents happen.”
Twerk girl’s moves are set against Michelle Obama dunking a mini-basketball – because “women can’t be charged more than men,” despite women’s higher usage of health care services.
White House Deputy Director of Online Engagement Erin Lindsay already weighed in on the most pressing question facing the Obama administration – whether the girl in the gif is successfully twerking. Though she’s not a “twerk expert,” Lindsay admitted in a tweet Monday afternoon, “I certainly think she’s trying.”
“Birth control is free,’ one bracket proclaims, alongside a gif of several ducks that reads “I’m so excited.” Regulations directly hitting insurance companies are illustrated by cats – one decked out in a blazer with cash splashed about in front of it.
The benefits are illustrated with dogs, cats, pandas, even an over-excited Elmo. But the best might be a waving proclamation that “You only YOLO once,” “So don’t gamble with your health.”
Though the Obama administration predicted it would need at least 39 percent of exchange customers to fall between the ages of 18 and 35 in order for the marketplaces to remain afloat, they’ve currently topped out at 25 percent with just a few weeks left.
People all over the world celebrate on the 17th day of March in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Some cities have parades, most revelers wear green, and a few families commemorate the day with traditional Irish fare for their meal. However, not everyone may know who St. Patrick is.
Born in Britain during the 4th century, St. Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved by Irish raiders when he was a teenager. Although he was able to escape after six years and become a priest in Britain, he later chose to return to Ireland as a missionary, in order to help spread the teachings of Christianity to pagans. According to Irish folklore, he also used a shamrock to explain the Christian concept of Trinity to the Irish. In spite of continuous opposition from pagan leaders, he continued to evangelize for thirty years while baptizing newly converted Christians and establishing monasteries, churches, and schools. He died on March 17th and was canonized by the local church.
St. Patrick’s Day was first publicly celebrated in Boston in 1737 where a large population of Irish immigrants resided. Nearly 200 years later, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931. During the mid 90′s, the Irish government also began a campaign to promote tourism in Ireland on March 17th.
While many Catholics still quietly celebrate this day of religious observance by going to mass, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved to become a celebration of Irish heritage. Through the years many symbols have been included in festivities that are reflective of Ireland’s folklore, culture, and national identity (think leprechauns, shamrocks and wearing green). Other places that join in on this celebration include Japan, New Zealand, Argentina, and Canada, along with many cities across the United States.
SAINT PATRICK’S DAY 2014 – DUBLIN IRELAND (PART 1)
The disputed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea formally applied to join Russia Monday, after its people voted 97 percent in favor of a referendum to secede. The referendum has been condemned as illegal by Ukrainian leaders and the U.S. and its European allies are expected to announce sanctions against Russia Monday.
European Union foreign ministers moved quickly to impose travel bans, and froze the assets of 21 people linked to the Ukraine unrest Monday.
A statement on Crimea’s parliament website said it proposed “to the Russian Federation to admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic,” Reuters reported.
The proposal came after Crimea’s election chief Mikhail Malyshev said in a televised news conference Monday that the final tally of voters in favor of joining Russia was 96.77 percent. The announcement was merely confirmation of what had been expected once the referendum was announced by the region’s parliament earlier this month.
Later Monday, the Crimean parliament voted to formally declare its independence from Ukraine. In the same resolution, it said that all Ukrainian state property on the territory of the Black Sea peninsula will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean Republic. A delegation of Crimean lawmakers is set to travel to Moscow Monday for negotiations on how to proceed further. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is just a matter of time. Crimean lawmakers have also asked the United Nations and other nations to recognize it.
The election had been denounced as illegal and destabilizing by the U.S., the European Union, and the interim Ukrainian government. The vote offered residents of the strategic Black Sea peninsula the choice of seeking annexation by Russia or remaining in Ukraine with greater autonomy.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday that he was confident that the 28 E.U. member nations would reach agreement Monday on which Russian officials to hit with sanctions, which would possibly include asset freezes and visa restrictions. Hague also hinted that more measures could be taken at a summit of E.U. leaders due to begin Thursday.
President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the vote, and the White House said it would reject the results of the referendum held “under threats of violence and intimidation.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke to Putin by phone Sunday, proposing that an international observer mission in Ukraine be expanded quickly as tensions rise in the east. Her spokesman said she also condemned the Russian seizure of a gas plant near the Ukrainian village of Strilkove Saturday.
Opponents of secession appeared to largely stay away Sunday, denouncing the vote as a cynical power play/land grab by Russia. But turnout was reported to be well above the 50 percent that would make the referendum binding.
Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the annexation could take “from three days to three months,” according to the Interfax news agency.
Valery Ryazantsev, head of Russia’s observer mission in Crimea and a lawmaker from the upper house of the Russian parliament, said Monday that the results are beyond dispute. He told the Interfax news agency that there are “absolutely no reasons to consider the vote results illegitimate.”
Senior officials in Moscow were discussing Crimea’s annexation as a fait accompli. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov said the region could receive tax breaks.
“We want to go back home, and today we are going back home,” said Viktoria Chernyshova, a 38-year-old businesswoman. “We needed to save ourselves from those unprincipled clowns who have taken power in Kiev.”
Ukraine’s new government in Kiev called the referendum a “circus” directed at gunpoint by Moscow, referring to the thousands of troops that now occupy the peninsula, which has traded hands repeatedly since ancient times.
“Today is a holiday!” said 66-year-old Vera Sverkunova, breaking into a patriotic war song: “I want to go home to Russia. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my mama.”
The referendum comes two weeks after Russian-led forces seized control of Crimea. Locals say they fear the new Ukrainian government that took over when President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia last month will oppress them.
Putin insisted the referendum was conducted in “full accordance with international law and the U.N. charter.” At the United Nations on Saturday, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution declaring the referendum illegal. China, its ally, abstained and 13 of the 15 other nations on the council voted in favor – a signal of Moscow’s isolation.
Andrew Weiss, vice president for Russian and East European studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggested the confrontation could intensify.
Russia “is really turning its back on the outside world and is basically going to say to the West, ‘Now, go ahead. Show us how tough you are.’ And the West, I think, is struggling to come with an adequate response.”
Ukraine’s Regional Policy Minister Volodymyr Groisman told The Associated Press that the new government was already working on giving towns and regions more autonomy but said there were no plans to turn Ukraine into a federation.
In Donetsk, one of the main cities in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russia demonstrators called Sunday for a referendum similar to the one in Crimea and some of them stormed the prosecutor-general’s office.
In Sevastopol, speakers blared the city anthem up and down the streets, giving off a block-party feeling. But the military threat was not far away – a Russian naval warship still blocked the port’s outlet to the Black Sea, trapping Ukrainian boats.
At a polling station inside a historic school, tears came to Vladimir Lozovoy, a 75-year-old retired Soviet naval officer, as he talked about his vote.
“I want to cry. I have finally returned to my motherland. It is an incredible feeling. This is the thing I have been waiting for for 23 years,” he said.
But Crimea’s large Muslim Tatar minority – whose families had been forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Central Asia during Soviet times – remained defiant.
The Crimea referendum “is a clown show, a circus,” Tatar activist Refat Chubarov said on Crimea’s Tatar television station. “This is a tragedy, an illegitimate government with armed forces from another country.”
The fate of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in their Crimean bases by pro-Russian forces was still uncertain. Crimea’s pro-Russian authorities have said if those soldiers don’t surrender after Sunday’s vote, they will be considered “illegal.”
“This is our land and we’re not going anywhere from this land,” Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Igor Tenyuk, was quoted as saying Sunday by the Interfax news agency.
But Tenyuk later said an agreement had been reached with Russia that its forces would not block Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea through Friday. It was not clear exactly what that meant.
On the streets of Simferopol, blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags were nowhere to seen but red, white and blue Russian and Crimean flags fluttered in abundance.
Ethnic Ukrainians interviewed outside the Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral of Vladimir and Olga said they refused to take part in the referendum, calling it an illegal charade stage-managed by Moscow. Some said they were scared of the potential for widespread discrimination and harassment in the coming weeks, similar to what happened in parts of nearby Georgia, another former Soviet republic, after its 2008 war with Russia.
“We’re just not going to play these separatist games,” said Yevgen Sukhodolsky, a 41-year-old prosecutor from Saki, a town outside Simferopol. “Putin is the fascist. The Russian government is fascist.”
Vasyl Ovcharuk, a retired gas pipe layer who worked at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, predicted dark days ahead for Crimea.
“This will end up in military action, in which peaceful people will suffer. And that means everybody. Shells and bullets are blind,” he said.
You don’t see turnouts like this very often.
123% of Sevastopol, Crimea residents voted yesterday to join with Mother Russia.
Pravda Ukraine reported:
If you believe the Crimean “authorities”, 474,137 people voted in Sevastopol “referendum”.
However, as of November 1, 2013, according to the statistics in Sevastopol , all the permanent population of the city – 383,499 people, and is present at the time – 385,462 people.
At the end of last year, the voting population of Sebastopol was 385,462. This tailored to the children who did not have the right to vote. 474,137 – 385,462 = 88,675 people accidentally appeared in Sevastopol to vote during the referendum. 474 137/385 462 * 100 = 123% of Sevastopol voted for entry into Russia.
There’s no question about it – we’re currently involved in a full Cold War-style standoff with Russia right now over what’s going on in Ukraine.
The Crimean region just overwhelmingly (95% of the vote) passed a referendum to join the Russian Federation. Obviously, with thousands of Russian troops ominously looking on nearby, this was essentially voting at gunpoint.
The vote has already been condemned by the government of Ukraine, the US, and most of the rest of the West. Russian president Vladimir Putin is flexing his muscle to see just how tough Western governments really are. e knows Obama is weak, and he has the president looking clueless and spineless on the world stage.
As threats of sanctions from the UN and individual nations loom large, you’d expect for our president to be actively involved in the process of crafting official US national security policy to deal with this crisis. Wrong.
Obama has skipped yet another national security staff meeting on the situation, instead opting to be briefed on the meeting. Amazing.
Remember, he already skipped one national security staff meeting while a Russian invasion of Ukraine was impending and was instead briefed by Susan Rice, the same woman who spent weeks telling us that Benghazi had everything to do with a YouTube video.
President Barack Obama’s national security team discussed the Ukraine crisis in a session at the White House on Saturday after a last-ditch bid to find a diplomatic solution to the Cold War-style standoff with Russia floundered.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who just returned from talks with his Russian counterpart in London, was at the White House meeting along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Obama did not attend the meeting but was being briefed about it and other developments involving Ukraine, said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
Being briefed on a meeting of this gravity is no substitute for being actively involved in the process of deciding what the official US response to the Ukraine crisis will be. s Commander in Chief, Obama is charged with being the sole organ of foreign policy in the United States – not Congress or another branch of government or the military. His utter disregard for his most important duty shows that he isn’t remotely fit for office. It’s past time to impeach.
Are you outraged that Obama is skipping yet another vital national security staff meeting on Russia? Share this article on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about how Obama is neglecting his most basic duties as Commander in Chief.
Cupcake and Mom Jeans, in charge of fore-in policy.
Bolton is however wrong about there being no votes before. In 1991, Ukraine including Crimea voted along with the the rest of Ukraine to be an independent entity. 54% of Crimeans (not under a gun) voted to be part of an independent Ukraine.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has been an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but this latest comparison literally “takes the cake.” While appearing on Fox News to discuss the referendum in the Crimea to join Russia, Bolton discussed the weak sanctions America is taking against Russia:
“I don’t think [the sanctions] will have much impact. I think the Obama administration and the Europeans are demonstrating weakness, these sanctions are pinpricks, and y’know we sent Secretary of State John Kerry to London to negotiate with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, that’s like sending a cupcake to negotiate with a steak knife.”
Bolton continued to describe the collective failure of leadership in the West, which he says has ignored these threats for five years, and is now seeing the consequences of this inattentiveness. Finally, he predicts that Putin will use the Crimea to get what he “really wants, which is a government subservient to Russia.”
Meanwhile, Obama is defending his wearing of mom-pants to Ryan Seacrest in an attempt to sell Obamacare to young people.
The Crimean crisis moved a step closer to all-out war today as Ukraine mobilised its armed forces and a firebrand Kremlin mouthpiece warned America to stay out of its business, declaring: ‘We could turn you to radioactive ash.’
Since a referendum called for Crimea’s annexation to Russia last night, tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the world have risen faster than at any point since the stand off erupted three weeks ago.
As dawn broke this morning, the Ukrainian parliament approved the deployment of 40,000 battle-ready soldiers as it vowed to ‘defend our homeland’ from any incursion.
But with a pool of just 160,000 active frontline personel, the Ukrainian armed forces are dwarfed by a Russian army that includes more than 700,000 men and women and many more in reserve.
Already tens of thousands of heavily-armed Russian troops – mostly in uniforms without identifying insignia – stand guard over swathes of Crimea as Moscow appeared to ratchet up its rhetoric, ignoring western pleas for peace.
Instead, it upped the ante when the head of its state news agency, Dmitry Kiselyov, issued a thinly-veiled threat to America on live TV, urging the superpower to stay out of the crisis or risk facing the full force of Russia’s military muscle.
Speaking against a backdrop of a nuclear mushroom cloud, Kiselyov – who was handpicked personally by president Vladimir Putin – told viewers of his popular news show: ‘Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.’
Far from warding the US and Europe off, however, his incendiary remarks only added to the situation’s trembling volatility.
This morning Barack Obama responded to Russia’s growing belligerence and imposed visa bans and asset freezes on 11 Russian and Ukrainian politicians blamed for the military incursion, in the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War.
Among those sanctioned were ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich and Putin aides Vladislov Surkov and Sergei Glazyev.
Within hours, the European Union followed suit, imposing similar sanctions on 21 Russian and Ukrainian politicians.
In further developments today, Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations on the international ramifications of the situation in its Crimea region.
‘In connection with the situation in Crimea and the necessity of discussing some of its international aspects, the Ukrainian side is recalling its ambassador to the Russian Federation, Volodymyr Yelchenko,’ the Foreign Ministry said.
Today’s events come after Crimea’s parliament declared itself an independent state, following a regional referendum yesterday that saw 96.6 per cent of its residents vote to break off from Ukraine and join Russia.
The referendum, however, is not recognised by the West, and the United States and the European Union are preparing further sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.
The White House has dismissed the secession vote in Crimea as an illegal power grab by the former Soviet state, saying it violated both the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and urged president Putin not to follow through with threats to annex the peninsular.
And today a senior US diplomat revealed there is ‘concrete evidence’ that some ballots arrived ‘pre-marked’ in the referendum adding that other voting anomalies were also detected.
As a shot across Russia’s bows, Obama today warned that continued Russian military intervention in Ukraine would only increase Russia’s isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.
‘If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,’ he said.
Amid fears that Russia might move into eastern Ukraine, Obama said further provocations will achieve nothing except to ‘further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world.’
Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the penalties said they were the most comprehensive sanctions applied to Russia since the end of the Cold War.
The European Union took similar steps, targeting 21 people in Russia and Crimea while leaving open the possibility of adding harsher economic measures when EU leaders meet later this week.
At a briefing today, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed Britain would join Europe in reducing its dependence on Russian energy which currently supplies 30 per cent of the continent’s gas.
‘We have started today discussing the longer term, the need to reduce European dependence on Russian energy over many years to come,’ he said. ‘It is some of these sorts of things that will be the biggest costs in the long term to Russia if we make no diplomatic progress over the coming weeks.’
As Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations on the international ramifications of the situation in its Crimea region, Ukrainian foreign minister Andrii Deshchytsya also came out fighting today, promising that his government was ‘prepared to defend our homeland’.
He told BBC Radio 4′s The World At One programme: ‘We are very much concerned with the deployment of Russian troops on the eastern border of Ukraine and the number of provocations made by Russians in eastern regions of Ukraine.
‘We are prepared to defend our homeland if Russia will decide to move further into the eastern parts of Ukraine.’
Mr Deshchytsya said the sanctions agreed today were a ‘step forward in mobilising the international community’.
‘But I think we also need to deepen our relations with the European Union,’ he said.
Parts of the Crimea is now swarming with well-armed soldiers without identifying insignia but believed to have been sent across the border by Russia.
Crimean lawmakers have asked the United Nations and other nations to recognize it.
A delegation of Crimean lawmakers is set to travel to Moscow Monday for negotiations on how to proceed further. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is almost certain.
The Kremlin clearly put the issue on a fast track. Both houses of parliament were set to gather for a joint meeting in the Kremlin on Tuesday to hear President Vladimir Putin’s address on the subject.
In Kiev, the national parliament approved acting President Oleksandr Turchynov’s call for a military mobilization that would include 20,000 volunteers with previous military experience, and reservists.
Ukraine recently formed a national guard also about 20,000-strong.
Turchynov said the order was necessary “considering the continuing aggression in… Crimea, which Russia is trying to disguise with a large farce called `referendum,’ which will never be accepted by Crimea or the whole civilized world,” he was quoted as saying by the Intefax news agency.
Russia is expected to face strong sanctions from the U.S. and Europe over backing the Crimean referendum, which could also encourage rising pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine’s east and lead to further divisions in this nation of 46 million. Residents in western Ukraine and the capital, Kiev, are strongly pro-West and Ukrainian nationalist.
Russian forces effectively took control of Crimea late last month after Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in the wake of months of protests.
The libertarian godfather has become one of the biggest cheerleaders for the “referendum” that will lead to Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
In the Crimea crisis, it seems Ron Paul thinks that libertarianism stops at water’s edge.
The former Republican congressman and libertarian icon has long enjoyed a mixed reputation in the United States. While many admire Paul for his small government views on civil liberties, other shy away from a politician who has criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and allowed a series of racist and conspiratorial news letters to be published under his own name.
However, the former congressman whose presidential bids in 2008 and 2012 helped elevate libertarians from a political afterthought to a key constituency in the Republican Party and whose son, Rand Paul is poised for a 2016 bid for the White House, has now started a new chapter of his career. He’s defending the chauvinist and imperialist Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin.
Over the past several weeks, Paul has become one of the most vocal American supporters of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine. In the aftermath of a revolution that drove out its ally in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow is attempting to annex the province by holding a “referendum” Sunday in hopes that it will provide a patina of legality to its blatantly illegal land grab. Paul, long a foe of military action and democracy promotion efforts overseas, has not been content to limit himself to criticisms of American policies in Eastern Europe. He has gone out of his way to legitimize and justify the actions of Putin.
“He’s no angel but actually he has some law on his side,” Paul said earlier this week on the Fox Business Network. “They have contracts and agreements and treaties for a naval base there and the permission to go about that area.” While Russia has leased its naval base from the Ukrainian government in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol until 2042, the terms of that agreement explicitly prohibit Russian forces from leaving their barracks, never mind overrunning and occupying government buildings, violating Ukraine’s airspace, and taking over border posts.
It is for this reason that the 20,000 or so Russian forces now spread out across the peninsula, harassing journalists and threatening anyone else who protests their presence there, are not wearing Russian uniforms; according to Moscow, these men are “local self-defense forces,” not Russian soldiers. This is a lie, and only the most slavish of Russian propagandists are claiming otherwise.
Russia’s actions also violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which it signed along with the United Kingdom and the United States, committing all parties “to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine” in exchange for Kiev’s transferring its then-considerable post-Soviet nuclear weapons stockpile to Moscow.
Paul and his supporters used to complain that the American media and political establishment never gave him a fair shake in his various presidential campaigns, so it is a little odd to see him and his denizens providing a democratic gloss to Sunday’s “referendum” on Crimea’s status. The referendum on the Crimea is happening quite literally at gunpoint as Russian forces have occupied the entire peninsula and offers no option for Crimeans to maintain their current status within the Ukraine. Instead, voters can either vote to allow Russia to annex the peninsula or “reunification of Crimea with Russia” in the parlance of the ballot or to “restore the 1992 Constitution and the status of Crimea as a part of Ukraine.” (Early exit polls show 93% of Crimean voters chose to join Russia.)
The referendum – which has been denounced as illegal by outside observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – was only scheduled by the Crimean parliament after armed men occupied that body in late February. Those gunmen installed a pro-Russian figurehead as the region’s Prime Minister, as well – a guy named Sergey Aksyonov, the alleged criminal leader of a miniscule pro-Russian political party which has never earned more than 4% at the polls.
But for Ron Paul and the acolytes at his think tank, a motley crew of Putin apologists and admirers of post-Soviet thugs, Sunday’s sham election is all about the spirit of 1776. He recently wrote that “The only question that remains is whether there will there be an honest election, and I don’t see any reason there can’t be.” He did this on the website of his Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, which, in light of current events might be better called the Ron Paul Institute for Russian Aggression and Economic Exploitation (Its director, Daniel McAdams, has referred to the American ambassador to Ukraine as an “outlaw.”)
Paul bases his support of the Crimean referendum on libertarian grounds, as if what’s happening half a world away under the watchful eyes of the Russian military is akin to a Tea Party protest demanding less federal control over education policy. “There should be a right of secession,” Paul said on Fox. One cannot consider Paul’s defense of the Crimean “secession” without first becoming familiar with his nostalgia for the American one.
A crucial element of Paul’s worldview and that of his paleoconservative brethren is that America began to go to hell in a hand-basket with the Union victory in the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln’s firm use of executive power to crush the slaveholding states’ attempt to secede initiated, in their view, the centralization of federal government power that continues to this day. The 1992 issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report (the name of which was a deliberate appeal to the then burgeoning far-right “survivalist” movement preparing for racial apocalypse) stated that “the right of secession should be ingrained in a free society” and that “there is nothing wrong with loosely banding together small units of government. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we too should consider it.” Ironically, while Paul was applauding Ukrainian independence 20 years ago, he is now cheering the Crimea’s forcible reintegration into Russia.
In addition to whitewashing Russian aggression, Paul depicts some of the most benign elements of America’s overseas involvement as nefarious and illegitimate. “The evidence is pretty clear that the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] financed by our government have been agitating with billions of dollars, trying to get that government changed,” he told The Guardian. “Our hands are not clean.”
By this, Paul was referring to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S.-government funded, independently operated grant-making institution that supports civil society organizations in authoritarian states as well as emerging democracies. It enjoys bipartisan support, but has long been a target of Paul and other American isolationists, who see malevolence in everything their government does. Paul’s belief that America was trying to orchestrate “regime change” in Ukraine goes back to at least 2004, when he railed against supposed NED “meddling” in the 2004 presidential election that Yanukovych attempted to steal. (For the curious, here’s a list of NED grantees in Ukraine, which range from a “weekly youth journal” to election monitoring outfits).
To be sure, Yanukovych’s election theft was exposed and resisted by some U.S. and European government-funded civil society organizations, which would scarcely be able to exist without outside support. Why Americans should be outraged about this is something Paul neglects to answer.
There is an irony in a so-called “libertarian” defending the likes of Vladimir Putin. Ron Paul and his ilk claim to support individual rights, free markets, and a foreign policy of non-violence, yet here they are defending a man who hounds gays, presides over a kleptocratic mafia state, and invades his neighbors. Paul shirks the label of “isolationist,” preferring instead that of, “non-interventionist,” which is true only in the sense that he opposes interventionism – of even the non-violent sort – undertaken by the United States and its democratic allies. When it comes to violent Russian intervention in the affairs of its sovereign neighbors, however, Paul agrees with none other than former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said that Moscow retains a “sphere of privileged interests” among the ex-vassal states of the Soviet Union. Why would a formerly elected official in America lend ideological cover to a foreign dictator’s assault on the basic human rights of his own people?
Vladimir Putin has mocked diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine crisis as Russia threatened to disrupt European gas supplies by cutting off sales to Kiev over its unpaid debts.
The Russian president said through his official spokesman that, despite deep disagreements with the West, he did not want a confrontation over Ukraine to spiral into a “new cold war”.
Nevertheless Dmitry Peskov ridiculed Western demands for direct talks between the Kremlin and the new Kiev government, claiming that the loss of credibility involved “puts a smile on our face”.
The remarks were broadcast during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, where the Ukrainian athlete carrying his national flag was given a loud cheer.
Earlier, Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, said it would start to reduce deliveries to Kiev, a move that would disrupt supplies to Europe. Gazprom said Ukraine had failed to make payments on its £1.2 billion debts.
Ukraine is one of the main transit routes for the continent’s gas and the suspension of Gazprom exports in freezing temperatures in 2006 and in 2009 endangered national grids and caused sharp rises in prices. “We can’t supply gas for free,” Alexey Miller, the head of Gazprom, said. “Either Ukraine settles its debt and pays for current deliveries or the risk arises of a return to the situation we saw at the start of 2009.”
Energy experts said Russia had the power to cause problems in markets across Europe, even though peak winter demand was past. “Europe still relies heavily – in some cases 100 per cent – on Russian gas. And if that was interrupted very suddenly, there would be difficulties all round,” said Lord Howell, the former energy secretary.
But the White House brushed off the Russian announcement as less of a blow for EU economies than in previous years. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said reduced Russian exports would not have an immediate effect since stocks in Europe were above normal levels because of a mild winter. Structural changes in the industry also mean that less of Europe’s gas went through Ukraine.
Russian foreign ministry officials issued the tit-for-tat warnings a day after an EU summit suspended talks on visa-free access for Russians to Europe and threatened sanctions if Moscow did not change course. “Russia will not accept the language of sanctions and threats,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Two potential Ukrainian presidential contenders demanded a single, tough Western stance against Russia. Vitali Klitschko, the former boxer, and Petro Poroshenko, a businessman, both of whom are seen as likely candidates in presidential elections in May, used a visit to Paris to shore up European resolve.
Moscow displayed no signs of pulling back in the flashpoint region of Crimea despite the summit outcome and a subsequent telephone conversation between Mr Putin and President Barack Obama.
Russia’s parliament made preparations to endorse next week’s referendum in Crimea on joining the Russian Federation as a group of Crimean MPs were accorded a hero’s welcome in Moscow.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said the outcome would be accepted “unquestionably”. Officials in Kiev retorted that no country in the “civilised world” would recognise a vote for merging with Russia.
Checkpoints manned by Russian soldiers and Crimea militias blocked efforts by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to enter the peninsula.
The OSCE convoy, led by a police car and followed by two buses carrying the observers, returned to the southern city of Kherson to decide if the unarmed monitoring mission can go ahead at all.
Russia said the mission was blocked because it had begun without seeking the traditional consensus support from all the organisation’s members.
Russia also scuttled a third ship in the Crimean harbour of Donuzlav to tighten its blockade on the doggedly loyal Ukrainian navy vessels trapped behind Russian lines.
The only bright point of the day came when Ukraine’s Paralympic team announced it would participate in the Winter Games in Sochi.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine prime minister, said his government was still pressing for direct talks with Russia to resolve the crisis. He demanded that Russia pull back its forces and stop supporting “separatist” activities inside Ukraine.
“We are ready to build relations with Russia,” he said. “But Ukraine will never be a subordinate or branch of Russia.”
Mr Yasenyuk also revealed the Kiev and the EU would soon sign an agreement on the political aspects of a strategic accord that fell through late last year.
The collapse of the EU association agreement provoked the mass pro-Western demonstration movement that led to the collapse of the former government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
“It is the matter of weeks now,” Mr Yatsenyuk said. “This is the most important decision that the whole country has been waiting for. This is what people were going to the streets for.”
A convoy of 60 unmarked military trucks carrying hundreds of soldiers was today spotted snaking its way from eastern Ukraine into Crimea, with the country appearing more divided than ever.
Warning shots were also fired inside Crimea as a foreign military mission was barred from entering the Ukrainian province by pro-Russian troops.
The mission, made up of soldiers of different nationalities from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had automatic weapons fired over their heads.
The soldiers were told they had no authorisation to enter the peninsula. No injuries were reported.
Earlier this morning Russian foreign secretary Sergei Lavrov said that the crisis had been ‘artificially created’ for ‘geopolitical reasons’, though stopped short of accusing the West of creating tensions.
He confirmed that Russia was open to further talks with the West as long as they remained ‘honest and partner-like’, and said he was in contact with the Ukrainian interim government, though he accused them of being right-wing extremists.
In a telephone call he also warned US secretary of state John Kerry that any sanctions would have a ‘boomerang effect’ on America.
Meanwhile pro and anti-Putin protesters have taken to the streets of Ukraine today as the country appears more divided than ever.
In the Crimean city of Simferopol hundreds of demonstrators waving Ukrainian flags marched to a military base surrounded by Russian troops while chanting ‘Russian Soldiers Out Of Crimea’.
Many of the activists waved Crimean Tartar flags. The Tartars were persecuted by Russian during the world wars and driven to Crimea, and so are strongly opposed to closer ties with the Kremlin.
In another city, Bakhisaray, more Tartars gathered urging Ukraine to stay united after the regional government said Crimea was officially part of Russia and announced a public referendum on March 16 to confirm it.
Meanwhile in the city of Donetsk, former stronghold of ousted president Viktor Yanokovych, thousands gathered to wave banners reading ‘I Love Putin’.
Today is not the first time shots have been fired in the region, but it is the first time bullets have been directed at international troops.
Last week a Russian soldier fired above the head of Ukrainian air force troops as they marched unarmed to their base which had been occupied by Putin’s troops.
Late last night pro-Russia soldiers tried to take over a Ukrainian base in a tense stand-off that lasted for several hours.
Lt. Col. Vitaly Onishchenko, deputy commander of the base, said three dozen men wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms arrived late Friday.
While one group climbed over a wall on one side of the base, another crashed a heavy military truck through the gates, Mr Onishchenko said.
He said that they turned off power, cut telephone lines and demanded that about 100 Ukrainian troops, who barricaded themselves into one of the base buildings, surrender their weapons and swear allegiance to Russia. The invaders left at about midnight.
No shots were fired in the stand-off, and no injuries were reported, but the incident reflected tensions running high on the Black Sea peninsula.
In the week since Russia seized control of Crimea, Russian troops have been neutralising and disarming Ukrainian military bases there.
Some Ukrainian units, however, have refused to give up.
Crimea’s new leader has said pro-Russian forces numbering more than 11,000 now control all access to the region and have blockaded all military bases that have not yet surrendered.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has also confirmed that Ukraine owes $1.89billion and has threatened to turn off the gas supply, which could affect the rest of Europe as several important pipelines run through the country.
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An aggressive cyber weapon called Snake has infected dozens of Ukrainian computer networks including government systems in one of the most sophisticated attacks of recent years.
Also known as Ouroboros, after the serpent of Greek mythology that swallowed its own tail, experts say it is comparable in its complexity with Stuxnet, the malware that was found to have disrupted Iran’s uranium enrichment programme in 2010.
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The cyber weapon has been deployed most aggressively since the start of last year ahead of protests that climaxed two weeks ago with the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich’s government.
Ouroboros gives its operators unfettered access to networks for surveillance purposes. But it can also act as a highly advanced “digital beachhead” that could destroy computer networks with wide-ranging repercussions for the public.
Cyber warfare experts have long warned that digital weapons could shut off civilian power or water supplies, cripple banks or even blow up industrial sites that depend on computer-controlled safety programmes.
The origins of Ouroboros remain unclear, but its programmers appear to have developed it in a GMT+4 timezone – which encompasses Moscow – according to clues left in the code, parts of which also contain fragments of Russian text. It is believed to be an upgrade of the Agent.BTZ attack that penetrated US military systems in 2008.
The malware has infected networks run by the Kiev government and systemically important organisations. Lithuanian systems have also been disproportionately hit by it.
Ouroboros has been in development for nearly a decade and is too sophisticated to have been programmed by an individual or a non-state organisation, according to the applied intelligence unit at BAE Systems, which was the first to identify and analyse the malware.
The Financial Times has corroborated the existence of Snake with security and military analysts.
BAE has identified 56 apparent infections by Snake globally since 2010, almost all in the past 14 months. Ukraine is the primary target, with 32 recorded instances, 22 of which have occurred since January 2013.
“Ukraine is top of the list [of infections] and increasing,” said Dave Garfield, managing director for cyber security at BAE, who added that the instances were almost certainly “the tip of the iceberg”.
“Whoever made it really is a very professional outfit,” Mr Garfield added. “It has a very high level of sophistication. It is a complex architecture with 50 sub-modules designed to give it extreme flexibility and the ability to evolve. It has neat and novel technical features.”
“You never get beyond reasonable doubt levels of proof in this area but if you look at it in probabilistic terms – who benefits and who has the resources – then the list of suspects boils down to one,” said Nigel Inkster, until 2006 director of operations and intelligence for MI6 and now director of transnational threats at the think tank IISS.
“Until recently the Russians have kept a low profile, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they can do the full scope of cyber attacks, from denial of service to the very, very sophisticated.”
Это Костас, его пиздят второй раз уже. pic.twitter.com/09RbLJT6nE
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Ukrainian journalists are reported to have been brutally beaten during the seizure by Russian soldiers of a Ukrainian military unit on Friday evening, while in Simferopol STB journalists were attacked during a live news broadcast.
Budzhurova, head of the Crimean Association of Free Journalists stated on the Savik Shuster talk show on Friday that she had received two calls from Olena Myekhanik, a journalist from TV Inter. Myekhanik first told her that the Ukrainian military unit was under attack, that a KAMAZ truck had rammed the gates and 12 individuals had crossed onto the unit’s land. She asked for a journalist team from TV ATR to be sent. Later she rang in distress saying that the Ukrainian journalists present, including women, had been assaulted, and their video recorders smashed. The journalists were all at Unit 2355 where there is an air force command point in charge of overseeing air safety. The journalists also included a TV STB firlm crew and a Georgian national.
Russia declared Crimea an “autonomous” region on Monday. Five top pro-Russian military and security commanders took an oath to Crimea.
Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov appealed to Russia for assistance.
It appears that Russia has taken control of Crimea without firing a shot and is referring to it as the “Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” presumably with the intention of making it a puppet state of Moscow.
Ukraine’s government in Kiev is only a few days old and seems to be in disarray. So far, it’s avoiding any strong military overreaction that would provide Russia with an excuse for a further military invasion, perhaps into eastern Ukraine beyond Crimea. However, the government warned Sunday it was on the brink of disaster and called up military reservists to counter Russia’s threat to Ukraine.
Russia has appointed Sergey Aksyonov to prime minister of Crimea, and on Sunday he announced:
I believe that this day will go down in history of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as the day that all law enforcement agencies were established in the autonomy. We will prove that the Crimeans are capable of protecting themselves and ensure the safety and freedom of our citizens.
Today the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is formed as an independent, integral public authority. I am sure that all of us will prove that we did not just come into power and that we can give Crimeans what they expect from us.
We will never see ‘Maidan’ with their black smoke and burned tires here. I responsibly promise that Crimea by May will be calm, quiet, friendly. People of all nationalities will live here happily.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the decision to send in troops was only to protect human rights.
Russia has reportedly given Ukrainian forces in Crimea a deadline of 3am on Tuesday to surrender or face military action after troops seized key strategic sites in the peninsula.
The ultimatum came from Alexander Vitko, commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has a base in Crimea where Russian forces are now in control.
According to Russia’s Interfax agency, it reads: “If they do not surrender before 5am (3am UK time) tomorrow, a real assault will be started against units and divisions of the armed forces across Crimea.”
But in a conflicting report, Interfax quoted an official representative for the Russian Ministry of Defence as saying the ultimatum was “total nonsense”.
The US said any threat by Russia to Ukraine forces would represent a “dangerous escalation” in the crisis, and Moscow would be responsible.
It came as Russian President Vladimir Putin watched tanks and armoured vehicles taking part in military exercises at a training ground in north-west Russia.
Mr Putin attended the final day of war games he ordered on February 26 to test the combat-readiness of his armed forces in western and central parts of Russia, regions adjacent to Ukraine, a spokesman said.
The Russian foreign ministry said Nato’s criticism of its actions in Crimea “will not help stabilise” the situation in Ukraine.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia will face “diplomatic, political, economic and other pressures” to send a “clear message” about its actions in the Ukraine.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev discussed the escalating crisis in Ukraine with US Vice President Joe Biden by telephone on Monday.
Mr Medvedev “declared that it is necessary to protect the interests of all Ukrainian citizens, including residents of Crimea, and citizens of Russia who are located in Ukraine,” according to Interfax.
He added that Russia would press ahead with plans to build a bridge linking Russia directly with the Crimea region – providing a vital transport link to the Black Sea peninsula.
Mr Medvedev told deputies the two countries had signed “documents related to a project for construction of a transport corridor across the Kerch Strait” in December, when now-ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was still in power.
Hundreds of Russian soldiers have surrounded a military base in Crimea, preventing Ukrainian soldiers from going in or out.
The convoy blockading the site, near the Crimean capital Simferopol, includes at least 17 military vehicles.
Russian troops have also reportedly taken control of a ferry terminal in the city of Kerch, on the eastern tip of Crimea, which has a majority Russian-speaking population.
Ukraine’s defence ministry said two Russian fighter jets violated the country’s air space in the Black Sea on Sunday night and that it had scrambled an interceptor aircraft to prevent the “provocative actions”.
Elsewhere, pro-Russian protesters have taken over a floor of the regional government building in Donetsk, say reports. The 11-storey building has been flying the Russian flag for the last three days.
The crisis has had a huge effect on global stock markets, with Moscow’s stock exchange plunging more than 10% on Monday.
Russia’s central bank raised its rate to 7% from 5.5% as the ruble hit an historic low against the dollar and the euro.
Senior US politicians from both parties criticized President Barack Obama’s threats to Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for immediate sanctions if troops are not immediately withdrawn from Ukraine
Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL) and Bob Corker (TN) and others, as well as some Democrats, reached across the aisle to call for immediate sanctions against Russia and aid to Ukraine before Putin becomes even more emboldened.
McCain was quick to criticize the president’s threats in an interview with the Daily Beast, calling them ‘laughable’ and partly blaming former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for thinking she and Obama could ‘reset’ relations with Russia back in 2009.
‘She believed that somehow there would be a reset with a guy who was a KGB colonel who always had ambitions to restore the Russian empire,’ said McCain. ‘That’s what this is all about.’
The Senator called for the Obama administration to more liberally enforce the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act, which has allowed the US government to sanction Russian officials for human rights violations since being signed into law in 2009.
On Sunday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry called Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine ‘an incredible act of aggression’ and said President Vladimir Putin has made ‘a stunning, willful’ choice to invade another country.
Kerry says Russia should respect the democratic process through which the Ukrainian people ousted their pro-Russian president and assembled a new government.
Kerry is raising the possibility of boycotting the June meeting of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in Sochi, Russia.
He’s also discussing visa bans, asset freezes, and trade and investment penalties.
Kerry said he spoke with foreign ministers for G-8 and other nations on Saturday, and says everyone is prepared ‘to go to the hilt’ to isolate Russia.
Any Russian officials, Putin included, involved in sending troops to Ukraine should be sanctioned, McCain argued – such action would result in asset freezing, visa bans and a wagging of the collective international finger, Daily Beast noted.
‘We must consider legislation to respond to this,’ McCain continued. ‘The Magnitsky bill can be expanded for holding people responsible for these acts of aggression.’
The longtime Senator also called for economic sanctions and other actions against Russia.
Corker also hammered away at the situation, calling Russia ‘a nation still smarting from the breakup of the Soviet Union with a leader who is nothing but an autocrat’ and called for immediate sanctions during a CNN interview.
‘We need to do everything we can to isolate them,’ Corker continued. ‘We’ve got to work with [Europe] to do the necessary things… to mitigate conduct.’
He later said in a statement ‘Vladimir Putin is seizing a neighboring territory – again – so President Obama must lead a meaningful, unified response.’
Rubio called for Obama to deploy Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Ukrainian capital, according to USA Today.
He also called for a prohibition of Russian officials traveling to the US, and to convene an emergency meeting of NATO to allow Georgia into the fold.
Kerry, in a statement, said the ‘United States condemns the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory… we call for Russia to withdraw its forces back to bases [and] refrain from interference elsewhere in Ukraine.’
Unless immediate and concrete steps are taken by Russia to deescalate tensions, the effect on U.S.-Russian relations and on Russia’s international standing will be profound,’ Kerry threatened.
The president also informed Putin that the US has pulled out of preparatory meetings for an upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, as the UN mulled over possible sanctions and Ukraine warned that it’s troops are ‘at the ready,’ a government official told CNN.
‘The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory,’ a White House statement said.
New York Democratic Rep Eliot Engel called for a ‘robust international economic assistance package’ including loan guarantees for Ukraine in a statement released Saturday.
Arkansas Republican Rep Tom Cotton demanded the president recall the US Ambassador to Russia from Moscow and revoke visas and freeze the assets of Putin’s cronies, provide military assistance to Ukraine and sack Russia from the G-8 group of nations, according to USA Today.
Russia has military bases in Crimea, but those personnel are in violation of international law by entering Ukraine despite Russia’s Duma willfully granting Putin permission to deploy troops into Ukraine as the country grows further divided.
It appears further liberties were already being taken by Russian troops early Sunday morning, they took weapons from a Ukraine radar facility near Crimea and urged people there to side with ‘legitimate leaders,’ iTV reported, citing Interfax.
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax only hours earlier that ‘there’s not a whole lot the United States can do’ to bring Putin and Russia in line.
Putin expressed his concern for the Russian citizens in Russia and said that the deployment of troops into the country was to protect them, according to a Kremlin statement.
‘Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas,’ the statement said.
Obama strongly urged Putin to immediately de-escalate and to use peaceful means to address concerns including through talks with the new Ukrainian government or through the US of international observers sent under the UN umbrella, the White House countered.
The president also offered to broker talks between Russian and the Ukraine to prevent the countries from war as the former Soviet bloc country’s new government warned it is being ‘provoked’ by Russia’s actions.
A Ukraine government spokesperson told CNN there are an estimated 15,000 troops in Crimea, a small country separating mainland Ukraine from Sevastopol.
‘The troops are already there, and their number is increasing every hour,’ the spokesperson explained.
Russia has also maintained a naval base in Sevastopol per a 1997 treaty signed shortly after Ukraine gained independence.
The Ukrainian city sits on a small peninsula that is not connected to the rest country, making it particularly vulnerable to the kind of military action undertaken by Russia.
Putin further blamed ultra-nationalists in the Ukraine for Russia’s further encroachment into Ukrainian sovereign territory, according to the Kremlin.
Eastern Ukraine leans more heavily towards Russia than the western part of the country, whee the capital Kiev is located. Many international observers fear the country will plunge into a civil war that might break it up into two or more countries if conditions further deteriorate.
The dramatic eleventh-hour call came as the United Nations Security Council met in an emergency session less than a week after the Sochi Olympics to mull over possible economic sanctions to enact against the rogue permanet Security Council member.
After meeting behind closed doors, the council agreed to hold the open, televised meeting despite objections from permanent member Russia. Ukraine has accused Russia of ‘a military invasion and occupation’ of strategic points in the Crimean peninsula.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin scoffed at the notion, saying the US and other European nations are overreacting and that his country cannot agree to end all military actions.
Some reports have suggested Russia may even recall its ambassador to the US in protest of western involvement in the crisis.
Ukraine has asked the other four permanent council members – the U.S., Britain, France and China – for help in stopping Russia’s ‘aggression.’
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev said Russia has rejected Ukraine’s proposal to hold immediate bilateral consultations, and vowed his country would not be drawn into military conflict.
‘Ukraine will not be provoked, we will not use force, we demand that the government of the Russian Federation immediately withdraw its troops and return to their home bases,’ he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier Saturday that he is ‘gravely concerned about the deterioration of the situation’ in Ukraine. He spoke later by telephone with Putin.
‘I am gravely concerned by some of the recent events in particular those that could in any way compromise the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the [Ukraine],’ Ban said in a statement about the call.
‘It is crucial to restore calm and proceed to an immediate de-escalation of the situation,’ Ban continued. ‘Cool heads must prevail and dialogue must be the only tool in ending this crisis.’
A Ban spokesman delivered the statement Saturday afternoon as members of the Security Council met in an emergency closed-door session for the second straight day on the rapidly developing events in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Obama later spoke with President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the White House announced.
All three ‘leaders agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, and expressed their grave concern over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine,’ said a separate White House statement.
‘The leaders affirmed the importance of unity within the international community in support of international law, and the future of Ukraine and its democracy.’
The Security Council decided to hold the open meeting after struggling behind closed doors to reach agreement on how to meet. Some members wanted open, or public consultations, on Ukraine, which Russia initially opposed.
Ban’s statement called for ‘full respect for and preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’ and demanded the ‘immediate restoration of calm and direct dialogue between all concerned.’
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the meeting is to determine ‘what justification Russia claims to have’ for its de facto military takeover of the strategic Crimea region.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has veto power and can block the U.N.’s most powerful body from adopting any resolution criticizing or sanctioning Moscow.
Outside the council chamber, Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador called on countries to do everything possible to stop Russia’s “aggression.”
‘The Russian Federation brutally violated the basic principles of the Charter of the United Nations,’ Sergeyev told reporters..
During a break, an exasperated Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters, ‘We are ready for serious discussions.’
Ban was flying to Geneva on Saturday where he planned to meet the following day with his special envoy Robert Serry, the Netherlands’ first ambassador to Ukraine.
After Friday’s closed-door Security Council consultations, Ban asked Serry to go to Crimea as part of a fact-finding mission. However, after consulting with authorities in the autonomous region, Serry decided that a visit to Crimea was not possible and headed to Geneva.
NBC’s David Gregory pressed Secretary of State John Kerry on the status of the U.S.-Russia “reset” during an interview Sunday on Meet the Press.
“Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset,” Kerry oddly responded.
The question was asked as Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) among others have argued U.S.-Russia relations are deteriorating and have asked the administration to publicly acknowledge this.
“The Obama administration must publicly acknowledge that its “reset” with Russia is dead. The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Rubio wrote in Politico Magazine.
When pressed further by Gregory, Kerry weakly responded, “We’ve entered into a different phase with Russia. I don’t think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other.”
The full exchange is available below:
DAVID GREGORY: Before I get to my final question on Israel with a big meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, coming to meet with President Obama, Marco Rubio is on this program in just a few minutes saying it’s time for the administration to publicly acknowledge that the reset with Russia is dead. Do you acknowledge that?
JOHN KERRY: Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset.
GREGORY: The reset in relations that this administration called for.
KERRY: I know, but long ago, we’ve entered into a different phase with Russia. I don’t think this is a moment to be proclaiming one thing or the other. We’ve had difficulties with Russia with respect to certain issues, and even as we have, we’ve managed to do the Start treaty. They’ve cooperated on Afghanistan, they’ve cooperated on Iran. So, it’s not a zero-sum, dead-alive. It’s a question of differences, very profound differences on certain issues and certain approaches, and we’ve made those very clear over the course of the last months.
The past two days have revealed the dangerous ramifications of the narrow-minded foreign policy elite in Washington, and a media establishment that has for so much of President Obama’s tenure accepted the statements of the administration as gospel. Just as we learned the dangers of the lack of a questioning element – a healthy, serious, skeptical voice in the room – within the administration of George W. Bush, so too we see the consequences of a narrow viewpoint on global affairs which now exists within the Obama administration.
As Eli Lake outlines, the decision of Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine came as a sudden shock to a Washington that less than a day earlier had dismissed such possibilities:
On Thursday night, the best assessment from the U.S. intelligence community – and for that matter most experts observing events in Ukraine – was that Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine. Less than 24 hours later, however, there are reports from the ground of Russian troops pushing into the Ukrainian province of Crimea; the newly-installed Crimean prime minister has appealed to Putin to help him secure the country; Putin, in turn, is officially asking for parliament’s permission to send Russian forces into Ukraine. It’s not a full-blown invasion – at least, not yet. But it’s not the picture U.S. analysts were painting just a day before, either… U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea. Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory.
These officials were not alone. At Foreign Affairs, the headline was “Why Russia Won’t Invade Ukraine”; at The New York Times, “Why Russia Won’t Interfere”; and at Time, “No, Russia Will Not Intervene in Ukraine”. Joshua Tucker at The Washington Post has already had to change the now-ludicrous title of his post, explaining:
Those who have already read this post (including the first 15 commentators below) will know that I originally posted with the title “5 reasons for everyone to calm down about Crimea”. Developments in the ensuing hours have shown how poor a title that turned out to be.
It’s no surprise that, given the echo chamber of the media, the administration itself gives all the signs of being caught flat-footed, unable to adjust to the situation that runs against their preconceived notions and those of the chattering class:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu on March 1, telling him that there was ‘no change’ in the U.S.’s military posture toward Ukraine in the hours after Russia’s parliament approved a Russian military presence in Ukraine.
If this is the sort of foreign policy anticipation that the establishment delivers, it’s little surprise that no one trusts America’s self-styled policy elites any more. They are too used to judging the world according to the patterns toward which they are already biased, as opposed to seeing it as it is.
As for the situation in Crimea itself: while the 1994 Budapest Memorandum does not require that the United States enter into this current conflict, as it is not a formal treaty, it does make the situation for the Obama administration a great deal more complicated than, say, the 2008 situation in Georgia. The Ukrainian situation has a nuclear subtext which matters in the broader context: because Ukraine had to surrender its nuclear arsenal as part of the 1994 agreement, U.S. inaction now sends a signal that nations ought to maintain their nuclear arsenal as opposed to trusting the Americans to defend their legitimacy. The mix of Polish, Turkish, and Russian interests here make for an all the more dangerous situation given the spillover potential of a major crisis.
What ought to be a first priority in this context is the administration’s opportunity to position itself as ready to use the leverage of international economic policy and energy policy to dissuade the Russians from their current trajectory or, at least, loosen Putin’s stranglehold on European energy markets. U.S. law currently prevents American energy producers from freely exporting natural gas or crude oil to anywhere even remotely near Europe. To remedy this glaring economic and geopolitical mistake, the president (who has shown no qualms about using sweeping definitions of executive power in other areas) could issue blanket executive orders declaring all US natural gas exports to be in the “public interest” and all crude oil exports to be in the “national interest”, the applicable legal standards for both commodities.
While immediate gas exports directly to Europe would be limited by a lack of U.S. export facilities (thanks, again, to glacial government policy), crude exports could begin instantly and US gas could be exported thru Canada and Mexico. At the very least, these moves would serve as a significant signal to global energy markets and to the Russians that the United States fully intends to use its newfound energy abundance to stabilize global markets and counterbalance Russian influence across the Atlantic. At best, they might actually help to weaken Russian energy oligarchs and, by extension, Putin himself.
Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who have both recently expressed support for US energy export liberalization (Cruz especially), should take up this message at once. It represents an opportunity to use expanded trade freedom and American economic might to prevent further loss of life and signal the United States’ seriousness on the matter, without firing a single American bullet. And, unlike the United Nations or the World Trade Organization, it is a step that can be done unilaterally with, quite literally, the stroke of the President’s pen.
In the meantime, at least the president himself is taking it seriously.
Obama did not attend the meeting, but WH official says he has been briefed by Susan Rice and his national security team.
3:34 PM – 1 Mar 2014
221 Retweets – 31 favorites
Smart power, indeed.
Following a 150bps rate hike by the central bank – the largest since the 1998 default -desperate to halt capital outflows and a collapsing currency, Russian stocks have crashed 11% led by some of the country’s largest banks. USDRUB rose to just shy of 37 – the weakest RUB rate on record – but rallied back a little on the rate hike but the MICEX stock index tumbled 11% to almost 2-year lows with Sberbank (Russia’s largest bank) down 17% and VTB (2nd largest bank) down 20%. Between the threat of economic sanctions from the West and simple risk-aversion-based capital flight, as one analyst noted, “uncertainty risks a further escalation in domestic capital outflow.”
MICEX is down 11% today alone…
Ruble at record lows against the USD…
It was the biggest increase in a Russian benchmark rate since June 1998, less than two months before Russia defaulted on domestic sovereign bonds and devalued the currency. The refinancing rate used to be the central bank’s main reference.
The Banks have been battered…
* Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, drops 17%, loses most since 2008
* VTB, Russia’s second-bigest lender, tumbles 20%
* Bank St. Petersburg falls 16%
* Bank Vozrozhdenie declines 10%
* Nomos Bank slides 12%
European and U.S. leaders have threatened sanctions against Russia, creating risks that economic growth will stall, demand for the country’s assets will dry up and a selloff in the currency will deepen. “There is a risk of international backlash against Russia at a time when the economy faces an increasing need for foreign capital inflows… This uncertainty risks a further escalation in domestic capital outflow.”
Around the world, stock markets are tumbling with Europe down around 2% – almost its largest drop in 7 months; and Japan down 600 from Friday’s highs.
These incredible photographs show a huge tank graveyard in the Ukraine – home to hundreds of the abandoned vehicles which the country may desperately need it tensions with Russia continue to escalate.
Filled with rows upon rows of slowly rusting relics, the once deadly war machines now lie dormant in a secret depot in the town of Kharkov in the Slobozhanshchyna region of eastern Ukraine – just 20 miles from the border with Russia.
After hearing about the strange Soviet-era tank cemetery from a friend, photographer Patvel Itkin, 18, spent months trying find its whereabouts.
Despite the disused area being heavily monitored by guards, Mr Itkin managed to sneak in and spend several hours taking dozens of photographs.
Once a thriving tank repair plant, the depot has since become redundant, meaning all the vehicles are now abandoned.
The American and Russian presidents spoke on the phone for 90 minutes on Saturday after Russia’s parliament voted unanimously to deploy troops in Ukraine, defying warnings from Western leaders not to intervene.
In his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed “his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Mr. Obama urged Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine.
Saturday’s developments come as Russian troops and their local allies have already largely taken control of Crimea, a restive province of Ukraine that belonged to Russia until 1954 and remains predominantly pro-Russian.
In a statement after the call between Mr. Putin and Mr. Obama, the White House said the U.S. “condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory.”
Mr. Putin told Mr. Obama that Russia reserved the right to intervene in Ukraine to protect its interests and those of the Russian-speaking population there, according to a statement from the Kremlin.
Mr. Putin also spoke of “provocations, crimes by ultranationalist elements, essentially supported by the current authorities in Kiev.” It wasn’t clear what incidents Mr. Putin was referring to.
In Moscow, Russian lawmakers also asked Mr. Putin to recall the country’s ambassador to the U.S. On Friday, Mr. Obama had publicly warned Russia that there would be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
French President François Hollande also spoke with Mr. Putin Saturday and urged him to avoid any use of force in Ukraine. The French leader held a round of phone calls with Mr. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that aimed to forge a common position between the allies.
“I deplore today’s decision by Russia on the use of armed forces in Ukraine. This is an unwarranted escalation of tensions,” said European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “gravely concerned about the deterioration of the situation” in Ukraine.
In an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Saturday that the regional Crimean government had formally requested Russian military assistance to restore stability to the peninsula. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power denounced the Russian decision to intervene as “dangerous as it is destabilizing” and said it was taken without legal basis. “The Russian military must stand down,” Ms. Power said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu. U.S. defense officials wouldn’t immediately provide any details of the call and didn’t say whether Mr. Hagel delivered any warning or caution.
In Brussels, ambassadors to the main political decision-making body of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are set to meet Sunday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Afterward, the ambassadors will meet with the Ukrainian ambassador to NATO in a format called the NATO-Ukraine Council.
Meanwhile, skirmishes broke out in other regions of Ukraine, raising concern about broader unrest.
The new government in Kiev called an urgent session of its security council Saturday evening and set a special parliamentary meeting for Sunday to discuss the Russian move.
Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion who is one of the protest movement’s most prominent leaders, called on parliament to call a “general mobilization” to respond to the threat, apparently referring to Ukraine’s military.
Heavily armed troops, many from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, surrounded key facilities across the region in the past day. The newly installed pro-Russian leader of Crimea Saturday formally asked Russia to deploy its troops to help secure the region.
Mr. Putin’s request didn’t specify how many troops might be sent. It said they would be deployed “until the normalization of the social-political situation in the country.”
The request cited the “threat to the lives of Russian citizens” living in Crimea, as well as the personnel of the Black Sea Fleet.
The approval of Mr. Putin’s request doesn’t necessarily mean troops will be dispatched immediately, an official said.
“Having the right (to deploy forces) doesn’t mean immediately, momentarily exercising that. So we will hope that the situation will go according to a better scenario and won’t continue to be exacerbated as it is now,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a radio interview.
Mr. Peskov said in the interview that no decision had been made yet on deploying forces to Ukraine or on recall of the ambassador.
Sergei Aksyonov, who was appointed prime minister of Crimea after armed men took over the regional parliament this week, said troops from the Black Sea Fleet are guarding vital facilities in the region and helping with patrols to ensure public order. Mr. Aksyonov, who is pro-Russian, said he was taking command of the peninsula’s police and army.
In the economically important eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, hundreds of pro-Russian protesters massed Saturday in the main square and took over a main government administration building, and raised the Russian flag, according to local residents and news outlets. It was unclear whether the protesters were local residents. The number of protesters was also unclear; Russian and Ukrainian media had wildly different estimates of crowd strength.
The Donetsk city council issued a statement demanding a referendum over whether the mining region with strong ties to Russia should remain part of Ukraine.
By nightfall, the area around the Donetsk main square was quiet. A reporter from Ukrainian national television said that the protesters remained inside the building, drinking tea and planning new pro-Russia protests for Monday.
In Kharkiv, protests erupted Saturday between crowds of mostly young men who have been camped out at different sides of the city’s main square – Europe’s largest city square – for weeks now.
The groups, one which is pro-Kiev and the other which is pro-Moscow, are mostly local youth, some of which are supporters of the local football team, who appear to have more personal grievances with each other rather than deeply held political agendas, according to local residents who know several of the people at the demonstration.
Interfax reported that about 100 people were injured in the disorder Saturday, though that figure couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
Ukraine military bases were quickly surrounded and sealed off Saturday by Russian forces in Crimea as the Kremlin made preparations for a larger-scale landing of troops.
Russian troops were posted near the gates and around the perimeters of several bases near Sevastopol. When asked why they were there, officers replied that they were providing security to the bases, to stop any pro-Russian citizens who might try to take them.
The troops posted around the base had no markings on their uniforms. Their commander, when asked if he could reveal their nationality, said “of course not.” Others admitted they were Russian. Ukrainian officials at the base said the Russians were allowing food and provisions to be brought in.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the government in Kiev of trying to destabilize the region and directing gunmen to capture Crimea’s ministry of internal affairs building overnight. It said the attack, which couldn’t be verified, was averted with “decisive action.”
Five people who live in the buildings next to the ministry building in Simferopol said everything was peaceful Friday night and they heard nothing. There were no signs of struggle at the building complex.
Vladimir Krashevsky, a top official at the Simferopol-based division of the local berkut, or riot police, said there was no attack by Kiev-allied gunmen on the building, where he gave an impromptu news conference Saturday.
“There was no attack here and there won’t be one,” he said.
The resolution authorizing the use of force in Ukraine cited the threat to Russian citizens there, but officials in Moscow repeatedly suggested that the Kremlin was coming to the defense of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, even if they hold Ukrainian citizenship.
“There is a threat today to the lives and safety of our fellow citizens, of Russian speakers, of ethnic Russians,” Valentina Matvienko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, told reporters after the vote. “We can’t remain indifferent.”
Asked about possible western counter-intervention, she said there was no ground for it. “With all due respect to the United States, where is the U.S. located and where is Russia? This is happening on Russia’s border.”
Alexander Chekalin, a senator, spoke before the vote, saying, “we are one people, speaking one language, following one faith and sharing one history.” The eastern and southern parts of Ukraine have a large number of Russian-speakers who are members of the Orthodox church.
On Friday, armed men surrounded Crimea’s two main airports, took command of its state television network and set up checkpoints along the key roads connecting the peninsula to the rest of Ukraine. On Saturday, professional military men in unmarked green camouflage uniforms appeared outside the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol.
Ukrainian officials said the well-equipped men – many of whom carried sophisticated automatic weapons – were Russian soldiers.
The leader of the Crimean Tatars, the ethnic minority that accounts for 12% of Crimea and supports the new government in Kiev, sought to dispel the notion that the seizure of government buildings in Crimea had grown out of a citizen uprising.
“These buildings were seized by specially trained people acting on military orders,” said Refat Chubarov, the Tatar leader and deputy in the parliament, at a news conference Saturday.
Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, called the continuing militarization in Crimea a provocation intended to draw in Ukraine militarily. He demanded Russian forces return to their base in Sevastopol.
“The presence of Russian troops is nothing more than a violation of the agreement for the Black Sea Fleet to be in Ukraine,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. “We urge the Russian government to withdraw their troops and return them to their base.”
Ukraine mobilized on Sunday for war and called up its reserves, after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to invade in the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.
Ukraine’s security council ordered the general staff to immediately put all armed forces on highest alert, the council’s secretary Andriy Parubiy announced. The Defense Ministry was ordered to conduct the call-up, potentially of all men up to 40 in a country that still has universal male conscription.
Russian forces who have already bloodlessly seized Crimea – an isolated Black Sea peninsula where most of the population are ethnic Russian and Moscow has a naval base – tried to disarm the small Ukrainian contingents there on Sunday. Some Ukrainian commanders refused to give up weapons and bases were surrounded.
Of potentially even greater concern are eastern swathes of the country, where most of the ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian as a native language. Those areas saw violent protests on Saturday, with pro-Moscow demonstrators hoisting flags at government buildings and calling for Russia to defend them.
Putin’s declaration that he has the right to invade his neighbor – for which he quickly received the unanimous approval of his parliament – brought the prospect of war to a country of 46 million people on the ramparts of central Europe.
As the situation between Russia and Ukraine develops, you’d expect our president to be keeping up-to-date on every single detail coming out. But remember, this is Obama. He didn’t attend national security briefings while our ambassador was in danger in Benghazi.
According to tweets from White House press correspondents, Obama skipped a key national security meeting on the Ukraine situation earlier today. Absolutely unreal.
Where was he? Golfing?
The Weekly Standard writes:
A White House official emailed some reporters to say that President Obama’s team met today to discuss the ongoing situation on Ukraine. It appears President Obama did not attend.
“The President’s national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options. We will provide further updates later this afternoon,” reads the full statement.
According to Time magazine’s Zeke Miller, Obama skipped the meeting. “Obama did not attend the meeting, but WH official says he has been briefed by Susan Rice and his national security team,” says Miller.
Instead of attending a meeting with his national security team, Susan Rice, the Obama advisor who repeatedly said that Benghazi had everything to do with a YouTube video, is briefing the president on crucial national security matters. What could possibly go wrong?
Did JFK skip national security meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis? No. Even Jimmy Carter was intimately involved in every aspect of the negotiations and operations during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Barack Obama is a new low for the office of the president. Unbelievable.
On February 28th, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) reacted to President Obama’s “hastily arranged” speech against Russian military intervention in the Ukraine by saying the U.S. needs to suspend “Russian membership in the Group of Eight (G8),” and we need to do so “immediately.”
He made it clear that mere words and “the President’s vague threats” are not enough because mere “appeals to international norms” hold no sway over Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moreoever, Cruz said international norms mean even less than usual to Putin “when they run counter to his goal of re-establishing Soviet-style regional hegemony over unfortunate states like Georgia and Ukraine who have the temerity to want a more free, prosperous future for their people.”
Cruz said the U.S. must suspend Russian membership in the G8. If that doesn’t give Putin pause, he added, suspensions from “the World Trade Organization and even the United Nations Security Council” should be pursued.
Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov has urged Russia to stop “provocations” in Crimea and to pull back military forces.
“They are provoking us into a military conflict. According to our intelligence, they are trying to implement the scenario that is very similar to Abkhazia,” he said, referring to Russia’s intervention in Georgia over breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have large ethnic Russian populations.
“I’m personally addressing President Putin and demanding that he stops provocations immediately and calls back the troops from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and works only according to the signed treaties,” added Turchynov in televised comments.
Euronews saw several Russian armoured personnel carriers (APCs) parked in an area where pro-Russian self defence groups set up a roadblock.
We tried to speak to some of the men in military uniform, but they were reluctant to talk to us in detail. They were friendly and they told us that that was a drill.
Euronews correspondent Sergio Cantone said: “Finally here are the Russian APCs with number plates and identification signs. They are on the road from Sevastopol to Simfereopol. But it is not clear where are they heading.”
For much of his time in office, President Obama has been accused by a mix of conservative hawks and liberal interventionists of overseeing a dangerous retreat from the world at a time when American influence is needed most.
The once-hopeful Arab Spring has staggered into civil war and military coup. China is stepping up territorial claims in the waters off East Asia. Longtime allies in Europe and in the Persian Gulf are worried by the inconsistency of a president who came to office promising the end of the United States’ post-Sept. 11 wars.
Now Ukraine has emerged as a test of Obama’s argument that, far from weakening American power, he has enhanced it through smarter diplomacy, stronger alliances and a realism untainted by the ideology that guided his predecessor.
It will be a hard argument for him to make, analysts say.
A president who has made clear to the American public that the “tide of war is receding” has also made clear to foreign leaders, including opportunists in Russia, that he has no appetite for a new one. What is left is a vacuum once filled, at least in part, by the possibility of American force.
“If you are effectively taking the stick option off the table, then what are you left with?” said Andrew C. Kuchins, who heads the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that Obama and his people really understand how others in the world are viewing his policies.”
Rarely has a threat from a U.S. president been dismissed as quickly – and comprehensively – as Obama’s warning Friday night to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The former community organizer and the former Cold Warrior share the barest of common interests, and their relationship has been defined far more by the vastly different ways they see everything from gay rights to history’s legacy.
Obama called Putin on Saturday and expressed “deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law,” the White House said.
From a White House podium late Friday, Obama told the Russian government that “there will be costs” for any military foray into Ukraine, including the semiautonomous region of Crimea, a strategically important peninsula on the Black Sea.
Within hours, Putin asked the Russian parliament for approval to send forces into Ukraine. The vote endorsing his request was unanimous, Obama’s warning drowned out by lawmakers’ rousing rendition of Russia’s national anthem at the end of the session. Russian troops now control the Crimean Peninsula.
There are rarely good – or obvious – options in such a crisis. But the position Obama is in, confronting a brazenly defiant Russia and with few ways to meaningfully enforce his threat, has been years in the making. It is the product of his record in office and of the way he understands the period in which he is governing, at home and abroad.
At the core of his quandary is the question that has arisen in White House debates over the Afghan withdrawal, the intervention in Libya and the conflict in Syria – how to end more than a dozen years of American war and maintain a credible military threat to protect U.S. interests.
The signal Obama has sent – popular among his domestic political base, unsettling at times to U.S. allies – has been one of deep reluctance to use the heavily burdened American military, even when doing so would meet the criteria he has laid out. He did so most notably in the aftermath of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya nearly three years ago.
But Obama’s rejection of U.S. military involvement in Syria’s civil war, in which 140,000 people have died since he first called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down, is the leading example of his second term. So, too, is the Pentagon budget proposal outlined this past week that would cut the size of the army to pre-2001 levels.
Inside the West Wing, there are two certainties that color any debate over intervention: that the country is exhausted by war and that the end of the longest of its post-Sept. 11 conflicts is less than a year away. Together they present a high bar for the use of military force.
Ukraine has challenged administration officials – and Obama’s assessment of the world – again.
At a North American summit meeting in Mexico last month, Obama said, “Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.”
But Putin’s quick move to a war footing suggests a different view – one in which, particularly in Russia’s back yard, the Cold War rivalry Putin was raised on is thriving.
The Russian president has made restoring his country’s international prestige the overarching goal of his foreign policy, and he has embraced military force as the means to do so.
As Russia’s prime minister in the late summer of 2008, he was considered the chief proponent of Russia’s military advance into Georgia, another former Soviet republic with a segment of the population nostalgic for Russian rule.
Obama, by contrast, made clear that a new emphasis on American values, after what were perceived as the excesses of the George W. Bush administration, would be his approach to rehabilitating U.S. stature overseas.
Those two outlooks have clashed repeatedly – in big and small ways – over the years.
Obama took office with a different Russian as president, Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s choice to succeed him in 2008.
Medvedev, like Obama, was a lawyer by training, and also like Obama he did not believe the Cold War rivalry between the two countries should define today’s relationship.
The Obama administration began the “reset” with Russia – a policy that, in essence, sought to emphasize areas such as nuclear nonproliferation, counterterrorism, trade and Iran’s nuclear program as shared interests worth cooperation.
But despite some successes, including a new arms-control treaty, the reset never quite reduced the rivalry. When Putin returned to office in 2012, so, too, did an outlook fundamentally at odds with Obama’s.
Just months after his election, Putin declined to attend the Group of Eight meeting at Camp David, serving an early public warning to Obama that partnership was not a top priority.
At a G-8 meeting the following year in Northern Ireland, Obama and Putin met and made no headway toward resolving differences over Assad’s leadership of Syria. The two exchanged an awkward back-and-forth over Putin’s passion for martial arts before the Russian leader summed up the meeting: “Our opinions do not coincide,” he said.
A few months later, Putin granted asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whose disclosure of the country’s vast eavesdropping program severely complicated U.S. diplomacy. Obama had asked for Snowden’s return.
In response, Obama canceled a scheduled meeting in Moscow with Putin after the Group of 20 meeting in St. Petersburg last summer. The two met instead on the summit’s sidelines, again failing to resolve differences over Syria.
It was Obama’s threat of a military strike, after the Syrian government’s second chemical attack crossed what Obama had called a “red line,” that prompted Putin to pressure Assad into concessions. The result was an agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, a process that is proceeding haltingly.
Since then, though, the relationship has again foundered on issues that expose the vastly different ways the two leaders see the world and their own political interests.
After Russia’s legislature passed anti-gay legislation, Obama included openly gay former athletes in the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
New barbarities in Syria’s civil war – and the near-collapse of a nascent peace process – have drawn sharper criticism from U.S. officials of Putin, who is continuing to arm Assad’s forces.
How Obama intends to prevent a Putin military push into Ukraine is complicated by the fact that, whatever action he takes, he does not want to jeopardize Russian cooperation on rolling back Iran’s nuclear program or completing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Economic sanctions are a possibility. But that decision is largely in the hands of the European Union, given that its economic ties to Russia, particularly as a source of energy, are far greater than those of the United States.
The most immediate threat that has surfaced: Obama could skip the G-8 meeting scheduled for June in Sochi, a day’s drive from Crimea.
“If you want to take a symbolic step and deploy U.S. Navy ships closer to Crimea, that would, I think, make a difference in Russia’s calculations,” Kuchins said. “The problem with that is, are we really credible? Would we really risk a military conflict with Russia over Crimea-Ukraine? That’s the fundamental question in Washington and in Brussels we need to be asking ourselves.”
Russian President Vladamir Putin asked parliament for permission to send troops to Ukraine on Saturday. The Kremlin already has 6,000 troops in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
Security cameras captured the moment Russian soldiers seized the Crimea parliament building yesterday.
The AP reported:
Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country’s military in Ukraine, moving to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea.
Putin’s motion loosely refers to the “territory of Ukraine” rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev.
President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Friday “there will be costs” if Russia intervenes militarily.
“I’m submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.
He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature’s upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution. The rubber-stamp parliament is certain to approve it in a vote expected Saturday.
87 votes in favor – 0 votes against
Unanimous response to send Russian troops to Ukraine.
The Russian lawmakers cheered after the vote passed.
Pro-Russian mob stormed the city administration building in Kharkiv, Ukraine today. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine located in the pro-Russian northeast region.
The thugs beat the opposition and forced them to kneel.
As reports are coming in that Russia has placed 2,000 troops in Crimea, within the borders of Ukraine, President Obama said that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Charles Krauthammer responded on Special Report tonight saying, “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement. I find it rather staggering.”
Krauthammer thinks Obama’s statement is about “three levels removed” from actual action. He explained: Obama said “we will stand with the international community – meaning we are going to negotiate with a dozen other countries who will water down the statement – in affirming that there will be costs – meaning in making a statement not even imposing a cost, but in making a statement about imposing a cost – for any military intervention.”
“What he’s saying is we’re not really going to do anything and we’re telling the world,” Krauthammer said.
Back in 2008, Republican candidate Sarah Palin predicted Barack Obama’s weak response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“After the Russian army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence – the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.”
She nailed it.
This was after Barack Obama failed to react to Russia’s invasion of American ally Georgia.
Today Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook – “I Told You So.”
Yes, I could see this one from Alaska. I’m usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as “an extremely far-fetched scenario” by the “high-brow” Foreign Policy magazine. Here’s what this “stupid” “insipid woman” predicted back in 2008: “After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama’s reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.”
Remember this from the third Presidential Debate during the 2012 Election?
Barack Obama had mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia and Vladimir Putin a U.S. Foreign Policy threat. Mitt Romney responded that it is indeed a threat, and told Obama “I have clear eyes on this, and I’m certainly not going to wear rose-colored glasses about Russia or Mr. Putin.”
Russian bikers take lead at block posts in Crimea. Pic here of commander of post blocking east-west highway. #ukraine
10:29 AM – 28 Feb 2014 from Ukraine, Ukraine
113 Retweets 30 favorites
Some kind of war. Biker dudes and military without insignia.
Here’s more on the bikers.
While a group of camouflaged, armed militiamen patrolled Crimea’s main airport today, there was a second gang of tough-looking men who showed up to join the pro-Russia side to take control of this mostly Russian enclave of southern Ukraine.
The tattooed and bejewelled crew was decked out in leather, black jeans and heavy boots, with patches of a wolf and flame stitched onto their vests. They were the Russian biker gang, the “Night Wolves.” They’ve modeled themselves on the Hell’s Angels, and President Putin has been known to don a leather jacket and ride with them.
Its president, Hirurg, had just landed from Moscow and the local Simferopol chapter was there to pick him up (alas, in a car, not on Harleys). Burly and broad-shouldered, Hirurg sported a goatee, sideburns and a friendly – if intimidating – demeanour. “Hirurg” means surgeon in Russian and he said he was an actual surgeon (having watched every season of “Sons of Anarchy,” I was disappointed the name wasn’t for something more dramatic).
President of biker gang “Night Wolves” arrived at Simferopol airport from Moscow, says here to ask what locals need.
7:50 AM – 28 Feb 2014
56 Retweets 7 favorites
Just any old biker group, their aim is to “spread Russian influence around the world”.
Let’s look at pictures from the past few years, with leader receiving medal from Putin for restoring a Soviet monument, and Putin riding with them:
Barack Obama told Bill O’Reilly there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS targeting scandal.
Then explain this…
The attorney for Lois Lerner will not testify next week in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform without immunity or a court order.
FOX News reported:
The attorney for Lois Lerner, a central figure in the IRS scandal, said Wednesday his client will not comply with a request to return to Capitol Hill next week to testify.
Attorney William Taylor said Lerner, who resigned last year as the agency’s tax-exempt organizations chief, will return only if compelled by a federal court or if given immunity for her testimony.
Taylor stated his position in a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He was responding to a letter Tuesday from Issa saying, in part, that Lerner’s testimony remains “critical to the committee’s investigation.”
The committee continues to investigate the IRS’ targeting of Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations trying to get tax-exempt status.
Issa and Lerner’s attorneys continue to argue about whether she is protected under the Fifth Amendment from having to testify.
Last year, Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment right during her first-and-only appearance before the committee, but only after she professed her innocence during an opening statement.
“We understand that the committee voted she had waived her rights,” Taylor wrote Issa. “We continue to respectfully disagree.”
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy Discusses Bill To Stop IRS Targeting Of Political Groups On Greta Van Susteren’s ‘On the Record’ Program
Complete House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Hearing On IRS Targeting Of Conservative Groups – 02/26/14
A comprehensive tax-reform plan House Republicans will unveil this morning takes dead aim at what Republicans perceive to be the IRS’s persistent abuse of its authority. According to Republican aides familiar with the plan, it will curb the power of the nation’s tax-collecting agency, something Republicans have attempted to do since the agency admitted to improperly singling out conservative non-profit groups last May.
The legislation, authored by Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.), introduces reforms that directly address the circumstances that led to last year’s scandal. The specter of Lois Lerner looms large in the minds of many Republicans, and the plan mandates the termination of any IRS employee found to have taken official action for political purposes. The 1988 bill that restructured and reformed the IRS spells out ten actions for which the IRS commissioner must terminate an agency employee after an “administrative or judicial determination” that the employee has committed the prohibited action – among them, providing a false statement under oath on a matter involving a taxpayer and violating the rights of a taxpayer. Today’s bill would add the commission of politically motivated acts to the list.
The plan would also require the IRS to modify its interpretation of a critical provision of the Internal Revenue Code that has been used to protect the privacy of those accused of leaking confidential taxpayer records and to deny information to the victims of IRS abuse.
Under the proposed reforms, the provision, Internal Revenue Code section 6103, would require the government to disclose to victims both the status of an investigation as well as its result, including the identity of the perpetrator.
As currently interpreted, section 6103 prohibits congressional committees or inspectors general from identifying a government employee who has leaked confidential taxpayer information. It even prohibits inspectors general from confirming or denying whether they have conducted an investigation. Disclosing tax returns to the public is a felony, but the results of investigations conducted by congressional committees or inspectors general are considered the confidential tax information of the perpetrator and so, in an ironic twist, perpetrators are currently protected by the very law they violated.
As Republicans, including Camp, have investigated the IRS targeting scandal, they have run head first into the restrictive nature of the 6103 provisions. “The law, intended to protect taxpayers, is being used as a shield for those who perpetrate this wrongdoing,” Camp told National Review Online in October.
The National Organization for Marriage, a conservative organization that had its donor list leaked by the IRS, has filed suit against the agency after it was unable to get answers from the government. Camp’s Ways and Means Committee, which investigated the leak, was prohibited from releasing the findings of its investigation, which concluded in October. In court, according to NOM’s attorneys, the IRS has admitted to disclosing the document but maintains that the disclosure was “inadvertent.” The case is in discovery phase and a trial is expected in April or May.
Camp and his Republican colleagues are also tackling the IRS’s proposed regulations for social-welfare groups, which have rankled groups on both the left and the right. The plan proposes to delay the rules, which would curb the political activity of 501(c)(4) groups, for one year. Camp has proposed a bill in the House that does just that, and Senate Republicans have done the same, but the bills have yet to come up for a vote.
501(c)(4) groups must promote social welfare and, by law, can’t “primarily” engage in political activity. The rules proposed by the agency in November, which have garnered over 70,000 (mostly critical) public comments, would classify such activities as voter-registration drives and the production of voter guides as political activity that does not count toward an organization’s primary purpose, essentially limiting the amount of political activity groups can engage in. Camp has charged that the rules were “reverse engineered” by the IRS in an attempt to codify the targeting of tea-party groups that it was previously performing behind the scenes.
The proposed rules have ignited a firestorm on the right, and, on the left, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Service Employees International Union have spoken out against them. even as Democratic senators urge the agency to codify them in advance of the midterm elections.
The forthcoming legislation would also introduce an additional layer of oversight onto the IRS, directing the Government Accountability Office to review each of the agency’s operating divisions in order to determine that they are properly screening cases. The GAO would conduct follow-up reviews every four years.
The State mandated parental reeducation
camps classes, proposed by Democrat Senator Ruben Diaz, would be prerequisite to your child advancing to the next grade. Under the bill, employers would also be required to provide a paid day of leave in order for parents to attend the government instruction.
It’s not hard to imagine on what basis a person will be judged to have successfully completed their parental training. Anyone who has been to a school board meeting knows the last thing tolerated in education is opposing points of view. The effect that would result from this legislation is obvious: students of parents who are not compliant will be deemed unacceptable and shunned from public education. The bill is quite literally an exercise in the creation of a discarded class, a group of American youths named unworthy because their parents don’t believe they need a school board to tell them how they should raise their children or what their children should believe.
Fascism echoes though the American left once again. Same as it ever was.