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]
If there's one person who's glad the Senate gridlock over Loretta Lynch's attorney general nomination is over, it's the man she's set to replace.
The Senate finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general yesterday, five months after President Obama named her his nominee. Eric Holder, the outgoing attorney general, had announced he would stay at the Justice Department until a successor was named when he resigned in September — but he probably didn't anticipate another half-year in Washington. As months passed and Holder's term dragged on, some of his staff started circulating black rubber wristbands with the message "Free Eric Holder" as a protest of Lynch's protracted nomination.
Now, seven months after announcing his resignation, Holder finally made his goodbye speech Friday. In it, he proclaimed: "I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free." He then reportedly took the "Free Eric Holder" wristbands off his wrist and threw them into the audience.
Consider Eric Holder's mic dropped. Kimberly Alters
Robert Downey Jr. walked out of an interview with London's Channel 4 News earlier this week, and the rest of his Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour hasn't fared much better.
In an interview with The Guardian on Thursday, Downey was asked about a 2014 statement by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who said that superhero films were a form of "cultural genocide" for promoting a right-wing agenda.
Downey's response? "Look, I respect the hell out of him, and I think for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like 'cultural genocide' just speaks to how bright he is," he told The Guardian.
Cosmopolitan for Latinas has deemed Downey's remarks "racist," and E! Online adds that the comment suggests "that native Spanish speakers couldn't be as smart as native English speakers." Downey isn't the only one struggling on this press junket, though: His co-stars Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner called Scarlett Johansson's Avengers character, Black Widow, a "slut" and a "whore" in an interview this week, for which they have since apologized. Meghan DeMaria
Texas commissioner: Having deep fryers in public schools is 'not about French fries, it's about freedom'
It turns out the real threat to America's children is that they don't have enough deep-fried food.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) wrote a letter to the editor of The Houston Chronicle on Thursday, calling for a 10-year ban on deep-fat fryers and soda machines in Texas public schools to be overturned. Miller wrote that the fight is "not about French fries, it's about freedom."
In response to arguments about childhood obesity and health, Miller stated that school districts, not the state, should have the freedom to make these decisions. "I will always support decision-making at the local level," Miller wrote.
Miller officially proposed reinstating deep fryers in public schools in March, and The Texas Tribune reports that he is expected to announce this summer whether the Texas Department of Agriculture will repeal the ban. Meghan DeMaria
Ohio middle-school officials erased the word "feminist" from an eighth-grader's T-shirt in a class photo to "prevent any unintended controversies."
— KTVU (@KTVU) April 22, 2015
Sophie Thomas was shocked to see that her shirt had been photoshopped to erase the word, but the principal explained it might be "offensive" to some people. "I just want to spread equality," Thomas said.
American history teachers will soon have a powerful tool in their arsenal.
Paramount Pictures' Home Media Distribution division announced that it will provide a complimentary copy of Ava DuVernay's Selma to every public and private high school in the U.S. Selma chronicles the march that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led from Selma to Montgomery for equal voting rights.
"By providing DVDs to all of the high schools in the country, we hope to reach all 18 million high school students with the film's powerful and inspiring story," Megan Colligan, a Paramount executive, said in a statement. "With many of these students preparing to vote for the first time in next year's elections, it is especially fitting that they witness the bravery and fortitude of those who fought to establish the Voting Rights Act of 1965." Meghan DeMaria
An NYPD bomb squad arrived at the Statue of Liberty Friday after a canine unit apparently detected something suspicious in a staff locker area.
The Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island were evacuated when the U.S. Park Police received a phoned bomb threat. Officials are conducting a security sweep of Liberty Island, and the FBI is monitoring the situation.
— NYPD Special Ops (@NYPDSpecialops) April 24, 2015
"United States Park Police and New York Police Department are working to confirm a report of a suspicious package," the U.S. Park Police said in a statement. "Liberty Island has been evacuated as a precaution." Meghan DeMaria
The Stromer ST2 ($6,990) offers plenty of impressive technology, beginning with a battery-powered pedal assist that has a 90-mile range and a top speed of 28 mph, writes Aaron Gulley at Outside Magazine. But sometimes its most critical high-tech feature is its connectivity: If the bike goes missing, the owner can use a smartphone to track its location and activate anti-theft measures. One San Francisco buyer recently recovered his Stromer in two hours, after police narrowed their search using GPS and then spotted the thief because lights on the bike were flashing as he rode by. The word "Theft" was blinking on the crossbar's digital display.