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TRAGIC: An armed soldier looks over the debris at the crash site near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine.
Associated Press/Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky
TRAGIC: An armed soldier looks over the debris at the crash site near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine.

Dispatches

News

Issue: "Border gridlock," Aug. 9, 2014

The long cost of containment

The shot that brought down Flight 17 was sudden, but a strategy to halt Russia will take time  

The death of 298 people on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 has piled tragedy upon tragedy for the airline and ignited a new series of questions in the days after the July 17 crash demanding urgent answers: Who is responsible for the downed jet, and where did the advanced missile system that shot it down come from?

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Over the past three months, Russian-backed separatists have waged war against Kiev’s new government, taking more than a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine and shooting down at least 10 military aircraft. Evidence is mounting that separatists may have thought they were firing at another Ukrainian military aircraft and instead hit the Malaysian airliner on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

But a connection to separatists also implies a link to Moscow: U.S. officials say the surface-to-air missile that downed the Boeing 777 is likely the Russian-made SA-11. If so, the spotlight will intensify for Russian President Vladimir Putin who has since denied any plausible connection to the crisis in Ukraine or the downed airliner. 

“The Europeans are going to become much more united in recognizing that Putin is very much a threat, and it’s the immediate threat to Europe that they’re concerned about,” Kyiv-Mohyla Academy professor Mychailo Wynnyckyj said. The victims came from 11 countries, but the Dutch lost 193 citizens (including one dual Dutch-U.S. citizen)—more than any other nation. The Netherlands is a powerful economy and player within the European Union, Wynnyckyj added, which could influence the future course of action against Russia. 

Rather than address accusations that the missile system was transferred from Russia, Putin said tragedies such as this should “bring people together” rather than divide us. He blamed the “pro-Western” government in Kiev for reigniting its campaign to drive the separatists from eastern Ukraine. “I believe that if military operations had not resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided,” the Russian leader said in a written statement.

President Obama took a different tone during a July 21 press conference, calling on the Russian president to use his influence with Kremlin-backed separatists to increase cooperation with international investigators. Grief turned to outrage when separatists blocked the crash site, leading to accusations of tampering with evidence and mishandling of remains. “What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama demanded. 

Putin’s proxy wars have now become personal, and Western leaders may turn up the heat when Moscow denies the presence of its troops on foreign territory. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that not only fighting forces but advanced weaponry (and the technicians to operate it) are ending up in the hands of rogue or inept leaders, and countries such as Canada—which announced new sanctions against Russia on July 21—and the Netherlands may be reaching their limits. “Putin needs to be contained and the Ukrainians on their own aren’t going to contain the second largest army in the world,” Wynnyckyj said. He says military aid will be necessary for Ukraine to fight successfully a war he believes will be long and will likely claim more lives in the near future. —Jill Nelson

Wednesday, July 9

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin

Avoiding the border

President Barack Obama made fundraising appearances in Colorado and Texas, where he drew criticism for attending to campaign coffers and ignoring a growing public crisis of migrant children crossing the Mexico-Texas border (see “System overload” in this issue). The president said a visit to the border would be just a “photo op,” but he did pause for photographs playing pool in Denver and buying barbecue in Austin. The frustration was bipartisan: Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, called the president’s behavior “bizarre” and said, “He either can roll up his sleeves and go down to the border, or he can just look aloof and detached and not go to the border.” An influx of unaccompanied minors—more than 57,000 detained since last October—has overwhelmed Border Patrol authorities and U.S. border cities.

The Fed 

Federal Reserve officials agreed to end their bond-buying program in October, ending a controversial era in central-banking control of the market that has kept interest rates artificially low while adding $1 trillion to the Fed’s balance sheet. The plan, agreed to at a June meeting whose minutes were released July 9, could mean interest rate hikes in early 2015. Also known as quantitative easing, the bond-purchasing plan began at the height of the financial crisis in late 2008, with proponents arguing it would stimulate borrowing while critics have long argued it risks inflation.

Thursday, July 10

The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Wind and waves 

Typhoon Neoguri made landfall on the southernmost island of Japan, weakening from its “supertyphoon” state as it did, but lashing Okinawa, where it killed three and forced flight cancellations and the evacuation of 480,000 residents. Warmer than usual water in the western Pacific promises more typhoons this season.

Germany slap 

In a dramatic diplomatic slap, Germany expelled the top U.S. intelligence official in Berlin, following two reported cases of suspected U.S. spying—and a yearlong clash over revelations the NSA monitored cell phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Spying on allies is “a waste of energy,” said Merkel, and now curbs U.S.-German intelligence sharing on terrorism and Iran’s nuclear program.

Wet and wild 

Higher than Niagara Falls, the world’s tallest water slide opened in a Kansas City waterpark. Appropriately called Verrückt, German for “insane,” the slide sends riders in rafts down a 17-story drop and reaches speeds of 65 mph in a breathtaking adventure that lasts about 10 seconds.

Friday, July 11

LeBron James
Associated Press/Photo by Chuck Burton
LeBron James

LeBron

In a Sports Illustrated essay entitled “I’m Coming Home,” LeBron James announced to the world he was leaving the Miami Heat—where the NBA superstar led his team on a 27-game winning streak, to four consecutive NBA Finals, and two championships—and returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man,” wrote James, who a week later polled as the most popular male athlete in America.

Deadline diplomacy 

Secretary of State John Kerry met with presidential rivals in Afghanistan, as contested June runoff election results threatened to bring down the government. Abdullah Abdullah led the first round of popular voting but fell behind in the runoff count by 1 million votes to rival Ashraf Ghani—and threatened to form a parallel government over charges of voter fraud. Kerry helped broker an audit of polling stations—to include 8 million votes—agreed to by Abdullah and Ghani ahead of a scheduled Aug. 3 inauguration. 

Saturday & Sunday, July 12-13

Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

World Cup 

Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in extra time to win its fourth World Cup and first in 24 years. Social media also ruled the day: Twitter reported a record-setting 618,725 tweets per minute during the championship played in Brazil. On Facebook, 88 million people posted responses to the final score, prompting 280 million interactions worldwide.

Looming threats

Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. John McCain are rarely on the same page. But in side-by-side Sunday talk show appearances, the two sounded alarms over looming global threats. McCain told CNN the world is “in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime,” while Holder on ABC’s This Week warned if Islamist fighters succeed in Iraq and Syria, it is “just a matter of time” before they launch attacks against the United States.

Deadly unrest

In Baghdad unidentified gunmen killed 33 people, including 29 women, in attacks on two apartment buildings. Authorities announced more than 5,500 civilians have been killed in 2014, as Sunni insurgents led by the self-described Islamic State make advances in the north and to cities near the capital.

Monday, July 14

Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

Record outbreak

The World Health Organization announced 85 new cases of Ebola—and at least 68 deaths—from the previous week, with the death toll in West Africa rising to 603 since February in the world’s worst ever outbreak of the virus. Sierra Leone recorded the highest number of deaths, followed by Liberia and Guinea. 

Recession revisited 

Citigroup Inc. agreed to pay a $7 billion fine to settle the U.S. government’s claim it misled investors about mortgage securities ahead of the 2008 financial meltdown. The fine includes a $4 billion penalty to the Justice Department, $500 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and several states, and $2.5 billion on a mortgage modification program for customers still struggling to make their payments. Citigroup is the second major U.S. bank to pay a penalty for its role in the 2008 housing crisis. J.P. Morgan agreed to pay $13 billion in November, and officials are still negotiating with Bank of America.

Crimea crackdown 

Four months into Russia’s annexation of Crimea, persecution watchdogs say Moscow is choking religious freedom for Christians, Jews, and Muslims on the peninsula.

“The Russian government appears to see all religious organizations outside of the Russian Orthodox Church as potentially anti-Russian and therefore potentially subversive,” said Isaac Six, advocacy director for International Christian Concern (ICC). 

Tuesday, July 15

We thirst 

California’s state water board approved mandatory restrictions and fines up to $500 a day starting Aug. 1 for residents who waste water on lawns and car washing. The state’s severe drought threatens its $44.7 billion farming industry. A study released by the University of California, Davis, estimates that this year farmers will leave unplanted 5 percent of total irrigated cropland, due to lack of rainfall and snow melt, costing the state $2.2 billion and likely raising food prices nationwide.

No cease-fire in Gaza

Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal brokered by Egypt, drawing condemnation from both Western governments and the Arab League. A barrage of rockets—over 1,000 fired on Israel in a week—continued, but thanks to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system they produced only one Israeli death and few injuries. Gaza vowed to continue rocket fire and to use drones, even with return fire from Israel killing 200 in Gaza—a price Hamas leaders seemed willing to pay.

All-Star at short

Retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter helped the American League to a 5-3 win over the National League in the 2014 All-Star Game in Minneapolis. The 14-time All-Star player wasn’t the only one making stats: The All-Stars had a record 11.34 million viewers, the largest since 2010; and they sent 1.4 million tweets during the game, a 66 percent increase over last year.

Wednesday, July 16

PRESSING THE ISSUE: Sens. (from left) Harry Reid, D-Nev., Mark Udall, D-Col., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
PRESSING THE ISSUE: Sens. (from left) Harry Reid, D-Nev., Mark Udall, D-Col., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Hitting Hobby Lobby

A bipartisan attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby failed when a Senate procedural vote fell short, 56-43. Democrats needed 60 votes to move forward with the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. The bill would overrule the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—the law the Supreme Court cited in its June 30 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling to say the government cannot force a family-owned business to provide contraceptive coverage against its religious beliefs. The bill also would have required employers to cover all forms of contraception and other healthcare mandated in the Affordable Care Act, regardless of conscience objections. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republicans were “out of touch with reality” and promised that Democrats—with election-year control of the Senate in the balance—would press the issue.

Potemkin president? 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a third term with a placid swearing-in ceremony, defying Western efforts to oust him and in the midst of his country’s nearly 3½-year civil war. In a highly contested election with many Syrians unable to reach polls, Assad won to serve a seven-year term with support from Iran and Russia—while Western powers give verbal but scant actual support to rebels seeking to overthrow him. 

Thursday, July 17

Shootdown 

A Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed following a shootdown over embattled eastern Ukraine, killing all on board. “All roads lead to the Russians,” said a U.S. official as Western intelligence clearly showed the plane shot down by a surface-to-air missile likely fired by pro-Russian separatists (see above).

Ground invasion 

Vowing a new “reality” in dealing with Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a ground invasion of Gaza involving tanks and thousands of troops. Netanyahu said the offensive would last “as long as necessary” to cut off supply to Hamas fighters via underground tunnels and end rocket fire targeting civilians in Israel. By July 22 at least 25 Israeli Defense Forces personnel and over 500 Palestinians had been killed in the operation.

Big cuts 

Microsoft announced it’s cutting 18,000 jobs—14 percent of its workforce—in the most fundamental restructuring ever for the software giant. Investors cheered the move, pushing Microsoft stock to its highest level since founder Bill Gates stepped down.

Friday, July 18

Marriage licenses for same sex couples on hold
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Marriage licenses for same sex couples on hold

Denver on hold

Colorado’s Supreme Court ordered the Denver County clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while the state’s ban against the unions remains in place. The two-page ruling put on hold a judge’s decision that the state’s ban on same-sex unions was unconstitutional, meaning the definition of marriage approved by Colorado voters in 2006, as between one man and one woman, remains active. Attorney General John Suthers praised the court’s decision: “The message should be clear enough.” But Boulder and Pueblo counties, two other counties issuing same-sex marriage licenses not named in the suit, said they would continue to perform same-sex marriages.

Iraq exodus 

Christians in Mosul learned Friday that under orders of Islamic State fighters they had to convert to Islam or pay a penalty by Saturday at 1 p.m. The edict forced thousands still left in Iraq’s second-largest city to flee—and most had their belongings and homes confiscated as a result (see "Fear and flight" in this issue).

Saturday & Sunday, July 19-20

Buzz Aldrin
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
Buzz Aldrin

One small step 

Buzz Aldrin said he was “out of town” on July 20, 1969, and 45 years later asked via social media what everyone else was doing. The Apollo 11 astronaut, the second to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, took nostalgia to a new level on the moon landing’s 45th anniversary—with celebrity postings via YouTube and tweets forming a global conversation of “where were you?” when man walked on the moon.

Pro-Muslim, anti-Semitic 

It’s okay to call Israelis Jews, but why aren’t “pro-Palestinian demonstrators” Muslims? The Los Angeles Times and other outlets avoided the term for rioters in Paris who attacked a synagogue and Jewish-owned shops. But their coverage and local French press clearly showed not simply youth from “Arab-origin communities,” as one paper called them, but Muslim gangs torching barricades after anti-Semitic violence. France’s center-right opposition joined in support of a protest ban by socialist President François Hollande, who said, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be imported [to France].” 

Monday, July 21

Michael Lindsay
Gordon College
Michael Lindsay

Hiring orders 

Ignoring the concerns of religious conservatives, President Obama signed an executing order adding sexuality and gender identity to a list of protected hiring categories for federal contractors. More than 160 religious leaders signed two letters asking for exemptions, including Gordon College President Michael Lindsay. His school paid a hefty price for free speech: The mayor of Salem, Mass., ended Gordon’s contract to operate the city-owned Old Town Hall, and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges threatened to revoke the college’s accreditation.

Tuesday, July 22

Healthcare confusion 

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2-1 that Obamacare, as written, only allows insurance subsidies in states that have set up their own exchanges. Thirty-six states used the federal insurance marketplace—Healthcare.gov—and did not run their own exchanges, and the ruling could invalidate an IRS regulation that allowed subsidies in all 50 states. The same day, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached the opposite conclusion, saying the IRS correctly interpreted the will of Congress in doling out Obamacare subsides.

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