"Crimea's regional legislature on Tuesday adopted a 'declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,' " The Associated Press reports. "The document specified that Crimea will become an independent state if its residents vote on Sunday in favor of joining Russia."
That's just one of several developments Tuesday as the crisis in Ukraine continues. Among the other news:
— Sanctions. France's foreign minister said Western nations could impose sanctions on Russia — including freezes of some individuals' financial assets and travel restrictions — as soon as this week, NPR's Gregory Warner tells our Newscast Desk. As he notes, "the U.S. has already imposed travel restrictions on Russian and Crimean officials accused of 'threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity.' "
— Yanukoyvch. Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych said Tuesday said that presidential elections in his country that are scheduled for late May are illegal, The Wall Street Journal writes. "In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Mr. Yanukovych didn't directly address a regionwide referendum to be held in Crimea on Sunday to decide whether the breakaway territory will secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia, but blamed the new government in Kiev for causing the divisions that have driven Crimeans to want to leave."
The vote for a "declaration of independence" by Crimea's parliament adds to the tension that's building in the run-up to Sunday's referendum. Just more than half of the region's population are ethnic Russians. Since Yanukovych left Ukraine last month following months of protests against his government and was then removed from office by his nation's parliament, Russia has moved to take control of the strategically important Crimean peninsula — where it has long had a Black Sea naval base.
The U.S. and its Western allies have condemned Russia's actions as being in violation of international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is protecting ethnic Russians from possible reprisal by what he claims are Ukrainian nationalists now in control in Kiev.
So far, there have been no serious confrontations between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops, who have mostly remained in their bases in Crimea.
There's a congressional election in Florida Tuesday that's worth watching — even if you don't live in the Tampa Bay-area district where it's taking place.
It's not because the winner of the neck-and-neck special election between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly will affect the GOP's stranglehold on the U.S. House this cycle. It won't.
Rather, the contest to succeed the late longtime Republican Rep. Bill Young is taking on exaggerated importance as both national parties and their deep-pocketed donors frame it as a proxy for how President Obama and his signature health care legislation will play at the polls in November.
All of it is playing out in one of the few remaining competitive congressional districts.
"The Democrats have to shake things up to prove they are not a permanent minority in the House," says David Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "Winning this race would go a long way to show that."
Recent polls suggest that Sink has been holding on to a slight lead over Jolly, with Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby capturing the support of around four or five percent. A poll released Monday by Democratic-oriented pollster Public Policy Polling gave Sink a 48 percent to 45 percent advantage, with Overby at six percent.
Tuesday's winner will only savor temporary victory: She or he will have to run again in November's regular mid-term election.
The race, awash in money that has funded an avalanche of ads, pits two on-paper party moderates against each other in a district that Young had held since 1972. He was the longest-serving GOP member of Congress when he died in October.
Republicans enjoy a voter registration advantage of about 11,000. But the 13th district, largely white and skewing old, voted for Obama narrowly in 2008 and again in 2012.
Jolly came to the race hobbled by a competitive GOP primary battle in January that put him behind in raising money, and raising his profile.
In Sink, 65, the Democrats have a well-known candidate who had a nearly three-decades-long career as a banker before winning statewide office in 2006, becoming Florida's chief financial officer.
The first Democrat elected to the state cabinet since 1998, Sink, subsequently came up short in a run for governor in 2010, losing to Republican Rick Scott by 1 percentage point.
Sink, whose late husband, Bill McBride, was the Democrats' unsuccessful nominee for governor in 2002, supports the Affordable Care Act, but has said she would like to see it improved.
Republican candidate Jolly, 41, is a lawyer and lobbyist who came to Washington straight out of college and went to work for Young. He left the congressman's office in 2007 for the world of lobbying, opening his own firm, Three Bridges Advisors, three years ago.
Jolly has called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act and says he supports overturning Roe vs. Wade. He's seen as a more polished campaigner than Sink, who was described as an "awkward orator, often stiff on the stump" in a 2010 profile in the Tampa Bay Times.
Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, cautions that the national media is overstating, at least to some degree, the singular importance of Obamacare in the Florida race.
Immigration and flood insurance are huge local issues, he said, and will play a role in the outcome. Sink supports comprehensive immigration reform; Jolly opposes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
"The national parties seem to be ignoring these issues in favor of test-driving their big-ticket national interests," Wasserman says. "In the district, voter interests seem much more varied."
The Money Race
Given Sink's advantage in not having a contested primary, she's been better positioned to raise money and to get a jump on early voting, including — and especially — absentee ballots.
She has outraised Jolly, $2.54 million to $1.04 million as of Feb. 19, but outside groups have also invested heavily in the race, with some estimates suggesting that in excess of $10 million per campaign will be spent.
A running tally of early voting shows that 42 percent of the 122,314 votes cast, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, have come from Republican voters, 39 percent from Democrats, and 19 percent from other.
But, Wasserman says, "most private polling suggests Sink is winning about twice as many Republicans as Jolly is winning Democrats."
While one national party or the other will quickly claim their victory is a validation, the vagaries of this special election suggests otherwise. That makes it likely the true litmus test on Obama and the Affordable Care Act won't come until November.
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Joe McGinniss, author of the true crime book Fatal Vision and the titular "journalist" of Janet Malcolm's scathing study The Journalist and the Murderer, died on Monday, his attorney told The Associated Press. He was 71. Malcolm's book opens with these two sentences: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." She was referring to McGinniss, who wrote Fatal Vision about Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two daughters in 1970. According to Malcolm, McGinniss pretended to believe MacDonald's claims of innocence to gain his confidence, though his book ultimately portrayed him as guilty. McGinniss rejected Malcolm's accusations, writing that he wanted to believe MacDonald, but that his views shifted over the course of the trial: "Day after hot, humid day I would sit in court looking at crime-scene photographs that depicted the carnage inflicted upon MacDonald's wife and daughters. Then, within the hour, he'd be chatting affably with me. Each time, my reaction was the same: this man could not have done this to those people. Yet every day the evidence mounted. Concrete physical evidence; unambiguous, clear. It could not be, yet it was. He could not have, yet he did." McGinniss' other books include The Selling of the President 1968, an exploration of the political theater behind Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential run, and The Rogue, a book about Sarah Palin — which he researched by moving into the house next door to hers in Wasilla, Alaska.
- George Saunders' story collection Tenth of December has won yet another major literary award - the first annual Folio Prize, worth £40,000 (about $67,000). Last week, he won the $20,000 Story Prize. "Saunders's stories are both artful and profound," Folio Prize chair Lavinia Greenlaw in a statement. "Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment." Accepting the award Monday night, Saunders said, "I think in a time like ours, where so much of the public discourse tells us that we are antagonistic, that we're separate, fiction is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that actually that's a lie."
- Kevin Prufer has a poem called "How He Loved Them" in The Paris Review about a car bomb that blows up in front of a courthouse. (Read an interview with Prufer about the poem here). It ends:
"What the colonel had done that day
had troubled his heart,
but the sound of his granddaughters' laughter
lifted him high into the air
like a scrap of burning paper
blown from the street into the trees."
- Audiobook narrator Simon Vance speaks to Slate about his job: "Many people read to themselves so fast — sometimes scanning the page in apparent moments of not-much-going-on to get to the next bit of action — that the audiobook listening experience can actually be richer for the way it forces one to listen to the book at a narrator's pace."
There's still no sign of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — the Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard that disappeared early Saturday while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Tuesday's news about the flight and the search for clues to its disappearance includes:
— Stolen Passports. There's word that Malaysian authorities believe the two passengers on board who had stolen passports "were Iranians who authorities believe were trying to migrate to Europe," as the Los Angeles Times writes.
One of the men, NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai, has been identified as 19-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad. Frank tells our Newscast Desk that the young man was apparently "flying from Kuala Lumpur, through Beijing and Amsterdam, to Frankfurt, where his mother was waiting for him."
Malaysia's inspector general of police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, said Tuesday that "we believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group and we believe he [was] trying to migrate to Germany."
"The other man traveling on a stolen passport was not named," the Times adds, but authorities believe he too was an Iranian trying to immigrate to Europe.
The news that at least two people on board had stolen passports led to speculation about the possibility they were connected to a terrorist organization. But as NPR's Brian Naylor reported on Morning Edition, stolen passports and other fraudulent travel papers are a growing problem around the world and are used for a wide variety of reasons.
— Expanded Search. Malaysian authorities, as well as "search teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand and the United States of America" are now looking for signs of the jet on "both sides" of the Malay peninsula, Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Tuesday.
The airline said Tuesday that searchers are also looking "on land in between" — that is, on the Malay peninsula between the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait. According to the airline, "the authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang," an airport on the peninsula.
— Four Focuses. It likely won't be until the plane is found that investigators can start to figure out exactly what happened and whether some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure was responsible for its disappearance. But as the investigation continues, police in Malaysia are also concerned about four possibilities, the inspector general said Tuesday: "hijacking, sabotage, personal problems among the crew and passengers, and psychological problems among the crew and passengers."
— No Missing Passengers. Also Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines sought to correct earlier reports about five passengers who allegedly checked in, had bags put on the flight, but then did not board the plane. Those earlier reports indicated that the bags supposedly put on board were removed before the plane took off. But the airline now says that "there were four (4) passengers who had valid booking to travel on flight MH370, 8 March 2014, but did not show up to check-in for the flight." Since they had not checked in, those four did not have any baggage that needed to be removed from the jet, the airline says.