Crimea parliament sets vote to break away from Ukraine; West imposes first real sanctions
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine lurched toward breakup Thursday as lawmakers in Crimea unanimously declared they wanted to join Russia and would put the decision to voters in 10 days. President Barack Obama condemned the move and the West answered with the first real sanctions against Russia.
Speaking from the White House, Obama said any decisions on the future of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of Ukraine, must include the country's new government.
"The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the constitution and violate international law," Obama said. "We are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders."
Russian President Vladimir Putin was almost certainly behind Thursday's dramatic developments, but it was not clear whether he is aiming for outright annexation, or simply strengthening his hand in talks with the West.
The U.S. moved to impose financial sanctions and travel restrictions on opponents of Ukraine's new government and the EU also announced limited punitive measures against Putin's government, including the suspension of trade and visa talks. Both Washington and the EU said they were discussing further sanctions.
Obama orders Russia sanctions, declares US won't let Russia carve up Ukraine; EU more cautious
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama ordered the West's first sanctions in response to Russia's military takeover of Crimea on Thursday, declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine. He asserted that a hastily scheduled referendum on Crimea seceding and becoming part of Russia would violate international law.
European leaders announced their own measures but split over how forcefully to follow America's lead. Obama threatened further steps if Russia persists.
After announcing his sanctions at midday, Obama emphasized his resolve in a personal telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin later Thursday, the White House said. In a one-hour discussion, Obama affirmed his contention that Russia's actions violate Ukraine's sovereignty.
The U.S. president told Putin there was still a way to resolve the dispute diplomatically, the White House said -- with Russian forces moving back to their base in Crimea, the governments of Ukraine and Russia holding direct talks and international monitors arriving.
The U.S. is also calling on Russia to recognize the legitimacy of Ukrainian plans for elections in May, not the Crimean referendum a week from Sunday.
10 Things to Know for Friday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:
1. HOW OBAMA IS PUSHING BACK AT PUTIN IN UKRAINE STANDOFF
The U.S. president is imposing sanctions against Moscow and rejecting a referendum on the future of Russian-occupied Crimea.
AP Exclusive: Man named by Newsweek as bitcoin's creator strongly denies it
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto denied Thursday that he is the creator of bitcoin.
Newsweek published a 4,500-word cover story claiming Nakamoto is the person who wrote the computer code underpinnings of bitcoin, but in an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press, Nakamoto denied he had anything to do with the digital currency.
Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a Newsweek reporter three weeks ago. He acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek's report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor, and that his given name at birth was Satoshi. But he strongly disputed the magazine's assertion that he is "the face behind bitcoin."
"I got nothing to do with it," he said, repeatedly.
Newsweek stands by its story, which kicked off the relaunch of its print edition after 15 months and reorganization under new ownership.
Military sexual assaults: Impassioned Senate debate but no change in the handling of cases
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Bowing to the Pentagon, the Senate agreed after impassioned debate Thursday to leave the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders in a struggle that highlighted the growing role of women in Congress.
The vote was 55-45 in favor of stripping commanders of that authority, but that was short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Her bill would have given the decision to take serious crimes to courts-martial to seasoned military trial lawyers, independent of the chain of command.
The debate and vote were the culmination of a nearly yearlong campaign to curb sexual assault in the ranks, led by female senators who have questioned whether the military's mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.
Thursday's rejection is unlikely to be the final word. Defeated but unyielding, Gillibrand and her allies vowed to seize the next opportunity to force another vote, probably in the spring when the Senate starts work on a sweeping defense policy bill for the 2015 fiscal year.
"Many people said to me, 'Kirsten, I'm going to watch this, and if it doesn't get better in the next six months, I'm with you next time,'" she said at a news conference.
Army general accused of sex assault faces up to 15 years for guilty plea to 3 lesser charges
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) -- In his immaculate blue dress uniform, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair stood ramrod straight before a judge Thursday and pleaded guilty to three charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
It was a remarkable admission sure to end the military career of a man once regarded as a rising star among the U.S. Army's small cadre of trusted battle commanders.
Sinclair, 51, still faces five other charges stemming from the claims of a female captain nearly 20 years his junior who says the general twice forced her to perform oral sex. But by pleading guilty to the lesser charges, Sinclair's lawyers believe they will strengthen his case at trial by potentially limiting some of the salacious evidence prosecutors can present.
The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the sexual assaults. Opening statements were expected Friday.
Asked by judge Col. James Pohl whether he clearly understood the consequences of his admissions, the decorated veteran of five combat deployments answered in a clear voice, with no emotion: "Yes sir."
He walked on water, but did he look like Brad Pitt? Casting Jesus is a key marketing decision
NEW YORK (AP) -- They say you can never be too rich or too thin. Surely it goes without saying that you can't be too good-looking, either, right? Especially in Hollywood.
But in the popular new film "Son of God," Jesus is so, well, easy on the eyes that some are revisiting an age-old question that has vexed scholars for centuries:
Did Jesus really look like Brad Pitt, only slightly better?
OK, that exact question hasn't vexed scholars for centuries. But those who study religion as portrayed in popular culture do note that depicting Jesus on the screen has always been a tricky business, one that balances weighty theological concerns -- how divine to make the son of God, and how human? --with more earthly ones, like how best to sell movie tickets?
"Listen, films are big business," says Steven Kraftchick, professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. "They're probably not going to cast Jonah Hill as Jesus."
Forecasters expect El Nino ocean warming this year, may provide relief for US weather woes
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Relief may be on the way for a weather-weary United States with the predicted warming of the central Pacific Ocean brewing this year that will likely change weather worldwide. But it won't be for the better everywhere.
The warming, called an El Nino, is expected to lead to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and southern states, and even a milder winter for the nation's frigid northern tier next year, meteorologists say.
While it could be good news to lessen the southwestern U.S. drought and shrink heating bills next winter in the far north, "worldwide it can be quite a different story," said North Carolina State University atmospheric sciences professor Ken Kunkel. "Some areas benefit. Some don't."
Globally, it can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued an official El Nino watch Thursday. An El Nino is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns.
APNewsBreak: Many NY inmates report 'head shots,' tactic is supposed to be guards' last resort
NEW YORK (AP) -- Nearly a third of Rikers Island inmates who said their visible injuries came at the hands of a correction officer last year had suffered a blow to the head, a tactic that is supposed to be a guard's last resort because it is potentially fatal, according to an internal report obtained by The Associated Press.
The report, acquired by the AP via a Freedom of Information request, also found that an average of three inmates a day were treated for visible injuries they claimed were caused by correction officers and 20 others each day suffered injuries primarily from violent encounters with other inmates.
Inmate advocates said the report shows that not enough is being done to stop violence at the notorious 12,000-inmate jail, by far the largest of New York City's lockups.
"The New York City jails are extremely violent," said Legal Aid Society attorney Mary Lynne Werlwas, who is representing Rikers inmates in a class-action lawsuit that alleges a pattern of excessive force by officers. "We should not be seeing these numbers of head shots. We should not be seeing this degree of facial injury. ... It's a problem the department has known about for some time."
The report, prepared by New York City health department officials, found 8,557 verified injuries among Rikers' inmates between April 2012 and April 2013. Of those, 1,257 injuries allegedly resulted from use-of-force by corrections officers. The rest were attributed primarily to inmate-on-inmate violence. It classified 304 of the injuries as serious, meaning they were fractures or other injuries that required more than first-aid treatment.
Advocacy groups urge Girl Scouts to end partnership with Mattel and Barbie
NEW YORK (AP) -- America's top doll, Barbie, finds herself in controversy once again, this time over a business partnership between her manufacturer, Mattel, and the Girl Scouts.
On Thursday, two consumer advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics -- the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream -- criticized Barbie as a flawed role model for little girls and launched a petition drive urging the Girl Scouts of the USA to end the partnership. The Girls Scouts said they would not do so.
Just a few weeks ago, Mattel incurred widespread criticism -- as well as some accolades -- for letting Barbie be featured in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition.
The Girl Scouts' partnership with Mattel, announced last August, includes a Barbie-themed activity book, a website, and a Barbie participation patch -- the first Girl Scout uniform patch with corporate sponsorship.
"Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type, and undermines the Girl Scouts' vital mission to build 'girls of courage, confidence and character,'" said Susan Linn, director of the Boston-based commercial-free childhood organization.