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July 18, 2014
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The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 proves that "Russia has lost control of the rebels," argues Julia Ioffe at the New Republic.

U.S. officials claim Russia is the only place from which rebels could have obtained machinery sophisticated enough to down a civilian jetliner. This idea prompted a new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia on Thursday.

The rebels "have been complaining for some time of being abandoned by President Vladimir Putin," Ioffe writes. She speculates that the plane's crash isn't a coincidence:

There is no way that, a day after criticizing the recklessness of American foreign policy, his military shoots down a passenger plane. Rather, it seems that the rebels made a mistake that paints Putin into a corner. Putin hates corners, and when he's backed into one, he tends to lash out. He especially hates to do or say what is expected of him, and to give in to outside pressure. So though he has already expressed his condolences to the Malaysian government, don't expect him to do anything swift or decisive. He will likely do something to punish the rebels after the spotlight moves on to the next global crisis. [New Republic]

Even if the evidence does point to the rebels, it's unclear what the West could do to punish them, or to punish Russia for providing rebels with the capability for violence. "Putin has started something he can't finish, unleashing a dangerous force he no longer fully controls — nor does he seem to care to — and it's costing more and more lives," Ioffe says. Read the rest of her take over at the New Republic. Meghan DeMaria

5:40 p.m. ET

A New Jersey Transit commuter train crashed Thursday morning at a station in Hoboken, New Jersey. At least 114 people were injured, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told CNN on Thursday afternoon, with many in critical condition. At least one person is confirmed dead.

"I got off my train on the way into work and as I was walking through the station, we could see that a train had come through the place where it's supposed to stop, all the way into the station — not into the waiting room but into the outdoor part," said Nancy Solomon of New York radio station WNYC. Photographs of the crash show significant damage to the station, including a partial collapse of the roof.

The crash happened at the height of the morning commute, around 8:45 a.m., though the number and severity of injuries is still unclear. Preliminary investigation suggests the incident was either accidental or caused by operator error. Full service is expected to resume for evening rush hour.

This post has been updated throughout. Jeva Lange

4:51 p.m. ET

There's a reason he won all those Tonys.

Sure, Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda can make theater sensations out of America's founding history or a dynamic three-day stint in a bustling New York City neighborhood — but that's kid stuff. No, the real talent comes out when you're tasked with making musical magic out of a single stump speech sentence:

Miranda is one of GQ's October 2016 cover men, and you can read the magazine's profile of him here. Kimberly Alters

2:39 p.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton held an early voting campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, focusing on her lifelong fight "for kids and families," which she said would be "the mission of my presidency."

Clinton and other Democrats are hoping to encourage voters to cast ballots early for fear that a lack of enthusiasm this election cycle could lead to lower voter turnout than occurred for President Obama's election, The Associated Press reports. Four in 10 Iowans voted early in 2012, and this year Democrats hope that number will be even higher, as more Republicans tend to turn up for the polls in November.

While early voting is now open in a handful of states, Iowa is the first battleground state to open voting. At this time, Donald Trump leads the state in the RealClearPolitics average, with 43 percent to Clinton's 38 percent in a four-way race. Jeva Lange

2:19 p.m. ET
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America's millionaire class is expanding rapidly. In just five years, the number of households whose investable assets totaled more than $1 million jumped 41.5 percent, from 4,797,879 millionaires in 2010 to 6,789,666 millionaires in 2015. Moreover, the growth spreads out across every level of the wealth pyramid, Barron's reports. For example, the number of households that crossed the $20 million mark soared a remarkable 64 percent in that time frame. And in a historical first, more than 1 million Americans can be considered penta millionaires, meaning their assets surpass $5 million total. Kelly Gonsalves

12:33 p.m. ET

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf appeared before Congress on Thursday, for the second time since news broke that his bank opened up 2 million fake accounts without informing its customers. Stumpf faced the Senate Banking Committee last week, where he incurred the wrath of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who demanded he resign.

At Thursday's hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Stumpf continued to face outrage from Democrats and Republicans alike, with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) accusing Stumpf of running "a criminal enterprise":

Stumpf stressed he would cooperate with lawmakers: "I am fully accountable for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business, and I am fully committed to fixing this issue," he said. "We will not stop working until we get this right." Jeva Lange

12:20 p.m. ET
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Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski traded his decidedly partisan post for the purportedly neutral job of CNN commentator back in June — and it hasn't been the smoothest transition. Lewandowski has come under fire for, to be kind, the optics of the whole thing, as he presents as a neutral news commentator while analyzing the campaign he actively tried to guide to success.

The situation was made worse when it was revealed in July that Lewandowski was still being paid by the Trump campaign while also receiving a paycheck from CNN, throwing those ethical concerns into stark relief. And after it was reported last week that the checks were still rolling in to Lewandowski from Trump, it appears Lewandowski got his erstwhile boss to do something he doesn't often do: pay up.

Politico reported Thursday that Lewandowski is no longer receiving payments from the Trump campaign, as the two parties agreed to pay out Lewandowski's severance in a lump sum. The decision was apparently made to "avoid future distractions," Politico's source at CNN said.

Lewandowski was originally scheduled to receive payments through the end of 2016. Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the lump sum payment to Lewandowski will be noted in the campaign's next FEC filing. Kimberly Alters

11:30 a.m. ET
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Conventional wisdom says the 2016 presidential race is about personality. Is Donald Trump too offensive? Is Hillary Clinton too imperious? Would voters like to have a beer with them? Does either of them have any idea what a beer costs? I mean, it's one beer — what could it cost? Ten dollars?

But a new study by Martin Wattenberg, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine, finds voters are increasingly uninterested in matters of personality. Instead, partisanship and policy are the primary determining factors for candidate selection in the United States today.

As Wattenberg explains at The Washington Post, "over the last 60 years, presidential candidates' personal attributes have actually become less important to voters and less correlated with election outcomes." In 1952, for instance, 8 in 10 Americans described personal qualities (like character, appearance, and personal history) when discussing why they liked their candidate. That personal interest has steadily declined up through 2012, the most recent year of available data, when only 6 in 10 offered similar answers to the same question.

To the extent that voters care about personal qualities today, their perception is heavily colored by partisanship. "In our increasingly polarized politics, people have come to hold more black-and-white views of the candidates," Wattenberg says, "and judge personal character through the lens of political bias." Bonnie Kristian

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