Ukraine’s interior minister says 30 pro-Russian insurgents and four soldiers have been killed in the eastern city of Slovyansk as Ukraine continues an assault to reassert control. Ukraine has also sent an elite national guard unit to the southern port city of Odessa, where 46 people died Friday in clashes between nationalist and pro-Russian forces. White House spokesperson Jay Carney condemned the violence on Monday.
Jay Carney: "The events in Odessa dramatically underscore the need for an immediate de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine. The violence and efforts to destabilize the country must end. And we again call for the immediate implementation of the commitments made in Geneva on April 17th."
Tensions between Russia and the United States over the Ukrainian crisis continue to increase. On Monday, the head of U.S. air forces in the Pacific reported an uptick in activity by Russian planes and ships in the region, including flights by Russian aircraft to the coast of California. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has successfully pressured the heads of many top corporations not to attend an upcoming economic forum in Russia. Cabinet members including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker have reportedly been personally calling executives, urging them not to attend.
In Nigeria, the leader of the group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the mass abduction of nearly 300 school girls and has threatened to sell them. There are reports some of the girls have already been sold. Hundreds have taken to the streets to call for the Nigerian government to intensify its search. On Monday, police arrested two women who helped organize the protests. We’ll have more on the story after headlines.
An Occupy Wall Street activist has been found guilty of second-degree assault and could face seven years in prison for elbowing a police officer. Cecily McMillan was arrested in March 2012 as protesters tried to re-occupy Zuccotti Park. She says she struck out instinctively after her breast was grabbed from behind by an officer, then suffered a seizure as officers pinned her down. Days later, she appeared on Democracy Now! covered in bruises, at least one in the shape of a handprint, over her right breast. She is being held without bail. We’ll have more on the case later in the broadcast.
The Obama administration is poised to unveil sanctions on individuals on both sides of the conflict in South Sudan. Citing anonymous sources, Reuters reports the sanctions will involve travel bans and asset freezes. Thousands have died and more than a million have fled since violence erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those siding with his fired deputy. U.N. officials have warned of a possible genocide.
The United States is increasing support to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. On Monday, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf announced plans for more than $27 million in new "non-lethal" aid and said the offices of the Syrian Opposition Coalition will now be recognized as a foreign mission.
Marie Harf: "So, this is not obviously tantamount to recognition of the SOC as the government of Syria. It’s a reflection of our partnership with the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. It will do a few things. It will allow us to formally facilitate banking and security services for the coalition offices in the United States, that’s one. It will also facilitate their outreach to the Syrian diaspora in an increased way in the United States, as well."
The announcement coincides with the arrival in Washington, D.C., of a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders who are set to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday.
The Obama administration has announced a 10-year agreement with the East African nation of Djibouti to continue housing special forces and other troops at a military base that lies at the center of the U.S. drone wars. Djibouti has a population of less than one million, but forms the core of U.S. operations in the region. According to The Washington Post, in recent years, the Obama administration has "clandestinely transformed [Camp Lemonnier] into the busiest Predator drone base outside the Afghan war zone." Obama emphasized the importance of the base during a meeting with Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh in the Oval Office.
President Obama: "So, overall, this is a critical facility that we maintain in Djibouti. We could not do it without the president’s cooperation. We’re grateful for him agreeing for a long-term presence there."
More than 5,000 U.S. and Filipino soldiers have launched two weeks of joint military drills in the Philippines. The annual drills opened one week after the unveiling of a 10-year agreement to revive the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. On Monday, activists protested the deal outside the Filipino army headquarters.
Renato Reyes: "The U.S. forces can come to the Philippines, can use our facilities, rent free, tax free. They can access anywhere in the country, turning the whole place into a military base. Even private defense contractors are given tax perks. This a grossly unequal agreement that benefits only the superpower."
The former second-in-command of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal has been reprimanded and fined $4,000 for using fake poker chips and lying to an investigator. At the time of the incident, Rear Admiral Timothy Giardina was deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the entire U.S. fleet of nuclear weapons. By accepting his penalty from a superior officer, Giardina avoided a court-martial. His firing last fall came two days before the firing of Major General Michael Carey, commander of U.S. land-based nuclear missiles, for intoxication and other inappropriate behavior in Russia.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled town councils can begin their meetings with Christian prayers. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of the town of Greece, New York, which opens public meetings with prayers, usually led by a Christian chaplain. The court’s decision follows a 1983 ruling allowing prayers at the start of legislative sessions. In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan urged requirements for inclusiveness of all faiths, saying the town’s actions clashed "with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government."
Newly obtained records reveal how the world’s largest food service trade group is monitoring the growing mobilization of fast-food workers. Internal documents obtained by Salon show the National Restaurant Association "closely monitor[ed] social media for any plans or signs of activity," "entered several hundred zip codes" into a campaign website to locate protests, and tracked changes on the Wikipedia page of a prominent organizer. Known as "the other NRA," the National Restaurant Association is a powerful lobbying group with nearly 500,000 member businesses.
In New York, hundreds rallied outside the Capitol in Albany Monday in support of a bill that would curb the use of solitary confinement. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act would limit solitary to a maximum of 15 consecutive days, compared to the current average of five months. The author, professor and activist Cornel West spoke at the rally.
Cornel West: "Solitary confinement is torture, and it’s a crime against humanity to lock folks up when 60 percent of them are there for soft drugs, and everybody knows 12 percent of those are on the chocolate side, 12 percent of those are on the vanilla side of flying high in the friendly skies every week taking drugs, but 65 percent of the convictions are chocolate. That just lets us know that the legacy of white supremacy is still operating in America."