Smart takes
March 3, 2014
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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]

but can they remember everyone's name?
2:05 a.m. ET

Leo and Ruth Zanger of Quincy, Illinois, may have just welcomed their 100th grandchild, but they say they treat every new arrival like its their first.

"We just love them all and they're all so precious," Leo, 79, told Today.com. "Birth is a miracle and to have a new one is just a wonderful thing." The Zangers have been married for 59 years and have 12 children ranging in age from 31 to 59 years old (their youngest son was an uncle 10 times over by the time he was born), so it's no surprise that their family has steadily grown over the years. With the birth of Jaxton Leo Zanger on April 8, the official grandchild count hit 100, although technically little Jaxton is the 46th great-grandchild (there's also one great-great-grandchild).

Most of the family lives in or near Quincy, where Leo operates a real estate agency, and they gather together during all the major holidays — they just have to rent out church halls since no one's house can fit everyone. "When we get together, it's big," daughter Donna Lane told Today.com. "It's really big. There are a lot of people — a lot of kids — but that's what it's all about. We always have a really good time." Catherine Garcia

This is terrible
1:40 a.m. ET
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In a report released Wednesday, Amnesty International says that the militant group Hamas tortured and killed dozens of Palestinians during the war against Israel in the Gaza Strip last year, taking advantage of the "chaos of the conflict" to carry out "spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes."

The report says that during July and August, dozens of people were arrested and tortured, and at least 23 were executed, the Los Angeles Times reports. Amnesty International says that Hamas targeted members of Fatah, its rival political faction and the political base of the Palestinian Authority. "It is absolutely appalling that while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores," Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa program director for Amnesty International, said in a statement.

One incident that was said to take place happened in August, when six men accused of being collaborators with Israel were executed in front of hundreds of people, including children. Hamas official Salah Bardawil called the report biased and not objective, and said Amnesty International "should have investigated the war crimes against humanity committed by Israel instead of criticizing the victims." Catherine Garcia

Breaking news
12:57 a.m. ET
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Early Wednesday, plainclothes Swiss police quietly entered the tony Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, picked up hotel room keys, and arrested several members of FIFA's executive committee on U.S. corruption charges being unsealed in U.S. federal court Wednesday morning. Soccer's governing world body has gathered in Zurich for FIFA's annual meeting, and while FIFA's powerful longitme president, Sepp Blatter, isn't among the more than 10 FIFA officials indicted, the arrests are a blow to his tenure. Blatter is expected to be elected to a fifth term on Friday

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey, and IRS criminal division head Richard Weber will be in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, to announce the charges on Wednesday morning, The Wall Street Journal reports, underlining the high profile of the charges. "We're struck by just how long this went on for and how it touched nearly every part of what FIFA did," one law enforcement official told The New York Times. "It seems like this corruption was institutionalized."

The U.S. indictment reportedly charges FIFA officials with two decades of pervasive corruption in picking World Cup host countries, marketing deals, and broadcast rights, and the FBI caught a break in its long-running investigation when U.S. former FIFA executive committee member Charles "Chuck" Blazer started cooperating in 2011, agreeing to hand over documents and secretly record conversations. Blazer, who is gravely ill, is clouded by his own ethics problems.

Among those indicted are two vice presidents of the secretive executive committee, Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands and Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, plus Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former executive committee member. Peter Weber

Late Night Antics
12:45 a.m. ET

Armed with pudding pops and ugly patterned sweaters, Amy Schumer defended Bill Cosby against rape allegations the best way she could on Inside Amy Schumer: by telling a jury in the Court of Public Opinion that Cosby "probably can't get in any legal trouble," and it's really about "not punishing ourselves for loving great comedy." Pushing the nostalgia angle hard, Schumer showed the jury a clip of The Cosby Show and then asked, "Did anybody feel raped by that? How about drugged? I felt comforted by a familiar father figure." Watch the video all the way to the end to see how Schumer handles receiving a gift from her client. —Catherine Garcia

honors
May 26, 2015

Writer Flannery O'Connor will be honored with a Forever postage stamp, the U.S. Postal Service announced Tuesday.

The stamp for 3-ounce packages will debut on June 5 and feature peacock feathers, the Los Angeles Times reports, a nod to the fact that O'Connor raised peacocks on her family's farm in Georgia. O'Connor was born in Savannah in 1925, and wrote Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor won a 1972 National Book Award for fiction, and was named the Best of the National Book Awards 1950-2008 by a public vote.

O'Connor, who died in 1964 at the age of 39, primarily wrote in the Southern Gothic style. According to her autobiographer, Brad Gooch, "O'Connor said that modern writers must often tell 'perverse' stories to 'shock' a morally blind world. 'It requires considerable courage,' she concluded, 'not to turn away from the story-teller.'" Catherine Garcia

Quotables
May 26, 2015
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The Vatican's top diplomat said on Tuesday that the legalization of gay marriage in Ireland is a "defeat for humanity."

At a news conference in Rome, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state and second to the pope in the Holy See's hierarchy, said he was "deeply saddened by the result" of the vote. "The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization," he added.

After Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote last week, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin made a less inflammatory statement, saying, "It is very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people... [then the church needs] a reality check." The Guardian points out that Pope Francis has also referred to something as a "defeat for humanity," but in the pontiff's case, he was talking about war. Catherine Garcia

Emails
May 26, 2015
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In a court filing, the State Department proposed posting online large bundles of Hillary Clinton's emails from her time as secretary of state every 60 days, starting on June 30.

"The department will strive to produce as many documents as possible on each production date, and will file a status report one week after each production to inform the court of the number of pages posted," Justice Department lawyers wrote. "The department is keenly aware of the intense public interest in the documents and wants to get releasable materials out as soon as possible."

The State Department last week proposed that it have until January to produce the bulk of the emails, but U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered they release the emails on a rolling basis. The department said it will get every email out by January, Politico reports, but hopes to get them all released before then. Catherine Garcia

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