Smart takes
March 11, 2014
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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

This just in
3:34 p.m. ET
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Update 7:28 p.m.: After an hours-long standoff, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the gunman involved in the Planned Parenthood shooting attacks is in custody. Police say that at least 11 people, including five police officers and civilians, have been transported to hospitals. It is unclear if there were any fatalities in the attacks.

Update 7:05 p.m.: Authorities are evacuating people from the Planned Parenthood building. Meanwhile, police say the standoff with the gunman, who reportedly brought "unspecified items" with him into the building, is ongoing.

Update 4:54 p.m.: After the most recent exchange of gunfire, a fourth officer was found wounded inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. In addition to the officers, police now say that civilians have been injured, and seven people have been transported to the hospital, although it is unclear if that number includes the police officers. While police previously said that the gunman involved was contained, they later confirmed they were still looking for the person.

On Friday afternoon, Colorado Springs police officers responded to reports of an active shooter at a Planned Parenthood clinic, reports the Associated Press, initially notifying residents and the media via Twitter to stay away from the scene because it was not secure. The gunman allegedly barricaded himself inside the building, reportedly injuring at least three police officers before he was eventually contained. Stephanie Talmadge

Only in America
2:15 p.m. ET

A Columbia University student claims that she's been deeply traumatized by reading too many books about white people. Nissy Aya told a university panel that the school's required "core" courses forced her to look at history "through the lens of these powerful, white men." As a result of feeling "no power or agency as a black woman," she said, it will take her six years to graduate. The Week Staff

foreign policy woes
1:58 p.m. ET
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This weekend, GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson will make a surprise trip to Jordan to tour a Syrian refugee camp, according to the New York Times. His advisers have framed the trip as an effort on Carson's behalf to improve his understanding of the refugee crisis, which has recently come under harsh criticism.

Prepared with Beanie Babies and soccer balls to distribute to the refugee children, Carson's trip will include a tour of the Azraq hospital and clinic near Amman. "I want to hear some of their stories," said Carson. "I find when you have firsthand knowledge of things as opposed to secondhand, it makes a much stronger impression."

Prior to the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, Carson held strong leads in some state and national polls, but his support has waned as national security concerns mount and the neurosurgeon has come under intense fire for his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Last week, Carson's senior foreign policy adviser told the Times in an interview that "nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East." Stephanie Talmadge

For those who have everything
1:18 p.m. ET
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America's second-largest toymaker is "reaching out to that last frontier of consumers: seniors," says Andrew Liszewski at Gizmodo. Hasbro's new Joy for All Companion Pets ($100) promise to provide Grandma or Granddad with hours of virtual companionship in a small, battery-operated package. Three cat models are already available, and each uses motion sensors and light sensors to help it respond to being petted and hugged. You can hear and feel it purring, and it'll even roll over if petted long enough. The concept "might sound a little depressing," but even a lonely septuagenarian can appreciate the appeal of a pet that demands only affection — "not feeding or bathroom breaks." The Week Staff

retail therapy
12:39 p.m. ET
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Ah, Black Friday: the post-Thanksgiving feast day of digestion that is perhaps best known for turning American shoppers into monsters, as they abandon their visiting families to camp outside big box retailers and compete for the best holiday deals. While we all know the basics of the retail-frenzied occasion, many may be surprised to learn the long history of how the biggest shopping day of the year came into its name:

  • Since the early 1900s, the post-Thanksgiving weekend has signaled the beginning of the holiday shopping rush, with New York City retailers fully embracing the marketing opportunity in the '20s by releasing Christmas ads and staging events, including a little parade you may have heard of — Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade — which debuted in 1924.
  • In 1939, the holiday had already become so important to merchants that President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving a week earlier to extend the buying period.
  • By the '50s, factory managers began referring to the day as "Black Friday" due to the rampant failure of employees to show up for work.
  • Philadelphia's police officers during the '60s used the term to refer to the swaths of jaywalking shoppers who flooded the city's downtown.
  • While the term continued to grow in popularity to connote the shopping frenzy, it wasn't until the 80's that the name took on a positive connotation, as shop managers pointed out that the holiday rush put "black ink," signaling profits, rather than loss-signaling red ink, on their revenue reports for the first time all year.

There you have it, but with Black Friday's continued encroaching on its Thanksgiving precursor and increasingly violent reputation, perhaps the name will once again revert to its negative origins. Stephanie Talmadge

Only in America
12:16 p.m. ET

Two men were booted off a Southwest Airlines flight when a paranoid passenger overheard them speaking Arabic. The men were allowed onto the plane after being questioned by police, but were then forced by other passengers to open a small white box they were carrying — which was full of sweets. "So I shared my baklava with them," said one of the men. The Week Staff

police shootings
11:28 a.m. ET
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Demonstrators in Chicago protesting the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer have scheduled a Friday march in the city's best-known retail district to disrupt Black Friday shopping. The city released several dashcam videos earlier this week showing Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged Tuesday with murder, repeatedly shooting the teen. The videos, which oddly capture little audio, touched off two nights of mostly peaceful demonstrations calling for an independent investigation.

Following the charges filed against Van Dyke, Rev. Jesse Jackson held several meetings Wednesday with elected officials and community leaders to form a response to McDonald's killing, reports the Chicago Tribune. "The whole idea is that we need a massive demonstration," Jackson said in an interview. "And a massive quest for justice." Stephanie Talmadge

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