President Barack Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an hour Thursday about the crisis in Ukraine and urged him to work toward a diplomatic solution there, the White House said Thursday evening. The leaders' call came amid a tense stand-off between Russia and Ukraine, which recently ousted its Kremlin-allied president, and amid reports of Russian forces in Ukraine's Crimea region. "President Obama emphasized that Russia's actions are in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, which has led us to take several steps in response, in coordination with our European partners," the White House said. It said that Obama had urged diplomacy involving direct talks between Ukraine and Russia, the presence of international monitors in Ukraine and the return of Russian forces to their bases. The call came hours after Obama said that a move by the Crimean parliament to hold a referendum on whether to break away from Ukraine and come under Russian rule would violate international law.
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Is Russia's military involvement in Ukraine an act of war? That depends on whom you ask — and on how you define an act of war. Ukraine's new prime minister certainly thinks it is, and several Western nations have deemed it an act of aggression, too. But legal experts say what constitutes an act of war is up for interpretation. In Ukraine, one law professor told NBC News, "it's going to be a political decision whether the two sides are going to want to treat this as an act of war." Formal declarations of war pretty much ended with the 1945 adoption of the United Nations Charter, which requires all members to refrain from using force against another state's territorial integrity or political independence. But it took another three decades for the UN to define what's now viewed as the international standard, and even that definition has rarely guided the Security Council in deciding when aggression has been committed.
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The military might have to spend billions of dollars to overcome the damage that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's leaks did to national security, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a House panel on Thursday. It could take two years before the military knows the extent of the damage, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee during a defense budget hearing. He said a task force was still figuring out just what documents Snowden had, so as to "mitigate the effects" of the leaks. Snowden has been charged with espionage and is seeking asylum in Russia, almost a year after he fled to Hong Kong and leaked documents detailing secret NSA data surveillance programs to the press.
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Pope Francis confessed Thursday that he took the rosary cross of his late confessor from his casket and wears it to this day in a fabric pouch under his cassock. He said he did so telling the late priest, "Give me half your mercy." Francis made the revelation Thursday during an informal chat with Roman priests about the need to be merciful to their flocks. He told the story of the "great confessor" of Buenos Aires who had heard confessions from most of the diocesan priests as well as from Pope John Paul II when he visited Argentina. When he went to the casket to arrange flowers around it, Francis said, "immediately there came to mind the thief we all have inside ourselves and while I arranged the flowers I took the cross and with just a bit of force I removed it." Francis said he kept the cross in his shirt pocket for years, but that the cassock he wears now as pope doesn't have a pocket. He now keeps it in a little pouch underneath.
Massachusetts lawmakers in the House and Senate quickly passed a bill Thursday that makes it illegal to take photos up a woman's skirt, NECN reported
. Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray said she was astonished when she heard Wednesday that the state's highest court had dismissed
so-called "peeping tom" charges against an Andover man accused of taking photos up women's skirts while riding on the MBTA's Green Line. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled
that the 2004 law in place did not apply to people clothed in public. So Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo took immediate action to revise the state law to make "upskirting," as it's called, illegal. DeLeo said they want to make sure the bill is able to pass constitutional muster, but they expect to have it on the Gov. Deval Patrick's desk by late Thursday. The governor has promised to sign it.
A fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant in New York City lived up to its name after a Bronx woman won the lottery by playing the numbers on the message inside. Emma Duvoll, 75, won $2 million after five of her numbers from the notoriously sweet and crunchy treat matched the drawing Feb. 1, she said at a New York Lottery news conference Thursday. "I was surprised but pleased," Duvoll said. New York Lottery said she bought the winning ticket in Pine Bush and realized the day after the drawing that she had won. She chose the lump sum, which will be paid out as more than $1.2 million. She said she plans to invest some of it and maybe take a trip to Switzerland.
The Senate blocked a bill
Thursday to curb military sexual assault by removing prosecuting authority from the chain of command, in a procedural vote its sponsor Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said had "failed" victims. "Despite earning the support of the majority of the Senate, we fell five votes short of overcoming the 60-vote filibuster threshold," the New York Democrat said after the vote
. Military leaders had opposed her bill, saying it would hurt commanders' leadership; the bill split both parties
, with 11 Democrats voting to block it and 11 Republicans voting to advance it. Gillibrand's fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill has sponsored a rival measure that aims to curb military sexual assault but leaves intact commanders' authority to investigate and prosecute reports of assaults. That bill is poised for passage Monday.
A memorial to the 77 people a lone-wolf terrorist gunned down three years ago at a summer retreat in Norway will cut directly through the island where it took place, in a striking and emotionally powerful design by a Swedish artist. Jonas Dahlberg was unanimously selected to helm two public art installations to memorialize the victims of the July 22, 2011, car bombing in Oslo and subsequent mass shooting on the island of Utoeya. The centerpiece of the memorials is an 11-foot cut through the island, which will be called the "Memory Wound" and will represent a wound within nature itself from the tragedy. A guided pathway through the forest will lead to a tunnel that will bring people to the cut itself. Across from the cut will be the names of victims carved in stone, close enough to see and read. The earth removed for the installation will be transferred to Oslo for a memorial there, too.
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Playboy Enterprises is on the hook for $6 million, after a Los Angeles jury handed a former accounting executive a massive verdict in her whistleblower and wrongful termination lawsuit — and it could have to pay even more when punitive damages are awarded later this week. Catherine Zulfer alleged in her suit that she had reported "actual and suspected frauds and improprieties" to management, after refusing to prepare $1 million in bonuses for top executives without proper approval. She said she was fired in retaliation for reporting the alleged fraud, in violation of a 2002 federal whistleblower law — and the jury agreed. The jury also found that Playboy discriminated against Zulfer, who was 56 when she was fired, based on her age as part of a plan to cut costs by letting older workers go. Playboy said it disagreed with the verdict and was mulling an appeal.
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Want to wake up to the sound of bacon sizzling on the stove with its aroma drawing you out of bed? There's an app for that. Oscar Mayer says it has created a bacon-scented app for the iPhone, developed by the Madison-based company's Institute for the Advancement of Bacon. The company says that to emit a small puff reminiscent of bacon, the user needs an external device that plugs into the headphone jack. The app itself produces the sound of bacon sizzling in a pan. Oscar Mayer says the aroma-producing device won't be sold in stores and that quantities are limited. The company is giving away 4,700 devices beginning Thursday. Oscar Mayer is part of Kraft Foods Group, Inc., based in Glenview, Ill.
The Federal Aviation Administration says an electrical component failed on American Eagle Flight 3400 Wednesday night, causing smoke to rise in the cockpit and the pilot to make an emergency landing. The flight, which departed Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport bound for Illinois, diverted first to Tyler and then to Greenville after declaring an emergency shortly after takeoff. The pilot landed without incident, and none of the 45 passenger or crew of three were injured. Mechanics were in and out of the aircraft, an Embraer ERJ-145, all day trying to determine what went wrong. Thursday afternoon, the FAA said it was a "failed electrical component" in the cockpit that caused the smoke, though they did not elaborate further.
An interactive photo has been taken from the spire of the nearly completed 1 World Trade Center, offering stunning 360-degree views of the New York City metropolitan area that can be enlarged to bring up incredible detail.
Time magazine posted the image on its website Thursday.
Users can pan across the photo and zoom in tight on the cityscape without losing any clarity.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, facing what looks to be a tough reelection fight this year, opted at CPAC on Thursday to fight fire with firearms — toting a rifle onstage for his speech. The gun in question was a National Rifle Association lifetime achievement award he was presenting to his Senate GOP colleague Tom Coburn. The image of the five-term senator hoisting the rifle appeared to tout his conservative cred, as he fends off a tea partier's challenge for the nomination before heading into a high-profile race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. (Grimes was unimpressed by McConnell's prop, tweeting
, "Someone tell @Team_Mitch that's not the way to hold a gun. KY women do it better.") But according to National Journal
, the gun hand-off received the only loud applause of McConnell's stint on stage. To much of the CPAC crowd, McConnell signified the GOP old guard, not the new conservatism.