Last week, as the National Rifle Association geared up for its annual meeting in Indianapolis, a spokesman summed up the group's base. "Everyone thinks our strength comes from our money. It doesn't," Andrew Arulanandam told the Indianapolis Star. "Our strength is truly in our membership. We have a savvy and loyal voting bloc." The NRA regularly cites its devoted 4-5 million members as evidence of its clout and relevance. Yet while the gun lobby publicly extols its grassroots supporters, it has also been overlooking their interests while catering to those of the oil and gas industry.
In 2012, six oil and gas companies contributed a total of between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the NRA, according to CAP. (The companies are Clayton Williams Energy, J.L. Davis Gas Consulting, Kamps Propane, Barrett Brothers Oil and Gas, Saulsbury Energy Services, and KS Industries.)
The NRA's heftiest energy contributor by far is Clayton Williams Energy. CWE is the NRA's largest corporate donor outside of the firearm industry, and one of its six largestoverall donors. The publicly owned Texas energy company has donated no less than $2 million to the NRA in the past four years: at least $1 million in 2010, according to an SEC filing, and at least $1 million in 2012, according to the NRA. In 2010, CEO, president, director, and board chairman Clayton Williams Jr. told a meeting of oil drillers that he'd given more than $3 million to the NRA. In 2013, Williams and his wife, Modesta, were inducted into the NRA's Golden Ring of Freedom, a small circle of major donors. The couple was celebrated in a 10-page feature story in a 2011 issue of the NRA's Ring of Freedom magazine.
CWE, which is largely owned by Williams and his family, focuses on extracting oil and natural gas and has no direct ties to the firearms industry. However, Williams and his wife are avid hunters and he says he plans to "retire and go hunting." (Though not, he hopes, until he's 90.) Williams once said that "the enemies of the National Rifle Association are enemies of mine." Williams ran for governor of Texas in 1990, and kept up a 20-point lead for much of the race. He lost after making a comment comparing rape to bad weather: "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it."
As major NRA donors, Clayton "Claytie" Williams and his wife Modesta were featured in Ring of Freedom magazine NRA Ring of Freedom
Not long after CWE donated $1 million to the NRA in 2010, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) introduced the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act. The bill was a big deal as far as anti-conservation bills go: "It posed a very real threat to backcountry areas around the country," says Matt Lee-Ashley, a CAP senior fellow and the author of the think tank's report. The bill would have enabled logging, mining, oil and gas extraction, and road building on protected federal lands. More than 200 wildlife managers and scientists wrote to Congress voicing their opposition, noting that "most of us are dedicated hunters and anglers." Representatives from eight sportsmen's groups in Colorado wrote their congressional delegation, calling the bill "an affront to a long-standing public process and our outdoor heritage."
The NRA said the bill would protect "the ability of the American people to access lands that belong, not to the government, or to extremist environmental groups, but to the people."
Despite these concerns from parts of its longtime constituency, the NRA teamed up with oil and gas interests—including the American Petroleum Institute and the National Mining Association—to lobbyfor the bill. The NRA explained its position with an appeal to hunters and a dig at conservationists. McCarthy's bill, it said, "will make public hunting lands not suitable for wilderness designation available to millions of Americans that are unfairly closed out from them now…protecting the ability of the American people to access lands that belong, not to the government, or to extremist environmental groups, but to the people."
The bill failed to pass in 2011 and again in 2012. Its supporters moved on to a similar new measure, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, which was introduced in 2011 and again in the current Congress by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.). In its analysis of the bill, the National Wildlife Federation called it "nothing more than the sportsmen community being used as a cover to hide an attack on Wilderness, National Monuments, and National Wildlife Refuges." Susan Recce, director of conservation, wildlife, and natural resources at the NRA, testified before the House in favor of the bill, calling her opponents' arguments "specious." The bill passed the House in February after being tacked on to H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act).*
The NRA's lobbying on these bills appears to contradict the express commitment of of its lobbying arm to "be involved in any issue that directly or indirectly affects firearms ownership and use. These involve such topics as hunting and access to hunting lands [and] wilderness and wildlife conservation." CAP's report also cites several polls showing that preservation of wildlife is important to most sportsmen: A 2012 poll found that two-thirds of sportsmen want to maintain current conservation levels and oppose "allowing private companies to develop public lands when it would limit the public's enjoyment of—or access to—these lands." In a 2013 survey of hunters and anglers, nearly 75 percent of respondents opposed selling public lands to help reduce the deficit.
"The idea that wildlife is a public good to be managed for the benefit of all is now so widely accepted among sportsmen that the prospect of the principle being undermined or eroded seems unimaginable," Lee-Ashley notes in his report. CAP asked the NRA to clarify the relationship between its oil industry contributors and its recent anti-conservationist lobbying but did not receive a response. (Mother Jones also asked the NRA for comment, and we'll update this story if it responds.)
CWE's contributions to the NRA have also caught the eye of one of its shareholders. New York City Pension Funds have more than $3 million invested in the company. Last week, New York City comptroller Scott Stringer sent a letter to the company asking it to explain its large donations to the NRA and to American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super-PAC. Stringer explained his action to the Associated Press: "The reported contributions are extremely large for such a small company and seem intended to further the political views of its chairman and CEO rather than the interests of the company itself."
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act was still awaiting a House vote.
Last week, the online dating site OkCupid switched up its homepage for Mozilla Firefox users.Upon opening the site, a message appeared encouraging members to curb their use of Firefox because the company's new CEO, Brendan Eich, allegedly opposes equality for gay couples—specifically, he donated $1000 to the campaign for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in 2008. "We've devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together," the message read. "If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we've worked so hard to bring about would be illegal." The company's action went viral, and within a few days, Eich had resigned as CEO of Mozilla only weeks after taking up the post. On Thursday, OkCupid released a statement saying "We are pleased that OkCupid's boycott has brought tremendous awareness to the critical matter of equal rights for all individuals and partnerships."
But there's a hitch: OkCupid's co-founder and CEO Sam Yagan once donated to an anti-gay candidate. (Yagan is also CEO of Match.com.) Specifically, Yagan donated $500 to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in 2004, reports Uncrunched. During his time as congressman from 1997 to 2009, Cannon voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, against a ban on sexual-orientation based job discrimination, and for prohibition of gay adoptions.
He's also voted for numerous anti-choice measures, earning a 0 percent rating from NARAL Pro Choice America. Among other measures, Cannon voted for laws prohibiting government from denying funds to medical facilities that withhold abortion information, stopping minors from crossing state lines to obtain an abortion, and banning family planning funding in US aid abroad. Cannon also earned a 7 percent rating from the ACLU for his poor civil rights voting record: He voted to amend FISA to allow warrant-less electronic surveillance, to allow NSA intelligence gathering without civil oversight, and to reauthorize the PATRIOT act.
Of course, it's been a decade since Yagan's donation to Cannon, and a decade or more since many of Cannon's votes on gay rights. It's possible that Cannon's opinions have shifted, or maybe his votes were more politics than ideology; a tactic by the Mormon Rep. to satisfy his Utah constituency. It's also quite possible that Yagan's politics have changed since 2004: He donated to Barack Obama's campaign in 2007 and 2008. Perhaps even Firefox's Eich has rethought LGBT equality since his 2008 donation. But OkCupid didn't include any such nuance in its take-down of Firefox. Combine that with the fact that the company helped force out one tech CEO for something its own CEO also did, and its action last week starts to look more like a PR stunt than an impassioned act of protest. (Mother Jones reached out to OkCupid for comment: We'll update this post if we receive a response.)
Update April 8, 2014, 12:30 p.m. PDT: OkCupid CEO Sam Yagan provided a statement to the SF Chronicle this morning clarifying the intentions behind his donation to Cannon and his stance on gay rights. Here it is in full:
A decade ago, I made a contribution to Representative Chris Cannon because he was the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversaw the Internet and Intellectual Property, matters important to my business and our industry. I accept responsibility for not knowing where he stood on gay rights in particular; I unequivocally support marriage equality and I would not make that contribution again today. However, a contribution made to a candidate with views on hundreds of issues has no equivalence to a contribution supporting Prop. 8, a single issue that has no purpose other than to affirmatively prohibit gay marriage, which I believe is a basic civil right.
New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has been getting all sorts of flak on sports radio today for missing last night's game against the Washington Nationals. Why? Because yesterday was his second (and final) day of paternity leave, which is apparently one too many.
Murphy got word late on Sunday night that his wife was in labor, and rushed to Florida to be with her. He was there for the birth of their first child the next day, Monday, which also happened to be Opening Day. The Mets had Tuesday off, and Murphy decided to stay with his wife Wednesday before flying back in time for today's game, also against the Nationals, which he played in. Murphy told ESPN that he and his wife decided together that it would be best for him to stay the extra day. "Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off," he said. "It felt, for us, like the right decision to make."
"You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help…Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?"
For a number of sports commentators, however, Murphy's decision seemed ludicrous. New York-based radio host Mike Francesa kicked off the outrage yesterday afternoon, devoting his entire WFAN show to asking, exasperatedly, why on earth a man would need to take off more than the few hours during which his child is actually born. "For a baseball player, you take a day. All right. Back in the lineup the next day. What are you doing? What would you be doing? I guarantee you're not sitting there holding your wife's hand."
"You're a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help," he said. "I don't see why you need…What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days? What are you gonna do?
Repeating this question at least five more times over the course of a 20-minute segment, Francesa also continued to confuse maternity and paternity leave. Noting that it's possible for the lucky few to stagger their paternity leave rather than using it in one chunk, Francesa was dumbfounded: "What do you do? You work the next day, then you take off three months, to do what? Have a party? 'The baby was born…But I took maternity leave three months later.' For what? To take pictures? I mean, what would you possibly be doing? That makes no sense. I didn't even know there was such a thing." (The full clip is above.)
Hosts of WFAN's "Boomer & Carton" spent their morning show today piling on to the criticism. "To me, and this is just my sensibility: 24 hours," Craig Carton said. "You stay there, baby's good, you have a good support system for the mom and the baby. You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball."
Cohost and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason thought even 24 hours was too much time:"Quite frankly, I would've said, 'C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day.'"
The Mike and Mike show on ESPN Radio also devotedtons of airtime to scrutinizing the nondrama. Cohost Mike Golic, a former NFL defensive lineman, weighed in: "If you wanna be there for the birth of your child, I have zero problem with it. That said, when the baby is born…The baby was born on Monday. And he didn't play in a game [on Wednesday]? This is just me, I would have been back playing."
"Quite frankly, I would've said, 'C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day.'"
Notably, the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players association allows for three days of paternity leave. That's better than most jobs—only about 13 percent of workplaces offer paternity leave at all, and the United States is one of four countries in the world that doesn't mandate leave for new moms and dads.
For his part, Murphy seems to be shrugging off the criticism: "We had a really cool occasion yesterday morning, about 3 o'clock. We had our first panic session," Murphy told ESPN. "It was just the three of us at 3 o'clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to. I wanted to scream and cry, but I don't think that's publicly acceptable, so I let him do it."
A newly recruited militia unit takes an oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea.
This article is being updated as news breaks. Click here for the latest.
Russia has deployed 10,000 troops to multiple locations along the Ukraine-Russia border, deepening fears that the simmering crisis in the Crimean peninsula is about to escalate into full-scale warfare. In London on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to broker a last-minute deal with Russia's foreign minister to ratchet down the crisis, but their talks "ended inconclusively," according to the New York Times. This weekend, voters in Crimea, an autonomous region of about 2 million in southeastern Ukraine, will vote on a referendum that would give citizens the option of asserting independence from Ukraine, or becoming part of Russia. (Remaining part of Ukraine isn't an option.) The United States and European Union leaders have called the referendum back-door annexation," which would bring international consequences. Here's what you need to know about the current state of play. Check back frequently, since we'll update this post as events unfold.
Western leaders are furious: On Thursday,GermanChancellorenacted as early as Monday, if Crimea chooses to secede.
.@JohnKerry: We believe this referendum violates international law and is illegal under #Ukraine's constitution.
If Crimea joins Russia, it could take Ukrainian gas and oil reserves with it: Russian exports account for about one-third of Europe's gas consumption and those pipelines run smack through Ukraine. As Mother Jones' James West points out, "Russia has long been able to use Ukraine as an energy choke point." On Thursday, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported that authorities in Crimea have been securing offshore gas and oil in the region. Crimean parliamentary speaker Vladimir Konstantinov reportedly said: "These deposits and the platform fully become the property of the Republic of Crimea…We have guarded them. These are our fields and we will fight for them."
Putin is cracking down on Russian press:Julia Ioffe reports in The New Republic:
What began just days before the Olympics with a Kremlin attack on Dozhd, the last independent television station in Russia, has now extended to Lenta.ru, arguably the best news site in Russia. On Wednesday, the site's editor-in-chief was fired and replaced with a Kremlin loyalist, and the whole staff quit in protest. Yesterday, the Kremlin went full-China on the Internet, the holy of holies of the Russian opposition. Using some flimsy legal pretexts, it banned access to various oppositional news sites, to the website of Moscow's biggest radio station, and to the blog of Alexey Navalny, who is currently under house arrest.
Russia maintains that it's not going to invade: Earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is not planning to annex Crimea and he would leave it up to citizens in the region to determine their future. He also said force would only be used as "a last resort." As recently as Friday, Russian officials have maintained that an invasion is still off the table:
LONDON (AP) - Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says Russia has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine
But Western leaders aren't optimistic that Putin will back down from annexing Crimea, after the referendum vote. According to the New York Times, "As of Friday, there had been no sign that President Vladimir V. Putin was prepared to take the 'off ramp' that the Obama administration has repeatedly offered." Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov declared on Friday that Russia and the United States "have no common vision" about the crisis.
UPDATE, March 14, 2014, 3:00 p.m. EDT (Dana Liebelson): The Pentagon is sending 25,000 ready-to-eat meals to Ukraine, according to the Associated Press. Two US representatives have asked President Obama to put names of Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses on the Magnitsky list, a public list of Russians created in 2012 as part of the Magnitsky Act, to punish Russian officials who have committed human rights violations. Members of the list are prohibited from entering the US or using the US banking system.
UPDATE 2, March 14, 2014, 3:35 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova):Mimicking the language used to justify their invasion of Crimea, the Russian foreign ministry has issued a warning that they reserve the right to intervene in the city of Donetsk to protect lives after a series of clashes Thursday night led to at least one death and dozens of injuries.
Donetsk is a primarily Russian-speaking city in eastern Ukraine, not far from the Russian border. The clashes began yesterday after hundreds of demonstrators chanting Pro-Russian slogans broke through a police cordon and stormed a separate group protesting Russia's invasion of Crimea and calling for "a united Ukraine."
Here's video of the incident heating up:
UPDATE 3, March 14, 2014, 8:06 p.m. EDT (Eric Wuestewald): Another two people were reportedly killed and five injured during clashes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv Friday. There have been conflicting reports over who was injured and who was responsible for the attack, but many are alleging armed pro-Russian groups or the Ukrainian nationalist group Right Sector may have provoked it.
Kharkiv is Ukraine's second largest city after Kiev, and historically, was the country's first Soviet capital. Like Donetsk, it's also close to the Russian border. As a result, large pro-Russian rallies have been common, which some are predicting could become a litmus test for the future direction of the country.
Update 4, March 15, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT (Dana Liebelson): 60 Russian troops in six helicopters have crossed into Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials, taking control of the village of Strilkove and leading to the first reports of Russian invasion outside of Crimea. The New York Timesreports that troops also seized a gas plant and "the action was Russia’s most provocative since its forces took over Crimea two weeks ago." Ukraine's acting leader Oleksander Turchinov said: "The situation is very dangerous. I'm not exaggerating. There is a real danger from threats of invasion of Ukrainian territory. We will reconvene on Monday at 10am."
Update 5, March 15, 4:45 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova): Earlier today, 50,000 people took part in a "peace march" in Moscow against Russia's intervention in Crimea. Protestors marched waving both Russian and Ukrainian flags, and then gathered on the Prospect Sakharova, where massive anti-Putin rallies took place in 2012. Some protestors chanted: "The main enemy is the Kremlin. No to fascism, no to imperialism."
Here's a Russian-language newscast showing the march:
Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who stepped down from his post in February, wrote a statement today about the situation in Ukraine on Facebook. Here's an excerpt:
Putin's recent decisions represent a giant step backwards. Tragically, we are entering a new period with some important differences, but many similarities to the Cold War. The ideological struggle between autocracy and democracy is resurgent. Protection of European countries from Russian aggression is paramount again. Shoring up vulnerable states , including first and foremost Ukraine, must become a top priority again for the US and Europe. And doing business with Russian companies will once again become politicized. Most tragically, in seeking to isolate the Russian regime, many Russians with no connection to the government will also suffer the effects of isolation. My only hope is that this dark period will not last as long as the last Cold War.
Update 6, March 16, 5:30 a.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova):Several NATO websites were hit by cyber-attacks in the hours preceding the start of referendum voting in Crimea. A group calling itself "cyber-berkut" took credit for the attack, saying they targeted NATO for its interference in Ukraine. "We will not allow NATO occupiers in our homeland," the collective wrote on their site. Their name references the berkut, an especially-feared faction of Ukraine's police force used by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych that has since been disbanded. A NATO spokeswoman wrote on Twitter that the integrity of NATO data and systems was not effected and that experts were working to restore the sites.
Update 7, March 16, 11:30 AM EDT (Dana Liebelson):As the referendum vote wraps up in Ukraine, a German research group, GfK, has conducted early polling that anticipates a landslide vote for secession, with 70% of Crimeans participating in the vote choosing to join Russia; 11% choosing increased autonomy within Ukraine. There are also reports of Russian and Ukrainian troops building up near the border. Here is a video posted by The Wire of Russian tanks moving towards southwest Russia:
Update 8, March 16, 2:15 p.m. EDT (Eric Wuestewald): RT is reporting that 93% of those who participated in the Crimean referendum voted to seceed from Ukraine and become part of Russia, according to exit polls. Official results are expected later. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov has responded to the news by announcing Crimea would join Russia in "as tight a timeframe as possible."
The White House released a statement reaffirming its opposition to the referendum and called on members of the international community to condemn and "impose costs" on Russia's actions:
The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991, and we reject the “referendum” that took place today in the Crimean region of Ukraine. This referendum is contrary to Ukraine’s constitution, and the international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.
Update 9, March 16, 4:50 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova): The AP, along with several of Russia's state-fundednews networks, are reporting that with about 50 percent of ballots counted, more than 95 percent of Crimea's voters have opted to join Russia and secede from Ukraine. Reports are also coming out saying that some journalists were prohibited from entering the polling stations to observe the vote count.
Update 10, March 17, 10:15 a.m. EDT (Dana Liebelson): Since the referendum, European Union foreign ministers have imposed travel restrictions and frozen the assets of 21 officials from Ukraine and Russia. In the mean time, Crimea has moved quickly to join Russia: Crimean lawmakers have passed a resolution declaring that Ukrainian laws no longer apply in Crimea. Crimean legislators have also adopted the Russian ruble as an official currency and plan to move Crimea to Moscow Standard Time, according to CNN. Russia has proposed putting together an international group of diplomats to solve the political crisis, but has issued proposals that are unlikely to be accepted by the international community, according to the New York Times—such as allowing Crimea to "determine its own destiny."
On Monday morning, President Obama announced a new executive order that imposes sanctions on "named officials of the Russian government, any individual or entity that operates in the Russian arms industry, and any designated individual or entity that acts on behalf of, or that provides material or other support to, any senior Russian government official." So far, seven Russian government officials are on the list: Vladislav Surkov, Sergey Glazyev, Leonid Slutsky, Andrei Klishas, Valentina Matviyenko, Dmitry Rogozin, and Yelena Mizulina. The Treasury Department has issued sanctions against four other individuals "for their actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine." Those individuals are Crimea-based separatist leaders Sergey Aksyonov and Vladimir Konstantinov; former Ukrainian presidential chief of staff Viktor Medvedchuk; and former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.
Update 11, March 17, 10:45 a.m. EDT (Dana Liebelson): In a televised statement, President Obama said that Vice President Joe Biden will depart tonight to Europe to meet with NATO allies, and the President will be traveling to Europe next week. Obama said that in wake of the sanctions announcement this morning, his administration will continue to calibrate the US response depending on whether Russia chooses to escalate or deescalate the crisis. Obama reiterated that he believes there is still a path to resolve the crisis diplomatically, requesting that Russia pull its forces in Crimea back to their bases; deploy additional international monitors; and continue to work with the Ukrainian government. Obama says the United States will offer economic support to Ukraine, noting that, "The United States stands with the people of Ukraine and their right to determine their own destiny."
Update 12, March 17, 2:45 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova): Putin has just signedan order making Crimea an independent state. The presidential press service declared that the order enters into force with Putin's signature.
Earlier today, NATO announced that it is pulling out of a US Army Europe training exercise that was to take place in Russia this summer, but that a similar exercise to be held in Ukraine will go on as planned. Ukrainian leaders have also announced that the country's military will not be pulling out of its bases in Crimea despite a truce agreement with Russia that gives them until March 21, this Friday, to do so.
"Crimea was, is, and will be our territory," Ukraine Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said while speaking at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center today.
Update 13, March 18, 6:45 a.m. EDT (Ben Dreyfuss): On Tuesday, Putin notified the Russian parliament that he intends to annex Crimea and make it a part of the Russian Federation. In the words of the New York Times, Putin's actions "effectively [upend] the agreements that served as the foundation of a post-Cold War order in Europe."
Update 14, March 18, 8:15 a.m. EDT (Ben Dreyfuss): Soon after delivering a speech before the Russian parliament, Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with Crimean leaders to incorporate the "Republic of Crimea" and the city of Sevastopol into the Russian Federation. However, as the BBC points out, the rest of the world still considers Crimea a part of Ukraine. "So the 'independent Republic of Crimea' is a Russian invention."
Update 15, March 18, 3:26 p.m. EDT (Eric Wuestewald): Following an attack on a Ukrainian military facility near Simferopol that left at least one dead and two injured, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has now authorized servicemen deployed in Crimea to use weapons in self-defense. According to the Ministry, the attack was committed by men in unmarked Russian uniforms carrying automatic guns and sniper rifles.
Update 16, March 18, 6:00 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova): Kazakhstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released an official statement expressing the former Soviet state's support of the Crimea referendum and Russia's decision to annex the territory:
Kazakhstan views the referendum that was held in Crimea as an expression of the free will of the Autonomous Republic's population, and the decision of the Russian Federation under the circumstances is regarded with understanding.
Meanwhile, NATO's secretary general released a statement condemning Putin's decision:
Russia continues to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and remains in blatant breach of its international commitments. There can be no justification to continue on this course of action that can only deepen Russia's international isolation. Crimea's annexation is illegal and illegitimate and NATO allies will not recognize it.
Update 17, March 19, 3:50 p.m. EDT (Hannah Levintova): Ukrainian officials have announced that they're making plans to withdraw troops and their families from Crimea. Andriy Pirubiy, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, also said Ukraine will institute visa requirements for Russians, and will seek UN support in making Crimea a demilitarized zone and removing Russian troops. The speech came after pro-Russian militia stormed and seized the Sevastopol headquarters of the Ukrainian navy on Wednesday.
Russia's military has begun conducting aviation exercises near other former Soviet republics. The drills, which will end in late March, include dozens of warplanes and have started in Leningrad oblast (region), which borders Finland and Estonia, and also in Karelia, which borders Finland. A senior Russian military official told Reuters that the exercises were planned back in December and have no political significance.
At the same time, Russia announced its concern over Estonia's treatment of its Russian-speaking population at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council today. A Moscow delegate compared Estonian initiatives to compel Russians in the eastern half of the country to speak Estonian to similar alleged efforts to curb Russian use in Ukraine. In recent weeks, Russia has echoed these linguistic concerns—emphasizing the need to protect Russian-speakers beyond Russia's borders—in defense of it annexation of Crimea.
During a public speech at the Brookings Institution today, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Russia's intervention in Ukraine "is the gravest threat to European stability and security since the end of the cold war."
Update 18, March 20, 11:45 a.m. EDT (Dana Liebelson): On Thursday, President Obama announced that he is launching sanctions against 20 individuals, including senior members of the Russian government and "cronies" who hold significant resources in the Russian system, according to White House officials. Sanctions will also be launched against Bank Rossiya, Russia's 17th largest bank, where senior Russian government officials hold accounts. President Obama has also signed an executive order that allows sanctions on "key sectors of the Russian economy," including defense and related material. Obama reiterated that he considers the Ukraine's referendum "illegal" and the move by Russia to annex Crimea "illegitimate." Here's a list of the sanction targets:
Update 19, March 24, 4:30 p.m. EDT (Dana Liebelson): On Monday, the New York Times reported that Russia has been booted from the Group of 8, a diplomatic forum that includes the world's economic powerhouses, including the United States. Russia has been participating in the forum for 15 years. The Group's leaders said in a statement: “We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation."
Update April 24, 2014 5:40 p.m. EDT: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 60 into law on Wednesday. "Our nation's founders put the right to bear arms on par with freedom of speech and freedom of religion," Deal said in a statement. "Georgians cherish their Second Amendment rights, and this law embodies those values." The new regulations—which allow guns to be carried in airports, bars, and K-12 schools, and expand Stand Your Ground protections—will take effect on July 1.
Update March 21, 2014 4:15 p.m. EDT: Last night, in the final minutes of its annual legislative session, the Georgia House passed a bill with the "guns everywhere" bill attached; HB 60 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for a signature. The state Senate had sent the bill back to the House with a few minor amendments earlier in the week; Among the tweaks was a provision allowing religious leaders to decide whether guns may be carried in their houses of worship; the fine for not respecting those wishes can be no more than $100. Another change permits the use of silencers while hunting on some public land and on private property if the owners approve.
Otherwise, the final bill was largely the same as the one previously passed by the House. A copy of the final bill is not yet available, but according to the list of Senate amendments, changes were not made to sections providing for the expansion of Stand Your Ground. Opponents of the bill say the SYG provisions would allow convicted felons or others using guns illegally to claim a Stand Your Ground defense.
If Gov. Deal signs the bill, it will go into effect on July 1. "We expect Governor Deal to sign the bill as he has always stated that he will sign any pro 2A [2nd Amendment] bill that reaches his desk," the pro-gun group Georgia Carry stated on its website this morning. Deal has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
Soon gun owners in the state of Georgia may be allowed to pack heat almost anywhere—including K-12 schools, bars, churches, government buildings, and airports. The "Safe Carry Protection Act" (HB 875) would also expand Georgia's Stand Your Ground statute, the controversial law made famous by the Trayvon Martin killing, which allows armed citizens to defend themselves with deadly force if they believe they are faced with serious physical harm.
The bill could pass as soon as next week, before the current legislative session ends March 20. It is the latest effort in the battle over gun laws that continues to rage in statehouses around the country. It is perhaps also the most extreme yet. "Of all the bills pending right now in state legislatures, this is the most sweeping and most dangerous," Laura Cutiletta, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told PolitiFact. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun reform advocacy group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head, has deemed it the "guns everywhere" bill. For its part, the National Rifle Association recently called HB 875 "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history."
In addition to overturning current state laws and dramatically rolling back concealed-carry restrictions, HB 875 would loosen other gun regulations in the state. The law would:
Remove the fingerprinting requirement for gun license renewals
Prohibit the state from keeping a gun license database
Tighten the state's preemption statute, which restricts local governments from passing gun laws that conflict with state laws
Repeal the state licensing requirement for firearms dealers (requiring only a federal firearms license)
Expand gun owner rights in a declared state of emergency by prohibiting government authorities from seizing, registering, or otherwise limiting the carrying of guns in any way permitted by law before the emergency was declared
Limit the governor's emergency powers by repealing the ability to regulate the sale of firearms during a declared state of emergency
Lower the age to obtain a concealed-carry license from 21 to 18 for active-duty military and honorably discharged veterans who've completed basic training
Prohibit detaining someone for the sole purpose of checking whether they have a gun license
The sweeping bill would also expand the state's Stand your Ground law into an "absolute" defense for the use of deadly force in self-protection. "Defense of self or others," the bills reads "shall be an absolute defense to any violation under this part." In its current wording, the bill would even allow individuals who possess a gun illegally—convicted felons, for example—to still claim a Stand Your Ground defense.