Russia's invasion of Crimea in the Ukraine caught much of the world by surprise. Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown down a gauntlet to the West, whether that was his intention or not. Here are four columns that help explain what Russia is thinking, and how this invasion could shape the world. --Peter Weber
With the Crimea invasion, "Putin is striking back and playing for keeps in Ukraine," says Damon Wilson at the New Atlanticist. We shouldn't be surprised:
The classic Putin playbook is now on display: fuel separatist sentiments, justify military action by asserting the need to protect ethnic Russians (or at least passport holders), and then "maintain the peace" by stationing Russian forces permanently. In effect, dismember your weak neighbors. [New Atlanticist]
America, and President Obama, will lose in any just about any resolution of the Ukraine crisis, says Aaron David Miller at CNN. In the U.S., "we have a very risk-averse president who's focused more on domestic affairs than foreign policy":
That president is facing a crisis in Ukraine, where geography, history, and proximity favor Putin and leave Washington with a weaker hand. Perhaps some face-saving win-win can be devised. But if not — and perhaps unfairly, because Obama's options are bad ones — America will again be judged a weak and feckless power. [CNN]
"In the parallel universe of the Russian media, the preemptive and humanitarian nature of the operation gets pride of place," says Charles King at The New York Times. In this telling, by Putin and his various mouthpieces, Russia is stepping in not just to protect ethnic Russians, but restore a democratically elected president ousted by what Russia calls "fascists" and thugs. "This interpretive frame may be hard to understand, but some things are not wrong just because Russians happen to believe them":
The Crimean affair is a grand experiment in Mr. Putin's strategy of equivalence: countering every criticism of his government's behavior with a page from the West's own playbook. If his government has a guiding ideology, it is not the concept of restoring the old Soviet Union. It is rather his commitment to exposing what Russian politicians routinely call the "double standards" of American and European foreign policy and revealing the hidden workings of raison d'état — the hardnosed and pragmatic calculation of interests that average citizens from Moscow to Beijing to New Delhi actually believe drives the policies of all great powers. [New York Times]
Putin doesn't care about what the West thinks or, even, does: "After the Olympics, the next 'event' is the Crimea, as cynical as that may sound," says KermlinRussia, a satirical Twitter duo who also writes serious columns on politics and the economy, in The New Republic. "For foreign observers this was a surprise, but not for Russians":
The West has already begun to threaten Russia with political and economic isolation, but this stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of Putin's power. For example, Western analysts say that "Russia will not invade Crimea because Russia's economy is in bad shape and this would only weaken it further." They are mistaken. Putin no longer needs economic growth. He has grasped the contradiction between economic growth and the consolidation of his own power, and he has made his choice. [New Republic]
Representatives from the nation's largest financial institutions are holding off on questioning Donald Trump's economic agenda — but it's not because they don't have any questions. At a private meeting last week in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg reports that financiers decided the cons of inquiring into Trump's plans just might outweigh the pros:
A few key questions emerged: Would Trump's agenda be aligned with the forthcoming proposal from Hensarling and House Speaker Paul Ryan? And should they reach out to Trump's campaign staff to inquire about his economic agenda?
According to two people who attended the meeting, the group decided against reaching out after several representatives expressed fears that Trump could criticize them on social media if talks took a bad turn. [Bloomberg]
Yes, that's right. The nation's largest financial institutions are apparently avoiding the Republican Party's presumptive nominee because they're afraid of what he might tweet.
Instead, the banking representatives have decided to just hold off on forming any opinion at all on Trump, or his economic agenda. "It's hands off, for now," one of the meeting attendees told Bloomberg. "We're not 'Never Trump,' we're just not ready yet."
As Trump would say: "Sad!" Becca Stanek
As Donald Trump ramps up his attacks against his likely general election rival, Hillary Clinton, he is increasingly zeroing in on her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for his alleged sexual transgressions. "Is Hillary Clinton really protecting women?" Trump has blasted.
But now even one of Bill Clinton's biggest critics is backpedaling from that sort of talk. Kenneth W. Starr helped pursue the impeachment of Clinton in the 1990s, but in a startling about-face now praises him for being "the most gifted politician of the baby boomer generation," The New York Times reports.
"[Bill Clinton's] genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear. It is powerful, it is palpable and the folks of Arkansas really understood that about him — that he genuinely cared. The 'I feel your pain' is absolutely genuine," Starr said during a panel discussion at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. "There are certain tragic dimensions which we all lament," Starr added.
Starr also expressed concern about "the transnational emergence of almost radical populism, deep anger, a sense of dislocation" — an apparent reference to Trump, although none of the current presidential candidates were mentioned by name. Jeva Lange
You know it's bad when North Korea calls you out for propagandizing, but that's exactly what a senior official said Monday when slamming Donald Trump's suggestion that the mogul would meet with leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump said last week that he would be willing to meet with Kim to try to halt Pyongyang's nuclear program, Reuters reports. However, North Korea said Trump's proposal was a "kind of propaganda or advertisement" in his election race.
"It is up to the decision of my Supreme Leader whether he decides to meet or not, but I think [Trump's] idea or talk is nonsense," North Korea's ambassador to the U.N. So Se Pyong said. "This is useless, just a gesture for the presidential election. There is no meaning, no sincerity." Jeva Lange
Roughly 100 French investigators raided Google's headquarters in Paris Tuesday morning as part of an ongoing tax fraud investigation, Reuters reports. A source close to France's finance ministry has confirmed the raid, but Google has yet to make a comment. The French state is accusing the tech company of owing $1.8 billion in back-taxes, following a close scrutinization of international companies' tax arrangements.
Google, along with other large digital companies, has been accused of using "legal methods to minimize their tax bills," BBC reports. While Google, for instance, generates large profits in France and the UK, its tax base is in Ireland, where corporate tax rates are lower.
SeaTac, Washington, City Manager James Payne plotted to create a "tactical map" of Muslims in the neighborhoods around Seattle's SeaTac airport, apparently due to terrorism concerns, The Seattle Times has learned. Payne, who has since resigned, reportedly "stated an interest in knowing with a great deal of specificity (to the neighborhood, house, and even person) where Sunni and Shiite Muslim residents lived," an investigator in the case found.
Payne justified his map, which never came to be, as necessary in case he "needed to go into the neighborhoods to 'make the peace,'" the report said. It further concluded that "Mr. Payne's concerns about Muslims committing acts of terrorism seem to be the main motivation for his GIS mapping request."
Payne defended himself against accusations of ethnic profiling by saying he was "trying to provide good governance to a diverse population."
"This is what is so outrageous to me: Because it was a white male asking for this information, suddenly people jumped to the conclusion that I must be out to get certain people. I'm deeply offended by that," Payne said. Jeva Lange
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may have nearly clinched their respective parties' nominations, but they have a long way to go before they win over Americans, a new poll finds. The latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll out Tuesday reveals that the majority of Americans dislike, or even hate, Clinton and Trump. Nearly 60 percent say they don't like the former secretary of state, while slightly more — 63 percent — have bad feelings towards Trump.
That intense dislike doesn't seem to be balanced out by exceptional fondness, either. The poll found that just four in 10 voters say they either "admire" or "like" Clinton. Just 36 percent say the same about Trump.
The poll, conducted from May 16-22 among 16,710 adults nationwide, has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point. Becca Stanek
Analyzing human faces to detect character traits sounds like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, but the Israeli start-up Faception in fact already has a contract with a homeland security agency. Faceception claims it will be able to help identify terrorists for the government, but also has said that the face-scanning technology can pick out everyone from a great poker player to a pedophile to a genius, The Washington Post reports.
"Our personality is determined by our DNA and reflected in our face. It's a kind of signal," Faception's chief executive Shai Gilboa said. The company reports that they are able to evaluate certain traits with 80 percent accuracy.
Skeptics caution that the software is a slippery slope, and only as strong as the samples it has been taught. "Just when we thought that physiognomy ended 100 years ago. Oh, well," facial perception expert and Princeton professor Alexander Todorov said.
"If somebody came to me and said 'I have a company that's going to try to do this,' my answer to them would be 'nah, go do something more promising,'" computer science professor Pedro Domingos added, although he admitted, "On the other hand, machine learning brings us lots of surprises every day."
The science indeed remains uncertain. For example, a colleague of Domingos built a computer to identify with 100 percent accuracy the differences between dogs and wolves by looking at photographs — only, it turned out the computer was actually noticing snow as the common unifier in the background of the wolf photos. Artificial intelligence also risks focusing on traits that can be changed, like beards, further skewing its accuracy.
"Can I predict that you’re an ax murderer by looking at your face and therefore should I arrest you? You can see how this would be controversial," Domingos said. Jeva Lange