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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]

10:03 a.m. ET

Well, it was a good run. Self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders tossed his hat into the ring for presidency as a Democrat, but he now says he will resume being an Independent when he heads back to the Senate:

"He was never really a party guy," Greg Guma, the author of The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution, told The Daily Beast earlier this year. "His career was to be a voice and a candidate." Jeva Lange

9:47 a.m. ET
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For Utah state Sen. Mark Madsen (R), last week's Republican National Convention was the last straw. The Republican state senator announced Monday that, after witnessing firsthand the state of the party as a Utah delegate, he will no longer be a member of the Republican Party. Instead, he will become a Libertarian.

"Every decision and inclination I had before was reinforced," Madsen said of the convention's role in shaping his exit decision. As a support of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Madsen said he was particularly disappointed in the way the crowd reacted when Cruz refused to endorse Donald Trump and instead urged the party to vote its "conscience." "No party is entitled to my membership or my support," Madsen said, adding that the way things are headed for the GOP "makes me want to cry."

Madsen noted his change in alliance is "largely symbolic," however, as he is retiring at the end of the year. Becca Stanek

9:15 a.m. ET
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When it came to height, Americans used to stand tall above the rest. Now, a new global study from London's Imperial College has found Americans are looking pretty short in comparison to the world's other nationalities. While in 1914 American men ranked as the third-tallest men in the world, they're now the 37th tallest. American women similarly dropped from being the fourth-tallest women to the 42nd.

Americans' drastically diminished standing doesn't necessarily mean we're shrinking, though; it more likely means other nationalities are just growing much, much faster. While Americans' upward growth began leveling off in the 1960s and '70s, other nationalities kept growing. Iranian men, who experienced the biggest growth spurt among men worldwide since 1914, grew by an average of more than 16 centimeters over the last century, while American men's average growth was a mere 6 centimeters. The study's authors contend poor nutrition, as well as "immigration from countries with shorter citizens," played a role in Americans' stunted growth, Time reported.

Nowadays, the world's leaders in height are Dutch men and Latvian women. Becca Stanek

9:09 a.m. ET

Some critics have slammed the Republican National Convention for promoting an apocalyptic message of doom-and-gloom, but the RNC might have just gotten the last laugh. Following the close of the first day of the Democratic National Convention on Monday, the GOP blasted the Democrats for failing to mention the "global terrorist threat posed by ISIS" even once.

The Pulitzer-winning fact-check organization Politifact confirmed the truth of the statement; of the 61 speeches at the DNC on Monday, not a single one mentioned the Islamic State:

Was the Democratic discussion of ISIS and Islamic terrorism that thin? Basically, yes.

It's worth noting that the first night was not intended to have a specific focus on foreign policy, leaving the Democrats with three days left to discuss the issue. And Hillary Clinton — away from the podium in Philadelphia — issued a fairly muscular call for action against ISIS at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. [Politifact]

Still, with another ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in France on Tuesday, Republicans might have reason to feel a little smug about the glaring omission. Jeva Lange

8:49 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Jeff Kepner, 64, lost both of his hands in 1999 due to sepsis evolving from a strep throat infection. Ten years later, he became the first person in the United States to have a double hand transplant — what was supposed to be an inspiring, life-changing operation. Now, though, he says he wants those hands removed.

"From day one, I have never been able to use my hands," Kepner told Time after living with the non-functioning hands for seven years. "I can do absolutely nothing. I sit in my chair all day and wear my TV out." Kepner said before the transplant, he was 75 percent functional using his prosthetics; since the experimental surgery to attach new hands, though, he says he's 0 percent functional.

"Complex surgery such as hand transplant do not produce uniform results in everyone, but we have been encouraged by the functional return in the great majority of our recipients whose lives have been transformed by the procedure," Kepner's lead surgeon, Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, told Time.

Kepner might be stuck with his nonfunctioning hands, too — removing them doesn't guarantee he could easily go back to using prosthetics, and comes with many medical complications. Besides, Kepner has had enough time under the knife. "I am not going through all those operations again," he said. Read more about the high hopes for Kepner, and the reality of his life now, at Time. Jeva Lange

8:16 a.m. ET
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Seven swimmers, three rowers, and five canoeists have joined the growing list of Russian athletes banned from the upcoming Rio Games because of doping allegations. Among those banned are 2012 Olympic canoeing champion Alexander Dyachenko, canoeist and Olympic bronze medalist Alexey Korovashkov, and swimmer and Olympic bronze medalist Yulia Efimova.

The decisions were announced by the three sports' respective governing bodies Monday, following the International Olympic Committee's decision Sunday not to issue a blanket ban on Russian athletes over the state-sponsored doping scandal. Instead, each sport's federation has been tasked with investigating its athletes to determine who was implicated in the World Anti-Doping Agency's investigation, which revealed Russian officials tampered with urine samples at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The latest announcements bring the total number of Russian athletes banned since the IOC's announcement Sunday up to 18, BBC reported, and investigations are ongoing. The Rio Games begin Aug. 5. Becca Stanek

7:52 a.m. ET
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French President François Hollande said Tuesday that the attackers of a Normandy church had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.

Two armed men stormed the church in the city of Rouen and took several hostages early Tuesday morning, including the priest and two nuns, then slit the priest's throat before being killed by police, according to The Associated Press. Jeva Lange

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