The Conservative Political Action Conference ended in Washington Saturday, after giving Sen. Rand Paul a second consecutive victory in the presidential straw poll that's seen as an indicator of how Republicans see their leaders.
"The Kentucky senator received 31 percent, far ahead of second place Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who received 11 percent. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished third with 9 percent, ahead of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who received 8 percent.
"The announcement came at the end of the group's annual three-day confab. Organizers said that 2,459 attendees voted on computer kiosks.
"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum tied for fifth place, with 7 percent."
As Politico notes, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who was in second place in 2013, finished seventh in this year's poll.
The annual straw poll is seen as an early indicator of who conservative voters might back in Republican presidential primaries, the earliest of which are slated to be held in February of 2016.
The event also brought a chance to gauge conservative voters attitudes toward an ongoing legal issue in the U.S.: the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
As NPR's Sam Sanders reports, "62 percent of voters said marijuana should be legalized in some way."
In a report for our Newscast unit, Sam says a former vice-presidential candidate closed out the three-day event:
"Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Republican lawmakers to forget about the Tea Party at their own peril.
"'You know that 2010 election that swept you into power? You didn't build that! The Tea Party did!' she said. 'So dance with the one that brought ya. And you want another sweep? Then grab a broom and join us at the party.'"
For more analysis of CPAC, check out NPR's It's All Politics.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's straw poll victory at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference wasn't unexpected for the presidential contender. In third place, however, was a surprise finisher.
Dr. Ben Carson is one of a handful of black Republicans that conservatives are buzzing about this year. While the GOP has made strides in cultivating viable black candidates, the party still has difficulty resonating with black voters.
He may not have the rock-star status of top conservatives like Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, but Carson's following is growing.
"He has to win," says Helena Ciaramilla, who got her picture snapped with Carson at a book signing. Ciaramilla was passing out bumper stickers that said, "Run Ben Run."
"He's our destiny," she said. "He's the only man who can unite this country."
The world-renowned neurosurgeon won over legions of conservatives by denouncing Obamacare last year, with the president sitting just a few feet away. He attacks the media, preaches a message of self-reliance and shuns political correctness.
That's prompted some to urge Carson to run for the GOP nomination in 2016. He spoke Saturday on CPAC's final day.
"Of course, gay people should get the same rights as everyone else," he told conservatives. "But they don't get extra rights. They don't get to redefine marriage."
Carson is not the only black Republican building a national following. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is the current standard bearer for black conservatives. His call for smaller government, with a dig at the president, hit the right notes earlier this week.
"The success of our economy is seen in the size of our ideas, not in the size of our tax bills," Scott said. "We need to cut our taxes, not raise them, like President Obama wants to."
The conference attendees tend to skew younger and overwhelmingly white, which is why jokes like these go over so well:
"Some of y'all don't want Obamacare to increase the tax on tanning beds," Scott said. "Now please note, I said 'some of y'all.' I don't really care about that tax. Just joking, just joking. You got to have a some fun when you come to CPAC right?"
Those jokes, however, hide an awkward truth. Even as some black candidates are hitting their stride, the Republican Party's standing among African-Americans is abysmal. Mitt Romney won a mere 7 percent of the black vote in 2012.
The mood turned serious during a panel called "Reaching Out." GOP political consultant Jason Roe served as moderator.
"The way the demographics are changing in the United States," Roe said, "if we don't change, we won't be relevant to the national debate."
That's essentially the same conclusion the RNC came to in its autopsy report on the 2012 presidential election loss.
Antawan Copeland, an African-American who is attending his first CPAC, says he's been a Republican for at least 15 years.
"I don't think they've made any new strides in my neighborhood," Copeland said. "I don't see everyone in the black community rushing out to become Republicans."
So just how far does the GOP need to travel? Look no further than Copeland's fiance, Carol Smith. Carol is actually her middle name; she doesn't want to give her full name, she says.
"Because I'm not ready to be outted," she says. "I'm not ready to come out of the Democratic closet."
Smith says she's gotten a warm reception from CPAC attendees, but the social stigma of the Republican label is too much to bear right now.
It's hard, as a black woman, she says, to say she's no longer a die-hard Democrat.
"In private, no, but in public, yes," she says. "When I have these conversations with friends and family, I'm vilified."
Pro-Russian groups used whips to attack pro-Ukrainian demonstrators in Sevastopol, the port city of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, according to the BBC. The news agency says its reporter at the scene is "describing the scenes as very ugly."
The violence comes as Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk plans a visit to the United States, a trip that he announced during a cabinet meeting Sunday, reports NPR's Emily Harris. No details about that visit were made public, but it is believed to be scheduled for this week.
Here are other developments we're seeing today:
Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: White House Confirms Visit Plans
"President Obama will welcome Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine to the White House on March 12," says White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The pair "will discuss how to find a peaceful resolution to Russia's ongoing military intervention in Crimea that would respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity," Carney says, in addition to discussing elections planned fro Ukraine in May.
Our original post continues:
"The authorities in Ukraine's breakaway region of Crimea on Sunday ruled out negotiations with the central government, which they say is illegitimate," says Ria Novosti.
Referring to a referendum that will offer voters a choice of seceding from Ukraine, the news agency says the process of joining Russia could take only "about a month," citing Crimean Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. The vote on whether to join the Russian Federation is scheduled to take place next Sunday.
Women in Ukraine are heeding the same call for action that has driven men to join the country's army. And while some are looking to work as nurses and in other support roles, others are raring for a fight, reports Radio Free Europe. The agency notes that women have played roles in the protests and civil unrest that led up to the current crisis.
"I've practiced sambo and judo professionally for 10 years," Tetiana Turchina tells RFE. "I know how to shoot and jump with a parachute. I'm familiar with extreme situations because I love extreme sports, rafting, and hiking. Sleeping in a tent surrounded by snow in minus-20-degrees-Celsius doesn't scare me."
Reuters says that pro-Russian forces have tightened their hold on Crimea:
"In the latest armed action, Russians took over a Ukrainian border post on the western edge of Crimea at around 6 a.m. (0400) GMT, trapping about 30 personnel inside, a border guard spokesman said.
"The spokesman, Oleh Slobodyan, said Russian forces now controlled 11 border guard posts across Crimea, a former Russian territory that is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet and has an ethnic Russian majority."
Despite the turbulence in Crimea, it seems that so far, the only shots fired have been warning shots from pro-Russian forces. In one case early last week they were used to turn away a large group of marching Ukrainian troops; on Saturday, they were used to turn away a U.N. fact-finding group from Crimea, as we reported Saturday.
U.S. and European diplomats have been working on how to convince Russia's President Vladimir Putin to pull the Russian military from in and around Crimea. But the idea of using sanctions as a possible tool drew a threat from Russia, with the Ministry of Defense saying it might halt international nuclear weapons inspections if sanctions are approved, according to The Washington Post.
Interpol says that "at least two passports" used to board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were listed in its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database. And matching up with what's been reported earlier, the agency identified them as being Austrian and Italian documents.
The agency says it's also reviewing other passports used to board the flight, to determine whether any of them might have been reported stolen. That's from a statement released Sunday.
Saying that "it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane," Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble adds that "it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol's databases."
Interpol adds that border agencies are inconsistent at checking passports against the database, with policies varying wildly from country to country. Few countries use the database systematically, Interpol says.
"Last year passengers were able to board planes more than a billion times without having their passports screened against Interpol's databases," the agency says.
It also notes, "The US searches this database annually more 250 million times; the UK more than 120 million times and the UAE more than 50 million times."
When Mexican artist Diego Rivera was commissioned in 1932 to do a mural in the middle of Manhattan's Rockefeller Center, some might have wondered whether industrialist tycoon John D. Rockefeller Jr. knew what he was getting into.
In 1934, the legendary artist's work was chiseled off the wall.
Now, in Washington, D.C., the Mexican Cultural Institute has mounted a show that tells what happened to Rivera's mural.
"Man at the Crossroads: Diego Rivera's Mural at Rockefeller Center," is a whodunit tale that also illustrates the tensions between art and politics. Exhibition co-curator Susana Pliego says the Rockefeller family was aware of Rivera's leftist politics when it commissioned the work.
"They tried to have pieces of the best artists at the time," Pliego says. "That was why [they wanted it], because of the artistic and commercial value of his work."
Pliego says Rivera got a three-page contract laying out exactly what management wanted.
Rivera was asked to show a man at the crossroads, looking with uncertainty but with hope and high vision to the choosing of a course leading to a new and better future.
"The theme of Rockefeller Center was 'New Frontiers,' so that was a very spiritual way of looking at development and art," Pliego says. She wonders what made the Rockefellers think that Rivera's vision would be the same as theirs.
A Difference Of Vision
"It was a bad decision for everyone, but it's about politics," co-curator Pablo Ortiz Monasterio says. "When you have to take a position, there is no other way out."
Monasterio says the show illustrates the conflict between the rich, powerful family that hired Rivera and the artist's strong political point of view.
Pliego says the original sketch for the mural — and what Rivera agreed to paint — included three men clasping hands in the middle: a soldier, a worker and peasant. "A spiritual union of all the three elements that Rivera thought man — humanity — was composed of," she says.
"Unfortunately, what he painted was different from the sketch," David Rockefeller Sr. told the Museum of Modern Art in 2012.
The leftist artist was taunted by those who felt he had sold out, Rivera expert Linda Downs says.
"He was really provoked in New York by leftist organizations and various communist groups that challenged him for painting for Rockefeller," she says.
Then, the World Telegram newspaper ran the headline: "Rivera Paints Scenes of Communist Activity and John D. Jr. Foots the Bill." Pliego says Rivera then decided to add a portrait of communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin to the mural.
"He sent his assistants to find a picture of Lenin because, he said, 'If you want communism, I will paint communism,' " Pliego says.
On top of that, according to David Rockefeller Sr., Rivera added a panel that the family felt was an unflattering portrait of his father.
"The picture of Lenin was on the right-hand side, and on the left, a picture of [my] father drinking martinis with a harlot and various other things that were unflattering to the family and clearly inappropriate to have as the center of Rockefeller Center," he said.
"He had these two options," Monasterio says. "He could erase that and solve the problem, but if he didn't, then that would be a scandal; that would be propaganda. So he himself was at the crossroads again."
Rivera had persuaded his patrons to let him paint a fresco — paint on wet plaster instead of on canvas. That meant the work couldn't be moved. After a flurry of letters asking Rivera to replace Lenin and the artist's declaration that he'd rather see the work destroyed than mutilated, Rivera was fired and the work was eventually chiseled off.
A Missing Piece Of History
Downs says the piece would have been stunning had it survived.
"He had this vision of the importance of technology in the future and the hope that there would be a coming together of workers and industrialists and businessmen to further mankind in general," Downs says. "It was a very hopeful mural."
Pliego says the exhibition illustrates a key question: Who owns a work of art?
"For example, like Diego said in a letter," she says, "'If someone buys the Sistine Chapel, does he have the authority to destroy it?' "
The exhibition, "Man at the Crossroads: Diego Rivera's Mural at Rockefeller Center," reconstructs the story of the mural through reproductions of documents, letters, photographs and Rivera's sketches. It will be on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., through May 17.