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
Four cases of Zika virus infection in Florida have been confirmed to have been transmitted by local mosquitoes, a first in the continental United States since the global outbreak began, CNN reports. Not one of the four patients affected had traveled to a region outside of the U.S. that was known to have the Zika virus, nor had any of them had sexual contract with someone who had traveled to such a region, which leaves little doubt that the disease came from bites from local mosquitoes.
The patients, a woman and three men, live in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that to date, no mosquitoes in the state have actually tested positive for the virus.
Over 1,650 Zika infections have been reported in the United States, but these are the first four cases to not be linked to someone traveling outside the U.S. Over 60 countries and territories have reported Zika.
In June, the World Health Organization advised that visitors to regions that have the Zika virus consider delaying pregnancy. Zika has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, as well as other severe brain defects. WHO made its recommendation because there is no known treatment to keep pregnant women with Zika from transmitting the disease to their unborn babies. Jeva Lange
If you've recently committed a felony and are now on the lam, here's a tip: Beware of rare Pokémon, as they might a trap.
At least, they might be in Smithfield, Virginia, where the local police department is attempting to lure people with outstanding arrest warrants to the police station using Pokémon Go. So far, none have been lured.
The specific monster the Smithfield PD say is in their processing room, Ditto, is presently the subject of intense speculation, as no verified Ditto captures have yet occurred, and some believe Ditto is actually uncatchable at this time. Bonnie Kristian
A police officer named Michael Kelley from Prairie View, Texas — the small town where Sandra Bland died last year under disputed circumstances — says he was forced to suppress evidence of departmental wrongdoing pertaining to Bland's death.
By Kelley's account, the top Waller County prosecutor refused to let him testify before a grand jury to share observations Kelley believes could have helped produce an indictment. In a recorded phone conversation, Kelley describes threats of retaliation including loss of his career should he speak out about having observed marks on Bland's forehead after the traffic stop as well as debates among fellow officers about how to charge Bland after she had already been arrested.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis categorically denied all Kelley's allegations. When the grand jury deliberations concluded last December, no one was indicted in connection with Bland's death. Meanwhile, Kelley himself is now suspended from the police department after he was caught on camera using a stun gun on a local city official who, like Bland, was African-American. Bonnie Kristian
Not only have the Democrats squashed the Republicans in TV ratings, but it looks like they've taken the lead on Instagram, too. This photo, from Wednesday night at the Democratic convention, is not just Clinton's most-liked Instagram picture of all time, but the most-liked photograph of all of the candidates in the entire 2016 presidential race:
It's easy to see why. Awwww. Jeva Lange
Hillary Clinton got massive applause Thursday night at the Democratic convention when she said this about her election rival, Donald Trump: "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."
Naturally, Trump responded Friday morning via Twitter by slamming Clinton's speech, claiming, "Crooked Hillary Clinton made up facts about me, and 'forgot' to mention the many problems of our country, in her very average scream!"
The Democratic convention's TV ratings were higher across the board than the viewership for the Republican gathering last week — sometimes by several million people — which prompted Trump on Thursday to implore his supporters not to watch Clinton's nomination acceptance speech. Jeva Lange
Animal behavior specialists are bewildered by an incident at the Zoological Garden of Rabat, in Morocco, in which a female elephant picked up a stone and threw it at the crowd, striking and killing a 7-year-old girl.
"The behavior … of any animal is very complex and wild animals are unpredictable," said Abderahim Salhi, the zoo's veterinarian. "We are all surprised. We don't yet understand."
The elephant threw the stone, which was about half the size of a brick, more than 33 feet, over a ditch and a wooden barrier; it struck the girl in the head. "In my opinion, it's unlikely the elephant was directly targeting the girl but exhibiting frustration," Phyllis Lee, the scientific director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, told the BBC.
The Rabat zoo defended its enclosure, which it said met the international standards, and called the incident "rare, unpredictable, and strange."
Hillary Clinton's historic nomination on Thursday night was somewhat bittersweet, as one can't help but wish that the thousands of women who fought to get America to this moment could have seen her on that stage. Luckily, Stephen Colbert owns a time machine and he used it to beam in Josephine Henley and Abitha Whitmore from the night of July 4, 1776.
Never mind the uncanny resemblance the female delegates have to Broad City's Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer — Henley and Whitmore are pretty excited to hear the good news about Hillary Clinton. Well, that is until they realize they misheard Colbert say the date by 200 years.
The two have a pretty big scolding for America taking its sweet time to nominate a woman, and you can get a hilarious earful, below. Jeva Lange