Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is warning the confrontation in Ukraine could turn into an all-out war between Russia and the West. Gorbachev accused the West of dragging Russia into a new Cold War. “I can no longer say that this Cold War will not lead to a 'Hot War,'” he said. “I fear that they could risk it.” More than 5,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. On Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew traveled to Kiev to give Ukraine a $2 billion loan guarantee. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met with Lew and thanked the United States for its support.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk: “We are together. We are defending the free world, and we are defending freedoms and liberties of every human being in Ukraine and in the entire world. So, this is the right way — this is the right way to do. And I would like to reiterate once again that the United States is one of the strongest allies of Ukraine.”
Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish United Nations peacekeeper were killed on Wednesday in an exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel in one of the most violent clashes between the two sides since the 2006 war. The soldiers were killed when Hezbollah fired five missiles at a convoy of Israeli military vehicles in the occupied Shebaa Farms. The U.N. peacekeeper died in Lebanon when Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Israeli television after meeting with security chiefs.
Benjamin Netanyahu: “Whoever is behind today’s attack will pay the full price. For some time, Iran, via Hezbollah, has been trying to establish an additional terrorist front against us from the Golan Heights. We are taking strong and responsible actions against this attempt. The Lebanese government and the Assad regime share responsibility for the consequences of the attacks emanating from their territories against the state of Israel.”
At the United Nations, Chilean Ambassador Cristián Barros, who is serving as president of the U.N. Security Council, condemned the killing of a U.N. peacekeeper.
Cristián Barros: “The members of the Security Council condemned, in the strongest terms, the death of a UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) Spanish peacekeeper, which occurred in the context of fire exchanged along the blue line. The members of the Security Council expressed their deepest sympathy to the family of the fallen peacekeeper and to the government of Spain.”
Wednesday’s attack by Hezbollah on Israel took place in the occupied Shebaa Farms, a disputed tract of land occupied by Israel, but claimed by both Lebanon and Syria. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked by the Associated Press’s Matt Lee about the U.S. stance on the land.
Matt Lee: “OK, just on — a technical question: There are some who have made the argument that this area, Shebaa Farms, is Israeli-occupied Lebanon; what’s the U.S. position on this, on the status of this — of this area?”
Jen Psaki: “I’d have to check with our legal team on the specific status, Matt. I’m happy to do that.”
In a symbolic move, the new Greek government has hired almost 600 laid-off government cleaners, mostly women, who had been protesting outside the finance and economy ministries. They were laid off in 2013 as part of an austerity measure to meet demands by international lenders for the Greek bailout. Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, announced the decision.
Yanis Varoufakis: “One of our first moves will be the immediate cutting of costs at the ministry — for example, the number of advisers — and this spending cut will fund the rehiring of the cleaning ladies at the ministry. It will be a symbolic first move.”
On Capitol Hill, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch will return today for day two of her confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Lynch will become the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. During Wednesday’s hearing, Lynch described the National Security Agency’s spying programs as “constitutional and effective” and defended the government’s surveillance operations.
Loretta Lynch: “Recent events, however, have underscored the importance of this as an issue in the war on terror. And so I would hope that we could move forward with any proposed changes to FISA with a full and complete understanding of the risks that are — that we are still facing. And if any changes need to be made, again, after full and fair consideration with this committee, with the Intelligence Committee, and the discussions that we need to have, making sure that we can still provide law enforcement with the tools that they need.”
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont questioned her about torture.
Sen. Patrick Leahy: “Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and that it’s illegal?”
Loretta Lynch: “Waterboarding is torture, Senator.”
Leahy: “And thus illegal?”
Lynch: “And thus illegal.”
Republican senators repeatedly questioned attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch about her views on immigration policy.
Sen. Jeff Sessions: “In the workplace of America today, when we have a high number of unemployed, we’ve had declining wages for many years, we have the lowest percentage of Americans working, who has more right to a job in this country? A lawful immigrant who’s here, a green card holder or a citizen, or a person who entered the country unlawfully?”
Loretta Lynch: “Well, Senator, I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone is here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not participating in the workplace.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the execution of three Oklahoma death-row prisoners until the court hears a challenge to the state’s lethal injection formula. One of the prisoners, Richard Glossip, had been scheduled to die tonight.
The CBC and The Intercept have revealed Canada’s leading surveillance agency is monitoring millions of Internet users’ file downloads in a secret program codenamed Levitation. The secret operation taps into Internet cables and analyzes records of up to 15 million downloads daily from popular websites commonly used to share videos, photographs, music and other files. The report is based on documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A new report has found more 16 million children in the United States live in families that receive food stamps. The figure has almost doubled since 2007 before the economic crisis began. According to the Southern Education Foundation, more than half the children attending public school now qualify for federal programs for free or reduced-price lunches — it is the highest percentage in at least 50 years.
At a summit of Latin American leaders in Costa Rica, Cuban President Raúl Castro called on President Obama to use executive powers to ease the decades-long embargo against Cuba.
Raúl Castro: “President Barack Obama could use his wide-ranging executive authority to modify substantially the application of the blockade. It’s in his hands to do this without a decision from Congress.”
Castro also said Cuba will not be able to normalize relations with the United States until Washington returns to Cuba the land being used for the Guantánamo prison and naval base.
Two former Chilean intelligence officials have been sentenced in the murders of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, two U.S. citizens who were killed shortly after the 1973 coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Retired army intelligence officer Pedro Espinoza was sentenced to seven years in prison. Rafael González, who worked for Chilean Air Force intelligence, was sentenced to two years of police supervision. The Horman case inspired the 1982 Costa-Gavras film, “Missing.”
Australia authorities conducting an inquest into the deadly siege at a cafe in Sydney last month have concluded one of the hostages — Katrina Dawson — was killed by police bullet fragments. Jeremy Gormly of the New South Wales State Coroner described the findings.
Jeremy Gormly: “Ms. Dawson was struck by six fragments of a police bullet or bullets, which ricocheted from hard surfaces into her body. I will not detail the damage done to Ms. Dawson other than to say that one fragment struck a major blood vessel. She lost consciousness quickly and died shortly afterwards.”
In St. Louis, a brawl broke out at a public meeting last night as local residents gathered to discuss a plan to set up a board to review complaints against the police. The proposal was drawn up after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, last August. People angry at what they say is mistreatment at the hands of the police began shouting and scuffling when a member of the police officers’ union began speaking out against the proposal.
Jeff Roorda, St. Louis Police Officers Association: “Who wants to be the next Darren Wilson, hung in effigy in the town square because of defending his life?”
Antonio French, St. Louis alderman: “What citizens want, especially in the wake of what we’ve seen in St. Louis in the last few months, is a new level of accountability.”
Charges are being dismissed against a Detroit police officer who fatally shot Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old girl, during a botched 2010 raid at her home. Aiyana was shot while she was sleeping on the couch with her grandmother. The officer, Joseph Weekley, was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter and careless discharge of a firearm causing death. Weekley was tried twice in court. Both times ended with a hung jury.
A South Carolina court has tossed the convictions of a group of African-American civil rights activists known as the Friendship Nine who were arrested for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter in 1961. Found guilty of trespassing, they became the country’s first demonstrators to choose to serve jail time rather than pay a fine for sitting at an all-white lunch counter, launching the “jail, no bail” strategy. Clarence Graham was one of the nine who took part in the action.
Clarence Graham: “In 1961, when we were downtown, it wasn’t for any glory. We were not looking for any hero worship. We were simply 10 students who was tired of the status quo, tired of being treated like second-class citizens, tired of being spat on, kicked, called the N-word, drinking out of the colored water fountain. We got tired of that.”
Judge John C. Hayes III announced the decision to clear the men. Hayes is the nephew of the judge who handed down the original sentence.