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
On Tuesday, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp appeared on CNN's New Day and tried very hard to avoid talking about President Trump's alleged affair with an adult film star.
CNN's Alisyn Camerota began by asking Schlapp about a recent report that alleges that President Trump's campaign tried to cover up the tryst, which allegedly took place in 2006 when he was married to wife Melania, with campaign money. Schlapp responded: "I don't really have many thoughts on this, Alisyn. I don't even know what we know."
Schlapp then tried to claim that the report came out of "a gossip publication," referring to a lengthy interview the woman gave to InTouch Weekly last week. Camerota pointed out in response that the original story about the affair was published by The Wall Street Journal. "Do you think The Wall Street Journal is legit?" she asked.
Schlapp admitted that the Journal is credible, but spun back to referencing InTouch Weekly. "We're going to really talk about about an article by InTouch magazine on facts we don't even know to be true? We are all better than this," he said.
That's when Camerota struck: "Matt, so conservatives don't care anymore about extramarital affairs?" Watch a clip of the interview below, or watch the full segment at Mediaite. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been arrested for possessing knives that are openly sold in city stores
Knives are bringing together the unlikeliest of allies in New York as the constitutionality of a nearly 70-year-old statute is being challenged in federal court. Over the past decade, "tens of thousands" of people have been arrested for possessing illegal "gravity knives" — blades that can be flicked open with the skilled snap of a wrist, In Justice Today reports. Arizona-based knife advocacy group Knife Rights, which is representing three plaintiffs in the case, claims that the law is unconstitutional because there is no firm test to define what is or is not a gravity knife.
What's more, because of how vague and arbitrary the law is, "gravity knives" are often unknowingly sold in regular city stores:
"There's literally no way to know whether you're engaged in legal conduct," Daniel Schmutter, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the three-judge panel on Thursday. Someone seeking to comply with the law, he explained, might set out to perform the wrist flick test themselves, fail, and think the knife is safely "unflickable." But whether a knife's owner can "flick" his or her knife is irrelevant if a skilled police officer can do so. [In Justice Today]
Of the 928 people arrested for possessing gravity knives between July and December 2015, 84 percent were black or Latino men, Legal Aid reports. Although the fear is that the knives will be used as weapons, "in practice, the law results in New Yorkers who work in construction and other blue-collar jobs getting arrested for carrying an indispensable tool for their jobs," the New York Daily News writes.
President Trump does not have any firm beliefs about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney seemed to say in an interview on CNN on Tuesday.
The White House wants "a large [immigration policy] agreement. We want a big deal that solves the reason we have a DACA problem in the first place," Mulvaney said. "If you simply gave amnesty, whatever you want to call it, to the folks who are here, but don't solve border security, then you're simply delaying another DACA problem 10 or 15 years from now."
Pressed by CNN's Chris Cuomo to explain Trump's terms and conditions for allowing DACA recipients, who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children, to stay in America, Mulvaney said Trump's position "depends on what we get in exchange. What do we get for border security? What do we get for the wall?" Watch his comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 23, 2018
Special Counsel Robert Mueller interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for 'several hours' last week
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions for "several hours last week," The New York Times reports. The interview is the first known instance of Mueller's office questioning a member of President Trump's Cabinet, although Congress has grilled Sessions on multiple occasions with inquiries pertaining to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and the Trump campaign's alleged involvement.
Last spring, Sessions recused himself from "any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States" conducted by the Justice Department, following reports that he had twice spoken with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 election. During his congressional interviews last year, Sessions frustrated lawmakers by repeatedly saying he did not recall the answer to questions or otherwise declining to respond.
Mueller is also slated to interview Trump's former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, in the coming weeks. In December, The Washington Post reported that White House lawyers have been "assuring the president that Mueller's investigation is poised to wrap up by January or so." Jeva Lange
Hawaii's governor was slow to correct the missile false alarm because he forgot his Twitter password
When the government of Hawaii accidentally sent a statewide text message telling residents a ballistic missile was about to strike their home, the first official indication the warning was a false alarm came from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on Twitter. It would have come from Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), he said Monday, but he couldn't remember how to get into his Twitter account.
"I have to confess that I don't know my Twitter account log-ons and the passwords, so certainly that's one of the changes I've made," Ige told The Washington Post for a report published Tuesday. Now, he added, he has been putting account information "on my phone so that we can access the social media directly."
While Gabbard got her Twitter post up within 12 minutes of the alert, Ige's password kerfuffle delayed him another five. The official corrective text message did not send until 38 minutes after the false alarm. Bonnie Kristian
Guillermo del Toro's aquatic fairy tale, The Shape of Water, leads the 2018 Oscar nominees, competing in 13 categories including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress in a Leading Role for star Sally Hawkins. World War II drama Dunkirk followed with eight nominations, dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with seven, and Daniel Day-Lewis' final film, the twisted fashion drama Phantom Thread, with six.
The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Three Billboards, and Phantom Thread are all competing for Best Picture alongside The Post, Lady Bird, Get Out, Call Me by Your Name, and The Darkest Hour. The Netflix historical drama Mudbound, meanwhile, made history after Rachel Morrison earned a nomination for Best Cinematography. She is the first woman ever nominated in the category, which has existed since 1928.
Republicans start 2018 with full control of the federal government, at least one government shutdown under their belt, a historically unpopular president, and a potentially ominous sea change among white women. But "Republican strategists are plotting an election-year survival strategy to steer the midterms away from the dangerous terrain of Trump's tweets and Capitol Hill dysfunction," The Washington Post reports: "Talk up job growth, highlight the soaring stock market and, most of all, convince voters that the tax-cut legislation that stands as their only major accomplishment is bringing back the good times."
About 60 percent of U.S. adults in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll say the GOP tax overhaul favors the rich over the middle class, and 46 percent say passing it was a "bad thing," versus 34 percent who call it a "good thing." But there's a large swathe of persuadable voters, and Republicans, wealthy donors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are throwing tens of millions of dollars into a full-court press to convince voters to love the tax cut.
"Answer this question and I will tell you if we keep the House or not," says Corry Bliss, head of the GOP-aligned American Action Network, which pumped $24 million into GOP tax-cut boosterism last year and plans to spend $10 million more this quarter: "In 10 months, does the middle class think we cut their taxes?"
Without a push, most people won't really notice a 2018 tax cut until they do their taxes in 2019, though a single person making $50,000 should see $35 extra in each paycheck this year — or about $3,600 a year. The top 1 percent of households will get a tax cut of about $50,000. Luckily, the wealthy donors bankrolling the tax pitch were already thriving before the tax cuts — 82 percent of all wealth created last year went to the top 1 percent, Oxfam says in a new report, and the three wealthiest Americans now have the same wealth as the bottom 50 percent, or 160 million Americans. Peter Weber