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  • Centauri Dreams notes the exobiological potential of Titamn after the detection of acrylonitrile. Cryogenic life?

  • This guest essay at Lawyers, Guns and Money on the existential problems of Brazil, with politics depending on people not institutions, is a must-read.

  • The LRB Blog considers, in the context of Brexit, what exactly might count for some as a marker of dictatorship.

  • Did the 15th century construction of the Grand Canal in China lead the Ming away from oceanic travel? Marginal Revolution speculates.

  • The NYR Daily considers
  • Out There explores the reasons why the most massive planets all have the same size.

  • The Planetary Society Blog notes the 5th anniversary of the arrival of Curiosity on Mars.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that, with regards to Venezuela, the United States has no good options.

  • Roads and Kingdoms considers the febrile political mood of Kenya.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Putin is making the mistake of seeing the United States through the prism of Russia.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes a proposal for British mayors to have representation at Brexit talks makes no sense.

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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the pleasures of the unmediated life, experienced in her recent vacation.

  • This celebration at Centauri Dreams of the forty years of science from the Voyager missions is heart-warming.

  • White racism in power is touched upon at Lawyers, Guns and Money.

  • Noel Maurer notes that the Philippines, where indiscriminate violence is state policy, no longer counts as a true democracy. Duturte as Marcos?

  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a map depicting the frequency with which young adults live with parents across Europe. Northwestern Europe stands out.

  • Understanding Society looks at an early critique of positivism in sociology.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Belarus' preparation for the Zapad 2017 military exercises with Russia.

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  • Alejandro Puyana at NPR describes how the arepa of Venezuela thrives internationally but dies at home.

  • Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money makes the point that people on the left clinging to Venezuela as it descends into dictatorship are not helping anyone.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that the 1999 constitution of Venezuela seems designed to have allowed for a shift towards dictatorship.

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  • The Globe and Mail describes a salvage archaeology operation in Cape Breton, on the receding shores of Louisbourg at Rochefort Point.

  • Katie Ingram at MacLean's notes
  • The National Observer reports on how Québec has effectively banned the oil and gas industry from operating on Anticosti Island.

  • This La Presse article talks about letting, or not, the distant Iles-de-la-Madeleine keep their own Québec electoral riding notwithstanding their small population.

  • Will the Bloc Québécois go the way of the Créditistes and other Québec regional protest movements? Éric Grenier considers at CBC.

  • The National Post describes the remarkable improvement of the Québec economy in recent years, in absolute and relative terms. Québec a have?

  • Francine Pelletier argues Québec fears for the future have to do with a sense of particular vulnerability.

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  • Charley Ross reports on an unexpected personal involvement in the disappearance of Kori Gossett. Did an informant know?

  • Citizen Science Salon reports, in the time of #sharkweek, on the sevengill sharks.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to an article on the Chinese base in Sudan.

  • Inkfish has a fascinating article describing how New Zealand's giant black swans went extinct, and were replaced.

  • Language Hat notes two obscure words of Senegalese French, "laptot" and "signare". What do they mean? Go see.

  • Language Log argues that the influx of English loanwords in Chinese is remarkable. Does it signal future changes in language?

  • Lawyers, Guns Money notes how Los Angeles and southern California were, during the American Civil War, a stronghold of secessionist sentiment, and runs down some of the problems of Mexico, including the militarization of crime.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on what books by which authors tend to get stolen from British bookstores.
  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer suggests that Donald Trump is not likely to be able to substantially reshape NAFTA.

  • Roads and Kingdoms reports from the recent protests in Poland against changes to the Supreme Court.

  • Understanding Society takes a look at the structure of the cities of medieval Europe, which apparently were dynamic and flexible.

  • Unicorn Booty shares some classic gay board games.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia is going to try to wage a repeat of the Winter War on Ukraine.

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  • Crooked Timber's John Quiggin considers imaginable ways to get carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down to 350 ppm by 2100.

  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog considers the tenuous nature of the upper-middle class in America. How is downwards mobility to be avoided, even here?

  • Imageo shows the growth of a sunspot larger than the Earth.

  • Language Hat shares the story of how Manchu script came to be.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that the working poor need protection from arbitrary and always-changing work schedules.

  • The LRB Blog notes the geopolitical scramble at the Horn of Africa, starting with bases in Djibouti.

  • The NYR Daily engages with an intriguing exhibition about the relationship between Henry James and paintings, and painting.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw engages with the classic 1937 Australian film, Lovers and Luggers.

  • Noel Maurer at The Power and the Money notes that one benefit of the trend towards greater informality in fashion is that time has been freed up, especially for women.

  • Peter Rukavina writes about his new Instagram account, hosting his various sketches.

  • Unicorn Booty notes the continuing problems with Germany's adoption laws for same-sex couples.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy looks at how the Polish president saved the independence of Poland's courts with his veto.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is trying to mobilize the ethnic Russians of Lithuania, finally.

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It's Toronto Fringe Festival time, and I've been spending much of the past week attending high-quality indie theatre. Last night, I went with a friend to catch a new show that deserves the high ratings it has gotten from critics and audiences, The Seat Next To The King by local playwright Steven Elliott Jackson. The Seat Next To The King imagines an encounter, initially sexual but later more complex, in a Washington D.C. restroom in 1963 between African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin and long-time LBJ advisor Walter Jenkins.

In coming years, the two men's lives would take rather different trajectories, Rustin becoming one of the first out national political figures, and Jenkins' political career being destroyed in October 1964 when he was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge in a Washington D.C. washroom. Jenkins later returned to Texas and relative anonymity as a chartered accountant.

The arrest of a high-ranking advisor to LBJ for alleged homosexual behaviour could have had national political import. Indeed, some Republicans seem to have tried to publicize this arrest as much as possible, in the hope that the scandal would have an effect on that year's election. Somewhat to the surprise of many observers at the time, the Jenkins arrest did not have a significant effect on the election, LBJ's lead over Goldwater and Goldwater's reluctance to make the arrest a campaign issue. That said, the disappearance of Jenkins from LBJ's administration might well have had subtler longer-run consequences on American policy, some people suggesting that American policy in Vietnam might have been different (or not) had Jenkins been present to give advice.

Let's say that Jenkins does not get arrested, not in October of 1964 and not later. What happens next? How is the United States changed with Jenkins still providing advice to LBJ?

(Crossposted to alternatehistory.com.)
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  • Crooked Timber responds to The Intercept's release of data regarding Russian interference with American elections.
  • Dangerous Minds reports on how Melanie Gaydos overcame a rare genetic disorder to become a model.

  • Dead Things seems unduly happy that it does see as if Tyrannosaurus rex had feathers. (I like the idea.)

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on our ability to detect the effects of a planet-shattering Nicoll-Dyson beam.

  • The Frailest Thing considers being a parent in the digital age.

  • Language Hat notes the African writing systems of nsibidi and bamum.

  • Marginal Revolution notes that Trump-supporting states are moving to green energy quite quickly.

  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russian guarantees of traditional rights to the peoples of the Russian North do not take their current identities into account.

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  • blogTO looks at eleven recent Toronto-themed books, from fiction to children's literature.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the idea of using waste heat to detect extraterrestrial civilizations.

  • Far Outliers reports on how German East Africa substituted for foreign imports during the blockade of the First World War.

  • Marginal Revolution suggests that the fall of Rome may have been due to the failure to reconquer North Africa.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at the exuberant art of Jazz Age Florence Stettheimer.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares a stunning portrait of Jupiter from the New Horizons probe.

  • Window on Eurasia considers the idea of containment in the post-Cold War world.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell looks at the British election.

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  • blogTO notes that yesterday was a temperature record here in Toronto, reaching 12 degrees Celsius in the middle of February.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the pleasure of using old things.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of Roe v Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey.

  • Language Hat notes that, apparently, dictionaries are hot again because their definitions are truthful.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money considers if the Trump Administration is but a mechanism for delivering Pence into power following an impeachment.

  • Steve Munro notes that Exhibition Loop has reopened for streetcars.

  • The NYRB Daily considers painter Elliott Green.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that North Carolina's slippage towards one-party state status is at least accompanied by less violence than the similar slippage following Reconstruction.

  • Window on Eurasia warns that Belarus is a prime candidate for Russian invasion if Lukashenko fails to keep control and notes the potential of the GUAM alliance to counter Russia.

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  • blogTO tries to pit the west side of Toronto against the east side.

  • Centauri Dreams describes an inventive plan to launch a probe to rendezvous with Proxima Centauri.

  • Crooked Timber looks at the idea of civil society in the age of Trump.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper that aims to explore why Neptune-class exoplanets are so common.

  • Marginal Revolution notes an interesting history of Singapore.

  • The New APPS Blog links to a report suggesting that big data may have created President Trump.

  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on the latest plans for exploring Ceres.

  • Towleroad notes a rumoured plan to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination under Trump.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy has one take on Supreme Court obstructionism.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russians may accept pension reforms which will place the minimum age for qualifying for a pension for men above the average male life expectancy, and reports from St. Petersburg about a dispute over the ownership of a church.

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CBC News' Aaron Wherry reports on the Liberal federal government's abandonment of the idea of electoral reform. In an era of Brexit and Trump, I certainly see ways this could rebound badly on enthusiasm for conventional politics.

A new mandate letter issued to Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, released publicly on Wednesday, says "changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate."

[. . .]

​"There has been tremendous work by the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, outreach by Members of Parliament by all parties, and engagement of 360,000 individuals in Canada through mydemocracy.ca," Trudeau writes in his letter to Gould.

"A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada's interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate."

Gould was appointed minister last month, replacing Maryam Monsef.

"Our view has always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians," Gould told reporters at a news conference convened to comment on her new mandate letter.

"It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist."
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In Spacing, John Lorinc warns his readers to beware of Trump-like politicians in Canada, and rightly so.

What kinds of thoughts, I wonder, were skittering through the minds of Conservative leadership hopefuls Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary when they tuned in to the astonishing scenes of protest from around the world on Saturday?

When considering the tens of thousands of Canadians who marched in big cities (here, here, here, here and here) across the country, including those in Alberta, as well as the thousands more who flew down to Washington, did these two candidates think, “Hmm, perhaps I should proceed with caution?”

Or did they say to themselves, “Yes, I do believe this Donald Trump fellow is on to something…?”

As #45 embarks on his first days of, uh, work, it seems to me that the Tories should be reflecting carefully about whether he’s the wagon to which they want to hitch their fortunes. After all, what the world witnessed on Saturday was a gigantic, pink-hot ball of political energy that clearly doesn’t care about borders, mobilizes rapidly and won’t dissipate any time soon.

Leitch, really, barely belongs in this analysis: she is a fool — a sitting member of an electorally-successful government that was only defeated when it decided to abandon its assiduous courtship of suburban newcomer communities and instead embrace the sort of dog-whistle nativism that she’s decided to use as her brand.

O’Leary, who threw his fur-lined coat into the ring the day before Trump’s inauguration, bears more scrutiny because on the surface, his electoral appeal — a posturing reality TV star willing to call ‘em as he sees ‘em — is an attempt to repackage Trump’s celebrity for Canadian audiences.
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Sammy Leonard's angry essay on Medium condemning the temptation of too many people on the American left to opt for purity instead of practical politics has been widely circulating on my Facebook friends list. This is a good thing, since Leonard's analysis is entirely correct. Condemning those politicians on the left who compromise as traitors and instead opting for politicians who cannot manage anything more than niche support is, far from a way to get people on the left elected, actually a very good way to get the right ensconced. Many of the fans of Bernie Sanders are particularly responsible for this, with their unfounded talk about the corruption of Hillary Clinton probably doing quite a lot to help this candidate lose in the Midwest and elsewhere. That the people who are immune from this criticism happen to be white men is, of course, not a coincidence.

For three months now I’ve been hearing people talk about resistance against Donald Trump. Time and again I’ve seen and heard people say that we should not normalize Trump or the putrid cabinet he’s assembling. I keep hearing that resistance would take bold and assertive action and I’ve heard people demand that the Democrats in Congress be at the forefront of the resistance.

Yet when Booker does just that in order to stop Sessions from having the power to set legal policy that will severely harm everyone who isn’t a white, heterosexual, Christian man he gets shat on for voting against a separate amendment that a) wasn’t going to pass b) was non-binding and c) would have undermined some of the drug provisions of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) that the Republicans are hell bent on destroying anyway. I’ve seen several people say that his vote on this one amendment completely invalidated his effort to stop Sessions and by extension resist Trump.

A lot of people have framed it as Booker rejecting Bernie Sanders (I-VT) amendment. Only the amendment was actually the work of Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — Sanders was only a co-sponsor. Surprise, an old white man is taking all the credit for the work done by a woman. Not to mention that Booker and the other 12 Democratic Senators that voted against Klobuchar’s amendment voted in favor of a very similar amendment proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Wyden’s amendment covered the same ground as Klobuchar’s, only there were greater safety provisions and fewer strings attached in his amendment than hers, and his amendment was also co-sponsored by Sanders (Wyden’s amendment was not passed either and the 51–47 vote was a direct partisan split). Speaking of Sanders, the man exposes himself as fraud and an absolute hypocrite every time he opens his mouth these days, and his large cult of rabid worshippers are the slimiest and most deceitful pieces of shit on this earth (and the ones most deserving of getting their heads bashed in). Notice that I wrote “cult of rabid worshippers” and NOT “supporters” because his supporters were at least willing to accept that Hillary Clinton won the Dem nomination, support her in the general election, and in many cases did the work necessary to make sure she would be elected.

But the large Bernie Bro/Zealot/Never Hillary cult made it clear that anyone who didn’t worship at the altar of Saint Bernie Sanders wasn’t a “real progressive” and therefore wasn’t worthy of their support unless they cleared an impossibly high bar. And they joined forces with an already established wing of far left purists for whom any Dem politician who rates less than 100% in their purity scale of select issues is a “neoliberal” and therefore justifies them to throw away their votes on crackpot third-party candidates so they can preen to everyone how “radical” or “revolutionary” they supposedly are and to try and shame people who consistently vote Democrat as ignorant and brainwashed sheeple. Yeah, I’m brainwashed for realizing that a system that often requires some level of compromise to move things forward renders 100% ideological purity useless and subsequently voting for whichever candidate in best positioned to effectively advance the issues I care about in a given election is the most prudent option. Yeah, I’m ignorant for realizing that this is a two-party system, no third party is going to magically rise overnight to save us, and the Democratic party is presently the only viable electoral vehicle for effective progressive action in America. Both parties ARE NOT THE SAME. Every politician takes corporate money because that’s the cost of doing business in American politics — even Bernie does — but only ONE Senator stood up to confront his colleague for the rights and safety of all Americans this week, and it WASN’T BERNIE SANDERS, IT WAS CORY BOOKER.
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  • Centauri Dreams looks at the advanced microelectronics that might last a space probe the two decades it would take to get to Proxima Centauri.

  • Dangerous Minds links to a 1980 filmed concert performance by Queen.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the discovery of potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-17b.

  • Language Hat looks at the Carmina of Optatianus, an interesting piece of Latin literature.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reports on the shameless anti-democratic maneuvering of the Republicans in North Carolina.

  • The LRB Blog reflects on the shamelessness of the perpetrators of the Aleppo massacres.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at what Charles Darwin's reading habits have to say about the man's process of research.

  • North!'s Justin Petrone looks at the elves of Estonia.

  • The NYRB Daily praises the new movie Manchester by the Sea.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares a recent photo of Phobos.

  • Peter Rukavina argues that the Island's low PISA scores do not necessarily reflect on what Islanders have learned.

  • Savage Minds shares an essay by someone who combines academic work with library work.

  • Torontoist notes the city's subsidies to some major water polluters.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the anniversary of some important riots in Kazakhstan.

  • Arnold Zwicky reflects on the penguin-related caption of a photo on Wikipedia that has made the world laugh.

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Bloomberg View's Leonid Bershidsky argues that, owing to the greater resilience of German politics and a more honest media environment among other things, any Russian involvement in Germany's elections would have more limited results. Here's hoping.

Merkel's Achilles heel in this election is the refugee crisis of 2015. I doubt, however, that much unpublished kompromat exists on that: Merkel's mistakes in handling the crisis were extensively covered by the German press. And unlike Americans, whose trust in the media is at a historic low, Germans still trust traditional media.

There's a notable difference between the ways relatively conservative Germans and tech-crazy Americans get their news. Only 20 percent of Americans find it in newspapers; 57 percent of Germans still read a newspaper or a magazine every day. That means the effectiveness of fake news campaigns and social network echo chambers won't be as high in Germany as it was in the U.S.

Besides, Germans are far more amenable to speech restrictions than Americans. Germany has hate speech laws that would be impossible under the First Amendment. Calls to outlaw fake news or prosecute those who spread it are coming from many quarters, especially from Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the other centrist political force -- its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party. Unlike in the U.S., the government in Germany has the ability to go after those who knowingly publish disinformation. A Russian TV journalist who reported on the fake rape earlier this year was briefly under investigation, though he wasn't convicted.

On Tuesday, the leader of the Social Democrats, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, posted a photo of a handwritten message on Twitter: "A fair fight! That's how we must fight the 2017 election -- not like in the U.S.! No fake news, no bashing, no insults." Gabriel wrote "fake news" and "bashing" in English. Germany doesn't even have the kind of echo chambers of anti-establishment opinion that amplified the anti-Clinton line in the U.S., where a propaganda effort could just use the existing channel that gorged on the additional content. In Germany, the channel itself would need to be built.
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Scott Gilmore in MacLean's describes how Americans are starting to respond to confirmation of Russian interference in the recent presidential elections.

Some of the most important moments in history happen fast, like a flash of lightning. A tank crosses a border or a prince is assassinated and everyone knows the world has changed, even before the sound of thunder rolls over them.

Other epochal shifts are more subtle and incremental. In 18th-century England, very few people would have known what a Spinning Jenny was, and fewer still would recognize what the automation of weaving meant for the world.

For the last two years we have been living through one of those less obvious historic transformations. It didn’t happen all at once, it’s still not over, and even now we can’t say how deep or far it will go. But it happened, moment by moment, until we woke up in a cold day in December and realized that Moscow had effectively installed the next president of the United States.

That sounds hyperbolic, doesn’t it? Even writing it I have to pause and stare at that sentence. But these are the facts: The CIA and over a dozen other U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russia hacked into both the Republican and Democratic party computers. Senior Russian officials have admitted that they leaked the Democratic data to WikiLeaks. Those emails were then strategically published over the course of the presidential campaign. Why? A member of the House Intelligence Committee states there is “overwhelming evidence” Russia’s goal was to elect Donald Trump.

The result of Putin’s intervention in the American election cannot be downplayed. If Hillary Clinton had garnered just 107,000 more votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, this would have given her the Electoral College and the White House. According to pollster Nate Silver, the Russian intervention contributed to eroding up to three per cent of the swing-state vote from Clinton. That small margin was all it took to decide the election.
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The Guardian of Charlottetown's editorial looking at the recent slide in Liberal numbers, following the government's decision to not be bound by the results of the referendum on proportional representation, is accurate.

The numbers must be alarming for the government. Support for the Liberal Party plummeted from 64 per cent to 46 per cent in the past four months. It’s the most precipitous drop in recent memory.

The Progressive Conservatives have an interim leader but their support increased six points. The Green Party has one MLA and its support leapt 13 points. The NDP remains hamstrung without its leader in the legislature but managed to maintain its numbers.

[. . .]

Consider the plebiscite on democratic renewal which many Islanders hoped would reform our antiquated electoral process. The plebiscite concluded Monday, Nov. 7. The premier immediately discounted the result endorsing proportional representation because the turnout was low. As the storm of protest gained momentum, Premier MacLauchlan promised a “binding referendum” to be held in conjunction with the next provincial election. It would offer the electorate a choice between the plebiscite winner (Mixed Member Proportional Representation) and an as-yet-to-be-determined option.

Islanders were outraged. The flood of letters and opinion articles opposing the decision was unprecedented. It was obvious that many Islanders wanted the government to honour the plebiscite result.

A democratic vote was being ignored.

Now, note the dates of the CRA polling period which began Nov. 7 - when the plebiscite concluded - and wrapped up Nov. 29 as the government was fumbling the issue in the legislature. The full fury of Islanders was being felt as polling took place.
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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the importance of truth in journalism.

  • Crooked Timber looks at the example of Trump and wonders why that kind of charismatic authoritarianism is popular.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a model of the inner debris disk of HR 8799.

  • Far Outliers looks at the cultural divergences between North and South Koreans.

  • Language Hat looks at the complexities of translating the obscenities of the Marquis de Sade.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the collapse of unions and makes a limited defense of Castro.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a plan in the United States to make social science research more productive.

  • The NYRB Daily shares Masha Gessen's article talking about the hard choices she had to make in Putin's Russia and their relevance to the United States.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia's Ukrainian policy may be self-destructive.

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