Crimea is a beautiful, verdant, beach-ringed peninsula with strategic importance as a Black Sea port. But if Russia plans to keep Crimea, Ukraine may want to let Russian President Vladimir Putin keep his "expensive, Pyrrhic victory," says NYU professor Mark Galeotti in his blog, In Moscow's Shadows. Galeotti explains:
Strictly from a coldly logical position (and I am not advocating this, I should add), in many ways it is in Kiev's interests for Moscow to steal Crimea, and turn it into some pseudo-state or new part of the Russian Federation. Ukraine loses a sunny peninsula, but also a distinct drain on the state's coffers (the Crimean economy is not great, and the region receives net subsidies from the center). It sheds the most troublesome and Russophile of its regions, one which has been a turbulent locus of trouble for Kiev for most of post-Soviet Ukraine's history. It also gets concrete proof of the threat it faces from Russian bullying and probably accelerated and solicitous assistance from the U.S., EU, NATO, etc. It also validates every Ukrainian fear about Russia. [In Moscow's Shadow]
Galeotti further argues that the best weapons against Putin are measures to freeze the assets and ban the travel of Russian elites. "Putin is nowhere near as powerful at home, within the elite, as before," he adds. Sometimes the bold move isn't the smart one. Peter Weber
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) brought a bottle of Trump water to Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Scott Pruitt's Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to prove a point about the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis. "Trump water, natural spring water," Merkley said. "On the label it says, 'Pure, fresh, and free from contaminants. This is water the way it was meant to be.'" While Trump hotel guests have the "luxury" of drinking this water instead of tap water, Merkley pointed out that low-income Americans don't have that option.
This big wind-up was all to ask Pruitt if he would commit to making environmental justice for low-income communities a top priority if nominated. Pruitt heartily agreed — just as Merkley got cut off because his time had expired.
Millennials aren't the only ones drowning in student debt: A staggering amount of older Americans are also underwater. The number of Americans older than 60 with student loan debt quadrupled from 700,000 in 2005 to 2.8 million in 2015, making the over-60 set the fastest-growing age group with student debt, Quartz reports. The total debt for these older borrowers is some $66.7 billion, and more than two-thirds of it is owed for children or grandchildren. While older debtors owe less than the typical under-50 crowd — an average of $23,000 compared to $37,172, respectively — they're also twice as likely to default.
Quartz notes the particular dangers of being 60 or older and still carrying that much debt: The government can sometimes withhold Social Security checks to elderly borrowers who default, and Americans over 60 with unpaid loans typically have less saved for retirement than those without debt.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) comically illustrated the overreach of the Environmental Protection Agency during an otherwise turbulent Senate hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's EPA nominee, Scott Pruitt, on Wednesday. "This is a chart of the state of Iowa," Ernst began, showing a nearly entirely red map of her state. "As you can see, with the expanded definition as provided by the EPA, 97 percent of the state of Iowa is now considered Waters of the U.S. So if you are in an area like mine, in southwest Iowa here, I live in a Water of the U.S."
It wasn't the only thing Ernst took issue with. In fact, she has some serious concerns about ... well, puddles.
"The Obama EPA told the public that they will not regulate puddles," Ernst went on. "They will not regulate puddles. However, we learned that the Corps [of Engineers] is already regulating puddles by claiming that a puddle in a gravel parking lot is a 'degraded wetland.' A degraded wetland."
But wait, there's more: "The Obama EPA also told farmers not to worry about being regulated because ordinary farming activities have a statutory exemption. We learned that the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice have decided that plowing is not an ordinary farming activity. Explain that to my dear deceased grandfather and my father," Ernst said.
China is easing the government's 2,000-year-old monopoly on table salt by letting producers set prices and sell directly to the market. The monopoly has supported Chinese rulers from the Han dynasty to the Communist Party, even helping to pay for the construction of the Great Wall, The Financial Times reports.
Beginning this year, salt producers will have the freedom to set their prices based on normal market factors like cost, quality, supply, and demand — though the country's top economic planning agency still encourages state officials to keep those prices somewhat stable by tapping a "strategic reserve." The salt producers will also be able to sell without going through government-owned distribution companies, which used to absorb most of the industry's profits.
Nonetheless, most Chinese salt producers still work for the Chinese government, which has also said it will not grant any new licenses into the market until the end of 2018.
At his final press conference Wednesday, President Obama defended his decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks. "I feel very comfortable justice has been served," Obama said. He noted that Manning has already served "a tough prison sentence" lasting seven years, proving to other possible leakers that the crime does not "go unpunished."
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, a term Obama said was "disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received." She will now be released in May 2017, instead of in 2045.
Watch Obama defend his decision below. Becca Stanek
— Reuters Live (@ReutersLive) January 18, 2017
President Obama began his last press conference as president Wednesday by thanking the reporters who assembled week after week to pepper him with questions. "Some of you have been covering me for a long time," Obama said. "I have enjoyed working with all of you. That does not of course mean that I have enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that's the point of this relationship. You're not supposed to be sycophants, you're supposed to be skeptics, you're supposed to ask me tough questions. You're not supposed to be complimentary."
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 18, 2017
What does the Confederate flag have to do with health care? Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) thinks there's a connection, as he brought up during Rep. Tom Price's (R-Ga.) Senate confirmation hearing for secretary of health and human services Wednesday.
"When you were a member of the Georgia legislature, you fought pretty hard to keep the Confederate battle flag as part of the Georgia state flag," Kaine began. "And you sponsored resolutions to make April 'Confederate History Heritage Month' in Georgia, 'urging schools to commemorate the time of Southern independence' … I read the resolution with interest because of the phrase 'commemorate the time of Southern independence,' and I pulled it up, and I note that the resolution that commemorated the time of Southern independence mentions nothing about slavery."
After Price responded, Kaine made the connection: "You're aware that there's an office of minority health at HHS that was created in the Affordable Care Act … If the ACA is repealed, unless it's separately reauthorized, that office would also expire." Price assured the committee that all Americans will be protected:
Sen. Tim Kaine asks Rep. Tom Price about his work to keep Confederate flag in Georgia, diversity: https://t.co/dRym6Jiuwk
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 18, 2017
Republican Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) also raised concerns about the coverage of minority communities. "South Carolina, like Georgia, has a high percentage of African-Americans. As you probably know, breast cancer deaths are approximately one and a half times higher in African-American women. Prostate cancer deaths are approximately two and a half times higher in African-American men, and new diagnoses are approximately twice as high. I would love to hear your perspective on addressing some of the health disparities in communities of color specifically," Scott said. Price's answer to that is below. Jeva Lange