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

Let's get ready to rumble over incomplete medical forms
10:50 a.m. ET

Manny Pacquiao's "fight of the century" against Floyd Mayweather could lead to another fight, this one more boring than the boxing match itself.

At issue is a shoulder injury Pacquiao suffered before the match. The boxer's camp says it notified the proper regulatory body, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, of the injury and received clearance for a treatment regimen involving anti-inflammatory shots. But boxing oversight is notoriously Byzantine, so the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Saturday refused to allow Pacquiao to take a last-minute shot, claiming it only learned of the injury hours before the fight. Specifically, the NSAC said Pacquiao did not disclose the injury on a pre-fight medical form.

Whether intentional or not, the omission could lead to a fine or a suspension for Pacquiao, according to The Associated Press.

"We will gather all the facts and follow the circumstances," NSAC Chairman Francisco Aguilar told the AP. "At some point we will have some discussion. As a licensee of the commission, you want to make sure fighters are giving you up-to-date information." Jon Terbush

Thanks Obama!
10:48 a.m. ET

Need a raise? Don't ask your boss; ask Obama. On Tuesday, the White House initiated motions to reform overtime pay laws via executive action, which, if successful, could result in a sizable pay bump for millions of Americans.

As overtime laws stand now, certain categories of workers are excluded from the monetary benefits of working long hours, such as highly-compensated executives and professionals. Additionally, there exists a "threshold" salary for receiving overtime — anyone who makes less than the predetermined annual income (a mere $23,660 now) is automatically entitled to overtime, regardless of management status. In these conditions, many companies are able to skirt paying their low-salaried employees by calling them a manager, even if they are stocking groceries for $24,000 a year for 80 hours a week.

This salary threshold is the center of Obama's reform. The administration certainly plans to raise it — the question is how high? Some House Democrats have suggested raising the magic number quite substantially, up to $69,000, which would "cover about two-thirds of salaried workers," as The Huffington Post reports. Now, only 11 percent of salary-earners qualify for overtime pay.

"President Obama believes that if you work hard, you should be rewarded for your effort," said a Department of Labor official. Aw, thanks Obama! Stephanie Talmadge

Discoveries
10:32 a.m. ET

You might be able to walk like an Egyptian, but have you heard of King Sahure?

Historians don't know much about Sahure, a pharaoh who ruled almost 4,500 years ago, during the Old Kingdom's Fifth Dynasty. Before an incredible new discovery, there were only two known statues of Sahure in the world.

Now, Belgian archaeologists have made what Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities is calling a find "of great significance and importance." The team discovered a broken statue, which they believe represents Sahure, in Aswan, about 360 miles south of Cairo. Aswan was once the ancient city of Swenett, a "frontier town" of ancient Egypt, explains Ancient Origins.

The ministry believes that the newly discovered base, which is inscribed with Sahure's name, is the bottom half of a statue depicting Sahure seated on a throne. The team will continue excavating the site to see if the area holds more clues and artifacts about the mysterious king. Meghan DeMaria

Controversy
10:17 a.m. ET
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

In the midst of a very bumpy press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron last month, stars Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner drew criticism for an interview in which they called Black Widow, the character played by Scarlett Johansson, a "slut" and a "complete whore." As the controversy bubbled over, Chris Evans issued a genuine-sounding apology, Jeremy Renner issued a not-so-genuine-sounding apology, and everyone pretty much moved on.

Except, apparently, Jeremy Renner. In a Monday interview on Conan, Renner doubled down on his original comment. "Yeah, it was a joke. Off-color. Whatever. I'm unapologetic about a lot of things," said Renner. "But, yeah, I got in a lot of trouble. Internet trouble. I guess that's a thing now you can get in."

"Now, mind you, I was talking about a fictional character, and fictional behavior. But, Conan: If you slept with four of the six Avengers — no matter how much fun you had — you'd be a slut. Just saying. I'd be a slut."

Of course, the original controversy stemmed from the double standard about how a man with multiple partners isn't generally labeled a "slut" or a "whore" — so yeah, still kind of missing the point, Renner. Scott Meslow

Secret Agent Man?
9:46 a.m. ET
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A South Korean citizen and New York University student detained after sneaking into North Korea says he was on a vigilante peace mission — and getting caught was part of his plan.

"I wanted to be arrested," the student, 21-year-old Won-moon Joo, told CNN.

Joo, who is a permanent U.S. resident, told the network he hopped some barbed wire, walked from China into North Korea, and kept on walking until some soldiers stopped him. His compelling motive: the vague notion that his illegal entrance into the Hermit Kingdom would "have some good effect."

"I thought that some great event could happen and hopefully that event could have a good effect on the relations between the North and the South," Joo told CNN.

Asked to explain what that "great event" could be, Joo added, "I am not completely sure yet." Jon Terbush

Baltimore
9:43 a.m. ET
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A new poll from the Pew Research Center found strong support for the criminal charges brought against the six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.

The poll, conducted via phone from April 30 to May 3, asked 1,000 adults about their opinions on the recent events in Baltimore. Gray, 25, died in April while in police custody, inciting protests and riots in Baltimore.

Sixty-five percent of poll respondents said that it was the "right decision" for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to file charges against the officers, and only 16 percent said it was the wrong decision. Among white respondents, 60 percent agreed with the decision, as did 78 percent of black respondents. Meghan DeMaria

In a galaxy far, far away
9:39 a.m. ET
Facebook.com/Star Wars

Though he had just four lines of dialogue and a ridiculous, embarrassing death in the original Star Wars trilogy, bounty hunter Boba Fett has long been a favorite among Star Wars fans. (Never underestimate the power of a cool-looking helmet.) George Lucas filled in Boba Fett's background in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but fans were less than thrilled about a story that focused on Boba Fett as a whiny little kid.

Despite these missteps, Boba Fett is set to fly again. The Wrap reports that Disney's second planned Star Wars spin-off will be a Boba Fett origin story set in "the rich world of bounty hunters," and scheduled to hit theaters in 2018. 

Unfortunately, the Boba Fett spin-off has already hit a snag; under murky circumstances, previously announced director Josh Trank has left the film, and the search for a new director is ongoing. Scott Meslow

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