Nation & World News

Obama Announces New Sanctions On Russia

By Eyder Peralta on July 29th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 4:55 pm

This post was updated at 4 p.m. ET:

President Obama announced a new round of economic sanctions against Russia’s banking, energy and defense sectors on Tuesday.

“Because we’re closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we’re announcing today will have an even bigger bite,” Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Obama said that intelligence indicates that Russia continues to encourage, train and arm separatists in Ukraine and has not aided in the international efforts to investigate the shoot-down of an airliner over that country.

Obama said that the situation is “not a new cold war,” but said that Russia and President Vladimir Putin “in particular” have made further sanctions necessary.

“Today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international economic community, setting back decades of progress,” Obama said.

Obama praised European allies who have “legitimate” economic concerns about cutting ties with Russia, noting that they recognize that the conflict in Ukraine threatens to spill over that country’s borders.

He said that Russia’s economy will be further weakened by the Western actions, saying the country’s growth rate has flattened to near zero and that $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia even before the latest round of sanctions was imposed.

But the new sanctions from Europe will allow some planned deals to go through, such as the French sale of two warships to Russia, notes NPR’s Jackie Northam.

Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, says no amount of sanctions will damage the Russian economy.

“Overall, the sanctions route leads nowhere,” Chizhov said. “It’s a dead end, and the collateral damage to [the] EU’s own economy would be comparable to any damage induced on the Russian economy.”

Our original post continues:

Saying that the conflict in Ukraine had “gone on for far too long,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russia to use its “considerable influence” to make sure investigators had access to the debris field of the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine.

The separatists who control that area of Ukraine, said Kerry, “have displayed an appalling disregard for human decency.”

The secretary of state spoke after Dutch and Australian experts abandoned their attempts for a third day in a row to reach the debris field.

CNN reports that the 50-member team was accompanied by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who were unable to leave the Ukrainian city of Donetsk because “there is too much fighting at the moment on and near the route to the disaster site.”

Kerry also spoke after the European Union agreed to implement tougher sanctions against Russia.

Reuters says the deal reached by the EU on Tuesday targets the Russian “oil industry, defense, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies.”

“Among the new measures that were discussed are steps that could limit access of Russian banks to European capital markets, which could affect European holders of Russian debt and financial services firms that do business there,” Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, the White House said the U.S. also could unveil additional sanctions against Russia as early as today.

“It’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week,” Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told The Associated Press earlier Tuesday.

Kerry, who was speaking alongside the Ukrainian foreign minister in Washington, said he had talked to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who told him Russia wanted to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.

However, Kerry said, actions have not shown “a shred of evidence” that Russia wants to end the violence.

Russia Today, the Russian-funded, English-language news service, reports that Lavrov blamed Kiev. If it adhered to a cease-fire agreement, Lavrov said, investigators would have access to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster site.

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NCAA Reaches $75 Million Settlement In Head-Injury Lawsuit

By Eyder Peralta on July 29th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 6:55 pm

The NCAA has reached a settlement with former athletes that provides $75 million for medical monitoring and research into head injuries. The settlement also calls for a change in the way schools handle head trauma.

As USA Today explains, the NCAA currently requires that member schools only have a concussion management plan. The settlement would require schools to make changes to their policies and “institute return-to-play guidelines.”

The New York Times reports:

” ‘This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,’ said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman. ‘Student-athletes — not just football players — have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.’

“The settlement, which was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois on Tuesday morning and still requires the approval of Judge John Z. Lee, would establish a medical monitoring fund similar in some ways to the one proposed recently by the N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association. It would give all former college athletes a chance to receive a neurological screening to examine brain functions and any signs of brain damage like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

“The N.C.A.A. would also prevent athletes who have sustained a concussion from returning to a game or practice that day. Trained medical personnel would be required at all contact sports events like football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer and wrestling.”

The Chicago Tribune spoke to attorney Joseph Siprut, who represents former Eastern Illinois University defensive back Adrian Arrington, one of the athletes who brought suit against the NCAA.

Siprut told the newspaper that the settlement does not prevent individual athletes from bringing suit against the NCAA.

“We intend to continue prosecuting those claims on behalf of Adrian and our other clients,” he told the Tribune.

Update at 11:32 a.m. ET. The $75 Million Number:

The $75 million included in the settlement comes from two places: The NCAA and its insurers agreed to pay $70 million to create the Medical Monitoring Fund, and they have also agreed to contribute — “or cause to be contributed” — $5 million over a period of not more than 10 years to “research the prevention, treatment, and/or effects of concussions.”

The Tribune has posted the agreement here.

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Israel’s Prime Minister Says Gaza War Could Be ‘Prolonged’

By Eyder Peralta on July 29th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Despite calls from the United Nations for a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his country to prepare for a “prolonged” war.

Netanyahu made the comments during a televised address on Monday. As NBC News reports, he also defended Israel’s offensive in Gaza as just.

“We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children,” Netanyahu added.

With that, here’s what you need to know as the conflict enters its 22nd day:

– The Death Toll:

Israel had its deadliest day on Monday. NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that at least five soldiers guarding a kibbutz were killed by Hamas militants who used tunnels to burrow into Israel.

According to a New York Times count, that brings total Israeli deaths to 51.

The death toll in Gaza also keeps climbing: It stands at more than 1,110 people; 15 people were killed overnight.

– Gaza’s Only Power Plant Hit:

Reporting from Gaza, NPR’s Emily Harris said last night brought the “longest, loudest and closest attacks so far.”

At least one shell struck Gaza’s only power plant, the head of Gaza’s electricity company told Emily.

“It started a blaze that destroyed the storage tanks,” Emily tells us. “He says the plant is no longer producing. Combined with downed lines from Israel, Gazan homes are getting something around less than four hours of electricity a day. This affects water as water needs pumps.”

– A Stunning Time-Lapse:

BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frankel describes the video below like this: “Time lapse shows entire neighborhood in Gaza being flattened by air strikes over the course of one hour.”

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U.S. Accuses Russia Of Violating Nuclear Treaty

By Stephanie Federico on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

The Obama administration says Russia has violated a 1987 nuclear pact by testing a ground-launched cruise missile.

An administration official called the matter “very serious” and says the U.S. is “prepared to discuss this in a senior-level bilateral dialogue immediately.” The New York Times reports that President Obama notified Russian President Vladimir Putin of the finding in a letter Monday.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty bans the possession, production or flight-test of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Russia has reportedly been testing the missiles for years, beginning in 2008, but the matter has only recently been taken up by top U.S. officials. It comes as the relationship between the two nations has strained over the crisis in Ukraine.

The Times notes that the INF Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, “helped seal the end of the Cold War and has been regarded as a cornerstone of American-Russian arms control efforts.”

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Judge Rules Against Sterling, Allows LA Clippers Sale To Proceed

By Alan Greenblatt on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

A probate judge has ruled that Donald Sterling cannot block the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Shelly Sterling, his estranged wife, had arranged in May to sell the NBA franchise to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion.

Donald Sterling sued to block the deal. Shelly Sterling wanted him removed as a trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Clippers, on grounds of mental incapacitation.

“The doctors certified Donald as incapacitated,” argued Pierce O’Donnell, Shelly Sterling’s attorney. “That’s the end of the matter.”

Superior Court Judge Michael Levanas ruled in her favor on Monday.

The judge “said he found Rochelle Sterling to be a more credible witness than her husband, who acted erratically during several days of testimony, raising his voice at lawyers from both sides, and referring to his wife as ‘a pig,’ ” according to The New York Times.

Levanas said the sale can now proceed. Donald Sterling may not have much recourse at this point.

“The ruling included the extraordinary step of granting Shelly Sterling’s request for an order that allows the sale to be completed regardless of an appellate court’s intervention,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Donald Sterling touched off a media firestorm in April when a recording surfaced of him making racist remarks. Last week at the trial, the Clippers interim CEO testified that Doc Rivers, the team coach and president, had said repeatedly he will most likely quit if Sterling retains ownership.

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Another Appeals Court Tosses Same-Sex-Marriage Ban

By Alan Greenblatt on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

For the second time this summer, a federal appellate court has voted to strike down a ban on same-sex marriage.

A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a district court judge’s decision that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“We do not dispute that states have refused to permit same-sex marriages for most of our country’s history. However, this fact is irrelevant in this case,” Judge Henry Floyd wrote in the 2-to-1 ruling. “We conclude that the fundamental right to marry encompasses the right to same-sex marriages.”

Floyd was appointed as a district court judge by President George W. Bush and elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President Obama.

The decision would take effect in 21 days but will be stayed if there’s an appeal from defendants, which is considered all but certain.

“Today’s decision is significant because it also renders unconstitutional similar marriage bans in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia — states that are part of the 4th Circuit,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Same-sex marriage is already legal in Maryland, which is also in the circuit.”

Hours after the ruling, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said it would be futile to continue defending the state’s ban.

Cooper said the ruling “predicts our law will be struck down.”

Earlier this month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that threw out Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Monday’s ruling in the Virginia case was the 29th straight victory for same-sex-marriage advocates in federal and state courts since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, notes NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

“Virginia holds a special place in the same-sex-marriage debate because gay-marriage advocates have based their legal appeals on the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage,” Nina points out.

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Netanyahu: Israel Is Prepared For ‘Long Operation’ In Gaza

By Alan Greenblatt on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday dismissed international calls for an immediate cease-fire in the country’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

“We need to be prepared for a long operation until our mission is accomplished,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

He defined that mission the same way Israeli officials have since launching a ground offensive in Gaza: taking out the tunnels Hamas uses to infiltrate Israel.

“Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels — death from above and from below,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israelis would not “end this operation without neutralizing the tunnels, whose sole purpose is killing our citizens.”

After a brief lull in fighting to mark a Muslim holiday — and following adoption of a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an “immediate and unconditional” cease-fire — intense shelling resumed in Gaza on Monday night.

“The Israeli Defense Forces warned residents of neighborhoods in northern Gaza — including Shujai’iya, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in the three-week war — to evacuate immediately, suggesting a major escalation of military action was imminent,” the Guardian reports.

Five IDF soldiers were killed Monday in Gaza, bringing Israel’s military death toll to 48.

As we reported earlier, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. Thousands more have been injured.

On the diplomatic front, White House officials pushed back against harsh criticism in Israeli news outlets of Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to secure a truce. A draft of his cease-fire proposal was leaked to Israeli media.

“It’s as if he isn’t the foreign minister of the world’s most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast,” wrote diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid in Haaretz.

Ravid and other mocking commentators took Kerry to task for attempting to bring Qatar and Turkey — viewed in Israel as Hamas allies — into negotiations.

Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser, described herself as “dismayed” by the characterizations.

“Our view is it’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

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Margot Adler, An NPR Journalist For Three Decades, Dies

By Eyder Peralta on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

Margot Adler, one of the signature voices on NPR’s airwaves for more than three decades, died Monday at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer.

Margot joined the NPR staff as a general assignment reporter in 1979. She went on to cover everything from the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic to confrontations involving the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, N.C., to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Her reporting was singular and her voice distinct,” Margaret Low Smith, NPR’s vice president for news, said in an announcement to staff. “There was almost no story that Margot couldn’t tell.”

The granddaughter of renowned Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler, Margot was born in Little Rock, Ark., but spent most of her life in Manhattan.

More recently, Margot reported on cultural affairs and the arts. She landed the first U.S. radio interview with author J.K. Rowling, and she recently released Out for Blood, a meditation on society’s fascination with vampires.

Margot explained to NPR’s Neal Conan that research for the book began when her husband of 33 years was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“He was the healthiest man on the planet, I mean literally,” Margot said. “You know, he was a runner. Unlike me, he’d never done any drugs in the ’60s. He’d never smoked. He ate perfectly, you know, one of these people. And he only lived nine months.”

During that time, Margot read 260 vampire novels.

“Basically I started out, it was a meditation on mortality and death, and I started realizing that some of the different attitudes that he and I had about death, he was definitely kind of the high-tech guy, rage, rage, rage, you know, take every supplement, blah, blah, blah, blah,” she said. “And I was kind of more like we’re all part of the life process, you know.”

Margot had a long-standing interest in the occult. “Margot was not only a brilliant reporter, she was also a Wiccan priestess and a leader in the Pagan community,” Low Smith notes. “That was deeply important to her, and she wrote a seminal book about that world: Drawing Down the Moon. She also wrote a memoir called Heretic’s Heart.”

In a note she sent to NPR’s staff last week, Margot explained that she had been fighting cancer for 3 1/2 years. Until three months ago, she had been relatively symptom-free.

What began as endometrial cancer had metastasized to several parts of her body.

“She leaves behind her 23-year-old son, Alex Dylan Gliedman-Adler, who was by her side caring for her throughout her illness,” Low Smith notes.

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It May Be Summer, But For Economists, This Week Feels Like Christmas

By Marilyn Geewax on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

This week is summer’s sweet spot — the peak time for pool parties, fresh-picked berries and cool drinks. But for economists, it may feel more like Christmas — so much to unwrap!

Each day will bring new decisions and reports that could have a big impact on the nation’s economy. So economists, investors and workers will have plenty to ponder. Here’s what’s happening this week:

  • Tuesday and Wednesday: The Federal Reserve Board’s policymakers are meeting over two days this week to chew over economic data and decide whether to continue the current policies that restrain interest rates. They will announce their decision at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.
  • Wednesday : At 8:30 a.m. ET, the Commerce Department will release its first estimate of GDP growth for the second quarter. This is a big deal because the first quarter was dismal — with the economy actually shrinking. Most economists believe the second quarter will show a healthy bounce back, with GDP expanding at about 3 percent.
  • Thursday: At 3 p.m. ET, the USDA will report on farm prices. Earlier this year, a lot of prices shot up for food — especially meat. High grocery prices can hit consumers hard. So economists will be watching for signs of what’s to come for consumers when they head to the grocery store this fall.
  • Friday: The Labor Department will release its July jobs report at 8:30 a.m. ET. This report is always a big deal because a healthy labor market is the key to economic growth. In recent months, jobs have been growing rapidly. Did the pace continue in July?

In addition, economists will be watching for lots of wild cards this week. For example, Congress will be finishing up some work before starting its August recess. Lawmakers could make decisions involving issues with big economic impacts, such as on immigration and federal highway spending.

The stock market may be in for a wacky week with so much key economic data hitting, along with a surge of corporate earnings reports.

And there’s no shortage of geopolitical tension. Any number of developments in Gaza, Libya or Ukraine could upset economic expectations.

So if ever there was a week to pay attention to economic reports, this is it. Just keep a tall, cool drink handy. You may need it.

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Team Investigating Downing Of MH17 Turns Back Due To Heavy Fighting

By Eyder Peralta on July 28th, 2014 | Last updated: July 29, 2014 at 10:53 am

For a second day in a row, Dutch and Australian experts were unable to reach the debris field left by downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.

CNN reports that team members were attempting to make their way to the area when they heard explosions and were told there was heavy fighting, so they turned back. The network adds:

“Among other things, the team had hoped to work on the retrieval of human remains from the fields strewn with wreckage from the passenger jet, which had 298 people on board when it was brought down by a suspected surface-to-air missile on July 17.

“The team of observers, investigators and experts had anticipated getting good access to the site after negotiating with both sides in the conflict, said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission, before the team was forced to turn back.

“Ukrainian government forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels in the region for months, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Now, as Ukrainian troops attempt to cut off access to Donetsk, fighting is heading north, closer to the crash site, which sits amid rebel-held territory.”

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, there are two headlines:

Bloomberg reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said Germany wants the European Union to agree on new sanctions against Russia.

As we’ve reported, the United States says it has found no evidence of direct involvement by the Russians in downing the passenger plane, but American officials say the missile system used was Russian-made.

– U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the downing of MH17 may be a war crime.

The Associated Press reports:

“Pillay’s comments coincided with a new report by her office that says at least 1,129 people had been killed and 3,442 wounded in Ukraine’s fighting as of Saturday, and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April.

“‘This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime,’ Pillay said of the downed jetliner, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials say was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

” ‘It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event,’ she said.”

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