May 6, 2014
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Due to recent (and ongoing) events, the arrival of The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union, by Professor of Ukrainian History Serhii Plokhy, feels about as timely as any history book ever could.

In fact, it's hard to read Plokhy and not gain insight into modern times. For example, he recalls that even around the time of the Soviet Union's collapse, while Russians were basically split over the question of Lithuanian independence, "only 22 percent of Russians favored Ukrainian independence, while almost 60 percent were opposed."

And for those interested in debates over what might be described as pedantic semantics, there's an interesting history on the linguistic debate that took place prior to President George H.W. Bush's visit, over whether or not to refer to Ukraine as The Ukraine:

Jack Matlock [the American ambassador in Moscow], who was shown the text of the speech that Bush was scheduled to deliver later that day in the Ukrainian parliament, protested to one of the speechwriters against the use of the definite article with 'Ukraine.' "Make sure the president leaves out the article. He should just say 'Ukraine.' Ukrainian Americans think the article makes it sound like a geographic area rather than a country." The speechwriter protested, "But we say 'the United States,' don't we?" But Matlock eventually prevailed. His argument was not linguistic but political: If the president says 'the Ukraine,' the White House will be getting thousands of letters and telegrams in protest next week." [The Last Empire]

Interestingly, the speech still managed to cause problems back home, becoming derisively known as the "Chicken Kiev speech." But it had nothing to do with the definite article.

With Russia and Ukraine back in the news, it feels like everything old is new again. Two decades later, Americans are still struggling with the definite article. Matt K. Lewis

10:57 a.m. ET

Even though Donald Trump thinks he "looks like a spoiled brat," embattled pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli is still going to support him in the presidential race. In a tweet late Thursday, Shkreli — who gained infamy as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals after raising the price of a drug by more than 5,000 percent — announced that he'd be voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton:

All Shkreli thinks Trump needs now is a running mate who is "seasoned in politics." But don't worry, it won't be him:

At least that's one bullet dodged. Becca Stanek

10:39 a.m. ET

Is the politician you're talking to speaking in a deep, impressive voice? He probably thinks you're rich or important. That's just one conclusion of a new study from researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, which found that politicians modulate their voices depending on the social status of their audience.

When conversing casually, politicians will speak as if they are addressing family, but in front of large groups, their voices often take on a sing-song quality. And among people of high stature, whom they consider peers, politicos will opt for that lower tone.

Dr. Rosario Signorello, who worked on the project, said similar habits have been observed in some animals, and he plans to study chimpanzees to see if the pattern holds.

Previous research has drawn another comparison between politicians and the animal kingdom: They are prone to use body language to convey personal size and power, like when Jeb Bush stood on tiptoes to look tallest during a GOP debate — or when his brother did the "gorilla walk," holding his arms in an ape-like manner. Bonnie Kristian

10:25 a.m. ET

This week, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the first of two Japanese cities on which the United States dropped nuclear bombs at the end of World War II. While there, Obama called for a "world without nuclear weapons" and a "moral revolution."

But in practice, the president has reduced the American nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War president. In fact, a new report from the Federation of American Scientists indicates that both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush shrank the stockpile significantly more than Obama and Bill Clinton — yet even Clinton destroyed nearly twice as many warheads as Obama has so far.

Obama has also quietly planned a $1 trillion, 30-year update of our nuclear arsenal, a pricey program critics suggest is ill-suited to modern national security issues. Bonnie Kristian

10:21 a.m. ET
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Writer Peter Manso was working on a story about Roy Cohn for Playboy in 1981 when Cohn invited him to a dinner party he was hosting. The guests included Estee and Joe Lauder, the Baron and Baroness Ricardo "Ricky" di Portanova of the Cullen oil fortune, and, of course, Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana.

Writing for Politico Magazine, Manso recalled how he was seated beside the real estate mogul at dinner, only to be given a Trump Tower sales pitch complete with forceful encouragement to buy a luxury apartment he couldn't possibly afford:

I grinned. Years before I'd learned that the proper response to rich people who don't, or won't, appreciate that your situation isn't the same as theirs is to explode the fiction right off since there's always the possibility that what they're doing stems not from ignorance so much as they're trying to make you feel small and uncomfortable. It's a form of bullying.

It's also crass. Here Trump was at his pal lawyer's dinner table in this lovely house, sitting with at least two other couples who could have bought and sold him several times over yet he's desperately vying for top-dog status, flexing muscle by trying to sell a freelance writer real estate. It was the same smarmy narcissism that you find in used car salesmen and which, plainly, these past 35 years has fueled Trump's biz dealings, his TV forays, his penchant for compliant blonds and, now, his quest for the presidency. [Politico]

Much later, Manso met Trump again — only this time, he did more than uncomfortably grin when Trump decided to show off his wealth. Read the whole story at Politico. Jeva Lange

9:48 a.m. ET
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Drug test results stemming from the London 2012 Olympic Games may end up pushing as many as 23 athletes out of the upcoming Games in Rio, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Friday. After retesting 265 doping samples from London using more advanced methods than were available at the time, the IOC says it has found athletes from five different sports and six different countries to possibly be guilty of doping.

The latest results come on the heels of last week's announcement that, after retesting 454 doping samples from the 2008 Games in Beijing, 31 athletes had tested positive. The IOC says there may be more results in coming weeks, too, as retests continue. "We want to keep the dopers away from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro," IOC president Thomas Bach said. "This is why we are acting swiftly now." Becca Stanek

9:43 a.m. ET
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A Wisconsin Christian school that receives federal funding is demanding to see all applicants' birth certificates to make sure none are transgender, reports Talking Point Memo. St. John's Lutheran officials admit they can't legally discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but say they're letting students with a "sinful lifestyle" know "where we're coming from," to avoid having "to weed them out" after they're enrolled.

The school is now under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the free lunch program St. John's Lutheran School participates in. The Week Staff

9:15 a.m. ET
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Maybe Bernie Sanders fans aren't so sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton's "damn emails" after all. As it appears more and more likely that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president, some Sanders supporters see an opportunity for their candidate to get ahead if only the F.B.I. would act, and quick.

"[Clinton] should be removed," Julie Cowell of Tustin, California, told The New York Times. "I don't know why she's not already been told, 'You can't run because you're being investigated.' I don't know how that's not a thing."

Sanders superfans are calling Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state an unforgivable transgression that should disqualify her from running for president — an opinion also held by many of her opponents on the right. In fact, some polls have even indicated that as many as a third of Sanders supporters would ultimately pick Donald Trump if it came down to him and Clinton.

"I'm hoping that the F.B.I. sends a strong message to people like [Clinton], as well as other people in politics who are using their position of power to manipulate the system for their own personal advancement. She feels like she can do whatever she wants with absolute impunity, and that she somehow is above any type of repercussions," Jennifer Peters, 28, of Costa Mesa, California, said.

Earlier this week, an internal audit by the State Department sharply criticized Clinton for failing to request permission to use her personal server, permission that the Office of the Inspector General said "would not" have been approved due to "the security risks in doing so." Jeva Lange

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