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March 2, 2014

Zack Beauchamp, a frequent contributor to The Week, has an interesting analysis at ThinkProgress concluding that the crisis in Ukraine does not constitute a return of the Cold War. If anything, he argues, it shows just how far Russia has fallen as a global power.

The fact is that Russia’s Ukraine move is an act of weakness, not strength — an act, as Kerry aptly characterized it, anachronistic in both moral and strategic terms. The fact Russia is trying something like this exposes the country’s global strategy as fundamentally mismatched to 21st century realities. There isn’t a new Cold War. [ThinkProgress]

The entire essay falls under an emerging school of thought that contends Russia has made a strategic mistake in invading Ukraine. In this view, Russia has isolated itself on the international stage, spooked its neighbors into rushing into the arms of the West, invited a debilitating economic and political response from Europe and the U.S., and embroiled itself in a military conflict that could turn into a major headache.

The other school of thought is that Vladimir Putin has successfully taken advantage of a global vacuum of power to expand Russia's sphere of influence, all while boosting his strongman status and discouraging dissent at home. Julia Ioffe of The New Republic said on CNN today that Putin had "checkmated" the West with regards to Ukraine. Ryu Spaeth

8:19 a.m. ET

Seth Meyers has explained before why "bathroom laws" that force transgender people to use the restrooms of their birth gender are a misguided solution to a nonexistent problem — a conclusion that Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace also reached, as Meyers showed on Thursday's Late Night. But other hosts and pundits on Fox News have parroted the talking point that these laws prevent grown men from dressing as women and lawfully going into the bathroom with little girls. "To be clear, that's not how gender identity works," Meyers explained. "It's not just a whim, it's a person's innermost concept of self, it's their identity, it's who they are."

But misunderstanding transgender identity isn't the only flaw with the laws in North Carolina and Mississippi. "Now, there are any number of problems with these laws," Meyers said, "and aside from the fact they're hateful and discriminatory, they're also unenforceable," as Mother Jones discovered when it actually spoke to North Carolina police departments. The laws also force people who have transitioned from one sex to the other to use the wrong restroom. "That's how absurd these anti-trans laws are," Meyers said. "A policy hasn't created this much policy confusion since hipster bars stared using animals as bathroom door signs."

But he reserved his deepest scorn for a certain presidential candidate. "Some of the ugliest comments on this issued have come from Ted Cruz, who has decided in the last week to use the bathroom bills as a political wedge against Donald Trump," Meyers said, playing a highlight reel of Cruz slamming Trump for at one point not disagreeing with the law — even, at one point, telling a crowd that Trump shouldn't be able to dress up as Hillary Clinton to use the ladies room. Meyers had had enough. "Oh sure, but if a lizard dresses up in a suit, he can run for president," he said over a particularly reptilian photo of Cruz. Watch below. Peter Weber

8:07 a.m. ET
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Donald Trump supporters have lashed back at journalist Julia Ioffe after she published a piece in GQ revealing Melania Trump has a secret half-brother living in Slovenia. The harassment has been viciously anti-Semitic: "The irony of this is that today, when I was getting all of this horrible anti-Semitic shit that I've only ever seen in Russia, I was reminded that 26 years ago today my family came to the U.S. from Russia," Ioffe told The Guardian. "We left Russia because we were fleeing anti-Semitism."

The harassment has ranged from disturbing images sent to Ioffe's inbox to threatening calls:

On Thursday, she answered a phone call from an anonymous caller who played a Hitler speech. She received another call from "Overnight Caskets." On Twitter, users posted photos of her face superimposed on a mug shot from Auschwitz. The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist site, attacked Ioffe in a blog post titled: "Empress Melania Attacked by Filthy Russian Kike Julia Ioffe in GQ!"

"It's unsettling," she said on Thursday night. "I started the day off having a sense of humor about it but by the end of the day, after a few phone calls like this, with people playing Hitler speeches, and the imagery, and people telling me my face would look good on a lampshade, it's hard to laugh." [The Guardian]

"This is not a heavily critical article. There is nothing in it that is untrue," Ioffe added. "If this is how Trump supporters swing into action what happens when the press looks into corrupt dealings, for example, or is critical of his policies?"

Donald Trump recently adopted an "America first" motto in his foreign policy speech, drawing an awkward comparison to the America First Committee that fought against U.S. involvement in World War II for anti-Semitic reasons. Critics have said Trump seems unaware of the parallel. Jeva Lange

7:42 a.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) thinks former House Speaker John Boehner ought to "be ashamed of himself" for calling Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) "Lucifer in the flesh" and a "miserable son of a bitch" during a recent talk at Stanford University. "The fact that he has done this is appalling. And he should be ashamed of himself. And I demand he apologize," Lee said on Mark Levin's radio show, calling Boehner's remarks "really vile stuff" and noting that he was "livid to have him talk about my friend Ted Cruz" like that.

Lee, who has endorsed Cruz in the presidential race, says Boehner's comments are all the more reason voters frustrated with the establishment should vote for Cruz. "This is a wake-up call to people who are supporting Donald Trump, thinking that he's the guy that's going to rail against the establishment," Lee said. "He's not. He is the establishment. He's the golfing buddy, the texting buddy of John Boehner. The same guy who praises Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders." Becca Stanek

7:27 a.m. ET

Sometimes the best jokes don't even take embellishment. In Amy Schumer's latest sketch, she and Inside Amy Schumer regular Kyle Dunnigan portray two home-shopping hosts who are excited to push their newest ware: "just your regular run-of-the-mill, meat-and-potatoes handgun."

The episode — which gets fact-checked by Everytown For Gun Safety's Chief Strategy Officer Brina Milikowsky — puts a big hot spotlight on the bleak reality of how easy it is for anyone to get a gun using legal loopholes, be they a felon, terrorist, or child.

While the whole skit could have been at risk of coming across heavy-handed, the funniest jokes are in the subtle details, such as the thousands of guns sales recorded just minutes into Schumer and Dunnigan's spiel and the "mass shooting" alarm that Schumer comments will provoke conversations on gun violence, "which means the government could be coming for your guns soon, which they never have but always might!"

But as this is a home shopping channel, the gun is a limited time offer, and Schumer and Dunnigan swiftly move on to hawking their next product: congressmen. Schumer swings for the fences, too — using actual congressmen's names.

Once again, Schumer walks the line between being hilarious and completely depressing — all while doing little more than telling the brutal truth. Watch below. Jeva Lange

7:15 a.m. ET

On Thursday, Donald Trump made his first campaign visit to California since February, as the GOP presidential candidates start focusing on the pivotal June 7 California primary. Trump held a big, racuous rally at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, and hundreds of demonstrators were waiting to protest Trump's immigration policies and campaign rhetoric. Ten men and seven women were arrested for alleged unlawful assembly after the rally as the protest turned violent. Police were out in force, and protesters smashed the window of a police cruiser, punctured the tires of a police SUV, and even tried to flip over a police car. The mayhem was over by 10:15 p.m., Orange County sheriff department Lt. Mark Stichter told the Los Angeles Times, and no major injuries were reported.

The protests were peaceful but larger than expected before the rally, but when Trump supporters couldn't get in to hear the candidate, the confrontation between Trump backers and critics started growing tense. Police helicopters hovered overhead and law enforcement in riot gear and on horseback stepped in to clear the streets of Trump protesters, some of whom carried Mexican flags. "We could be peaceful and do things different," Arianna Perez, 19, told the L.A. Times, "but if we did, we wouldn't get our voice heard." You can watch an Associated Press report below. Peter Weber

6:00 a.m. ET
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

On Friday, North Korea's Supreme Court found U.S. citizen Kim Dong Chul guilty of espionage and subversion, and sentenced the 62-year-old businessman to 10 years with hard labor. Kim is the second American sentenced to hard labor recently, after 21-year-old tourist Otto Warmer was given 15 years for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. The brief trial was conducted a week before North Korea's ruling party holds its first congress in 36 years.

Kim was arrested in October. Last month, he confessed before North Korean media to having collaborated with South Korean intelligence to bring down North Korea's leadership — which National Intelligence Service says is untrue — and trying to spread religion in the country. Previous North Korean prisoners have said their confessions were coerced. Peter Weber

5:15 a.m. ET

Legendary former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight is a big fan of Harry Truman and Donald Trump, the latter of whom he has endorsed for president. At a Trump rally in Indiana on Thursday, Knight raised some eyebrows when he compared the two men. "Harry Truman, with what he did in dropping and having the guts to drop the bomb in 1944 saved, saved billions of American lives," Knight said, with Trump smiling next to him. "And that's what Harry Truman did. And he became one of the three great presidents of the United States. And here's a man who would do the same thing, because he's going to become one of the four great presidents of the United States."

A 2015 survey of 162 American political scientists did find Truman ranked highly among U.S. presidents, at No. 6, but his decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, especially the second one on Nagasaki, is still controversial. Trump himself warns that nuclear weapons are the "single greatest threat" to the world, though he said Thursday morning that he "will never, ever rule... out" using a nuclear weapon on the Islamic State. On CNN Thursday night, Wolf Blitzer asked Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson about Knight's comments. "Well, I think this is just an example of what people are associating with Mr. Trump's strength and leadership, not the fact that he would actually drop an A-bomb," she said. You can watch below. Peter Weber

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