Obama Blames Russia for Ukraine Violence Ahead of NATO Summit

Violence continues in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists following a day of confusion over a ceasefire. Ukraine initially claimed it had reached a ceasefire with Russia, only to retract the claim after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government is not a party to the conflict. Putin then unveiled his own seven-point peace plan, which Ukraine in turn dismissed as a ruse. Speaking during a visit to Estonia, President Obama squarely blamed Russia for the fighting, and vowed to defend Baltic states he suggested are threatened by Moscow.

President Obama: "It was not the government in Kiev that destabilized eastern Ukraine; it’s been the pro-Russian separatists who are encouraged by Russia, financed by Russia, trained by Russia, supplied by Russia and armed by Russia. And the Russian forces that have now moved into Ukraine are not on a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission. They are Russian combat forces with Russian weapons in Russian tanks."

Obama was speaking ahead of today’s NATO summit in Wales, where member states are expected to approve new sanctions on Russia and the creation of a 4,000-strong force for rapid deployment in eastern Europe. France, meanwhile, has announced the suspension of a warship delivery to the Russian military.

Obama: U.S. Aims to "Degrade and Destroy" Islamic State

At the NATO summit beginning today, President Obama and other foreign leaders are expected to discuss an international coalition against the militant group Islamic State. Speaking during his visit to Estonia, Obama said the U.S. objective is "to degrade and destroy ISIL."

President Obama: "It’s going to take time for us to be able to roll them back, and it is going to take time for us to be able to form the regional coalition that’s going to be required so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS is occupying and make sure that we have allies on the ground, in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted. So, the bottom line is this: Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat, not just to Iraq, but also to the region and to the United States."

Biden: U.S. Will Follow ISIS "to Gates of Hell"

President Obama’s comments were echoed more forcefully by Vice President Joe Biden, who told a crowd that the United States will follow ISIS "to the gates of hell."

Vice President Joe Biden: "As a nation, we’re united. And when people harm Americans, we don’t retreat, we don’t forget. We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice, because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside."

U.N. Confirms Ebola Toll Tops 1,900

The death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has topped 1,900, including around 400 over the past week. There are around 3,500 confirmed cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization said the scale of the outbreak is unprecedented.

Margaret Chan: "This Ebola epidemic is the largest and most severe and most complex we have ever seen in the nearly 40-year history of this disease. No one, even outbreak responders with experience dating back to 1976, to 1995, people that were directly involved with those outbreaks, none of them have ever seen anything like it."

Justice Dept. Launches Civil Rights Probe of Ferguson Police

The Justice Department is launching a civil rights probe of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, where the unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown was killed last month. The investigation is separate from another civil rights investigation specifically into Brown’s killing at the hands of Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. The announcement follows weeks of protests sparked by Brown’s death that brought to light allegations of racial profiling and other police abuses against African-American residents. The probe could expand to other areas surrounding Ferguson.

Detroit Resident Sentenced to 17 Years in Shooting Death of Renisha McBride

The Detroit-area resident convicted in the killing of unarmed African-American 19-year-old Renisha McBride has been sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in prison. Theodore Wafer was found guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting McBride on the porch of his home last November. McBride was apparently seeking help after a car crash when Wafer shot her in the face through his screen door. He claimed he had feared for his life. The killing sparked mass protests as prosecutors took about two weeks to file charges. At his sentencing on Wednesday, Wafer apologized to McBride’s family, saying he will carry "guilt and sorrow forever."

Study: Federal Program Speeding Deportations Has No Effect on Lowering Crime Rates

A federal program that sees local police forces hand over immigrant detainees for potential deportation has been found to have no effect on lowering crime rates. Under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program Secure Communities, local police share detainees’ fingerprints with the Department of Homeland Security, which can then order immigration holds that result in deportation. But a new study from two law professors shows the program has had "no meaningful reduction" in the overall crime rate of communities involved. The authors say their study "calls into question the longstanding assumption that deporting noncitizens who commit crimes is an effective crime-control strategy."

Palestinians to Seek Security Council Deadline for End to Occupation; Poll Shows Hamas Surge

A top Palestinian lawmaker says Palestinians will ask the United Nations Security Council to impose a three-year deadline for Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking at the United Nations, Hanan Ashrawi said the Palestinian Authority will push for an end to the occupation as well as for International Criminal Court jurisdiction. Ashwari dismissed the threat of losing U.S. government support.

Hanan Ashrawi: "We will be seeking a Security Council resolution on ending the occupation within that specified date. And any solution must be based on international law, cannot violate international law and U.N. conventions and agreements. If the U.S. wants to isolate itself as a reaction to Palestinians joining the international community, then they are welcome to do that. The American funding is not that essential to Palestinian survival. Quite often, joining the international community, having the protection of the law and so on is much more important than getting some funding from Congress that is conditional. ... Enough is enough, and what has the U.S. done for us?"

Ashrawi’s comments appear to mark the most forceful public repudiation to date of the Obama administration’s policy by a Palestinian leader tied to President Mahmoud Abbas. A new poll this week shows Hamas has surged in Palestinian public opinion since the Israeli assault on Gaza. According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Hamas would defeat Abbas’ Fatah party by a wide margin if national elections were held today.

U.S. Claims "Opposition to Settlement Activity" Following West Bank Seizure

Israel has approved its largest seizure of Palestinian land in three decades, nearly 1,000 acres in the occupied West Bank. At a news briefing, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, criticized Israel’s decision.

Samantha Power: "The U.S. position on settlement activity is very well known. We have long made clear our opposition to settlement activity. We’re deeply concerned by the reports of expanded settlement activity over the last few days, and we call on the government of Israel to reverse its decision. I think that these actions are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of achieving a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians."

Despite saying it opposes Israeli settlements, the Obama administration has previously vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution declaring them "illegal."

Columbia University Senior to Carry Dorm Mattress Around Campus in Call for Rapist’s Expulsion

A Columbia University senior, who says she was raped on campus two years ago, has launched a novel protest and performance art piece to call for the expulsion of the alleged perpetrator. For her senior thesis project, Emma Sulkowicz will carry around a twin-size dorm room mattress with her everywhere she goes on campus until her rapist is expelled.

Emma Sulkowicz: "I will be carrying this dorm room mattress with me everywhere I go for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist. And the piece could potentially take a day, or it could go until I graduate."

Sulkowicz says the perpetrator has also sexually assaulted two other female students. She was part of a federal complaint last year challenging Columbia’s handling of rape cases earlier this year.

Fast-Food Workers Holding National Strike for $15 Wage

Fast-food workers across the country are holding their latest mass strike today to call for higher wages and improved workplace conditions. Strikes and sit-ins are taking place at fast-food chains in around 150 cities to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the right to organize, and an end to wage theft.


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