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March 2, 2014

As the West begins to shape its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the emerging conventional wisdom is that there is little the world can do to stop Vladimir Putin from doing whatever he wants to do. Here is Peter Baker in The New York Times warning that Russia will likely get away with its Soviet-style land grab fairly easily:

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies. [The New York Times]

Ben Judah, writing in Politico Magazine, goes further, arguing that wealthy interests in Europe are too invested in Russia's oligarchical scheme to put any pressure on it:

Moscow is not nervous. Russia's elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner — everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident — confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. [Politico Magazine]

In this view, the West has neither the means nor the will to draw Putin's blood. But it does have the means, including the visa bans and banking sanctions that Judah cites, which would chip at the heart of the Russian regime; a revived effort to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which were scrapped amidst a "reset" in relations that is obviously dead and gone; and a general strengthening of Western-friendly governments around Russia, including Georgia, Poland, and the provisional government in Kiev (whether this includes NATO membership in the case of Georgia and Ukraine is a debate for another day).

Does the West have the will? To suggest that it doesn't seems to underestimate the historical significance of the moment. This is a naked land grab on a different order of magnitude than Russia's move into Georgia in 2008, which was legitimately shrouded in a fog-of-war-type situation. Now that the scales have fallen from everyone's eyes, now that Putin's territorial ambitions and agenda have been so totally exposed, the West has little choice but to make his transgressions as painful as possible — otherwise what would stop Putin from expanding his thug regime? Ryu Spaeth

6:20 p.m. ET
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"After a long day of napping and ripping the squeaky thing out of every stuffed toy in the house, your dog needs to wind down, too," says Tony Merevick at Thrillist. While you enjoy your glass of chardonnay, pour your pooch some ­CharDOGnay — or ­ZinfanTail, if she prefers reds. Brewed by Apollo Peak, a Denver-based company that also makes feline-friendly catnip wines, the wines for canines are herbal blends that contain no grapes or alcohol. The peppermint in the ­ZinfanTail can help with digestive problems and travel sickness, and the chamomile in the ­CharDOGnay is a mild relaxant. The beast booze runs at $18 per 12-ounce bottle — not bad for a classy evening with your best bud. The Week Staff

6:05 p.m. ET
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A New Mexico elementary school principal instructed teachers never to call students "boys and girls" under the school's new Gender Identity Procedural Directive, NBC News affiliate KGW reports. Principal Judith Touloumis told teachers to avoid "binary" gender words and use neutral terms like "students." The local school board later apologized, saying Touloumis had misunderstood the directive. The Week Staff

5:11 p.m. ET

Last week, Donald Trump hired Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, to be his campaign CEO. Many were quick to point out the now explicit (rather than simply thinly veiled) connection of news outlet to the Trump campaign, which had already offered generally favorable coverage of Trump for months.

But this week, well, it seems not even Trump's in-the-tank political outlet can spin his poll struggles. In an "exclusive" published Friday, Breitbart touted a poll showing a "neck and neck" race between Clinton and Trump to end August. The problem? The Breitbart/Gravis poll actually shows Hillary Clinton topping Trump among respondents, grabbing 42 percent to his 41 percent.

Yes, the margin of error for the poll is 2.5 percent, so Clinton's lead can technically be demoted to a "statistical tie" between the candidates — which is how Breitbart chose to portray the findings. But as Sam Stein of The Huffington Post points out, if your campaign's practically in-house polling can't even show you comfortably on top, well… Kimberly Alters

4:56 p.m. ET
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Good news for anyone who hates saying goodbye to their pup every morning: With studies now showing the advantages of having pets in the office, more companies are opening their doors to dogs, NPR reports. Seven percent of U.S. firms now let employees bring pets to work, up from 5 percent five years ago.

Bringing man's best friend to the office can lower workers' stress and boost productivity and morale, studies show. There's a social component, too: "They tend to see that the dogs increase co-worker cooperation and interaction, particularly when people would go by and see the dog just to visit," said Randolph Barker, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who researches pets in the office.

If we're lucky and this trend continues, maybe every day can be Take Your Dog to Work Day. But until the animal takeover hits your workplace, there's always puppy cams. The Week Staff

4:47 p.m. ET
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Pop legend Britney Spears released her ninth studio album Friday, the songstress' first album in three years. The record, titled Glory, is Spears' first offering since 2013's much-panned Britney Jean, and Entertainment Weekly describes it as "her most adventurous album in a decade."

The album's lyrics are sex-heavy and rebellious, perhaps unsurprising given Spears' most recent project is a multi-year residency in Las Vegas. The album's lead single, "Make Me...", features the rapper G-Eazy and leans heavily on Spears' signature breathy touch, while other songs are more explicitly sensual, like the unsubtle "Do You Wanna Come Over?" and the strip-tease preview, "Private Show".

Glory has been met with mostly positive reviews, if not glowing. As the Los Angeles Times puts it: "For the first time in a decade in a half, feeling Spears' energy doesn't register as an act of vampirism." You can stream the album on Spotify, or buy it on iTunes here. Kimberly Alters

3:26 p.m. ET

Donald Trump, ostensibly, wants to be president of the United States. Being the leader of the free world generally means you have to care about a lot of stuff — stuff that happens in the U.S., stuff that happens outside the U.S., stuff that happens in small towns and on farms and in the middle of the ocean.

It's a stressful job! That may be why Trump reportedly offered what would be the most powerful vice presidency in history to some potential ticket-mates. But if worse comes to worst, it seems Trump has a secret weapon to stress management, one he divulged to Larry King back in 2004:

You can read the whole transcript of Trump's appearance on Larry King Live here (yes, someone asked about his hair), but suffice it to say: A literal meme may not be the best guiding principle for someone who aspires to the Oval Office. Kimberly Alters

3:12 p.m. ET
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Way before she ran for U.S. president, Senate, or even by association as first lady, Hillary Clinton had big political dreams. In a sprawling new piece for Politico, Michael Kruse painstakingly details Clinton's rise through the student government ranks at Wellesley College in Massachusetts en route to her term as student body president in 1968-1969.

Clinton's transition from Republican to Democrat during her four years at Wellesley is well-documented, but by Kruse's chronology, the change was gradual, deliberate, and not without its confusions. At one point, Clinton wrote a letter to her youth pastor in the Illinois suburb where she grew up, asking: "Can one be a mind conservative and a heart liberal?" But by the time she was campaigning for student body president during her junior year, Clinton had built a steady reputation as a mediator who could get things done and marshal differing opinions — to the point where a group of freshmen published a laudatory song about her in the college newspaper:

Her role as the chair of the Vil Juniors … allowed her to meet, talk with, and be known by students who now were potential voters in campus elections. Two dozen of them had written a song for her their first year on campus, and now they printed it in a letter to the editor in the [Wellesley News]. The lyrics included the lines: "… so Hillary's solving problems" and "… if everything else goes wrong, our faith in Hillary still is strong …" Rodham didn't rest. She spent three weeks walking the halls of dorms asking for votes. [Politico]

The song was to be sung to the tune of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" from the play My Fair Lady. For more on how Clinton the student became Clinton the politician — including the time she sat for a painted portrait, and how she was a "consensus person" with a reputation for moderation even then — read Kruse's entire account at Politico. Kimberly Alters

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