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]
Jeb Bush is polling at 4 percent among Republican voters, according to the latest survey from Pew. While his handlers say that the campaign is built for the long haul, and political scientists will tell you that the laws of political gravity will ultimately drag down renegade candidates like Donald Trump, we've also seen how low poll numbers sparked a death spiral in dried-up funds and plummeting enthusiasm for the likes of Scott Walker and Rick Perry.
So a rattled Bush campaign is reportedly contemplating bringing out a big gun to woo disaffected conservative voters: George W. Bush, who is still popular with the party's base, even as he remains a divisive figure with the voting public at large. The New York Times reports that the decision to campaign with the former president is "an agonizing one for the campaign":
While dispatching George Bush to a state like South Carolina could shore up his brother's standing with conservatives, and remind voters there of a political family they still admire, it could also underscore the impression that Jeb Bush is simply a legacy candidate at a time when voters are itching for change.
What is more, given the former president's unpopularity among many in the broader electorate, joint appearances by the brothers could provide irresistible footage for Democratic attacks against Jeb Bush if he wins the Republican nomination. The continued instability in the Middle East, in particular, could remind voters of George Bush's decision to invade Iraq and make joint images of the Bush brothers potent fodder for the opposition. [The New York Times]
Then again, if Jeb Bush were to cling more tightly to his brother, he couldn't do worse than his competitors, who for the most part have embraced George W. Bush's legacy on issues of national security and taxes. Appearing with the former president on stage would just make the connection explicit. Ryu Spaeth
The Transformers franchise has made clear it's determined to solider on without Shia LaBeouf, even as Age of Extinction, its fourth installment, tanked in the U.S. In case you're still jonesin' for some live-action machinery mayhem, there are apparently four more films in the works, Entertainment Weekly reports.
"Stay tuned, Transformers 5 is on its way, and 6 and 7 and 8," Hasbro president Stephen Davis said, adding that the toy company recently joined Paramount, franchise director Michael Bay, and others in plotting out a 10-year trajectory for the series.
Bay actually hasn't confirmed he'll direct the Mark Wahlberg-starring fifth installment, set to shoot in early 2016. But if three more movies really do see the light of day afterward, that means Transformers has ample opportunity to rack up some more hard-earned Razzies. Julie Kliegman
This is especially the case for justices nominated by Republican presidents: While Democratic nominees become more liberal as well, the transformation is more significant for GOP picks. The trend holds true for the current justices, though in his short tenure, Justice Samuel Alito has actually moved slightly to the right.
As for why this happens, FiveThirtyEight posits no less than seven theories, the most convincing of which may be research that suggests (contrary to popular wisdom) that it's fairly common for people to become less strictly conservative with age. Bonnie Kristian
A bipartisan group of senators and representatives have partnered to introduce the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (S.1562) to simplify and lower taxes and regulations on the production of beer and other alcoholic beverages in America.
The bill would reduce excise taxes from $7 to $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels of beers from the smallest breweries, and reduce it from $18 to $16 for the first 6 million barrels from bigger outfits. Other proposed changes include expanding the list of allowable ingredients in hard cider and making it easier for breweries to collaborate without paying extra taxes. Home hobby distillation, which is currently subject to a dubious legal situation, would also be decriminalized on a small scale should the bill pass.
Not surprisingly, the craft brewing industry is supportive of the legislation. This "could drive the industry to greater heights," said Wisconsin brewer Fish Hamilton. "Really, this is something that the cost is minimal, the benefit is substantial and, again, I think it is something that has long been needed." Bonnie Kristian
A missing cargo ship carrying 33 crewmen reportedly sunk during Hurricane Joaquin, NBC News reports. El Faro, which vanished Thursday in the Bermuda Triangle, had 28 Americans on board.
A 225-square-mile debris field was discovered over the weekend, including a life ring from El Faro, but no lifeboats have been found. The ship was expected to have been facing 20- to 30-foot waves; a distress call indicated that the ship had lost power and was taking on water. The 735-foot cargo ship was en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Jacksonville, Florida, when it lost contact during the height of the hurricane. Jeva Lange
The Kunduz hospital, reportedly the only advanced facility in the region, closed Sunday after the strikes killed at least 22 people and damaged the building. U.S. forces have repeatedly targeted Kunduz since the Taliban took control of the city last week.
"If errors were committed, we will acknowledge them," Gen. John Campbell said.
The U.S. military is investigating the incident, but the non-governmental organization called for an independent review and accused the U.S. of committing a war crime. Doctors Without Borders has also disputed the claim from Afghan officials that Taliban fighters were using the hospital as a base. Julie Kliegman
As Hillary Clinton sees it, she's made history for releasing her emails. In a town hall meeting hosted by NBC's Today show Monday morning, the former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate not only defended her use of a private email server — she gave herself a pat on the back for her transparency throughout the ordeal.
"I have gone further than anybody that I'm aware of in American history," Clinton said, referring to her release of emails. "Now it's not a long history since we haven't had emails that long — as long as we've had them, I've gone longer and farther to be as transparent as possible. Nobody else has done that."
Clinton also once again emphasized the fact that her use of a private server was allowed, and that "every government official gets to decide what is personal and work-related." The only thing she's embarrassed about in this whole email snafu, she says, is that "the emails are so boring." Watch Clinton's full response below. Becca Stanek