WASHINGTON (AP) — Looking beyond America’s post-9/11 wars, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday proposed shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing bases and reshaping forces to confront a “more volatile, more unpredictable” world with a more nimble military.
The nation can afford a smaller military so long as it retains a technological edge and the agility to respond on short notice to crises anywhere on the globe, Hagel said. He said the priorities he outlined reflect a consensus view among America’s military leaders, but Republicans in Congress were quick to criticize some proposed changes.
In a speech at the one-year mark of his tenure as Pentagon chief, Hagel revealed many details of the defense spending plan that will be part of the 2015 budget that President Barack Obama will submit to Congress next week. Hagel described it as the first Pentagon budget to fully reflect the nation’s transition from 13 years of war.
At the core of his plan is the notion that after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that proved longer and more costly than foreseen, the U.S. military will no longer be sized to conduct large and protracted ground wars. It will put more emphasis on versatile, agile forces that can project power over great distances, including in Asia.
Hagel stressed that such changes entail risk. He said, “We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted.”
Bill Clinton to help Democrats in 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bill Clinton, popular in territory unfriendly to President Barack Obama, is reprising his role as a super-surrogate for Democrats battling to keep their Senate majority and win other races. In the long run, Clinton could pick up political chits for his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, should she run for president in 2016.
The political terrain is rough in these Senate battleground states. Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is unpopular. Obama himself has soft poll numbers. Many Democrats won’t appear with the president, even though they’ll accept his prodigious fundraising help.
Not so with Clinton, who appears Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., with Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who’s trying to unseat Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. It’s perhaps the nation’s hardest-fought Senate race in a state where Obama would be of little help.
Clinton is the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry a swath of Southern states crucial to the 2014 midterms, including his native Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana. The former president remains in heavy demand as a fundraiser and adviser as his wife plans an upcoming book tour and considers how she may help Democrats this year.
“He has an open invitation from me,” Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat challenging GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said of Clinton.
Putin faces high risks over Ukraine
MOSCOW (AP) — A successful Olympics behind him, President Vladimir Putin is facing what may become the most dramatic challenge of his rule: how to respond to the turmoil in Ukraine, a country he has declared vital for Russia’s interests, which is home to millions of Russian-speakers and hosts a major Russian navy base.
Some in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east and south already have begged the Kremlin to help protect them against what they fear could be violence by the victorious protesters who toppled Ukraine’s Moscow-backed leader. Putin has refrained from taking a public stance on Ukraine amid the Sochi Games, but the mounting tensions could quickly leave him with a stark choice: Stick to diplomacy and risk losing face at home, or open a Pandora’s box by entering the fray.
If Moscow openly backs separatist-minded groups in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula that serves as the base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, it could unleash devastating hostilities that Europe hasn’t seen since the Balkan wars. And ignoring pleas for help from pro-Russian groups in Ukraine could shatter Putin’s carefully manicured image of the tough ruler eager to stand up to the West, eroding his conservative support base at home, where his foes could be encouraged by the Ukrainian example.
Facing such high risks, Putin has remained silent, weighing his options. His premier, Dmitry Medvedev, on Monday poured scorn on the new Ukrainian authorities who replaced President Viktor Yanukovych, and questioned their legitimacy. But he wouldn’t say what action Russia might take to protect its interests.
“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government,” Medvedev said.
Q&A: Breakthrough deal between Netflix, Comcast should produce better Internet video streaming
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After years of bickering, Netflix and Comcast are working together to provide their subscribers with a more enjoyable experience when they’re watching movies and television shows over high-speed Internet connections.
The new partnership is part of a breakthrough announced Sunday that requires Comcast’s Internet service to create new avenues for Netflix’s video to travel on its way to TVs and other devices. In return for the improved access, Netflix will pay Comcast an undisclosed amount of money for the next few years.
The arrangement represents an about-face for Netflix Inc., which had steadfastly refused to pay high-speed Internet service providers already collecting $40 to $60 per month from its customers. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had contended that his company’s Internet video service is one of the main reasons why households pay for broadband, making it unreasonable for Internet service providers such as Comcast Corp. to demand additional money from content providers.
Comcast and other broadband providers argued Netflix’s growing popularity should require the Los Gatos, Calif., company to shoulder some of the financial burden for delivering its video. In evening hours, Netflix’s 33 million U.S. subscribers generate nearly a third of the Internet’s downloading activity, according to the research firm Sandvine.
Now that Netflix has relented to Comcast, the largest U.S. broadband service, similar deals are more likely to be reached with other Internet providers such as Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and Charter Communications Inc.
Uganda’s president signs anti-gay bill in defiance of Western pressure; prison looms for gays
ENTEBBE, Uganda (AP) — Uganda’s president on Monday signed an anti-gay bill that punishes gay sex with up to life in prison, a measure likely to send Uganda’s beleaguered gay community further underground as the police try to implement it amid fevered anti-gay sentiment across the country.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said the bill, which goes into effect immediately, was needed because the West is promoting homosexuality in Africa.
Museveni may have defied Western pressure to shelve the bill, four years and many versions after it was introduced, but his move — likely to galvanize support ahead of presidential elections — pleased many Ugandans who repeatedly urged him to sign the legislation.
Nigeria’s president similarly signed an anti-gay bill into law just over a month ago, sparking increased violence against gays who already were persecuted in mob attacks. Some watchdog groups warn a similar backlash of violence may occur in Uganda.
“Experience from other jurisdictions with similarly draconian laws, such as Nigeria or Russia, indicates that their implementation is often followed by a surge in violence against individuals thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission said in a statement Monday. “The Ugandan government has not indicated any plans to counter such violence or to investigate potential allegations of abuse.”
Drug lord ‘El Chapo’ Guzman charged inside Mexican prison, swift extradition to US unlikely
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican authorities have set in motion a legal process that makes it unlikely drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will soon face U.S. cases also pending against him.
The Federal Judicial Council said the hemisphere’s most powerful drug lord had been formally charged under a 2009 Mexican indictment for cocaine trafficking, an action that could start put him on path for a trial that would put any extradition request on the back burn.
A judge has until Tuesday to decide whether a trial is warranted. Guzman, who is being held in a maximum security prison west of Mexico City, could then appeal the judge’s decision, a process that typically takes weeks or months.
Also on Monday, Guzman’s lawyers filed a petition asking a court for an injunction to block any extradition request from the United States. In the past, similar appeals by other drug suspects have taken months, and sometimes years, to resolve.
And before considering any extradition request that might come from the U.S., Mexican officials also must weigh whether to renew other charges against Guzman. When he escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 he was serving convictions for criminal association and bribery, and he was awaiting trial on charges of murder and drug trafficking.
Madoff’s former secretary testifies at NY trial that she didn’t know about Ponzi scheme
NEW YORK (AP) — Imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff’s longtime secretary defended herself from the witness stand Monday, telling a Manhattan jury about a 40-year career working unwittingly alongside a historic Ponzi scheme that began when she recognized through Madoff’s stutter on her first day that he wanted a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch.
“He gave me a thumbs up and said: ‘You’ll do really good here,’” Annette Bongiorno recalled as she became the second defendant to testify among five defendants charged with helping Madoff cheat thousands of investors of nearly $20 billion. She said she could figure out what Madoff wanted through his stutter because a family member had one, too.
But she insisted repeatedly under questioning from her attorney, Roland Riopelle, that her ability to decipher unspoken words stopped short of realizing Madoff’s fraud in an office where Madoff, Bongiorno and their colleagues often repeated his mantra never to speak of his operations and his work on behalf of clients.
The fraud collapsed in December 2008 when the former Nasdaq chairman confessed to family and the FBI that his seemingly endless ability to turn double-digit profits for his investors was phony and his accounts were nearly empty as scores of investors frightened by the economic collapse demanded redemptions. He is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
Just after Bongiorno went to the witness stand with a water bottle in hand, her lawyer asked her if she knew her longtime boss was running a Ponzi scheme.