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RUSSIA TESTS OBAMA'S ABILITY TO STOP ITS ADVANCES

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:55 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the White House asserting that Russia is stoking instability in eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama is once again faced with the complicated reality of following through on his tough warnings against overseas provocations.

Obama has vowed repeatedly to enact biting sanctions against Russia's vital economic sectors if the Kremlin tries to replicate its actions in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, elsewhere in the former Soviet republic. Despite those warnings, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be testing Obama's limits, instigating protests in eastern Ukraine, the White House says, and massing tens of thousands of troops on the border, but so far stopping short of a full-scale military incursion.

"They have been willing to do things to provoke the situation that no one anticipated," Matthew Rojansky, a Russia analyst at the Wilson Center, said of Russia. "It's such a high-stakes, high-risk situation, and here they are right in the middle of it."

For Obama, the U.S. response to the chaos in Ukraine has become more than a test of his ability to stop Russia's advances. It's also being viewed through the prism of his decision last summer to back away from his threat to launch a military strike when Syria crossed his chemical weapons "red line" — a decision that has fed into a narrative pushed by Obama's critics that the president talks tough, but doesn't follow through.

While there has been no talk of "red lines" when dealing with Putin, Obama has said repeatedly that the Kremlin's advances into eastern Ukraine would be a "serious escalation" of the conflict that would warrant broad international sanctions on the Russian economy. But perhaps trying to avoid another Syria scenario, White House officials have carefully avoided defining what exactly would meet Obama's definition of a "serious escalation," even as they make clear that they believe Russia is fomenting the violence in cities throughout Ukraine's vital industrial east.

"We are actively evaluating what is happening in eastern Ukraine, what actions Russia has taken, what transgressions they've engaged in," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. "And we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose."

As with the situation in Syria, Obama faces few good options as he watches Russia destabilize Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that has sought greater ties with Europe.

There's little appetite in either the U.S. or Europe for direct military action, and the White House said Monday it was not actively considering sending Ukraine lethal assistance. That's left Obama and his international partners largely reliant on economic and diplomatic retaliation.

The president has wielded some of his available options since the situation in Ukraine devolved in late February, but those actions so far have had little success in stopping Russian advances.

Obama's initial warning that Putin would face "costs" if he pressed into Crimea was largely brushed aside by the Russian leader, who went so far as to formally annex the peninsula from Ukraine. Economic sanctions on several of Putin's closest associates followed, as did Russia's suspension from the exclusive Group of Eight economic forum, but neither appears to have discouraged Moscow from making a play for eastern Ukraine.

With tens of thousands of troops massed on Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, Obama is facing calls from some Republicans to take tougher action now. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent Obama a letter over the weekend calling on the administration to immediately ratchet up economic penalties against Moscow.

"Rather than wait for a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine to implement additional sanctions, which seems to be U.S. policy at the moment, we must take action now that will prevent this worst-case scenario before it becomes a reality," Corker wrote.

Privately, some of Obama's advisers are also pushing for more robust penalties now to serve as a deterrent against a full-on Russian military incursion. But questions remain about Europe's commitment to take the kind of coordinated action that would stand the best chance of changing Putin's calculus.

Europe has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., meaning its sanctions would hurt Moscow more. But leaders on the still economically shaky continent fear that the impact of those sanctions could boomerang and hurt their own countries just as much.

European foreign ministers met Monday to debate whether additional sanctions should be enacted on Russia. A high-ranking European Union official said they did decide to sanction more Russians with asset freezes and visa bans, but they appeared to stop well short of targeting Russia's broader economy.

MEDICAL POT MEASURE COULD BOOST FLA. DEMOCRATS

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 06:54 Published in Health & Fitness

MIAMI (AP) -- Tied to an unpopular president and his signature health care law, Democrats in the nation's largest swing state see medical marijuana as a potential antidote to political malaise in this year's midterm elections.

Party operatives are pushing a constitutional amendment that would make Florida the first state in the South to legalize some pot use. Polls show the measure has widespread public support, and it's particularly popular among young voters - a critical part of the Democratic coalition with historically weak turnout in non-presidential election years.

"I wish that it didn't take medical marijuana on the ballot to motivate our young voters," said Ana Cruz, former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. "But listen, we'll take it any way we can get it."

Activists are also gathering signatures for medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, where Democrats are fighting to retain the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, and Ohio, where the party is trying to oust GOP Gov. John Kasich. But those petition drives face significant organizational hurdles.

The political world likely will be focused on Florida in November for clues about the turnout potential among young voters of pot on the ballot. At stake is the governor's office, as well as a handful of competitive House seats.

In 2012, both Washington and Colorado saw spikes in youth turnout when marijuana initiatives were on the ballot. This year, Florida could be a critical test case for whether those increases were an anomaly or the start of a trend in advance of the presidential election in 2016, when activists plan to launch legalization campaigns in at least six states, including battleground Nevada.

"It's a smart move on the Democrats' part," said David Flaherty, a Colorado-based GOP pollster. "It's going to help them, no doubt about it."

Florida Republicans argue that Democrats do not have a clear-cut advantage on medical pot, with public polls showing an overwhelming majority of GOP voters supporting it. They also say it's unlikely to excite young voters in the way that legalization campaigns did in Colorado and Washington, where pot was sanctioned for recreational use along the lines of alcohol, or become part of a divisive culture war that could drive turnout.

Nevertheless, the marijuana initiative may be one bright spot for Democrats in an election year that could be grim for the party. President Barack Obama remains unpopular, and Republicans are trying to make the elections a referendum on his health care law. Gov. Rick Scott is making the health care overhaul a central issue in the governor's race and outside conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, are funding a barrage of negative ads against Democrats in a handful of swing-voting House districts.

"I would rather have it on the ballot than not," said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who managed Obama's Florida campaign in 2008. "It could have a marginal impact, and a marginal impact in Florida could be the difference between winning and losing."

A Republican victory in a special House election last month in Florida underscored the Democrats' turnout problem. The St. Petersburg-area district has 2.4 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats, but GOP voters outnumbered Democrats by 8 percentage points among those who cast ballots.

Some Republicans paint the medical marijuana initiative as a ploy by Democrats to help former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, reclaim the governorship. Crist supports the measure, saying it's "an issue of compassion." Scott opposes it, citing his brother's struggles with substance abuse.

The marijuana campaign's chief financier is John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer and major Democratic donor whose firm employs Crist. Morgan insists the effort is personal, not political; he says marijuana eased the suffering of his father, who died of esophageal cancer, and his brother, who is a quadriplegic.

Democrats say the medical pot measure could help counter Republican energy by motivating young and independent voters. According to a national survey sponsored by George Washington University last month, nearly 40 percent of likely voters said they would be "much more likely" to vote if a legalization measure was on the ballot, with another 30 percent saying they would be "somewhat" more likely to vote.

Organizers of the medical marijuana effort plan to raise and spend $10 million on their campaign, with much of the money devoted to a turnout operation aimed at registering voters to cast absentee ballots.

"We want to be able to have our stereotypical, lazy pothead voters to be able to vote from their couch," said Ben Pollara, a Democratic fundraiser and campaign manager for the United for Care group, which also plans to get voters to the polls on Election Day.

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Associated Press news researcher Judy Ausuebel contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter: HTTPS://TWITTER.COM/MJMISHAK

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Lynn, Cardinals snap Brewers' 9-game win streak

Monday, 14 April 2014 23:22 Published in Sports
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Milwaukee Brewers' nine-game winning streak was snapped Monday night when Lance Lynn struck out 11 in seven innings and Jon Jay hit a three-run homer for the St. Louis Cardinals in a 4-0 victory.
 
Lynn allowed three hits over seven innings before Carlos Martinez finished off the surprising Brewers, who still have the majors' best record at 10-3. Lynn (3-0) frustrated hitters by mixing a fastball that topped 95 mph with a slider.
 
Jhonny Peralta hit a solo shot in the second off Brewers starter Matt Garza (0-2) before Jay sent a ball over the wall near the right field corner in the sixth.
 
Garza dueled Lynn until running into trouble in the sixth after Craig reached on a fielder's choice with two outs and Peralta singled to set up Jay's homer.
 
Lynn cooled off a Brewers team that was off to its best start since opening the 1987 season with 13 straight wins.
 
Lynn had Brewers batters missing all night. Jonathan Lucroy, a .357 hitter entering Monday, missed badly on a fastball low in the zone in the second for a strikeout. Two batters later, Scooter Gennett was left frozen at the plate on a called third strike on a heater outside.
 
Milwaukee's best hope to score came in the fifth after No. 8 hitter Logan Schafer doubled to right with two outs to put runners at second and third. But that brought Garza, a career .094 hitter, to the plate and he struck out on three pitches.
 
Otherwise, the Brewers didn't get another runner past second. Lynn boasted a career 2.53 ERA in 10 games against the Brewers coming in, and his mastery of Milwaukee continued.
 
With Lynn in control, about the only other drama provided by the Cardinals was when leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter was ejected in the fifth after apparently saying something to umpire Bob Davidson following a called third strike.
 
Garza allowed nine hits and four runs, and struck out six in seven innings for Milwaukee. Rookie reliever Wei-Chung Wang, a Rule 5 pick, pitched a scoreless ninth in making his big league debut.
 
Jean Segura, who was batting 1 for 19 at home entering Monday, had two of the hits against Lynn.
 
NOTES: Cardinals C Yadier Molina got a day off after catching the season's first 12 games. ... Injured 2B Mark Ellis played his first game on a rehab assignment Sunday at Triple-A Memphis. Ellis, who is on the 15-day DL for left knee tendinitis, played five innings and went 1 for 3 with a run. He was scheduled to play Monday, though Memphis' game may have been affected by weather. "He didn't have any issues and felt good afterward, which was the main thing," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's on the right track to joining us here soon." ... Wang, 21, of Taiwan, also saw snow for the first time and got his first major league paycheck Monday. Flurries fell before the game outside Miller Park, which has a retractable roof. ... Manager Ron Roenicke said right-handed hitter Rickie Weeks and lefty swigging Gennett remain in a platoon at second base. ... St. Louis' Shelby Miller (0-2) faces Milwaukee's Marco Estrada (1-0) on Tuesday.

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