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]

12:46 p.m. ET

Deadly fighting has raged in Colombia for 52 years, pitting the government in Bogotá against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — but all that is about to change. The two sides signed a deal in August, instituted a cease-fire, and will put the peace agreement to a popular vote on Oct. 2. If the agreement is ratified, FARC guerrillas will be given six months to turn in their weapons and rejoin the broader society.

One of those guerrillas is 33-year-old Yurluey Mendoza, who spent the last two decades of her life fighting in jungle and now is the subject of a striking profile at The Washington Post:

Talking to Yurluey was like meeting someone who had stepped out of a time machine. She has never used the Internet, never seen the ocean, never been to the movies or ridden a bicycle. ... Her right thigh had a divot from a combat wound, the bullet just missing bone. Her right eardrum was blown out in another bombing, one of six she survived.

She went several days without eating sometimes, she said: "There are times when you can't walk from so many blisters, or your backpack chafes off your skin. Or you have to step over the bodies of comrades, who you love like family, when they fall."

Like a lot of guerrillas, she spoke in the language of doctrine. The FARC's enemies were "the oligarchy." The United States was "the empire." The guerrilla army was "the movement." [The Washington Post]

Read the rest of the profile here. Bonnie Kristian

11:54 a.m. ET
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Friday evening was supposed to mark the beginning of a new season for the Philadelphia Orchestra, an occasion celebrated with a black tie gala featuring an orchestral performance of works by Bernstein, Gershwin, Ravel, and Respighi for a crowd of about 1,000. But after 20 minutes ticked past curtain time, attendees discovered the orchestra's 96 musicians had walked out on strike.

At issue are the musicianss salaries, which have been subject to fewer raises than usual since the orchestra went into bankruptcy in 2012 and maintains an operating deficit to this day thanks to sluggish fundraising numbers. On Friday, the musicians were offered a minimum annual salary of $128,544 with a 2 percent raise in the first year of a two-year contract, but they insist on a 3 percent raise and object to having a lower base pay than the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which starts players at $152,672.

The Philadelphia musicians called an earlier deal they were offered — which, even with fewer raises, would give each player a salary roughly four times the median individual income in America — "regressive" and marched with signs calling on orchestra management to "retain the artistry." The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra are also on strike for similar reasons. Bonnie Kristian

11:14 a.m. ET

Dashcam footage released by police in Sacramento, California, shows two officers attempting to run over a mentally ill homeless man before fatally shooting him. The encounter with law enforcement that left Joseph Mann dead happened July 11, and the police video was first reported by local news outlets this Thursday.

In a captioned version of the video with enhanced audio published by The Sacramento Bee Friday, one of the two involved officers, Randy Lozoya and John Tennis, can be heard saying, "f--k this guy" as they approach the scene in their cruiser. The driving officer then says, "I'm going to hit him," and the other cop replies, "Okay. Go for it. Go for it." The car swerves at Mann, who was African-American, and misses. Moments later, Mann was fatally shot 14 times. He was discovered to be armed with only a 4-inch knife.

Both officers are now on "modified duty," and Mann's family is suing the city in civil court. A Sacramento Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, said use of police cars as a lethal weapon is part of officers' training. Bonnie Kristian

10:43 a.m. ET
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After Friday's funeral for former Israeli President Shimon Peres, President Obama was caught on camera begging former President Bill Clinton to get on Air Force One so the two could head home. With all the impatience of a kid whose mom just won't stop talking to the other moms and come on already, Obama cajoled and pleaded with "Billy" to hurry up his long goodbyes.

Finally — finally! — Clinton came up the stairs and Obama subtly ensured the former president walked in front of him onto the plane so the famously charismatic Clinton couldn't start gabbing again. Watch the clip of Obama's anxious wait below. Bonnie Kristian

10:28 a.m. ET
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China's yuan on Saturday was added to the International Monetary Fund's basket of reserve currencies, a win for the country's growing economy. As explained by the IMF, the Special Drawing Rights basket is "an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement its member countries’ official reserves," and is currently valued at about $285 billion.

Other elite currencies currently in the SDR basket are the U.S. dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen, and the Euro, which replaced the German deutsche mark and the French franc in 1999. With the new addition, IMF will weight the dollar at 41.73 percent, the euro at 30.93 percent, the yuan at 10.92 percent, the yen at 8.33 percent, and the pound at 8.09 percent.

This inclusion is "a milestone in the internationalization of the [yuan]," said the People's Bank of China, the Asian nation's central bank, "and is an affirmation of the success of China's economic development and results of the reform and opening up of the financial sector." Bonnie Kristian

9:11 a.m. ET
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Hacked audio of Democrat Hillary Clinton speaking with donors about her then-primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in February shows the nominee describing Sanders' supporters as uninformed and idealistic "children of the Great Recession" who are "living in their parents' basement."

In this election, Clinton says, there "is a strain of, on the one hand, the kind of populist, nationalist, xenophobic, discriminatory kind of approach that we hear too much of from the Republican candidates," while, "on the other side, there's just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we've done hasn't gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don't know what that means, but it's something that they deeply feel."

The clip, leaked earlier this week and publicized by Politico Friday night, also hears Clinton sympathizing with basement dwellers who see little economic opportunity in their future and thus find a Sanders-style "revolution" enticing. Bonnie Kristian

8:53 a.m. ET
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The largest hospital in the rebel-held part of Aleppo, Syria, was heavily damaged Saturday by airstrikes using barrel bombs and perhaps also cluster bombs. The strikes were conducted by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as Russian troops; and a second, smaller hospital was also damaged.

This news comes after France and Britain lobbed accusations of war crimes at Russia over its Syria policy during a United Nations meeting earlier this week. Also this week, a Syrian monitoring group reported Russian strikes in Syria have killed more than 9,000 people, while Russia announced plans to send more warplanes to the war-torn Mideast nation.

The damaged Aleppo hospital is no longer operational, and the second-largest hospital in that part of Aleppo has shut down as well. Only six functional hospitals remain in the region, where about 2 million people are without running water. Bonnie Kristian

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