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]
High-speed police chases may look really cool in movies, but the reality is a whole lot uglier, according to a USA Today. Their study reports that between 1979 and 2013, 11,506 people were killed in police chases — over 5,000 of whom were innocent bystanders.
The rate of high-speed chase fatalities is actually so high that, on average, they're responsible for the death of nearly one person a day. By comparison, one person a day on average is shot to death by the police, according to an FBI estimate from June (although that number is believed by many to be much higher).
Most chases begin with an attempted traffic stop (89 percent) and end quickly, USA Today reports; 76 percent were over in only five minutes or less in California. But of all the daredevils who try to make an escape, the California Highway patrol calculated 28 percent of high-speed chases ended in crashes; in Minnesota, that number was as high as 40 percent.
The grim long and short of it is, don't try this at home. Jeva Lange
The recent Pluto probe presented a problem for NASA engineers. Spacecraft that are reasonably close to the sun, such as India's Mars Orbiter Mission, use solar panels to supply their electricity. But when you get out to Pluto, the sun is so dim it's barely distinguishable from the rest of the stars.
As Sir Martyn Poliakoff explains, as done before with the Voyager probes, the engineers substituted solar panels for a big hunk of radioactive plutonium. That produces heat, which can be used to generate electricity, and it also keeps the spacecraft warm. The whole thing is rather appropriate given that plutonium was named after the dwarf planet in the first place. Watch the full explanation in the video below. Ryan Cooper
As if the Republican presidential field weren't already big enough, one more candidate has decided to jump in at the very last minute. Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore filed with the FEC on Wednesday, declaring his intention to run for president just eight days before the first GOP debate. Gilmore, who is now the 17th candidate vying for the GOP nomination, served as governor of Virginia from 1998 until 2002 and was chair of the Republican National Committee in 2001.
However, as the Daily Intelligencer notes, Gilmore is "such a long shot that he might not even qualify for the Fox News debate" — and that's after Fox decided to open the debate up to all "candidates who are consistently being offered to respondents in national polls." Gilmore has only appeared in one of five of the most recent national polls, Politico reports, and they, too, have called his launch "his longest of all long-shot presidential bids." Becca Stanek
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, "Mystical Aphorisms of the Fortune Cookie": Supreme Court opinion or suffocatingly sweet perfume? Now, thanks to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, you'd be correct in thinking both.
That's right, you can now keep the language of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's famously vivid opinions close to your heart — literally — with the help of six different fragrances, Mic reports.
While many political figures throughout the course of American history have possessed "acid tongues," writes the fragrance maker on its website, "few in the modern era have provided such a constant stream of colorfully vitriolic superlatives as Antonin Scalia."
The names of the fragrances are of course taken directly from Scalia's dissenting opinions, which are peppered with language as rich and varied as the scents they gave rise to. Do you want your perfume to inspire fear in all those who smell you? Look no further than Looming Spectre of Inutterable Horror. Something a little more laid back? Ask The Nearest Hippie is made with patchouli, hemp, smoky vanilla bean, and cannabis accord. The other fragrances in the line include such gems as Pure Applesauce, Mummeries and Straining-to-be Memorable Passages, and of course, Jiggery Pokery.
In addition to doing the public this great service, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is also donating proceeds of each $26 bottle to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Trevor Project, and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Stephanie Talmadge
If you've seen a single preview for Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, one image undoubtedly stood out in your mind: Tom Cruise, clinging desperately to the outside of a plane as it took off. As per usual, Tom Cruise didn't fake any of this. How do you pull off such a crazy stunt? A behind-the-scenes featurette offers some insight:
"I couldn't sleep the night before," adding that he was "scared s--tless" during filming. Despite the fear and the difficulty of the stunt, Cruise shot the scene eight times to make sure they got it right. Scott Meslow
Former University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond Tensing, who was indicted yesterday on murder charges for shooting Samuel Dubose during a traffic stop, pleaded not guilty in his court appearance this morning. Officer Tensing "purposely killed" 43-year-old DuBose, who was black, after "losing his temper," according to county prosecutor Joe Deters. DuBose, who was a father of 10, had been driving without a front license plate when he was pulled over. Tensing could face life in prison if he is found guilty. Jeva Lange
Bill Clinton got a big payday after Hillary intervened in a diplomatic dispute with a Swiss banking giant
Soon after becoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton in 2009 cut a deal with Swiss authorities that resolved an Internal Revenue Service inquiry into the Swiss bank UBS about secret accounts held by American citizens. Afterward, the bank dramatically upped its donations to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic organization founded by Bill Clinton, and paid Bill Clinton $1.5 million for a series of Q&A sessions, according to an investigative report in The Wall Street Journal.
The deal resulted in UBS handing over information related to 4,500 accounts, well below the 52,000 that the IRS had originally sought. The Journal describes Hillary Clinton's involvement in brokering the deal as "an unusual intervention by a top U.S. diplomat." UBS's response also raised eyebrows:
From that point on, UBS's engagement with the Clinton family's charitable organization increased. Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according the foundation and the bank.
The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former President Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House. [The Wall Street Journal]
There is no evidence that Hillary Clinton got involved in the matter for the benefit of her husband or his foundation. Indeed, it appears the deal was part of a diplomatic give-and-take involving other U.S. interests. UBS denied a link between the settlement and the donations.
But the story does highlight the serious conflicts of interest posed by her husband's post-presidential activities, which are sure to be examined in even greater depth as the campaign goes on. It is an ongoing saga that is, to say the least, not a good look for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Ryu Spaeth