April 1, 2014
Oleg Nikishin/Newsmakers

Here's another theory to explain Russian President Vladimir Putin's bold gobbling up of Crimea and menacing troop buildup on Ukraine's borders: He's not trying to restore Russia's former czarist (or even Soviet) glory, but rather distracting Russians from their nasty, brutish, and short lives. This theory comes from Maureen Orth, who profiled Putin for Vanity Fair in 2000 and revisited Putin's Russia at the magazine on Monday.

Specifically, Orth talked to demographers to get a sense of the numbers in Russia. "They do not make a pretty picture," she concludes. Read Orth's full post for a damning glimpse at the state of Russia, but here are a few numbers that show why Russians might appreciate a nationalistic conquest to take their minds off of things at home:

64 — life expectancy for Russian men (137th in the world)
76 — life expectancy for Russian women (100th)
30 — percentage of Russian babies who are born healthy
77 — percentage of Russians age 15 to 17 who drink vodka regularly
50 — percentage of Russian water that is safe to drink

It's not at all clear that demographic changes will soon turn Texas blue (or even purple), as Democrats fervently hope, but it seems pretty clear that an aging, sickly, hard-drinking, early-dying Russia will have a hard time regaining its stature as a global economic powerhouse, much less a military superpower. Putin had better make the small victories count. Peter Weber

8:32 p.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

While landing in stormy weather Thursday night in New York City, Mike Pence's airplane skidded off the runway at LaGuardia Airport and came to a stop at the perimeter fence.

None of the 37 people on board, including members of Pence's staff, the press, and his wife and daughter, Charlotte, were injured. The Republican vice presidential nominee was flying in from Fort Dodge, Iowa, for a fundraiser at Trump Tower, which has since been canceled. The flight was delayed two hours due to rain in New York, and Vaugh Hillyard of NBC News, who was on the plane, called it a "tough landing. … we felt skidding, and the plane started to swerve to the right. There was some bumping, then the plane stopped." The airport is now closed, and an investigation is underway. Catherine Garcia

8:06 p.m. ET
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A jury on Thursday found brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the leaders of an armed group who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for nearly six weeks earlier this year, and five others not guilty of conspiracy to impede federal workers from their jobs.

Additionally, several of the defendants were charged with possessing a firearm at a federal facility, and they were also acquitted on that count. The standoff began on Jan 2., with the participants claiming it was to protest two local ranchers being sentenced to five years in prison for two counts of arson on federal land. The Bundy brothers still face charges in Nevada, where in 2014 they engaged in another standoff, this time with federal agents who attempted to take their father's cattle after they grazed on public land for years without a permit. Catherine Garcia

7:23 p.m. ET
Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin shrugged off accusations that his country is meddling in the U.S. election, asking, "Does anyone really think that Russia can influence the choice of the American people in any way?"

"Is America some sort of banana republic? America is a great power. Please correct me if I'm wrong," Putin said during remarks at the Valdai Club, a gathering of world policy experts. Despite Putin denying Russia's involvement in the email hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the Obama administration is certain the country is behind it.

While Putin would not say if he would prefer to see Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House, he had good things to say about the Republican nominee's strategy. "Trump has chosen his own way of reaching the hearts of voters," he said. "He is acting extravagantly, but not so pointlessly. He represents the interests of the part of the society tired of the elites that have held power for decades. He is representing the common people, and he is acting like a common guy himself." Catherine Garcia

6:40 p.m. ET
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The EU's 2016 Sakharov Prize for human rights has been awarded to Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two Yazidi women who escaped sexual slavery by the Islamic State.

The award is named after Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet dissident, and bestowed upon those who defend human rights. In December, Murad shared with the U.N. Security Council the terror she experienced, along with other Yazidi women and girls, when they were abducted in August 2014 after Sinjar, Iraq, fell to ISIS militants. She was raped repeatedly, and fled after three months. Bashar attempted to escape from ISIS four times, and was successful this March. With ISIS fighters following her, she was scarred and blinded in her right eye when a land mine exploded; the two people she was traveling with both died. ISIS views the Yazidi minority as being heretical, and hundreds of Yazidi women and girls who were kidnapped by ISIS are still in captivity in Syria and Iraq.

Murad and Bashar are "inspirational women who have shown incredible bravery and humanity in the face of despicable brutality," Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament's ALDE group, said Thursday. Parliamentarian Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea said the women have fought "throughout their life. Both have impressively overcome the brutal sexual slavery that they were exposed to by jihadist terrorists and become an example for all of us." Catherine Garcia

5:48 p.m. ET
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

A 12th woman has come forward to accuse Republican nominee Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. Former Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen, now 30, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat in an interview published Thursday that Trump grabbed her before an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in July of 2006.

"Before the show, we were photographed outside the building. Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt. He really grabbed my butt," Laaksonen said. "I don’t think anybody saw it, but I flinched and thought: 'What is happening?'"

Laaksonen noted someone had told her at another event that year Trump liked her "because I looked like Melania [Trump] when she was younger." Trump married his third wife just one year prior to the alleged incident.

Laaksonen made the allegations after being contacted by Ilta-Sanomat, as part of an effort by the paper to interview Finnish women who have met Trump. She had never before discussed her experience. Trump has not yet responded to Laaksonen's allegations, though he has steadfastly denied those of the other 11 women who have come forward in recent weeks. Becca Stanek

5:13 p.m. ET

On Thursday, President Obama set the record for the most commutations ever granted by a president in a single year by shortening the sentences of another 98 prisoners. That brings Obama's total for 2016 up to 688 commutations; throughout his entire presidency, Obama has commuted 872 sentences as he pushes for reforms to the criminal justice system.

"While there has been much attention paid to the number of commutations issued by the president, at the core, we must remember that there are personal stories behind these numbers," White House counsel Neil Eggleston wrote on the White House website Thursday afternoon. "These are individuals — many of whom made mistakes at a young age — who have diligently worked to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated."

All of the prisoners whose sentences were commuted Thursday were serving time for non-violent, drug-related offenses; 42 of the 98 were facing life sentences. Some of the prisoners will not be released until 2018, and others will have to enter residential drug treatment programs after they are released. Becca Stanek

4:27 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

New polls of the swing states conducted by Quinnipiac University show Hillary Clinton claiming leads in Virginia and North Carolina, but neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in Georgia and Iowa. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Quinnipiac results released Thursday are improvements across the board for Clinton from the previous Quinnipiac poll results released Sept. 22.

In the four-way matchup including Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in Virginia, Clinton led by 12 points, 50 percent to 38 percent. The last time Quinnipiac polled Virginia, Clinton's lead was much slimmer, at 45 percent to 39 percent. In North Carolina, Clinton's winning margin inched up, from 3 points on Oct. 3 to 4 points in Thursday's results, with the Democrat leading 47 percent to 43 percent.

In Georgia, the two candidates are locked in a statistical tie, with the GOP nominee edging Clinton 44 percent to 43 percent. This marks a big leap for Clinton, who trailed Trump by 7 points in the Peach State at the end of September. In Iowa, both Clinton and Trump snagged 44 percent — another big gain for Clinton, who trailed Trump there in September with 37 percent support to his 44 percent.

"Time is running out and Donald Trump has lost his leads and now is tied with Hillary Clinton in Iowa and Georgia. North Carolina appears to be moving in her direction also," said Quinnipiac University Poll assistant director Peter Brown. "It's clear that Donald Trump has not worn well on the voters of these four key states," Brown added.

The polls were conducted by phone from Oct. 20-26. In Virginia, 749 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. In North Carolina, 702 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. In Georgia, 707 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. In Iowa, 791 likely voters were polled and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Becca Stanek

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