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]
President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, in a move that critics say will surely infuriate the People's Republic of China. While the phone call between the U.S. president-elect and the Taiwanese president appeared to be mainly congratulatory, it broke over three decades of precedent; the last time leaders of the two countries spoke directly is believed to be 1979 and the U.S. doesn't formally recognize the Taiwanese government. China considers the island a breakaway province, and so the phone call is expected to create an uproar in Beijing.
The Hamilton Mixtape dropped Friday and immediately rose to the top of the charts. The 23-track album sits at No. 1 on iTunes and is also the No. 1 paid album on Amazon. A homage to the Broadway hit Hamilton, the album features covers from artists like Alicia Keys, Sia, The Roots, and Busta Rhymes. Some tracks stay loyal to the cast album renditions, but The Atlantic noted "many do shift emphases in refreshing ways, confirming these songs' potential to live outside a narrative."
The album debuted Thursday night with a live performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the home of Hamilton. Becca Stanek
President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — the man who told President Obama to "go to hell" and threatened to "break up" with America — for a meeting at the White House next year, Reuters reported Friday, citing an aide to Duterte. The Philippine president's special adviser Christopher Go said the invitation came during a "very engaging, animated" phone call between Trump and Duterte that lasted "just over seven minutes."
Duterte has already expressed enthusiasm about Trump's victory, and said he does not "want to quarrel anymore" now that Trump will be assuming office. Duterte's relationship with the U.S. has been rocky recently, after Obama suggested he would question Duterte's campaign against the drug trade that has left thousands dead. "Son of a b-tch, I will swear at you," Duterte responded, prompting Obama to cancel their meeting.
A "source" indicated last week to Reuters that Trump will approach his relationship with Duterte with a "clean slate." "He is perfectly capable of talking to Duterte in an open way without being wedded to previous policy failures," the individual told Reuters. "If anyone is going to be able to right the ship, it's someone with Mr. Trump's profile."
Even before news broke of Trump's conversation with Duterte, The New York Times reported that the president-elect's "freewheeling phone calls with foreign leaders" had "unnerved diplomats at home and abroad." So far, he has praised the president of Kazakhstan, who The Times described as "one of the world's most durable despots," expressed interest in visiting the "fantastic country" of Pakistan, and seemingly blown off the British prime minister. Becca Stanek
The Indiana wind seems to have blown the cover on President-elect Donald Trump's secret to keeping his red ties perfectly in place. As Trump stepped off a plane Thursday to tour the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, a strong gust briefly upended Trump's signature hairdo and tie — revealing two pieces of strategically placed Scotch tape:
Look close and you’ll see Donald Trump scotch tapes his tie together. As seen as he excited plane in Indiana today as the wind kicked up: pic.twitter.com/Qzzkup5AZd
— Hunter Schwarz (@hunterschwarz) December 2, 2016
Apparently even men with sprawling business empires and a penchant for gold leaf can enjoy the simplicity of DIY fixes. Becca Stanek
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting the brakes on Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's recount efforts. On Friday, Schuette announced he is filing a lawsuit to block Stein's "frivolous, expensive recount request" in the state. "It is inexcusable for Stein to put [Michigan voters] at risk of paying millions and potentially losing their voice in the [Electoral] College," Schuette tweeted, noting he had filed an "emergency motion" with Michigan's Supreme Court to "ensure a timely process."
Stein's efforts are also facing pushback in Wisconsin. The Associated Press reported Friday that Trump supporters have filed a federal lawsuit to halt Wisconsin's recount, which started on Thursday. The lawsuit argues that the recount "threatens the due process rights" of those who voted for Trump.
Stein announced last week she would raise money to fund recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, after cybersecurity experts noted alleged irregularities in the states' results. No evidence of a hack has emerged. Becca Stanek
Accomack County Public Schools on Virginia's eastern shore have decided to at least temporarily pull Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from campus shelves after a parent of a biracial child complained about the novels' racial language.
"I keep hearing, 'This is a classic, this is a classic,'" the parent, Victoria Coombs, said at a school board meeting. "I understand this is a literature classic... But there [are so many] racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that." Coombs argued it is "not right to put that in a book" or teach such a book to a child because to do so would be "validating that these words are acceptable."
While it is certainly true that both books include racial slurs, they do so to accurately represent the historical racism each work condemns. In Mockingbird, the main characters defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the pre-Civil Rights South; and Huck Finn decides he'd rather risk hellfire than abandon his runaway slave friend.
Still, this is hardly the first time either work has been banned over accusations of racism. The Accomack school district will soon convene a meeting with a librarian to determine whether the ban should be permanent. Bonnie Kristian
In the fall of 2015 alone, some 67,442 state and federal prison inmates were kept in solitary confinement, defined as at least 22 hours per day locked alone in a cell. So finds a new report released this week by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and Yale Law School, which sought to fill longstanding data gaps on the use of solitary confinement in America today.
The study results show solitary rates vary widely by state. At the high end, Louisiana kept 14 percent of inmates in solitary for 15 days or more in the time period studied. Utah and Nebraska were the only other states to top 10 percent, while at the low end are states as geographically and demographically diverse as Mississippi and California, Connecticut and Hawaii.
The study also found race-based disparities in the solitary population, with most states seeing disproportionate representation of black men in solitary as compared to their share of the general prison population. Also noteworthy: Texas holds the dubious distinction of keeping the most inmates in solitary the longest, with more than 1,000 people isolated for a shocking six years or more.
Though solitary confinement use has declined in recent years thanks to evidence that it is inhumane and counterproductive, that 67,000 figure still provides just a partial tally. It only counts segregated inmates in state and federal prisons, excluding those in local jails as well as juvenile, military, and immigration detention centers. Bonnie Kristian