Russia's primary response to the first round of Western sanctions against politicians and business leaders tied to Moscow's occupation of Crimea: laughter, mixed with razzing President Obama over Twitter.
When Obama and European leaders upped the ante on Thursday, freezing the assets and travel opportunities of more than a dozen billionaires and officials close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, plus one bank, Moscow banned nine members of U.S. Congress and Obama aides from entering Russia. It was America's turn to chuckle.
I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, Gazprom stock is lost & secret bank account in Moscow is frozen http://t.co/TgwZneD4HY
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2014
Russia isn't laughing. On Thursday, "Russia's most powerful businessmen waited for over an hour" in Moscow to meet with Putin, whose decision to annex Crimea "has cost their companies hundreds of millions of dollars in market value," says The Associated Press' Nataliya Vasilyeva. And "when Putin finally showed up, he spoke to them for five minutes — and gave them no reassurances that they or their companies will get any respite from the uncertainty created by the takeover of a piece of land of little value to them beyond national pride."
Russia's stock market has fallen 10 percent this month, its economy's modest growth forecast has been cut to zero, the ruble has weakened, and two of the big three credit rating agencies — Standard & Poor's and Fitch — just switched Russia's credit outlook from stable to negative, citing the slowing economy and threat of sanctions. Peter Weber
On Thursday, Iraqi's militarized federal police launched an attack to seize Mosul's airport from the Islamic State while Iraqi special forces entered the sprawling Ghazlani military base nearby. The attack began with U.S.-led airstrikes overnight, followed by a coordinated assault on the airport, and Iraqi forces have captured the runway and are fighting scattered ISIS fire from inside airport buildings. "We can confirm that the Mosul airport militarily has fallen and it's a matter of short time to fully control it," said Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) spokesman Sabah al-Numan.
The airport and military base are on the southern side of Mosul, and the ISIS-controlled western side of the Tigris. Iraqi forces drove ISIS out of eastern Mosul in January, and five days ago began the campaign to retake the entire city, Iraq's second-largest. Like the bridges across the Tigris, the airport runway has been destroyed, but occupying the land and Ghazlani base will help Iraqi forces control southern routes to the western part of the city, says BBC Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville. You can watch Sommerville's report from the airport below. Peter Weber
— Quentin Sommerville (@sommervillebbc) February 23, 2017
The New York Police Department says it is costing New York City less to protect first lady Melania Trump and Barron, her son, than originally estimated. In a letter to New York's congressional delegation dated Tuesday, New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that the NYPD spent only $24 million on security for President Trump, his family, and Trump Tower between Election Day in November and Inauguration Day in late January, not the $35 million the department had anticipated.
The daily costs "to protect the first lady and her son while they reside in Trump Tower" now range from $127,000 to $146,000, O'Neill said, while the NYPD expects to spend "an average daily rate of $308,000" when President Trump is in town. That means New York will spend some $50 million a year protecting Melania and Barron Trump, if they stay in the city after this school year, The New York Times notes, or $60 million if the president begins returning home on weekends, rather than flying down to Florida. The New York members of Congress are trying to get federal reimbursement for the NYPD's expenses; so far, New York City has received about $7 million.
On Tuesday, activists hung a "Refugees Welcome" sign on the Statue of Liberty. "That's absolutely a lovely thought, but kind of redundant on the Statue of Liberty, isn't it?" Stephen Colbert asked on Wednesday's Late Show. "It's like taking a rainbow flag and adding 'We like the gays!' — it's not necessary." Or at least it wasn't. "But I guess that's where we are right now," he said: "You've got to say things out loud that before we just assumed we all agreed on."
That was Colbert's setup for President Trump's deep thoughts on slavery from his visit to the Museum of African American History and Culture, which reportedly included "Boy, that is just not good" and "That is really bad." "I haven't heard that kind of eloquent denunciation since the Civil War novel The Red Badge of Dang, That's Messed Up!" Colbert joked.
Trump is "a bit of a hothead, loose cannon, powder keg," Colbert said, after a dark joke about children in shackles, "which is why it's important for him to be counseled by people who are even-keeled. Unfortunately he's talking to some jerk named Alex Jones." For those unfamiliar with Jones — who, according to a new New York Times article, now serves as "occasional information source and validator for the president" and speaks with him on the phone — Colbert played a clip of the excitable conspiracy-monger, and then imitated him: "This is why you don't mix steroids with peyote, this is why!"
"Now, if you've been living underground for the last few years, you probably listen to Alex Jones," Colbert said. "But for the rest of you, he runs a conspiracy website called InfoWars." He played another clip. "Now obviously it's not fair to judge a guy on one, isolated, dumbass clip," Colbert said, pausing, "so here's a bunch of 'em." Jones was a surprisingly easy segue into a short riff about The Washington Post's new tagline: Democracy Dies in Darkness. "So The Washington Post has officially entered its goth phase," he said. "It's a strong message that they're going to hold Trump accountable, a message he will receive the minute Fox & Friends reports on it." Watch below. Peter Weber
Most of the remaining anti-Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrators left their protest camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota on Wednesday evening, as the federal deadline to evacuate the area passed, but police arrested about 10 people before nightfall, and some 50 protesters are believed to still be in the camp. Police said they will not enter the camp overnight. Some of the protesters drove off for home or other protest camps springing up on private land nearby, while others boarded buses to Bismarck, where they were offered clothes, bus fares home, and vouchers for food and hotel rooms, The Associated Press reports.
Earlier Wednesday, the protesters torched some of the wooden structures they called home during the yearlong fight against the pipeline, which will take crude oil from North Dakota to outside Chicago for refining. The protesters got a brief victory late last year when the Army Corps of Engineers, under former President Barack Obama, said it would review the environmental impact of the pipeline, but President Trump ordered the study to be dropped and construction to resume. Oil could be flowing through the pipeline now within weeks. The Army Corps said it ordered the camp dismantled because of the threat of spring floods.
You can see the remains of the camp, which once housed thousands of protesters, and learn more in the NBC News reports below. Peter Weber
An undocumented immigrant with a brain tumor was forcibly removed from a hospital by ICE, her lawyers say
On Feb. 10, a 26-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador collapsed at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Texas, after complaining of headaches. She was brought to Texas Health Huguley Hospital in Burleson, where doctors concluded she had a brain tumor, the woman's lawyers tell The Daily Beast. During her only conversation with her mother, on Feb. 19, the woman, identified only as Sara, said she was bleeding heavily through her nose, convulsing, and suffering some memory loss. She has otherwise been barred from communicating with her family.
The lawyers said they were expecting doctors to operate on Sara soon, but on Wednesday she was reportedly forcibly removed from the hospital without treatment and returned to the Prairieland Detention Center. "She told us they tied her hands and ankles in her condition," Melissa Zuniga, a member of Sara's New Jersey-based legal team, tells The Hill. "She's complaining of a lot of pain." Zuniga said that the hospital "no longer wants to be in charge of her case because they’re getting hounded by calls and a potential lawsuit" — Sara's family said it might sue if she did not receive adequate care — but that doctors gave Sara a CD with her medical records and told her not to turn it over to ICE; it was taken from her as soon as she returned to the detention center.
Sara's sister and her lawyers were flying to Texas on Wednesday night to press for her release, The Hill reports. Sara was detained in 2015 after illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, and after she missed the deadline for filing for asylum, a judge cleared her for deportation in January 2016. She was in detention appealing the ruling when she collapsed. "You are bound to see more cases like this if ICE fulfills the government's orders and dramatically expands detention," Bob Libal, an Austin-based immigrants-rights advocate, tells The Daily Beast. "You are bound to see more stories where people have suffered these kind of medical tragedies in detention."
In the Associated Press video below, about another fraught immigration story in Texas, a member of Libal's organization, Grassroots Leadership, notes that former President Barack Obama deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants in his two terms. "Obama built this machine, but he left it in the hands of Trump," says Cristina Parker, "and what we're seeing is what that means." Peter Weber
When Lena Draper, 10, needed someone to help her with a math problem, she decided the best person for the job was a police officer.
She messaged the Marion Police Department in Ohio on Facebook, and soon received a response from Lt. B.J. Gruber, who advised her to work within the parentheses first, moving from left to right. Draper's mother, Molly, saw the exchange between her daughter and Gruber, and told CBS News she was "happy, but not surprised" that someone from the department responded so quickly. "They are wonderful with their communication with the community." Molly shared on her own Facebook page the messages between Lena and Gruber, and even though his instructions weren't 100 percent accurate, Gruber hopes everyone remembers "it is truly the thought that counts." Catherine Garcia
Their classmates and teachers didn't think it could be done, but J.T. Nejedlo and Aidan Deaven proved them all wrong by building a working roller coaster in Deaven's Delafield, Wisconsin, backyard.
When Nejedlo was a sophomore and Deaven a freshman, they decided it "would be fun" to build a roller coaster, Nejedlo told TMJ4. After lots of trial and error — and assistance from a father who used to be a physics professor — the teens built a coaster that starts inside an old treehouse and weaves its way around the yard. "We had a work schedule," Deaven said. "We would get up at 7 a.m. in the summers and come and work on it."
In their college applications, the teens wrote about their massive undertaking, and it helped them gain admittance to the University of Wisconsin — Nejedlo is a freshman studying business, and Deaven will begin taking engineering classes next year. Catherine Garcia