Smart takes
March 11, 2014
Ian Walton/Getty Images

The key to solving the Ukraine tinder box almost certainly lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That's led a lot of people — including the White House, America's European allies, esteemed members of Congress, and even late-night comedians — to try and figure out just what makes Putin tick. Here are four columnists with some connection to Russia or Ukraine offering their insights into the wily Russian president, and their advice on how to deal with Putin's aggression in Crimea.

Emperor Putin has no clothes
"Vladimir Putin is a man obsessed with an idea: Russia was, is, and always will be a great power," says Mark Nuckols, who teaches law and business in Moscow, at the San Francisco Chronicle. He has publicly mourned the end of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the century," and his passion to "ensure that Russia regains its imperial greatness" outweighs all other considerations, including "the well-being of Russian citizens," Nuckols adds. That's why he invaded Georgia, then Ukraine.

[Putin] is driven by misplaced pride, domestic politics, and well-justified fear. His pride and desire to see a Great Power Russia impel him to military adventures and political interference in neighboring states. And these adventures appeal to Russian public opinion, still smarting from the humiliations of the 1990s. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Putin's worldview is simply incompatible with America's
"Putin has enjoyed a stunning variety of incarnations in the American imagination in his nearly 15 years as Russia's leader," and marauding authoritarian dictator is just the latest, says Russian American journalist Masha Gessen at the Los Angeles Times. But he's not insane, and he's not Hitler, she adds.

History's dictators have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight. But Putin has no positive spin for his aggression — or his actions in general... He believes that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires... For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity, this is an impossible world view to absorb. It is another world indeed. But that does not make it crazy. [Los Angeles Times]

Putin needs an exit strategy
John McCarron, writing at the Chicago Tribune, offers an opinion based on his time in the Navy during the Cold War. McCarron's solution: "Give Russia a way out."

Let them save some face. After all, it's Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama, who is caught in a wringer.... It would be a huge mistake to try to back the Russian bear into a corner, to bluff and to bluster, to escalate Cold War-style with increasingly harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions... Putin needs — Russians need — a nonembarrassing way around this mess they've made for themselves. [Chicago Tribune]

Putin's advantage is temporary
Putin didn't invade Ukraine because he thinks Obama is week, says Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times. He doesn't much care. "We don't have much leverage because Putin cares far more about Ukraine than he does about being in the G-8." But instead of panicking about Russia's resurgence, "let's also recognize that, in the long run, it's Putin who has stumbled here." Crimea will just be a headache for Russia, and the rest of Ukraine is now solidly in "the West's orbit."

[W]estern Ukrainians look across the border at a thriving Poland, now firmly embedded in Europe, and see that as a far better model for the future. Likewise, in a couple of decades, Russians may well look over the border at a thriving, European Ukraine and want that model for themselves as well. So be strong, Senators Graham and McCain: Putin's advantage is temporary. [NY Times] Peter Weber

a feast fit for a president
12:51 p.m. ET

We know President Obama doesn't mess around when it comes to pie, so it should really come as no surprise that the White House's Thanksgiving menu offers six of them. Yes, the Obamas see your standard pumpkin and pecan pies and would like to raise you a banana cream:

On top of the generous pie options, the presidential feast will feature three different main dishes — turkey, ham, and prime rib — and myriad sides. Here's hoping Obama's turkey day suit comes complete with Thanksgiving pants. Kimberly Alters

happy thanksgiving!
12:04 p.m. ET

With the 89th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade expecting a crowd of about 3 million spectators, the annual procession was always going to be a big deal. A record 2,500 police officers were stationed along the Manhattan parade route in light of recent, heightened fears of terrorism — though officials have said there are no known, credible threats to New York — as the city prepared for the larger-than-life gathering. Below, photos from the festivities, including some cartoon favorites inflated to a truly terrifying scale. Kimberly Alters

turkey travels
11:38 a.m. ET

If you traveled this Thanksgiving, you know how cutthroat holiday hotel reservations can be. Or maybe over-crowded gatherings at home have you outsourcing to a local hotel. In any case, finding lodging for friends and family can be a certified headache.

Not so for the turkeys chosen for the White House's annual turkey pardon. National Journal accompanied last year's lucky birds, Mac and Cheese, into their swanky hotel suite at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., where the two turkeys had their own room:

Mac and Cheese's digs go for more than $350 a night for non-presidentially pardoned guests, and come with stellar city views. The hotel did add a "thick layer of wood shavings" in the entryway specially for the birds, though. See more photos of the luxurious lodging for pardoned turkeys at National Journal. Kimberly Alters

where is the un-send button
10:41 a.m. ET

Ah, Thanksgiving, a day for packing in as much poultry and pigskin as possible. And given the holiday's proclivity for football, NFL teams have a natural incentive to spread the good cheer on turkey day.

If you're the Washington Redskins though, you might want to stay mum on a holiday that traces its roots back to America's takeover of Native American land. The D.C. football team has been embroiled in controversy over its team name — an offensive word for Native Americans — for years. (If you're unclear as to why the name is offensive, this Daily Show segment can get you up to speed.) But rather than miss out on the holiday fun, the team's official Twitter account posted this glaringly oblivious graphic:

At least you can be thankful the Redskins aren't playing today, so their controversial brand won't add to your surely contentious Thanksgiving discussions. Kimberly Alters

feel the bern
10:37 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has focused on his ambitious plans to, as a recent press release summarized, "create millions of jobs, raise wages, provide health care for all Americans, lower skyrocketing prescription drug prices, make college affordable, guarantee paid family leave, ensure pay equity for women and strengthen Social Security."

That's a tall order — and the automatic spam filters in Gmail, America's most popular email service, evidently think it's a little too good to be true.

(Washington Times)

Some Gmail users received the Sanders press release with an automated phishing warning, cautioning readers that Sanders' campaign goals could be a scam designed to trick them into sharing personal data. The email's use of words like "prescription drugs," "guarantee," "free," and "health care" — common phrases in the spammer vocabulary — are likely what attracted the filter's attention. Bonnie Kristian

poultry, not politics
10:23 a.m. ET

In his Thanksgiving-themed episode of The Late Show on Wednesday, host Stephen Colbert made an impassioned plea to keep politics out of Thanksgiving.

Even a "harmless gesture of goodwill" like the presidential turkey pardon "is pitting people against each other," he said, citing real poll results which found that 59 percent of Democrats approve of President Obama's turkey pardon — and just 11 percent of Republicans say the same.

This year, as usual, there are a litany of guides available for how to argue politics at the Thanksgiving table, from the DNC's passive-aggressive comebacks at to Politico Magazine's delightfully satirical ideas for being the crazy uncle.

But if you're more of the Colbert persuasion, check out the case against talking politics at Thanksgiving by The Week's own Michael Brendan Dougherty here. Bonnie Kristian

mcdonald shooting
8:53 a.m. ET

Following the release of a video showing the fatal officer-involved shooting of a black teenager, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Chicago on Tuesday night. Some shouted "16 shots," referring to the number of bullets allegedly fired during the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The protests continued Wednesday in Chicago's business district, The Loop, as demonstrators peacefully chanted and marched through the area.

New footage of the shooting was released Wednesday from the dashboard cameras of four additional police cars that responded to the incident, including Van Dyke's vehicle. That brings the total number of clips released to five, with footage from the three other squad cars that were at the scene during the shooting yet to be released.

The videos in question have little audio, something the Chicago Tribune notes should not be the case; while some videos include siren sounds from outside the vehicle, no sound of officers talking or any radio communication inside the vehicle can be heard. Only one of the videos shows the actual shooting of McDonald, while the others show the scene at various points. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Tuesday. Kimberly Alters

See More Speed Reads