Smart takes
March 20, 2014
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As Russian President Vladimir Putin works quickly to consolidate Russia's new hold on the Ukrainian province of Crimea, the West is trying to come up with a united and appropriate response. Most people are trying to find the right middle ground between sending in U.S. Marines to liberate Crimea and ignoring Putin's naked expansionist aggression. --Peter Weber

Kneecap Putin's cronies
The sanctions leveled against Russian officials by the U.S. and Europe are too weak and irrelevant to make any difference, says Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny in The New York Times. To get to Putin, "Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin's cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West." After naming names, Navalny adds:

The invasion of Ukraine has polarized members of Russia's elite, many of whom view it as reckless. Real sanctions, such as blocking access to their plush London apartments, will show that Mr. Putin's folly comes with serious costs. [New York Times]

Meet Putin's fire with a thick blanket
The West needs to isolate Putin completely until he pulls out of Crimea, says Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in The Washington Post. "The Russian people should see that Putin's actions will bring about a decline of Russia's status as a global power, not a return to supposed Soviet glory." The U.S. and its NATO allies should also impose an arms embargo and open up NATO membership to "all interested partners in Europe." Finally, Rubio adds, Obama should up his reassurances to the former Soviet satellites nervous about Putin's neo-imperialist actions, providing "lethal military support" and deploying "additional military assets and even U.S. personnel to our allies, including Poland and the Baltic states."

Walk softly but carry a big stick
The point of U.S. and European actions should be to keep Putin out of the rest of Ukraine — Crimea is already in Russia's hands, says Fred Kaplan at Slate. But the key to boxing in Putin is understanding that his "actions have been driven less by a belief that the West is weak than his knowledge that Russia is." That doesn't mean the West can ignore Putin — "a bitter autocrat with a head full of grandiose daydreams can be a dangerous creature." What's needed is a ratcheting up of penalties while leaving room for diplomacy, he says:

Draw up plans for containing and countering Russian troops in the event of an incursion into Ukraine — not sending U.S. or NATO troops, but shipping arms, maybe some advisers and black-bag Delta forces — and talk about these plans with the allies, and Ukrainian officials, on open phone lines. Putin surely knows the limits of his army.... Over those same unencrypted phone lines, a senior official should also talk about some moves that would really isolate Russia from the rest of the world.... These are threats of actions to take place if Russia goes deeper into Ukraine — not reprisals for the seizure of Crimea, which would have no effect and probably wouldn't be enforced anyway. [Slate]

injustice system
9:25 a.m. ET
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As the investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail cell continues, a Department of Justice report (PDF) on jail deaths in America provides shocking broader context: Some 73 percent (698 out of 958 total deaths in 2012) of prisoners who die in jail have not been convicted of anything.

Exorbitant bail rates for relatively minor crimes, an issue brought into sharp relief by the 2015 suicide of Kalief Browder, is a primary reason for often lengthy pre-trial detentions during which these deaths occurred. Deaths were most common among older inmates, particularly in the 45-54 age group, and 29 percent of people who died in jail were black, more than twice the national population ratio of African-Americans.

For more on this topic, read The Week's Ryan Cooper on "the national horror of jail suicides," which accounted for 31.3 percent of jail deaths in 2012. Bonnie Kristian

Poll Watch
9:24 a.m. ET
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Despite suggesting the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists in a June campaign kickoff speech, Donald Trump has remained confident Latinos will back his bid for the Republican nomination.

"I think I will win the Hispanic vote," Trump told ABC's Jonathan Karl on Sunday. "And if you see the recent polls that came out, Jon, you'll see that because I'm leading in the Hispanic vote."

That turned out to be awkward timing for Trump. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Univision poll released Monday shows 75 percent of Latinos view him unfavorably. Only 13 percent think positively of the billionaire. More than half called his June comments offensive and racist.

Additional proof Trump isn't doing so hot with Latinos: Piñatas bearing his likeness are selling in Mexico. Julie Kliegman

Let the games begin
9:21 a.m. ET
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Sunday was a huge day in the world of flying disc sports. The International Olympic Committee announced that they are officially recognizing the World Flying Disc Federation — which means Ultimate Frisbee could potentially be included in future Olympic Games.

For those who don't know, Ultimate Frisbee is a little like football, although without physical contact between players and, traditionally, participants are responsible for their own foul and line calls.

The World Flying Disc Federation also governs Beach Ultimate and disc golf, according to Sports Illustrated. Although Ultimate is now eligible to be an Olympic sport — alongside other Summer Olympic sports like volleyball and gymnastics — it will have to beat out other more established sports for inclusion in Tokyo or elsewhere. Watch out, badminton! Jeva Lange

This just in
9:01 a.m. ET
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A new report alleges that the military record Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been touting during his presidential campaign may be more fiction than fact. The Washington Post's in-depth examination of Graham's military record throughout his 33-year career in the Air Force reveals that "the Air Force afforded him special treatment as a lawmaker, granting him the privileges of rank with few expectations in return."

Although Graham was not beholden to a fixed number of hours as an unpaid officer in the Air Reserve, The Washington Post reports that in eight of his 10 years in the Reserve, Graham did not achieve "satisfactory service," the minimum number of hours the Reserve requires for one to qualify for pension credit. Between January 1995 and January 2005, Graham received credit for a total of 108 hours of training, which breaks down to be under a day and a half of training per year.

Despite the fact that Graham wasn't necessarily putting in his time, the Air Force continually awarded him promotions and honors, promoting him from to lieutenant colonel to colonel. Furthermore, the Post reports that Graham did not complete the courses generally expected of officers who are promoted to either position. "Clearly, the rules didn't apply to him," one active duty Air Force lawyer anonymously told The Washington Post.

While the Air Force maintains that it did not show favoritism, and that "selection for promotion is based on the whole person concept," not just military achievements, even Graham admitted that the relationship was mutually beneficial. "They wanted to hang onto me and I didn't want to leave," he said. Becca Stanek

Look at this
8:20 a.m. ET

California's largest wildfire, the Rocky Fire, tripled in size over the weekend. Burning in Lake, Yolo, and Colusa counties northwest of Sacramento, it has already consumed 54,000 acres and, as of Sunday, was only 5 percent contained. And it's just one of many: A total of 9,000 firefighters are combating over 21 major blazes throughout the state. Even as the fires turn deadly — one firefighter has been killed, and 12,000 evacuated — photos of the northern Californian fires have an unexpected, if terrifying, beauty.

"The behavior of this fire [is] unprecedented,” California's fire spokesman, Jason Shanley, told The Sacramento Bee. "It's jaw dropping to see some of the things it's doing."  Jeva Lange

Ted Cruz vs science
8:00 a.m. ET
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In the opinion of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), climate change is less a reality, and more a theory cooked up "power-greedy" politicians. In a speech Sunday in California's Orange County in front of what Time says were "some of the most influential conservative donors in the country," presidential hopeful Cruz went full force on denying climate change. Cruz said the "data and facts don't support it."

“If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming. The satellite says it ain’t happening," Cruz said. NASA would disagree. In its report on the satellite data, the space agency says the collected information "reveals the signals of a changing climate," including increased levels of gases such as carbon dioxide. "There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response," the report says.

However, Cruz explained that the existing numbers on climate change are simply the result of government researchers creating climate data to better help politicians take hold of the economy and energy industry. "They're cooking the books," Cruz said. "They're actually adjusting the numbers. Enron used to do their books the same way." Becca Stanek

Greek debt crisis
7:04 a.m. ET
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Greece's main stock index fell over 22 percent on Monday as investors took advantage of their first opportunity since June 29 to react to the country's ongoing economic crisis, The Associated Press reports. Greek bank stocks were the hardest hit, reaching or nearing the daily trading limit of a 30 percent loss; markets in the rest of Europe were, for the most part, unaffected. Business and consumer confidence also plunged for the fifth consecutive month in July, according to the Economic Sentiment Indicator, dropping to its lowest level since October 2012.

Greece is expected to reenter a recession in the following months, despite having briefly emerged from a six-year contraction. Bailout talks continue, with a deadline of August 20, when a repayment of more than three billion euros is due to the European Central Bank. Jeva Lange

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