TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ‘100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

TIME G20

Russian Incursions Into Ukraine Will Loom Large at the G-20 Summit

Putin looks back at Obama as they arrive with Xi Jinping at APEC Summit plenary session in Beijing
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, looks back at U.S. President Barack Obama, left, as they arrive with Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit plenary session in Beijing on Nov. 11, 2014 Reuters

Talks about the global economy may well be overshadowed

Leaders from across the world are set to gather in Australia for the G-20 summit this weekend to discuss the health of the global economy; however, tensions between the White House and the Kremlin over Russian incursions into southeastern Ukraine are casting a long shadow over the forum.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told media that “the focus of this G-20 is growth and jobs,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. However, White House officials say they’re ready to press the Ukraine issue with European leaders once President Barack Obama arrives in Brisbane.

“At the G-20, I imagine the President will have a chance to see his European counterparts — Chancellor [Angela] Merkel and others — and be able to have discussions on the margins there about the situation in Ukraine,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Burma on Thursday.

During the past week, the Obama Administration has been particularly strident in its criticism of Russia’s fresh forays into Ukraine. At a U.N. Security Council session earlier this week, U.S. envoy Samantha Power accused Moscow of systematically undermining a two-month-old peace accord between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels.

Power’s comments followed the publication of numerous reports from European monitors confirming the movement of unmarked, heavily armed columns in separatist-held territory this week, sparking fresh fears that Russia may be helping the rebels prepare for all out conflict with Kiev.

Experts say that Russian support for the separatists shows no sign of abating, even as falling oil prices and Western sanctions continue to pummel the country’s floundering economy.

“Putin’s aggression seems to just to keep on getting greater and greater,” says John Besemeres, a professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies. “This is strange behavior from someone who wants to get sanctions lifted.”

But even as Washington and Moscow continue to trade barbs over Ukraine, Putin may be privy to a harsher welcome from the Australian public. The G-20 summit in Brisbane will mark the first time President Vladimir Putin has visited Australia since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed nearly 300 people including 38 Australians.

Anger continues to simmer throughout the country over Russia’s alleged role in providing rebel forces with the sophisticated weapons system that shot down the jet, even though Moscow has denied having a hand in the downing of the flight.

In September, Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten issued several calls to ban Putin from attending the summit. Online petitions have also echoed the demand. Last month, Prime Minister Abbott threatened to “shirt-front” Putin when he saw the Russian leader at the G-20, using a term from the Australian football code that refers to the illegal making of a head-on charge to bring an opponent to the ground.

“There is public anger about that issue. That public anger hasn’t entirely gone away,” Rory Medcalf, security-program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, tells TIME.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters in Canberra, Abbott called on Moscow “to come clean and to atone” for its alleged role in the downing of MH17. Keeping the agenda focused on jobs and not on Russia is going to be a tough call.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Sends More Convoys Into Ukraine as Cease-Fire Collapses

Ukraine
A driver parks a truck of a Russian humanitarian-aid convoy at a warehouse in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Oct. 31, 2014 Dmitry Lovetsky—AP

NATO’s supreme commander says cease-fire now exists in “name only”

Russian officials announced on Wednesday plans to send a seventh convoy across the border into Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas region, amid widespread accusations that the Kremlin is sending arms to separatist forces instead of aid to civilians.

The announcement follows reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) that 43 unmarked green military trucks were spotted heading toward the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Tuesday.

“Five of the trucks were each towing 120mm howitzer artillery pieces. Another five were each towing partly-covered multi-launch rocket systems,” read a statement released by the OSCE.

Moscow has repeatedly denied giving military assistance to rebels and says its convoys are humanitarian.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists has intensified since rebels held elections in the enclaves of Donetsk and Luhansk in early November. Experts say the two-month old cease-fire is now dead.

During a press conference in Naples on Tuesday, General Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander Europe, said the truce signed by Kiev, Moscow and separatist forces in Minsk last September was in tatters.

“The cease-fire is in name only at this point,” Breedlove told reporters on Tuesday, according to CNN. “The violence continues to increase day by day.”

The NATO commander’s candid admission followed acknowledgement from the White House earlier in the day that sanctions targeting Moscow, which continue to wreak havoc on the Russian economy, have failed to alter “Russia’s calculus” over Ukraine. “That’s why we continue to impose them,” Ben Rhodes, a White House Deputy National Security Adviser, told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.

The U.N. estimates that at least 4,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russian rebellion first erupted in southeastern Ukraine seven months ago.

Read next: U.S. Says Russia Must Observe Truce as Hostilities Erupt Again in Ukraine

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Says Russia Must Observe Truce as Hostilities Erupt Again in Ukraine

Donetsk in aftermath of overnight shelling attack by Ukraine government forces
A house on fire in the aftermath of an overnight shelling attack in Donetsk, Ukraine on Nov. 9, 2014. Pochuyev Mikhail—Itar-Tass/Corbis

Washington’s protest comes as heavy fighting flared in Donetsk over the weekend

The Obama Administration expressed serious concern over the resumption of fighting in Ukraine’s restive southeast as heavy bouts of shelling near Donetsk over the weekend threatened to shred Kiev’s fragile ceasefire with Russian-backed separatists.

On Sunday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meeha issued a statement demanding the Kremlin abide by the two-month-old truce, signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in September, and halt efforts to reinforce rebel fighters.

“We reiterate our call on the Russian Federation to honor all of the commitments it made in Minsk, including ending its military supply to the separatists and the withdrawal of all of its troops and weapons from Ukraine,” said Meeha.

Earlier in the day, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported two unmarked convoys transporting heavy artillery and rocket launcher systems in separatist-held areas over the weekend.

Deputy commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic militia Eduard Basurin later told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the columns were being manned by “independence supporters” and had been moved “for tactical reasons.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also called on all sides to uphold the truce.

“It is imperative to avoid any re-escalation of hostilities,” said Mogherini.

Humanitarian agencies meanwhile warned that the victims of the seven-month conflict are in need of more aid. Late last week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stressed that 462,400 internally displaced Ukrainians still required urgent attention as winter arrives in the eastern European nation.

“In-country humanitarian agencies envisage that this deterioration of the humanitarian situation will be further compounded by the rapidly approaching winter with many IDPs [internally displaced persons] housed in unwinterized shelters,” said the agency in a statement.

The U.N. estimates that approximately 4,000 people have been killed since fighting first erupted in the wake of a pro-Russian uprising in southeastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in April.

TIME Guns

Gun Control Groups See Future in State Ballot Initiatives

Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York.
Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York. John Minchillo—AP

A victory in Washington state could be a template for other states in 2016

Despite a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, gun control advocates celebrated Wednesday on the heels of a major ballot measure victory in Washington state, which they say offers a new road map for enacting new guns laws around the country.

The new national strategy is to largely bypass Congress, where recent gun control efforts have gotten little traction even in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Instead, gun control activists say they are redirecting their attention and money to states—and to voters directly. Although votes are still being counted, it appears that a 2014 ballot initiative in Washington state expanding gun sale background checks will pass with a comfortable margin.

Appealing to voters through ballot initiatives has helped advance other progressive causes in recent years, including minimum wage increases and the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s a lesson gun control advocates have taken to heart. “I think it does represent a subtle shift,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who favors gun control. “What we’re seeing is a renewed effort by gun control advocates to take this issue to the voters directly.”

Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, have dominated the state-level battlefield for the last decade, outspending gun control groups and successfully lobbying to block a variety of new gun laws proposed in legislatures, including those that have widespread public support. But that too may be changing. Gun control groups outspent gun rights groups 5-1 in Washington state this year, after the National Rifle Association chose not to invest heavily.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has committed $50 million to the group that led the effort, Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups formed in the wake of the Newtown massacre. In addition, a pro-gun control political action committee launched by former Congresswoman Gaby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, raised some $20 million in the 2014 election cycle. (Giffords was shot in the head during a 2011 shooting in Arizona that left six others dead.) These cash infusions have changed the playing field, says Winkler. “Newtown did not lead to new national gun legislation, but it led to new money being committed to gun control,” he says.

Ballot initiatives, like the one in Washington, are expensive, says Brian Malte, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been working with Everytown in Washington state. “They require a lot of signature gathering, a plan, a strategy, getting out the vote,” says Malte.

The next test of this news strategy is likely to be in Nevada in 2016, unless the state expands gun sales background checks with legislation in the meantime. “If we can pass it in the legislature, that’s what we’ll do,” says John Feinblatt, president of Everytown. “If we can’t, we will take it to the people.” (The ballot initiative strategy in Washington was launched after efforts to pass expanded background check laws through the state legislature failed.)

This strategy is a throwback to gun control efforts that sprang up in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado. The year after the incident, Colorado and Oregon expanded background checks for sales at gun shows by ballot initiative. But in the intervening decade, the strategy was rarely, if ever, used, in part, because gun control groups couldn’t afford it. “The failure of elected officials to do the right thing on this has caused a lot of people in the movement to prevent gun violence to think creatively about how to better match the will of the people to policy outcomes,” says Zach Silk, campaign manager for the background check initiative in Washington.

Of course, a war chest of donations and built-in public support helps make an initiative successful, which is why gun control advocates are starting their new campaign on issues that poll favorably—like expanded background checks, which Gallup surveys have found are favored by as many as 80 to 90 percent of Americans. Restricting or removing the rights of convicted domestic violence abusers is another issue Everytown is already pushing in various state legislatures, along with new laws to regulate ownership of guns by the mentally ill. In the wake of a recent shooting spree in Santa Barbara County, California recently passed a law allowing family members to petition police and courts to take guns away from individuals who may be unstable.

So are gun rights advocates worried? “The difference now is you’ve got [one of the] richest guys in the world on the other side,” says Dave Kopel, a gun rights advocate and associate policy analyst for the Cato Institute, referring to Bloomberg. Unlike efforts to pass laws through Congress or state legislatures, in which politicians may risk their jobs voting for or against gun laws, “You put something on a ballot initiative and you don’t have people worried about displeasing someone else,” says Kopel.

Not all states allow people to vote directly on issues through ballot initiatives or propositions, meaning gun control groups will also have to lobby state legislators to enact their agenda. These days, though, they have the money to do both.

TIME

Predict Who Will Win the Senate in 2014

Forget Nate Silver. Anyone can be a political handicapper. Place your bets on whether the Democrats or the Republicans will be victorious on Election Day

The professional election handicappers in Washington and New York are trying to cut you out of the process. They are using their fancy number machines to predict which party will control the U.S. Senate next year. The Washington Post says Republicans have a 91% chance of getting at least 51 seats, while the The New York Times and ESPN’s Nate Silver say there is a 63% chance.

But you shouldn’t let them do it alone. In America anyone can handicap an election. We’ve provided each candidate’s political strength and liabilities. And we’ve left out the political party to make you think harder about the individual candidates. So have at it. Tell us all who is going to win in each of the next ten races, and we’ll tell you who will win the Senate. Then share on Twitter and Facebook.

 

*Polling numbers from RealClearPolitics.

TIME shooting

Connected to Both Sides, Relatives in Washington Shooting Seek Answers

Students and community members attend a vigil at the Grove Church, after a school shooting that occurred at Marysville-Pilchuck High School earlier in the day in Marysville, Wash., on Oct. 24, 2014 Matt Mills McKnight—EPA

Compounding the tragedy of the Marysville high school shooting in Washington State on Friday is the fact that many people in the small community are connected to both the attacker and the victims.

And the young relatives of the boy who opened fire at a Washington high school on Friday — killing one student and seriously injuring four before fatally shooting himself — said they just can’t figure out why the shooter decided to do what he did.

“It’s just confusing, a lot of questions aren’t answered, I just don’t know why,” Austen James, who said he’s related to the shooter.

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME 2014 Election

Democrats Positioned to Elect Republican Congressman in Washington State

Washington Primary
Fourth Congressional District candidate Dan Newhouse smiles after learning Aug. 5, 2014 in Yakima, Wash. that he was one of the top two finishers in the congressional primary. Gordon King—Yakima Herald-Republic/AP

The question these days in central Washington is not whether a Democrat or a Republican will represent the Congressional district, but what kind of Republican. And Democrats will play a big role in making the decision.

For the first time in the state’s history, Washington’s top-two system will pit two congressional candidates of the same party: Tea Party-backed former Redskins tight-end Clint Didier and state legislator Dan Newhouse. Democrats, upset with having no representation in the general election, will likely turn to Newhouse, the moderate alternative endorsed by incumbent Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

“It’s hard for me to believe that all of those people who have been voting for Democrats over the past decade are suddenly going to vote for Didier—I just don’t see that happening,” says Democrat Jay Clough, who ran unsuccessfully against Hastings the past two cycles. Of the around 75,000 Democrats who have voted the past few cycles in Washington’s 4th district, Clough suspects that “at least half if not more” will go to Newhouse, and only a “small contingent” will sit out of the race or throw in a write-in ballot. In 2012, 38% of the district voted for Barack Obama.

“Newhouse is most likely going to win because of Democratic support,” says Clough.

It’s clear why Democrats wouldn’t like Didier, who ran and lost races for statewide office twice before winning the primary this year by around 6,500 votes. In an interview with the Tea Party News Network this year, Didier said that he wants to go back to the gold standard, abolish the Federal Reserve, end foreign aid, and relinquish the United Sates’ membership in the United Nations. He has been endorsed by Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

Newhouse, who served under former Democratic governor Christine Gregorie as the state’s Department of Agriculture director, calls himself a “strong conservative” on his website. But despite the lack of good polling in the region, the nonpartisan election handicappers at the Cook Political Report say the race is leaning Newhouse due to “his greater appeal with Democrats.”

“While we don’t like Newhouse—he doesn’t agree with us on very many issues…[he] has been appointed by a Democratic governor in a pretty prestigious position and has said publicly that he not only is willing to but sees it as a duty of holding office to work with the other party,” says Clough. “There’s a difference between that and a guy who wants to tear down basically the structures of government in our country.”

“It’s not a huge stretch to say that Democrats have a lot more in common with Newhouse than Didier,” he adds.

Larry Stickney, the Didier campaign manager, says that Didier’s personality and views on protecting civil liberties, including opposition to National Security Agency domestic surveillance and “unconstitutional wars,” will attract Democrats to their side. Stickney called Newhouse a “cheerleader for the John Boehner crowd” but Didier “a bit of a populist conservative.”

“He’s a guy with some charisma and even some celebrity from his NFL days—kind of favorite son status here,” says Stickney of Didier. “[He] has a lot of personal appeal and some of the Democrat folks are willing to forgive him maybe on some of his conservative views because they like him.” He adds that the Democrats “don’t seem to be really super organized” too.

Indeed, the Democrats have not embarked on any voter mobilization efforts, although Clough and other party leaders have “suggested” voting for Newhouse, according to Clough. “What I’ve said as chair of the Benton County Democrats is that we will not work for a Republican candidate because we’re not Republicans,” Clough says. “We’re Democrats.”

“Right now we’re trying to do what’s best for our community,” he adds. “And what’s best for our community right now is not Didier.”

MONEY Budgeting

Guess Which U.S. City Is the Most Expensive

141014_REA_EXPENSIVELIVING
Nikreates—Alamy

Hint: It's not NYC.

On average, American households spend the largest share of their annual expenditures on housing. The average family spends $16,887 on housing per year, equating to 33% of the average household’s annual expenditures. But how much do those expenses vary from city to city, and which places are the most expensive?

Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report (link opens PDF) detailing Americans’ average annual expenditures on housing and related items. And contrary to popular belief, New York City is not the most expensive city to live in. Two U.S. cities have overtaken it.

A breakdown of housing costs

The BLS took a deep dive into all the costs of housing, rather than simply comparing the cost of rent or average mortgage payments. Their analysis also took into account utilities (electric, water, and natural gas), household furnishings and equipment (textiles, furniture, floor coverings, appliances, and the like), housekeeping supplies, and other household expenses. What they found was that average annual expenditures on housing were far higher in both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco than in New York.

most-expensive-city-no-longer-nyc_large
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data is current as of 2012, and housing costs in the District of Columbia and San Francisco have risen since then. In D.C., the rise in housing costs is being led by the redevelopment and gentrification of the downtown area, which in turn is being triggered by the high relative number of government and government-related jobs, particularly in the defense contracting sector. Baby boomers are also moving from the suburbs into the city.

In San Francisco, housing costs have always been high, but they’re spiking because of a confluence of factors. The continued boom in technology companies in Silicon Valley — most notably Apple, Google, and Facebook — means that a growing cadre of high-paid employees want to live in the area. Add in a longtime lack of housing development in the city, and you have a rise in housing prices that has become a contentious issue in the San Francisco Bay area as longtime renters are priced out of the city. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler provides a great, in-depth piece on San Francisco’s housing problem.

The difference in annual housing costs between the two most expensive cities and the national average is a staggering $10,000. Excluding New York City, the difference between the two most expensive cities and other major U.S. metropolitan areas is over $5,000 annually. If you’re thinking of moving, it’s smart to compare costs carefully before moving to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

National differences in housing cost

While the above data is just from major U.S. cities, we have other data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing the real value of housing dollars in each state compared with the national average.

real-value-of-housing_large

You can see that generally, coastal states are more expensive than non-coastal states, as many people enjoy living near the ocean. You can also see that the Northeast on average is more expensive than the rest of the country except for California. These high costs, coupled with better weather and low to no income taxes, are why many retirees move south to Florida, Texas, etc.

If considering moving to a more expensive city, you should be sure the benefits will be worth the extra expense. For instance, while I pay a high cost of living to live in New York City, the quality of life that I get in the city makes it well worth it, in my opinion. While New York state is ranked poorly in terms of the happiest states in the U.S., New York City is ranked in the top quartile by happiness among U.S. cities, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The most important thing is to live in a place where you are happy. While the main determinants of happiness are the same for everyone, the specifics vary. Be sure that an increased cost of living comes with an increased quality of life.

TIME Iran

Iran’s President Says a Nuclear Deal With the West Is ‘Certain’

Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani participates in an interview in Tehran on Oct. 13, 2014 Mohammad Berno—AP

President Hassan Rouhani makes the pledge during a televised national broadcast

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took to the nation’s airwaves on Monday night to proclaim that a nuclear deal with the West will be signed ahead of a deadline in late November.

“We will find a solution to the nuclear subject and we believe that the two sides will certainly reach a win-win agreement,” said Rouhani, according to Iranian broadcaster Press TV.

Representatives from the U.S., E.U. and Iran are set to meet up in Vienna later this week to attempt to hammer out the details of the agreement. Diplomats issued the new Nov. 24 deadline after failing to meet an earlier target in July.

On Monday night, Rouhani struck a confident tone as he discussed the agreement, saying only the finer details of the deal need to be ironed out.

“Of course details are important too, but what’s important is that the nuclear issue is irreversible. I think a final settlement can be achieved in these remaining 40 days,” said Rouhani, according to a translation by Reuters.

The potential deal aims to guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program remains strictly for peaceful purposes. Iran has been hit with myriad sanctions by Western nations for moving ahead with a nuclear program that Tehran claims is engineered to meet the country’s scientific and energy needs. However, the U.S. and Israel have long argued that the Islamic Republic’s leadership has been attempting to develop a clandestine nuclear arsenal.

President Rouhani was swept into power 14 months ago after campaigning on a more moderate platform and signaling that he aimed to ease the animosity that’s been brewing between Washington and Tehran for decades. The potential nuclear deal is also seen as pivotal to staving off an all-out future war between Israel and Iran.

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