|   March 11, 2014    1:24 PM ET

It's not many people who would have the nerve call Barack Obama a "nerd', "Kenyan", and accuse his affordable care act of not working to his face.

And to suggest he would be "the last black president? Wow.

Zach Galifianakis is one of those people.

In a rather erm... quirky interview with the President of the United States, Galifianakis covers all none of the important topics.

Obama didn't take it lying down though - he got a few quality digs about the host's weight as well as his role in the 'Hangover' films.

It is very funny. And the program is called 'Between Two Ferns' which is the best concept for a chat show we've ever seen.

Apparently a British version with Mademoiselles Britton and Cotton is in the pipeline...

  |   March 7, 2014   12:23 PM ET

A young British beautician has been torn to shreds by the internet after her attempt to spell the US President's name went horrifically wrong.

Gemma Worrall, 20, spelt Barack Obama as… wait for it... "Barraco Barner."

obama

Additionally, Ms Worrall thought Obama was the British president and scolded him for "getting involved with Russia."

But instead of sparking an intellectual debate about the Ukraine crisis, she found herself at the centre of global attention with social media users branding the message a new low for "dumb Britain."

Within 12 hours Ms Worrall's comment had been retweeted almost 7,000 times.

barack obama

The beautician, who admits politics isn't her strong point, has now been left too fearful to tweet.

Revealing the abuse she has received she said: "Some of the comments I was getting were funny and I could have a good laugh at myself but others were just brutal and extreme and they were coming from all over the world.

"I might have had a bit of a ditzy moment but I don't deserve to be called such horrible names. I am harmless and didn't mean to offend anyone with my tweet," she told the Cavendish Press.

"I'm just amazed at how quickly things can get out of hand from one comment. I will definitely think before I tweet in future."

Mehdi Hasan   |   March 7, 2014    7:58 AM ET

Here are the five things you need to know on Friday 7 March 2014...

1) 'NAZI' UKIP HAS DONE US A FAVOUR, SAYS TORY MP

Forget the infamous 'fruitcakes, loonies and racists' attack on Ukip by David Cameron from several years ago; yesterday, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon let rip against Nigel Farage's anti-EU party, comparing some of its members to Nazis in an interview with House magazine. My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, said in many ways he was pleased Nigel Farage's party was doing so well as it had helped draw "sinister" people away from the Conservatives. 'To me there are two kinds of Ukip – the Godfrey Bloom guy who’s like a cross between Sid James and Bernard Manning,' he said. 'And then there's a much more sinister element, like the MEP who said every Muslim has got to sign a declaration of non-violence, which to me is literally akin to the Nazis saying Jews should wear a yellow star. I genuinely find it abhorrent and frightening. I'm amazed that man is still an MEP. How someone could say such a thing and then not apologise for it.' In an interview with The House magazine, Halfon, who is Jewish, said that Nigel Farage's party had actually done the Conservatives a 'huge favour' by 'cleansing people from the Tory party that had these kinds of views'."

Let's be clear: plenty of Tory MPs privately sympathise with Ukip; but plenty of others privately agree with Halfon.

In response, Farage tweeted that Halfon's "hysterical slurs" were due to "Tory terror of Ukip's rising popularity" and said his party planned a national day of action against the Tory backbencher in his Harlow constituency. The Ukip leader didn't however deal with Halfon's specific criticism of Ukip MEP Gerard Batten who did indeed outrageously demand all British Muslims sign a "declaration of non-violence".

2) OBAMA MAKES ANOTHER PLEA

From the BBC:

"US President Barack Obama has urged President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, in a lengthy telephone call... President Obama stressed to Russia's president that his country's actions in Crimea were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the White House said in a statement. He said there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine and Russian forces returning to their bases. For his part, President Putin said US-Russian 'relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems,' the Kremlin said. It was the two leaders' second telephone call concerning Ukraine in less than a week."

Unlike David Cameron, Obama wisely decided not to tweet a picture of himself on the phone with Putin. The Guardian reports: 'European leaders went much further than expected in warning Russia that it will face "severe and far reaching consequences' if it fails to change course on Ukraine, David Cameron said at the end of Thursday's emergency EU summit in Brussels. The prime minister, who had feared German nerves about confronting Vladimir Putin would weaken the EU's resolve, returned home satisfied that Europe and the US are sending powerful signals to Moscow."

Meanwhile, the FT reports: "Crimea's parliament accelerated plans to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, bringing forward a planned referendum on the peninsula's future by two weeks and inflaming already heightened tensions between Moscow and the west. Crimean voters will be asked on March 16 whether the region, which is now in effect controlled by Russian troops, should become part of the Russian Federation or remain in Ukraine, though with much greater autonomy."

3) 'ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COFFIN' OF POLICE CREDIBILITY

From the Mirror:

"Doreen Lawrence held back tears in the Lords last night as she welcomed a damning report detailing police corruption in the probe into her son's murder. The report by top lawyer Mark Ellison said there were reasonable grounds for thinking a detective had a 'corrupt connection' with a dad of one of Stephen's killers and that police planted 'a spy in the family camp'. Baroness Lawrence said: 'I believed that there was corruption at the start of Stephen's case. It's taken over a year for that [review] but it's taken nearly 21 years since Stephen's been killed, and the fact we as a family had to go through all this and still there's more to come out.' She earlier said of the Metropolitan police force: 'This is going to put another nail in their coffin, you just can't trust them.'"

Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a judge-led public inquiry into the alleged undercover infiltration of political groups by the Met. Speaking to Newsnight last night, however, Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, said he was "very wary" about the inquiry and said he felt he would "never be able to trust these people".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Check out how Twitter, including Twitter celebs, took the p*ss of the photo that David Cameron posted of himself on the phone with Barack Obama.

4) GIDEON'S BLACK HOLE

From the FT:

"George Osborne faces a black hole of more than £20bn in the public finances, according to official government economic models, suggesting that Britain might have to endure an extra year of austerity before the books are balanced. The models by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which the Financial Times has replicated, indicate that the government should no longer rely on an economic recovery to eliminate part of the budget deficit. While Britain has staged a remarkable recovery, indicators of the economy's capacity for future growth have deteriorated... The estimates come less than two weeks before Budget day and pose a difficult challenge to whichever party wins the election. If the models are correct, the next government would have to announce new spending cuts or tax rises to eliminate the structural deficit and ultimately to run a surplus."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reveals: "Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said. Official rapporteurs found local authorities do 'not have adequate financial resources' and this is likely to 'get worse in years to come', meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government."

5) FOURTH TIME UNLUCKY

From the Huffington Post UK:

"Iain Duncan Smith has been caught up in a new row over his department's dodgy use of official figures, the fourth in a year. The controversy erupted after top Department for Work and Pensions official Neil Couling tried to defend the government's Work Programme during a grilling by members of Parliament's work and pensions committee using unpublished data, which angered MPs as they did not have a chance to properly scrutinize the figures. Labour member Sheila Gilmore complained to Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who confirmed that 'published official statistics should be referred to in public statements' and that alternative information should be used only in 'exceptional circumstances'. Sir Andrew added: 'It is a matter of regret that DWP’s usual practice, which would have ensured compliance with the National Statistician’s guidance, was not followed.'"

Oh dear.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40
Conservatives 31
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Isabel Hardman, writing in the Telegraph, asks: "Will voters swallow Nick Clegg’s sausage strategy?"

Henry Porter, writing in the Independent, says: "What secret Home Office court says about British openness."

Me, writing in the Huffington Post UK: "While the Tories Claim That Growth Is Back, Ed Miliband Will Seize the Inequality Moment."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

  |   March 6, 2014    8:32 AM ET

EU leaders, including David Cameron, are to begin talks in Brussels aimed at putting further pressure on Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops back to their bases in Crimea,.

The hastily convened summit comes is the latest tactic of European leaders to show strong condemnation of Russia's action in Ukraine, which have so far fallen on deaf ears.

The EU has now frozen the assets of 18 people suspected of "misappropriating" Ukrainian state funds - including ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his closest allies.

crimea

An Ukrainian soldier talks to a Russian army force at the entrance of Ukrainian military base, as leaders meet in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Crimea

Meanwhile the EU proposed an aid package for Ukraine worth up to £9 billion to help "stabilise its economic and financial situation", as well as the asset sanction.

Those hit by the asset freeze - which came into force today - include a former interior minister, justice minister, the prosecutor general, the head of the security services and Yanukovych's son.

The sanctions also target former Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov and his son.

In talks between US President Barack Obama and Cameron last night, the two leaders agreed the US and EU should be "united in condemnation" of Russia's actions.

"They reiterated their grave concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and agreed that the international community should continue to work together to de-escalate the situation and to deter any further Russian action," a Downing Street spokesman said.

"While they noted that there had not been any further serious escalations by the Russians in the last 48 hours, both agreed that the current circumstances are unacceptable - the Russian authorities had yet to withdraw their troops back to bases, still refused to recognise the interim Government in Kiev and the situation on the ground remained extremely tense.

"They agreed that the EU and United States should stand united in their condemnation of Russia's actions and make clear to President Putin that such actions would face significant consequences."

Ukraine's interim prime minister Asenyi Yatsenyuk said in an interview with the Associated Press that he still feared Russia is planning to invade eastern Ukraine as well. "A number of military forces of the Russian Federation are deployed in Crimea," he said.

"This is Ukrainian territory and Russia wants to grab control over Crimea. But I will underline again, we will do our best in order to regain control over Ukrainian territory. The Russian military is to be back in the barracks."

We cannot figure out the reason why Russian boots are on Ukrainian ground. And it’s crystal clear that it was ordered personally by President Putin."

Pro-Moscow activists have recaptured the administrative headquarters of the eastern city of Donetsk, Reuters reporter, and flew the Russian flag from its roof on Wednesday, mere hours after Ukrainian supporters managed to fly their own blue and yellow standard there for the first time since Saturday.

US secretary of state John Kerry has warned Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that Moscow had made the "wrong choice" but could now take steps to de-escalate the situation.

Following talks in Paris, Kerry said: "We renew our call for Russia to speak directly to the government of Ukraine, to send troops back to bases and to welcome international observers and human rights monitors."
In a hint that there could be progress he said the meeting was "very constructive, without promising something that is not defined yet, without raising hopes that are inappropriate to raise" and added "I'd rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday".

Asa Bennett   |   March 5, 2014    3:48 PM ET

Russia could seize the assets of European and American companies operating in the country in retaliation for any economic sanctions imposed by the West amid tensions over the Ukraine crisis, a top Russian senator has warned.

Andrey Klishas, chairman of the upper house committee on constitutional law, told RIA Novosti that a team of lawyers are preparing a federal bill that would enable Russian president Vladimir Putin and the government to confiscate foreign-owned property in Russia, including assets owned by private companies.

“All sanctions must be mutual,” Klishas said. “We are only suggesting that instead of threatening each other with sanctions we should together with our partners calmly read the Ukrainian Constitution and understand what has happened in this sovereign country".

“The main thing we are trying to achieve, whether our European and American partners want it or not, is to make others listen to our legal arguments and adequately react to them."

Conservative MP Brooks Newmark, a member of parliament’s influential Treasury Select Committee, suggested that the UK could hit Russian business assets and bank accounts in turn.

He told HuffPostUK: "We can economically hurt Putin and his cronies as well, we can put a huge amount of economic pressure on them. They have enormous business interests in the UK and bank accounts here, too."

The White House earlier this week called off trade talks with Russia. President Barack Obama warned earlier this week that if Russia 'continued on its current trajectory" then the US was prepared to impose "a whole series of steps — economic, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its standing in the world.”

In response, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told the UN Human Rights Council: "Those who try to interpret the situation as a type of aggression and threaten sanctions and boycotts, are the same who consistently have encouraged the sides to refuse dialogue and have ultimately polarised Ukrainian society."

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "Moscow has explained to the Americans, repeatedly and demonstrably, why their one-sided punitive measures are not matching the standards of civilized relations between nations. If this fails to take effect, we will have to retaliate, and not necessarily in a mirror way."

Mehdi Hasan   |   March 1, 2014   11:47 PM ET

Here are the five things you need to know on Sunday 2 March 2014...

1) DOES VLAD WANT WAR?

What was Vladimir Putin thinking, sending troops and tanks into Ukraine's autonomous Crimea region and deploying anti-submarine warships off the coast of the country? Does he want a proper, full-on shooting war, a la Russia and Georgia in 2008? With who? Just the new post-coup government in Ukraine? Or the west as a whole?

The BBC reports on the US president's 90-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, in which he accused Putin of flouted international law by sending troops to Ukraine:

"Mr Obama urged the Russian leader to pull forces back to bases in Crimea. Mr Putin responded by saying that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. Meanwhile, Canada has recalled its ambassador to Moscow for consultations... Ukraine says it has put its army on full combat alert after Russia's parliament approved the deployment of Russian troops."

Putin isn't just playing czar; he's playing hypocrite. Remember his New York Times op-ed making the case against US-led military action in Syria last September? "The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression," wrote the Russian president. Hello kettle? This is pot. You're black.

Perhaps Obama should have re-read Putin's column back to him, over the phone, yesterday. Then again, Obama (and Cameron and co) have their own credibility and hypocrisy problem here. Western leaders denounce Russia's attack on Ukraine's "sovereignty" and "borders" while doing their own violating of "sovereignty" and "borders" whenever they see fit (remember Kosovo? Iraq? Libya?). They decry the illegitimacy of foreign military occupation while continuing to turn a blind eye to the longest foreign military occupation in the world: Israel's 47-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Pundits and politicians on Twitter seem to have reinvented themselves, this weekend, as experts on Russia and Ukraine. Most aren't. But Rodric Braithwaite, the former British ambassador to Moscow, is. Writing in the Independent on Sunday, he says:

"Much recent comment on Ukraine in the British press has been marked by a barely forgivable ignorance about its history and politics, an overhasty willingness to put the blame for all its troubles on Vladimir Putin, and an almost total inability to suggest practical ways of bringing effective Western influence to bear on a solution."

I agree with Braithwaite but I still nodded along while watching BBC1's Andrew Marr show this morning as historian and journalist Sir Max Hastings pithily remarked that the tragedy of modern Russia under Putin - who once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century, and came to prominence after brutally crushing the anti-Russia insurgency in Chechnya in the 1990s - is that the country only has three "bankable" exports: "oil, gas and fear".

2) THE UKRAINE BLAME GAME

So how does the crisis in Ukraine affect domestic UK politics, if at all? Well, some cynical Tories want to make it about Ed Miliband's judgement. Yep. You read that correctly. Conservative planning minister Nick Boles tweeted: "PM was right to urge Parliament to stand up to Putin and punish Assad's use of chemical weapons. Look where Miliband's weakness has led us." His colleague, the Tory treasury minister Sajid Javid went further, tweeting: "Direct link between Miliband’s cynical vote against Syria motion and Russia’s actions on Ukraine. Completely unfit to lead Britain."

Really? I mean, really? First off, the idea that Putin wouldn't have sent troops into Crimea - long considered part of Russia, not Ukraine, by the former's nationalists - if the US and UK had bombed Syria for a few days last September is laughable. Did the US/UK invasion of Iraq stop Putin going into Georgia in 2008? Do you really think Putin gives a damn about Labour's foreign policy platform? Second, if Miliband is going to be blamed for Ukraine for blocking a war in Syria, shouldn't he also get credit for the Syrian chemical weapons decommissioning deal and the Iranian nuclear diplomatic deal, both of which were the direct consequences of avoiding war with Syria last autumn? Third, Javid shouldn't forget, as the Spectator's Isabel Hardman reminded him, "30 of Javid’s own Conservative colleagues rebelled on [the Syria] motion and many more abstained". Is he blaming them for the situation in Ukraine, too?

Meanwhile, on a related note, Sarah Palin is taking credit for predicting the Russian incursion into Ukraine. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, too. From the Mail on Sunday:

"Sarah Palin had foreshadowed the impending Ukraine invasion six years ago - and she is not shy about telling her detractors 'I told you so.' The former Alaska governor and one-time vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket wrote on her Facebook page Friday a strongly worded post calling out her 'high-brow' critics for mocking her. 'Yes, I could see this one from Alaska,' Mrs Palin wrote. 'I'm usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as “an extremely far-fetched scenario” by the 'high-brow' Foreign Policy magazine.' As Palin pointed out in her post, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Foreign Affairs wrote an article ridiculing her prediction that if then-Senator Barack Obama is elected into office, Russia under President Vladimir Putin will move to occupy Ukraine. Palin's statements on the campaign trail came during an armed conflict that broke out between Russia and Georgia over the contested territory of South Ossetia."

3) BORIS AND GEORGE GO TO WAR.. WITH EACH OTHER

Forget Ukraine, the real conflict brewing is within the Conservative Party, between heavy weights Boris Johnson, the London mayor, and George Osborne, the chancellor. The Mail on Sunday splashes on "Rage Of Boris At 'Osborne The Liar'". The paper reports:

"Supporters of the London Mayor claimed the Chancellor’s camp was engaging in a ‘dirty tricks plot’ to wreck his hopes of becoming Conservative leader – and boost Mr Osborne’s own ambitions for the job. The simmering ‘Boris versus George’ leadership feud burst into the open over reports that Mr Osborne had ‘delivered personally’ a message to Mr Johnson that David Cameron wants him to stand as a parliamentary candidate at the next Election... A well-placed source says that, when he was told Mr Osborne had approached him about the matter, the Mayor exclaimed: ‘Bull****! There has been no such conversation. They are trying to tie me in.’ Mr Johnson believes the manoeuvre is a ploy to ensure he gets equal blame if the Tories lose power, and make it easier for Mr Osborne to beat him in a subsequent race to succeed Mr Cameron."

If true, you've can't help but admire the chancellor's cynical and self-serving embrace of the dark arts...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch my 60-second, semi-serious take on the week's top political stories - from Harman vs the Mail to Angela Merkel's visit to her 'naughty nephew' David Cameron. I even try speaking German in it... #mehdisminute

4) THE COLOUR OF UKIP MONEY

All is not well on Planet Ukip - the Observer reports:

"Ukip's spring conference ended in bitter feuding over funding on Saturday night as the party's deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton, accused a top donor of failing to deliver. Last year Yorkshire multimillionaire Paul Sykes promised to bankroll the party's European elections campaign, handing over 'whatever it takes' to ensure that the party topped the poll. At the time the pledge was seen as a coup for Ukip, but Hamilton, a former Tory minister, told the Observer: 'So far we haven't seen the colour of his money. This spending needs to be committed. Very large amounts of money can't just start a billboard campaign or publish a newspaper, things have to be planned – there's a lot of creative work involved.'"

Speaking on the Marr show this morning, Ukip leader Nigel Farage repeatedly denied that his party was a "splinter" group from the Tories and that the majority of Ukip members and voters weren't former Tories. He reminded viewers that a post-2015 Ukip parliamentary contingent could be up for doing a coalition deal with any party which promised an in/out referendum on the EU - that is, the Conservatives or Labour.

By the way, you didn't think we were going to get through Ukip's spring conference on Friday without a series of gaffes and scandalous remarks, did you? From the Sunday Mirror:

"Nigel Farage and hundreds of his UKIP supporters roared with laughter – as a comic cracked a string of offensive jokes about foreigners. The party’s leader clapped as Paul ­Eastwood took swipes at Indians, Muslims and Poles at a gala dinner marking the climax of its spring conference... The scenes were witnessed by Sunday Mirror investigators who joined 200 guests at the £35-a-head black-tie feast. The dinner was a chance for delegates, donors and officials to mingle after the day-long ­conference in Torquay, Devon. Earlier our reporters were invited to an exclusive boozy bash on a £1million yacht. We listened as a UKIP backer claimed Essex was 'full of Arabs'. He complained that people in East London were ­impossible to understand."

Oh dear.

5) LORD OWEN LIKES ED

Talking of donors and donations, has Labour's prodigal son come home? From the Observer:

"Former Labour foreign secretary David Owen last night swung his support dramatically behind the party he left 33 years ago – pledging a substantial donation to it – as Ed Miliband won overwhelming backing from delegates for his party reforms... The peer's move came after delegates supported sweeping internal changes, which will introduce a system of 'one member, one vote' for Labour leadership elections and end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party, by 86% to 14%. In a statement issued afterwards, Owen said: 'This is a brave and bold reform ... and one I strenuously argued for as a Labour MP at the special conference on Saturday 25 January 1981... To help Labour reverse the 2012 NHS legislation without yet another major reorganisation, I have made a declarable contribution of over £7,500 to Labour funds. Unless there is a change of government, the NHS in England will be completely destroyed by 2020.'"

Owen, however, will continue to sit as an independent in the Lords and won't be taking the Labour whip. He joins Tony Blair and Unite's Len McCluskey in endorsing Miliband's internal party reforms; as the New Statesman's George Eaton quipped on Twitter last night: "That's quite a big tent."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The Conservatives must ditch this statistical nonsense." - Dr Liam Fox, former defence secretary and standard bearer for Tory Eurosceptics, attacks the coalition's net migration target in a column for the Sunday Telegraph.

OSCARS ALERT

Tonight's the Oscars in Los Angeles. I'll be rooting for Jeremy Scahill and his anti-drone movie 'Dirty Wars', which is up for 'best documentary'. Meanwhile, the HuffPost UK has done a 'political Oscars' featuring, among others Barack Obama and Norman Tebbit.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 34
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 44.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 34
Conservatives 29
Ukip 19
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 48.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@WilliamJHague We oppose decision to deploy Russian troops on Ukrainian soil against wishes of #Ukraine gov and condemn any act of aggression

@jreedmp Those calling for clear response from EU and US...there is no possibility of a clear response. Every single move has a negative consequence.

@StewartWood A shame to see @sajidjavid use the Ukrainian crisis to spout nonsense in the quest for party political point scoring at home.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Angela Merkel’s visit is a small step in the long march to reform."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observe, says: "Not even Angela Merkel can bridge the vast Europe divide for David Cameron."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Ed Miliband’s Labour Party reforms are good news for all."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

  |   March 1, 2014   10:01 AM ET

Reports suggest 6,000 Russian troops have been sent into the Ukraine, despite a warnings from Barack Obama that "there will be costs" if the country militarily intervenes in the crisis.

The US president's blunt message came yesterday after armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports in Crimea yesterday and Russian transport planes were said to have flown into the strategic region - an ominous sign of the Kremlin's iron hand in Ukraine.

Mr Obama did not say what the "costs" might be, but US officials said he may cancel plans to attend an international summit in Russia this year and could halt discussions on deepening trade ties with Moscow.

According to Sky News, Russian troops are continuing efforts to gain control of key sites in the south-eastern region of Crimea, including an anti-aircraft missile base.

David Cameron also renewed his call on Moscow to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity in a telephone call with Vladimir Putin yesterday.

No 10 said the premiers agreed that free and fair elections were the best way to secure Ukraine's future.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister called President Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine, particularly the escalating tensions in Crimea.

"The Prime Minister emphasised that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister called President Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine, particularly the escalating tensions in Crimea.

"The Prime Minister emphasised that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. President Putin agreed, stressing that Russian military exercises in the area had been planned before the current situation in Ukraine.

"The two leaders discussed how the international community could support Ukraine on the path to stability. They agreed that the free and fair elections that the interim government has pledged to hold are the best way to secure a positive future for Ukraine in which all Ukrainian people are represented. A future that would not involve forcing the Ukrainian people to make a choice between Europe and Russia.

"They agreed the international community should also consider how to help the interim government tackle the economic situation.

"They plan to keep in touch on the issue."

The Foreign Office has issued fresh travel guidance advising against all visits to the Crimean Peninsula and calling on those already there to leave.

Why Is the UK Facilitating Oppression in Bahrain?

Amelia Amin   |   March 1, 2014   12:00 AM ET

He's put teenagers in prison for calling him names, and made treating wounded protesters a crime punishable by death. He's a pretty nasty guy, the King of Bahrain. However with such high stakes in the stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain, it comes as no surprise that Bahrain's fellow conservative Gulf Arab states and other Western countries continue to bolster support of the controversial monarchy of the world's smallest desert Kingdom.

Of chief interest to the US is the maintenance of the Navy's Fifth Fleet which has been based in Bahrain for 40 years, and is a counterpoint for Iranian military in the region (and monitors the flow of oil in the Gulf region). Since Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's inauguration, more than $100million in aid has been sent to Bahrain, and the Pentagon has overseen plenty of arms deals. Is it just me who thinks that perhaps Obama shouldn't have been put into the same category as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King?

Then comes big brother Saudi Arabia, whose support of the Bahraini monarchy is an extension of its protection of all Gulf monarchies. The effect of sending in 1,000 troops when the protest began in 2011 was to send a clear message to Shi'ites living in Saudi. Particularly now that Iraq no longer has a powerful presence in the region (understatement of the year), the Gulf states feel that the balance has been offset. Iran's power is making Gulf Arab leaders jittery, and Saudi's intervention in Bahrain during the 2011 protests sent a clear message of warning to Iran to stay away.

Without question the Bahraini government's manipulation of power is morally unsound. That much is surely undebatable. Reports of torture, rape, corruption, discrimination and oppression dominate the political landscape. In light of gross human rights violations and wrongdoing, the natural assumption would be that 'Great' Britain will review the type of business, if any, that they conduct with the leaders of Bahrain. We are a civilized country after all, the land of tea and crumpets, not to be associated with a despotic regime. Apparently satire isn't dead after all.

It turns out that the UK continues to court Bahrain regardless of the rather unsavory goings on. Andrew Smith, media co-ordinator from the Campaign Against Arms Trade told The Huffington Post that since the Arab Spring began in 2011, the UK government has approved over £30million worth of arms export licences to Bahrain including assault rifles, pistols and naval guns. They say that many of the weapons sold to the closely affiliated Saudi regime were also used in the harsh crackdown on demonstrators in the 2011 uprising.

Smith added that: 'When our government sells arms it is giving moral and practical support to an illegitimate and authoritarian regime and directly supporting their systematic crackdown on opposition groups'.

Many UK citizens will be unaware that the UK is engaging in such arms trade with Bahrain. However, our government's involvement with a morally dubious country by default makes the hands of the entire nation bloody. In fact, a report from the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that "Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of British support for the government."

It gets worse. In addition to the arms trade, negotiations are currently underway to supply the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) with Eurofighter Typhoons. Arabian aerospace online news service said Eurofighter negotiations 'stepped up a gear' following a meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Bahraini Monarch King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa last August. The two leaders spoke about the Kingdoms plans to purchase a squadron of 12 Typhoons. However the greatest hypocrisy by far was Great British Week. An entire week of jubilations which ran from January 15 to 22 last month celebrated strong bilateral ties between the UK and Bahrain.

The cosy relations between the two countries saw over £300million of bilateral trade in the year of the uprising (2011) alone. It's also worth mentioning that Bahrain hosts 25 British companies, including Ernst & Young, HSBC, McLaren Automotive, and Standard Chartered Bank, as well as thousands of British workers. Funny, that.

It would be a struggle to find a more blatant incidence in which business takes precedent over human rights. The Commons foreign affairs committee are fully aware of this, but quite frankly, couldn't care less. In a recent report they said that although cooperation between the two countries is undoubtedly "controversial" given the Bahraini uprising, "Bahrain provides an immensely valuable home in the Gulf for UK naval assets which would be difficult to find elsewhere". And so it continues... business as usual.

The future for Bahrain is uncertain. Uprisings against entrenched autocratic regimes elsewhere in the Middle East have resulted in four victories for protesters since the Arab uprising began in 2011. In Syria, civil war still continues, and the future is unclear. Whether protesters will be able to force democratic reform onto this island Kingdom is unclear. However, one certainty amidst the chaos, is that change is Bahrain will remain a mirage so long as the king is bolstered by so much international support. Let's not beat about the bush, the British government is publicly supporting a repressive and undemocratic government in Bahrain, and by doing so they are bloodying the hands of a nation which prides itself on promoting civil liberties and human rights for all. Now, who fancies a cuppa?

  |   February 28, 2014    3:09 PM ET

From unfortunate moustache pictures to unfortunate Simon Cowell pictures - we round up this week's silliest snaps...

  |   February 27, 2014   10:42 AM ET

It's official: America is building Iron Man.

Well, kinda. President Obama recently said it - but as we know, in politics that's rarely a guarantee that it's actually happening.

There's also the fact that he laughed audibly after having said it - and that the press conference was about new military technology, and collaboration between different agencies, and not a specific program to weaponise Robert Downey Jr.

On the other hand, we're already aware of several US-funding programs to build exo-suits, next-gen armour and AI-controlled hardware and bring it to the battlefield. At this point Iron Man could be a period piece before we know it.

Sara C Nelson   |   February 25, 2014    4:02 PM ET

Barack Obama has paid tribute to late actor Harold Ramis, describing him as "one of America's greatest satirists".

In a statement issued via the White House twitter account, the American President said: "When we watched his movies . . . we didn't just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings."

The Ghostbusters star died on Monday from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels.

The 69-year-old was known as much for his off-screen work - writing the Ghostbusters films, along with 'Groundhog Day' and 'Analyze This' - as he was for playing Dr Egon Spengler in front of the camera.

Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd, Billy Crystal and William Shatner were just some of those who have also tweeted their sadness at his death.

Keep scrolling for Ramis's top ten comedies

SEE ALSO: The 21 Greatest Moments In 'Groundhog Day'

Ukraine: Could EU Referendum have Prevented Bloodshed and Chaos?

Dan Ehrlich   |   February 24, 2014   10:50 AM ET

Ukraine and the United Kingdom seem to have one thing in common, a problem deciding if they do or don't want to be in the European Union.

And the mini revolution that has taken place with the loss of 100 plus lives might have been prevented had President Victor Yanukovich, who was against EU membership, offered to hold a referendum on the issue.

Now that he has been removed in what amounts to a lack of confidence by the nation's parliament, that same parliament immediately announced it will seek close ties with the EU and less close ties with its neighbour Russia.

Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said Ukraine's new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice" Yet, this decision has also been made without the mention of holding a referendum on the action.

Why is a referendum important here? Ukraine is a country divided between the western oriented and largely Roman Catholic west and the Russian oriented and Orthodox Church east. The nation can be compared to the north and south in the USA...very different. The two regions are divided by the Dnieper River. If ever there was a case for such a vote, Ukraine's divided nation offers a good one.

Aside from having a civil war on the issue of which block the country will be allied with, the democratic way would be to hold a popular vote on the issue. To simply change direction with a new government could be inviting another uprising in the future.

It should be pointed out that unlike what some newspapers have reported, Yanukovich was not a dictator. He may have acted that way, but so have some UK prime ministers. He was democratically elected and driven out of office through undemocratic means. The parliament stripping him of office happened after he had fled Kiev.

I'm not defending him since it appears the nation is loaded with corrupt politicians and billionaire business people who maintain their wealth by not sinking it back into Ukraine's dying economy.

The desire of many people to join the EU is the fantasy that membership will be the remedy for the country's economy. And you can bet many workers would like the luxury of being able to seek work anywhere in the EU.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will now travel to Ukraine, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy. The finance ministry said is needs $35 billion in foreign aid over the next two years, with the first tranche needed within two weeks. Yet, this is only a wish not a reality, something Ashton may bring home to the new government.

In what might be compared to a mini Bolshevik Revolution sans communism, the idealistic left that began the protests is being replaced by the far right, even neo Nazis, something which won't help their prospects of EU membership. This also means that the eastern half of the nation, the Russian half, is less radical that the west.

Meanwhile the USA has warned Russia not to intervene in the situation and has expressed a hope the country would remain united.http://news.yahoo.com/u-says-39-grave-mistake-39-russia-send-154700499.html

According to some Ukrainians I have talked to, a big problem is that there are no non-corrupt qualified politicians. They are all in the pocket of some oligarch. The now freed former president Yulia Tymoshenko is such an oligarch with a fortune reputed to be much larger than anything Yanukovich has.

This upheaval, according to what I have heard, is far from over.

Building Trust on Social Media: A Recipe to Increase Turnout at the 2014 European Elections

Alessandro Bonzio   |   February 23, 2014    9:50 AM ET

The upcoming European elections will offer a valuable insight into the current state of democracy in the EU. While the vote will lay the foundations for a greater involvement of citizens in the Union's policy-making process, a poor result may end up undermining the legitimacy of the EU system as a whole. One aspect likely to be tested is the much-lauded value of social media as a tool of democratic participation. With discontent concerning EU institutions growing at an alarming pace, policy-makers are on the lookout for new opportunities to reach out to citizens and many believe social media could be the key to finally drive turnout up. Could social media actually encourage citizens to walk to the polling booths?

To begin with, all those Web enthusiasts picturing the 2014 elections as a potentially European version of the 2012 Obama campaign are likely to remain disappointed. Obama spent 47 million dollars for his digital campaign: a sum not even comparable with the budget in the pockets of candidates running for a seat in the next EP. The true secret behind his success was a systematic use of big data, which could hardly fall within the boundaries of the European legal framework, with its much stricter regulations on privacy issues. And if you think about the profound differences between the US and the EU political systems, the Obama analogy becomes even more problematic.

A better approach is to look at one of the factors that most affects people's willingness to get involved in politics: their trust in political institutions. Over the last decade, citizens' faith in the EU has declined hand in hand with turnout at EP elections. Both dropped by 3 per cent in the five years prior to the 2009 vote, which registered the lowest turnout rate in the history of the European Parliament. Since then trust levels have gone from 47 to a worrying 31 per cent, and many take this as a sign that the next elections might reach an unprecedented low in terms of participation.

Strengthening relationships and building trust is something social media is potentially really good at. Users can reach people they would otherwise be unable to reach, and engage in a direct and immediate dialogue with them, which is essential to earn people's trust. According to the Labour MEP Richard Howitt - who spoke at an event held in December at Europe House, London - social media is much more than an effective tool for getting to as many citizens as possible. In his view, "the increased insight into the lives of politicians brought about by social media will [also] allow the public to see that 'they are just normal people'." Trust cannot come without authenticity: treating people merely as a target for propaganda not only isn't going to do the job but in many cases may even reveal counterproductive.

The EU seems to be on the right track in this sense: three months away from the vote, its digital campaign shows a genuine commitment to values of accountability and transparency. The EP has created an online platform combining multi-media content from different social networks, including a page dedicated to the online activities of single MEPs. Moreover, on the MyVote2014 portal citizens can access information on party policies and single issues, learn how each party member has voted and even discover interactively how EU policies would change if decided upon by users.

This strategy could well succeed in convincing part of the electorate to cast their vote in May. But as some have noted, it might have a hard time reaching fervent Euro-sceptics as well as militant abstainers. Increasing turnout might ultimately depend as much on politicians as on citizens themselves. At the end of the day, it is not the politicians that most influence thoughts and behaviours, but the people we really trust, be they friends and colleagues or our favourite writers and journalists. From this perspective, spreading engaging content online in order to get people to talk about the elections may prove even more effective than interacting with them directly.

With 350 million users potentially connected to each other, social media could be the public space the EU has always lacked; a place where transnational issues can be discussed and where popular debate could suddenly develop a pan-European dimension. The mainstream media no longer retain their traditional monopoly of news and, therefore, no longer exclusively define the parameters of public discussion. Thanks to Twitter, British people were able to follow the 2013 election campaign in Germany to an extent it would have never been possible by simply relying on national media. New technologies are helping Europeans come together despite geographic and language barriers, which in the long run may create a stronger sense of identity among them. And history teaches us that identity is another powerful fuel for political action.

Social media could play an important role in boosting turnout at the next EP elections. But, maybe, not in the way people think. Listening to citizens' voices online will be a crucial step towards reconnecting them to Europe, while making EU democracy more transparent and accountable will help Brussels restore part of its lost legitimacy. Yet social media's potential will not be fully exploited unless citizens begin using it consistently as a platform for discussing Europe with fellow Europeans. Building trust is hardly ever a top-down process: whatever happens in May, constructive change will be driven largely by the people.

A Requiem for the World's Revolutionaries

Robin Lustig   |   February 22, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Today is a day to weep for the world's revolutionaries. Their bruised bodies, their lost lives- and their shattered dreams.

Not just those who have been out in the freezing streets and squares of Kiev and other Ukrainian towns and cities, but also those who were out not so long ago in Cairo or Tripoli, where as in Kiev, their passion and their courage brought them nothing but grief. People power meets brute power- and the cost is huge.

It's impossible to say yet how all this will end - but it may well be that when peace eventually returns to Ukraine, the protesters will, in effect, have lost. When a regime uses live ammunition against its own citizens, it has crossed a line. It cannot turn back, it cannot concede. It's hard to see what real prospect there can possibly be now of a meaningful negotiated settlement. Just as in Cairo and Tripoli (Syria is a tragedy of a different order), even the overthrow of a hated president may lead to a new reality that is no better than what went before. It gives me no pleasure to say this: revolutions are often in vain.

It is, alas, too easy to be swept up in the excitement of young protesters taking control of the streets, unfurling their banners, erecting their tents and singing their songs of defiance. TV cameras blinking down from the balconies of nearby hotels give us the impression of a people in revolt, an unstoppable wave of protest, sweeping away oppression and corruption.

But the cameras can lie. Yes, the people are there, and yes, for a time, they control the streets. But the real power is elsewhere, behind the heavy wooden doors in government buildings, in army headquarters- and sometimes in capital cities hundreds or thousands of miles away, where those with more power make their own calculations, in their own interests.

So let's look at what has been happening in Kiev. Nearly a decade ago, the protesters of the Orange Revolution were out in that same Independence Square, from where they successfully brought down a sclerotic, corrupt regime and prevented the fraudulent installation of a pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych. Today, that same Mr Yanukovych is in power- having been elected, more or less fairly, in 2010. With the all-important backing of President Putin, he is determined to stay there.

Here are the real battle lines: pro-Western protesters out on the streets, most of them young and dreaming of a Ukrainian future as part of Europe, up against a ruthless Kremlin autocrat who has a very different dream- of a Ukraine firmly in Russia's sphere of influence, beholden to Moscow politically, militarily and economically.

Ask Hungarians who remember 1956 what happens when popular protest confronts Moscow might. Ask Czechs who remember 1968. It doesn't require Red Army tanks to start rolling through the streets of Kiev for the answer to be the same: the people lose.

Yet it has not been forever thus. In 1989, in Romania, Bulgaria and across eastern Europe, brutal Communist dictatorships were indeed swept away by people's uprisings. Different time, different Kremlin. For Mr Putin, 1989 was the greatest disaster to befall Moscow in its recent history. He is determined not to let it happen again.

Only now, it seems, are Western policy-makers waking up to the new reality: as Obama's Washington has withdrawn from global engagement, weakened and exhausted by Afghanistan and Iraq, Putin's Moscow has leapt in to fill the gap. We have seen it in Syria, where President Assad survives only at Putin's pleasure, and now we are seeing it in Ukraine as well. Putin understands the nature of power, and he knows better than any other current world leader how to use it.

I do not believe that all revolutions are doomed to fail. In east Asia and Latin America, the ruthless military dictatorships that were the norm in the 1960s and 70s have long gone, swept aside by a combination of popular resistance and internal decay. Similarly in much of Africa, kleptocratic dictatorships have made way for democracies, at least in part due to the end of the Cold War and the removal of external Big Power support for military strongmen.

But nor are all revolutions bound to succeed. Especially not in countries like Ukraine, Libya, Egypt and Syria, with deep social and political divisions, where there is no national consensus and no tradition of political dialogue. It is easy to forget as we watch the terrible, apocalyptic images from Ukraine that President Yanukovych has plenty of supporters, just as President Mubarak did in Egypt and President Assad, despite everything, still has in Syria. (There is one important difference, though: neither Mubarak nor Assad ever won a properly contested election. Yanukovych did.)

I still want to believe in the power of protest. I am still an optimist who believes that the world is slowly becoming a better place, with millions more people able to live decent, fulfilling lives. But when I see what is happening in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Central African Republic - need I go on? - my faith, such as it is, is sorely tested.