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Foreign affairs
March 4, 2014
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Much of the commentary in the U.S. over the crisis in Ukraine has presented the conflict as a throwback to the Cold War, with the U.S. and Russia facing off as the two principal foes. But the most important actor in this drama may be a third party, Germany, which as the largest economy in Europe has far closer ties to Russia and has a keen interest in resolving the dispute with as little fuss as possible.

Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already pushed back against the idea of booting Russia from the Group of Eight, a punitive measure that is seen in the U.S. as one of the least aggressive moves the West can make. According to Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, Merkel hopes to defuse the situation with a face-saving measure for Vladimir Putin that would entail sending monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Crimea to ensure no Russian-speaking citizens are in danger, which is the ostensible reason for Russia's incursion into the peninsula in the first place.

There are plenty of reasons to think Russia would reject such an offer, or try to take Germany on a diplomatic detour while consolidating its control of Crimea and beyond. What then? Germany has a reputation for being almost China-like in its reluctance to shoulder responsibility for the global security that undergirds its economic success. But as Der Spiegel notes, since winning a historic third term in September, Merkel has suggested that Germany is prepared to play a more assertive role in foreign affairs. It remains to be seen whether the woman who grew up in East Germany at the height of the Cold War will do just that. Ryu Spaeth

The Daily Showdown
7:13 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, President Obama returns from a five-day trip to Africa, including the first visit ever by a sitting U.S. president to Ethiopia and his first presidential trip to his father's homeland, Kenya. "His father's homeland, the place where his father was born — wink," Jon Stewart said on Tuesday's Daily Show, trying to make a birther joke. Then a clip of Obama making his own birther joke in Kenya.

"Well, that stole a lot of the joy out of my joke," Stewart mock-griped. "You host The Daily Show, Obama, how about that? When you leave, you just host this show, and I'll just pack up and move to some farm in New Jersey." When his fake earpiece told him that's what he's actually doing next week, Stewart deadpanned, "Wow, that's f—ed up." But Obama wasn't the only one pre-empting his jokes — an African anthropologist's Donald Trump joke almost made Stewart abandon his own Trump joke. Almost.

Stewart took a similarly lighthearted approach to the rest of Obama's "Wet Hot African Summer" until the end, when he noted that Obama chastised Kenya for its record on gay rights and women's rights, but declined to make similar criticisms of Saudi Arabia during his 2009 visit there. His ending jab includes a reference to oil, and lubing America up. You can watch it below. Peter Weber

Noted
6:14 a.m. ET
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Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader who has not been seen in public since the U.S. and coalition forces ousted his government in 2001, is dead, and has been for two or three years, senior sources in Afghanistan's security services and government tell BBC News and other news outlets. According to Pakistan's Express Tribune, Omar died more than two years ago of tuberculosis. "It is widely speculated that Mullah Baradar Akhund will succeed Mullah Omar as the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban," the paper reports.

This isn't the first report of the reclusive leader's death, but "this is the first to be confirmed by top sources in the Afghan government," BBC News notes. "A Taliban spokesman contacted by the BBC said the group would issue a statement shortly." The Taliban has issued several statements in Mullah Omar's name since his apparent death in 2013, most recently a July 15 message supporting peace talks with the Afghan government. Peter Weber

Europe's Migration Crisis
5:37 a.m. ET
Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

For the second night in a row, hundreds of migrants on Tuesday tried to force their way into the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, France, in a desperate bid to jump a ride on freight trains to Britain. One of the migrants, reported to be a Sudanese man age 25 to 30, died in Tuesday night's attempt, probably hit by a truck leaving a train from Britain. More than 2,100 people tried to rush the Eurotunnel on Monday night, and eight others have died attempting to stow aboard the trains to Britain since June.

Most of the migrants — from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Sudan, and North Africa — "plan to seek asylum when they arrive in Britain or ask for protection as refugees," explains The New York Times. "They say they are choosing to go there because they have relatives there, speak some English, or believe they are more likely to get housing once they apply for asylum. It is not clear whether that belief is true."

Their attempts are causing delays on passenger service through through the Eurotunnel and even longer ones for commercial trucks. That, rather than the migrant crises, was the focus of British Prime Minister David Cameron's response. "I have every sympathy with holiday-makers who are finding access to Calais difficult because of the disturbances there, and we will do everything we can to work with the French to bring these things to a conclusion," he said from Singapore. Britain and France have pledged millions of dollars to increase fencing and security at the Calais terminal. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:34 a.m. ET

Jimmy Kimmel's "pedestrian question" on Tuesday's Kimmel Live was whether the random people his crew stopped on the street had any nude pictures of themselves on their phones. The game involves stopping the interview right before the pedestrian answers and having the audience guess yes or no. There's not a lot to go on — first name and where he or she is from, and of course, what they look like — and there's some sizable element of the audience that seems to pick its response based mostly on what they want the answer to be. What to guess about an attractive young woman from Canada, for example? Or an older, bearded man from Australia? You can play along below. Peter Weber

The Daily Showdown
4:01 a.m. ET

All those questions you wanted Jon Stewart to answer (and many you never considered) about The Daily Show? On Tuesday, he said he was happy to answer them — but he's kind of a joker, so it took a bit of duress for him to come out with the truth.

The heavy hand was administered by correspondents Hasan Minhaj and Jordan Klepper, using their bad-cop, bad-cop routine. And the forms of torture are for the Daily Show fans. First comes the New York pizza cut with a knife and fork, then a short reel of Jon Stewart's acting career, bad Springsteen improv, and then the coup de grace, which really is disgusting. Watch below and learn what Stewart draws on those blue pads, who his favorite guests have been, and what finally makes Minhaj and Klepper end the interrogation with cries of "TMI." Peter Weber

Quotables
3:24 a.m. ET
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New York prison worker Joyce Mitchell confessed to helping inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NBC News reports, drawing from documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Her confessions, made June 7, 8, and 10, contain some pretty lurid details.

Mitchell told state and federal investigators that she had smuggled Matt and Sweat in contraband and agreed to pick them up after their escape "because I was caught up in the fantasy." She knew, she said, that after the escape, Matt was going to kill her husband, Lyle, whom the inmates called "the glitch." She sent sexually explicit photos of herself to Sweat, she said, but only had sexual contact with Matt.

That started in April, Mitchell said, when she and Matt were alone in the prison tailor shop, where both Mitchell and her husband worked. "It startled me, she said. "He kissed me with an open mouth kiss. I didn't say anything because I was scared for my husband, who also works for the facility."

At Matt's request, she later performed oral sex on the inmate and "also groped his genitals in several instances, using a large prison coat to disguise their activities," The New York Times summarizes, citing the same statements from Mitchell. NBC News provides more detail: "Matt would come to her desk wearing a big coat in which he had cut a hole so that Mitchell could touch his genitals."

Mitchell told investigators that she "enjoyed the attention, the feeling both of them gave me and the thought of a different life," but got ill from worry as the escape neared, ultimately going to the hospital instead of picking Matt and Sweat up in her Jeep with supplies, as planned. Matt was later killed, Sweat captured. "I know I had agreed to help them escape and run away with them, but I panicked and couldn't follow through with the rest of the plan," Mitchell said. "I really do love my husband and he's the reason." Peter Weber

The Daily Pre-Showdown
2:15 a.m. ET

Sometimes at the beginning of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart obliquely brings up some conversation he had with the audience before the show. And now that Stewart's long run is ending, Comedy Central is pulling back the curtain a bit, posting a short highlight reel of Stewart's warm-up banter before the show begins. In the Q&A sessions featured in the video below, Stewart fields questions about his New Jersey game reserve, hummus, and whether he will return to stand-up comedy after he leaves The Daily Show (it sounds like 'yes').

And then somebody asked him about his "worst or funniest mistakes as a rookie on one of your first shows." Stewart started out philosophically, insisting that he never considers any flubs mistakes, but then he told this story:

We did do, my second week of doing a talk show at Paramount, we did a Hitler sketch.... We thought this would be really funny... that Hitler had just been in hiding, and was now coming out to do the talk show circuit. So I just said, "Ladies and gentlemen, unbelievable guest tonight, you know, I can't believe it: Adolf Hitler." And he comes out dressed as Hitler, with the mustache, and he does this [Nazi salute] to the crowd, and you can imagine, the crowd is like, "Booooooo! Boo Hitler! We don't like Hitler!" So we throw to commercial — two seconds later, the stage managers goes, 'There's a phone call for you.' Paramount executives in Los Angeles had been watching it and, like, literally said, "We will cancel you tonight if you don't pull that." [Stewart, Daily Show]

If you've never seen a taping of The Daily Show, this is probably the closest you're going to get, at least in the Jon Stewart era. Watch below. Peter Weber

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