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Breaking Up

Pentagon Freezes Ties With Russia

Due to the continuing Russian occupation of the Crimea, the U.S. military suspended ties with its Russian peers Monday.

Illustrating the hard and limited options President Obama has for protesting Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory, the Defense Department announced Monday it will cancel all military-to-military engagements with Russia.

The decision to end cooperation with Vladimir Putin's government comes as his troops gather on the Ukrainian border and inside the Crimean Peninsula. It also undermines a long-time U.S. policy objective to deepen engagement with Russia's military and security agencies. 

Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement Monday night that "in light of recent events in Ukraine" the Pentagon has "put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia." Kirby said this would include "exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences."  

The White House has already canceled preparations for a G8 Economic Summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia the site of last month's Winter Olympics. The Daily Beast reported Sunday that Obama is also canceling a series of bilateral meetings with Russia and was preparing tailored economic sanctions against Russian officials.

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Putin’s Bluff? Russia Won’t Invade

American intelligence has concluded that Russia won't openly invade Ukraine, despite a massive military exercise on the border and the armed takeover of local airports.

U.S. intelligence estimates conclude that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. This, despite the launch of a massive, new Russian military exercise near Ukraine’s border and moves from armed men to seize two key airports in the country's Crimea region.

The latest developments led Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov Friday to accuse Russia of invading the Russian majority province of Crimea after armed militias took control of the civilian airport in Simferopol, the region's capital and the military airport in Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. Russian authorities meanwhile have denied any responsibility for the seizure of the two airports in the region.

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Sasha Mordovets/Getty

On Wednesday Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, ordered 150,000 troops to take part in a military exercise his defense minister said was a routine test of combat readiness.  A senior U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast that the timing of the military exercise, coming only days after the Ukrainian parliament voted to oust the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was suspicious. But nonetheless, U.S. intelligence agencies have collected no information suggesting the training exercises were preparation for an invasion.

The Russian government led by Vladimir Putin systematically suppressed dissent, persecuted LGBT citizens, ignored the rule of law, allowed killing and torture by police, and committed a long list of other human rights abuses last year, according to new State Department report.

In its 2013 Russia country report on human rights, released Thursday, the State Department documented human rights violations by the Russian government and security services that included: “allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officials, life-threatening prison conditions, interference in the judiciary and the right to a fair trial, restrictions on freedom of speech and press, restrictions on free assembly and association, restrictions on religious freedom of some religious minorities, electoral irregularities, widespread corruption, societal and official intimidation of civil society and labor activists, violence against women and limits on the rights of women in certain regions, trafficking in persons, and limitations on workers’ rights.”

Although many of the abuses occurred outside Moscow, especially in the North Caucasus region which includes Chechnya and Sochi, Putin’s government “failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity,” the State Department reported. Putin is fighting a decades-long insurgency in Chechnya. Sochi was the location for the recently completed 2014 Olympic winter games.

In the North Caucasus alone, human rights abuses included killings, torture, physical abuse, and politically motivated abductions, according to the report. Other major violations included the government’s abuse of a “foreign agents” law to “harass, pressure, discredit, and/or prosecute individuals and entities that had voiced criticism of the government, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), independent media outlets, and the political opposition.”

Good Times

GOP Calls for Cold War to Return

Top lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services said Thursday that the world would be better off if the Cold War was still on—and if Obama wasn’t cutting the defense budget.

The current crisis in the Ukraine and the looming crisis on the Korean Peninsula would be much easier to manage if the Cold War was still going strong, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and Senate Armed Services Ranking Republican James Inhofe.

“I look back wistfully at the Cold War,” Inhofe said Thursday at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “There were two superpowers, they knew what we had, we knew what they had, mutually assured destruction meant something. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Now we have these people who are not rational, not logical, they’re nuts.”

The Obama administration’s foreign policy is no longer based on predictable calculations of actions and reactions by rational actors, he said. Now the administration is depending on the promises of actors from enemy countries to maintain world stability, which is dangerous, according to Inhhofe.

“In this administration, we trust all these people,” he said, referring to the leaders in Russia, China, and North Korea. “It’s a real scary situation and we kid ourselves when we think we can trust them.”

This is Gonna Hurt

The H.M.O. That Kills Terrorists

That’s what the Pentagon is in danger of becoming unless something’s done about military benefits, experts warn.

The reaction was swift, and it was powerful. Defense Secretary Hagel put a reduction in military benefits on the table; Pentagon officials point to what they describe as unsustainable personnel costs, everything from health care to day care to discounted commissary privileges. Veterans groups called it unconscionable to inflict cuts of any kind on a force that has endured repeated deployments. 

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, benefits received by active-duty military together with millions of retirees have grown more than 40 percent faster than inflation in the decade between 2001 and 2012. Benefits were sweetened and others added in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, reflecting the thanks of a grateful nation—not to mention the instinct of politicians about where the votes are.  

After Congress in December shaved one percent from the annual COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase for working-age military retirees, the House and Senate reversed itself, voting earlier this month to repeal the measure by huge margins (95 to 3 in the Senate; 326 to 90 in the House). The attitude seems to be that in a $500 billion dollar defense budget, there’s enough money that the Pentagon shouldn’t be nickel-and-diming military retirees.

With a generation of veterans facing physical challenges in earlier wars they wouldn’t have survived—including brain injuries that defy easy treatment—it takes some courage to make the case that benefits need to be reined in or the whole enterprise is threatened. It’s a case that Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro has been making since June 2011.

Veto

Arizona to Remain in 21st Century

After pressure from Mitt Romney to the NFL, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays for religious reasons.

On Wednesday night, after nearly a week of suspense, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062. Widely seen as enshrining anti-gay discrimination, the legislation would have protected business owners from lawsuits if they refused to serve customers based on religious beliefs.

The bill had drawn a huge backlash across the country, with the NFL considering moving the Super Bowl from the Grand Canyon State in 2015 if the bill became law. (The league had previously moved Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 out of Arizona after the state refused to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.)  The past two Republican nominees for President, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, had urged Brewer to veto the bill as had most of Arizona's business community. Others who had condemned the bill included three Republican state senators who had voted for it and then backtracked, all but one Republican candidate for governor in 2016 and Arizona's other senator, Republican Jeff Flake.  In contrast, those urging Brewer to sign the bill included Rush Limbaugh and Michele Bachmann. 

In the speech announcing her veto, Brewer bragged about her record protecting religious freedom in Arizona and said Senate Bill 1062 "does not address specific or pressing concerns related to religious liberty in Arizona." She went on to say that she had "not heard one example" of an actual problem that the bill would fix. Brewer went on to worry that the bill was "broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consquences" as well as causing "more problems than it proports to solve." The governor though did see some merit to the legislation. In her veto letter, she wrote "The concerns from proponents of this bill are not unfounded. As a result of actions taken by the Obama Adminstration, as well as some federal and out-of-state courts, I am increasingly concerned about government's encroachment on our religious freedoms.

Some national conservatives reacted in sorrow to Brewer's annoucement. Rich Lowry of National Review tweeted "Brewer veto shows that poorly informed hysteria works." Former Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), the current head of the Heritage Foundation, tweeted that Brewer vetoed legislation "designed to protect religious liberty." 

Gamechange

Colorado Becomes '14 Battleground

The announcement that Rep. Cory Gardner will run for Senate in Colorado against incumbent Democrat Mark Udall puts another state in play for the GOP in 2014.

The decision, first reported by the Denver Post, that Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) will run for Senate against incumbent Democrat Mark Udall could determine control of the Senate in 2015.

Republicans have long been aiming to win the six seats necessary to take back the Senate this year. While the map is very favorable for the GOP with open Democratic-held seats in deep red states like Montana and West Virginia as well as vulnerable Democratic incumbents in other solidly Republican states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska, it still required Republicans to essentially run the table to make Mitch McConnell the next Senate Majority Leader----especially with Democrats competing for an open GOP-held seat in Georgia and mounting a strong challenge to McConnell in Kentucky. The vulnerability for the GOP had been a lack of candidates in traditional swing states. But that's not the case anymore with Gardner's candidacy. 

Gardner's entry into the race, along with former lobbyist and RNC chair Ed Gillespie throwing his hat into the ring to run against first-term Mark Warner in Virginia, mark a massive expansion of the 2014 playing field. In a December poll, Udall had only been narrowly favored against Ken Buck, the losing GOP Senate nominee in 2010 who was considered a gaffe-prone exemplar of the worst kind of Tea Party candidate. Gardner, widely considered a rising political star, makes the race significantly more competitive for the GOP, particularly with Buck dropping out of the Senate race to run for the House seat that Gardner is vacating.

Colorado is still a swing state and, at best, will be a toss up for the GOP in November. But his entry still shakes up the race entirely. The non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report immediately shifted the race from Safe Democratic to Democratic Favored while warning "it could get much more competitive very quickly."

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Ukraine’s DC Lobbyists in Disarray

They represented a strongman’s allies in Washington. Now that the strongman is hiding, they’re not sure who they serve.

Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s deposed autocrat, could probably use his lobbyists in Washington now more than ever. The only problem at this point is that the lobbyists themselves are not sure whether they still work for him. 

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Ian Waldie/Getty

It's a risk built into the business of lobbying for foreign clients. Every now and again, the guys writing the checks are ousted from power. Take the government of Ukraine. Two heavyweight lobbying firms sold their services to represent an innocuous sounding think tank based in Brussels, Belgium called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU). Now those lobbyists are in limbo.

On paper, the Centre represented itself as a non-partisan research institution that pressed for Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. In reality, it was closely tied to the party of Viktor Yanukovych and one of his principal financial backers, Sergei Klyuyev.

Hyperbole

CPAC Attacks God

Once-prominent conservative activist Brent Bozell claimed that CPAC was 'an attack on God himself' because it briefly invited an atheist group to set up a booth.

Is the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) "an attack on God Himself?"

That's what once-prominent conservative activist Brent Bozell says. Bozell, the gingerbearded head of the Media Research Center, issued a statement Tuesday attacking CPAC, as well as its sponsor, the American Conservative Union, for issuing an invitation to the American Atheists to sponsor a booth at the conference. Although the invitation was quickly withdrawn by the political organization, Bozell still fulminated about the very thought of atheists being present at a conservative event "It makes absolutely no difference to me that CPAC and ACU have backed down and removed the booth," he said. "I am sick and tired of these games." He ended his statement by pronouncing "No conservative should have anything to do with this conference. If you do, you are giving oxygen to an organization destroying the conservative movement."

Although it had recently been reported by both Jim Romanesko and The Daily Beast that Bozell has used a ghostwriter for his books and columns for years, Jeremy Little, a publicist contracted by the Media Research Center, confirmed that Bozell did write the statement himself.  It marks a new strange foray into controversy for Bozell, whose group, as first reported by The Daily Beast, has been plagued by questions over questionable real estate transactions with David Martin, the organization’s vice president who actually runs its day-to-day operations.

But while CPAC participants may feel uneasy about Bozell saying that they're destroying the conservative movement, they're in good company. After all, in 1987, Bozell attacked Ronald Reagan for betraying conservatives. "The conservative movement did not abandon him, he abandoned the conservative movement,'' said Bozell of the 40th President. Reagan’s sin was failing to provide more military aid to the Contras in Nicaragua. (Since then, columns have appeared under Bozell’s byline that have described Reagan in a far more favorable light).

Veto?

No Super Bowl for Anti-Gay AZ?

If Arizona governor Jan Brewer signs an anti-gay bill, it could lead to the NFL moving next year's Super Bowl.

Could the Super Bowl keep Arizona Governor Jan Brewer from signing an anti-gay bill?

The controversy over Senate Bill 1062 has swirled in recent days as even legislators who supported the bill, which would allow businesses to refuse to serve customers for religious reasons, are now backtracking. Three Republican state senators who voted for the bill have now come out against it while both of the state's Republican senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have also urged Brewer to veto the legislation. Even 2012's Republican nominee Mitt Romney has come out in favor of veto. But the real pressure is coming from the state's business community, which is worried that the state may lose next year's Super Bowl if the bill comes into law.

Super Bowl XLIX is scheduled to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. But Arizona lost a Super Bowl 20 years ago after the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day, eventually becoming the last state in the country to do so. Both the Super Bowl Host Committee and the Arizona Cardinals have already come out strongly against the bill as have a number of business leaders in the state.

The NFL is declining to weigh in so far. In a statement, spokesman Greg Aiello wrote “Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.”

A Family Affair

A Century Of Dingell?

Could retiring Michigan congressman John Dingell be replaced by his wife Debbie?

It's possible one Michigan congressional district could be represented by a Congressman with the last name "Dingell" for an entire century.

With Democrat John Dingell announcing his retirement from Congress yesterday after serving more than 58 years in office, it leaves a major void in politics of the Wolverine State. After all, Dingell had succeeded his father, John Dingell Sr. in Congress in a 1955 special election. John Sr. took office in 1933, which means that Michigan has had a Dingell on Capitol Hill since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated. Could the state survive without? 

Luckily, it won't have to worry about that as John Dingell's wife, Debbie, is expected to announce on Friday that she will be running for her husband's seat. Debbie Dingell is a former lobbyist, longtime DNC member and auto heiress who is nearly 30 years younger than her congressman husband. If she wins in the primary in the safe Democratic district, Debbie should be able to cruise to election and poised to serve the nine terms necessary to allow the Dingell family to achieve a full century on Capitol Hill.

While Debbie Dingell has long been rumored to be a potential candidate to succeed her husband, it's interesting that she's doing so given John's reasons for retirement. In an interview with the Detroit News yesterday, he said “I find serving in the House to be obnoxious. It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

Blame Canada

Here Come The Democratic Birthers

Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, is already playing the birther card on Ted Cruz.

What? You thought only Republicans could be birthers?

In a fundraising email sent out Monday, the bombastic, bombthrowing Florida Democrat Alan Grayson included a transcript of remarks from an interview with MSNBC where he claimed that Ted Cruz was ineligible to be president. Grayson said "since Ted Cruz is a Canadian, and our Constitution requires tha[t] an American win, I'm pretty sure that it's not going to be Ted Cruz." Cruz, a 2016 presidential hopeful, was born in Canada but his mother was an American citizen and the Texas senator became a citizen of the United States at birth. 

Although the Constitution says that the President must be a "natural born citizen," the term is not defined. However, most legal scholars believe that anyone who is a citizen at birth is "natural born." As Jack Maskell of the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted in a report.

“The weight of scholarly legal and historical opinion appears to support the notion that ‘natural born Citizen’ means one who is entitled under the Constitution or laws of the United States to U.S. citizenship ‘at birth’ or ‘by birth,’ including any child born ‘in’ the United States (other than to foreign diplomats serving their country), the children of United States citizens born abroad, and those born abroad of one citizen parent who has met U.S. residency requirements.”

Don't Go There

Lawmakers Warn Michelin Over Iran

French companies could risk Pentagon contracts if they take further steps towards doing business with Iran.

International firms racing to do business with post-sanctions Iran could jeopardize their contracts with the the United States military. Three Republican lawmakers who serve on the House Armed Services Committee warned French firms last week that dealings with Iran could make it impossible to do business with the Pentagon in the future.

“We write to you with grave concern about what we see as the unraveling of our sanctions regime involving the nuclear weapons, ballistic missile, and terrorism activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” wrote Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Joe Heck (R-NV), in a Feb. 18 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, obtained by The Daily Beast.

The lawmakers noted that over 100 French business executives traveled to Iran in early February , including representatives from Safran, Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and L'Oréal. Iranian President Rouhani’s chief of staff said during the visit, “A new chapter has begun in relations between Iran and Europe." The goal of the trip was to start relationships in order to do business if sanctions were lifted against the Iranian regime as as part of a potential deal to halt the  country's nuclear program. 

But one of the firms represented at the meeting also has earned over $2.4 billion from contracts with the U.S. military since 2007 – Michelin. The lawmakers singled out Michelin and called their participation in the Iran trip “greatly troubling.”

Historic

John Dingell’s Capitol Hill Record

Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who announced his retirement on Monday, set a number of records in his 58 years in Congress.

The announcement Monday that Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was retiring sparked valedictories all over Washington. Dingell had spent more than 58 years in Congress since he was first elected in 1955, succeeding his father in a special election.

In fact, when Dingell entered Congress on December 13, 1955 at the age of 29, Dwight Eisenhower was finishing his first term, Elvis Presley was a regional celebrity yet to release Heartbreak Hotel, Disney was about to air the last episode of Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier on ABC and the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns had just beat the Chicago Cardinals on their way to yet another title.

To give a sense of how long Dingell had served, he has been  "the Dean of the House," the title given to the most senior member of the House Representatives for over 19 years, the longest tenure in history. The only privilege that comes with that title is swearing in the Speaker of the House. As a result, Dingell has sworn in four different Speakers, starting with Newt Gingrich when he first took office in 1995 after the "Republican Revolution."

Dingell has also set marks for longest time ever in office on Capitol Hill. The Michigan congressman has spent more time in Congress than any other person in American history. Dingell had compiled about a nine month lead over former Sen. Robert Byrd when he announced his retirement. Among those who have served only in the House, Dingell has a five year lead over former Mississippi Democrat Jamie Whitten who retired in 1994 after serving a mere 53 years in Congress.

Gross

Obama Cousin’s Creepy Pastime

Milton Wolf, the Tea Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Kansas against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, came under fire for posting X-rays of dead people on his Facebook page this weekend.

One of the last questions that a credible candidate for U.S. Senate wants to be asked is "Do you still post pictures of dead people on the Internet?" But that was a question Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital Journal asked Kansas Republican Milton Wolf on Saturday. Wolf didn't have a good answer.

Wolf, the Tea Party challenger to longtime incumbent Senator Pat Roberts, is a doctor in suburban Kansas City who posted images of gruesome patient X-rays on the Internet, specifically on his Facebook page. He claimed that the pictures served to demonstrate the evil in the world. However, Wolf was hardpressed to answer questions about jocular comments that he made on the posts, including one where a patient's head was blown off by a gun which the Senate candidate compared to the movie Terminator 2, writing  “It reminds (me) of the scene from 'Terminator 2' when they shoot the liquid metal terminator guy in the face at close range and it kind of splits him open temporarily almost like a flower blooming. We all find beauty in different things."

In response to the story, Wolf, previously best known for being a cousin of Barack Obama, went on the offensive against Roberts, a three-term Senator who previously served sixteen years in the House of Representatives. In a statement, the Tea Party affiliated radiologist said "Senator Pat Roberts wants to attack me as a doctor rather than giving Kansans a reason to vote for him. It's sad. Pat Roberts has not been able to identify a single issue on which he thinks I am wrong and so he's doing things the Washington way: character assassination." Previously, after the New York Times published a story pointing out that Roberts did not have a home of his own in Kansas, Wolf sent out a series of press releases labelling Roberts a Virginia Republican.

While Wolf has been considered to have an uphill battle against a well-funded incumbent like Roberts, the gap between the two seemed to be narrowing before Saturday's revelations. However, with Kansas's August 5 primary more than five months away, Wolf still has plenty of time to try to recover. In the meantime, it would be wise for the Kansas Republican to avoid posting anything on social media, especially pictures of dead people. 

Josh Rogin: Hope Is Not a Policy

After President Obama announced a shift in approach to the conflict in Syria, Josh Rogin joins ‘The Daily Rundown’ on MSNBC to offer his take on whether the move was too little, too late.

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