August 7, 2014

After the introduction of new Western sanctions against Russia last month as punishment for its role in destabilizing Ukraine, Russia has returned fire by announcing a raft of sanctions of its own. Economists, however, are baffled at the Russian decision. While the Western sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, Russia's retaliatory sanctions will hurt its own economy even more.

Western sanctions started with asset freezes of senior officials and companies linked to the Putin regime. However, they were expanded last month to include limitations on Russian banks, as well as to halt exports to Russia of arms and high-tech oil-and gas exploration equipment.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has retaliated with a ban of "all beef, pork, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway for one year," according to The New York Times.

Russia is also considering banning Western airlines from flying over Russian airspace. European and American airlines currently fly over Siberia en route to various Asian destinations. Finally, Moscow is "studying the possibility of introducing restrictions on the import of planes, navy vessels, and cars."

Forbes' Tim Worstall points out the Russian retaliation is nonsensical. It is, in effect, Russia saying, "You are making us poorer by denying us your lovely imports. We shall therefore make ourselves poorer by denying ourselves more of your lovely imports."

If Russia really wanted to retaliate, it would ban exports to the West, like the natural gas exports that are a highly important for the European economy. However, whether Russia would actually do that remains to be seen — while Europe needs the Russian gas, Russia may need Europe's cash even more.

Family Ties
3:08 p.m. ET

What do Sasha and Malia want to be when they grow up? There's at least one occupation that the first daughters seemed to have ruled out: Politics.

During an interview with radio host Tom Joyner, President Obama said it's unlikely either of his teenage daughters will want to run for public office "partly because they've been listening to their mother."

The president, who will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama tomorrow, said he hopes Sasha and Malia will be "engaged and involved" in whatever they decide to do in the future.

"If they want to do it through business, then I want them to have a business that is providing employment and opportunity for people who might not otherwise get it," he said.

"If they want to do it through the arts, then I want their art to be informed by the great social issues of the day so they are illuminating that for other people and telling stories that need to be told." [The Hill]

For those who have everything
2:47 p.m. ET
Courtesy photo

Tucking in beneath an eiderdown duvet from Norvegr (from $6,714 for a double bed) has to be “one of the chicest ways to hibernate,” says Jemima Sissons at Financial Times. The down is “some of the coziest in the world,” and collecting it is a challenge. Every year, just past midsummer, Norvegr’s veteran down gatherers head to the Norwegian island of Svalbard to handpick the down left in nests abandoned by the island’s eider ducks. A good yield for one nest is 15 to 20 grams of down, and the annual yield for the entire team is less than 100 kg. Still, “what sets Norvegr apart is its bespoke service.” The firm will even vary the weight of the filling on each side of the duvet to keep both bedmates happy.

This just in
2:31 p.m. ET
Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Justice Department is reportedly preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), sources told CNN. Menendez is accused of doing political favors for a Florida doctor, Salomon Melgen, a close friend and benefactor. CNN's sources said the official announcement from prosecutors may come within weeks. Menendez' office, meanwhile, has called the allegations a "smear campaign" and denied that the senator has done anything improper.

Coming Soon
2:20 p.m. ET

Following the unexpected resignation of the president, the fourth season of the acclaimed HBO comedy Veep sees Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) assume the presidency. It's everything she's ever wanted — but with an election around the corner, she'll need to prove herself to keep the seat, and her staff seems less than prepared for the contentious campaign:

Veep's fouth season premieres on April 12.

spoiler alert
1:38 p.m. ET

With just four episodes left in its freshman season, Fox's Batman prequel Gotham is taking a short hiatus before resuming in April. But anyone who can't wait to see how the season resolves was just dealt a major hint from star Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays the gangster Fish Mooney.

"I don't think [I'll be in the second season]," said Pinkett Smith in an interview on Live with Kelly and Michael. "I signed for a year, and the year's up."

Pinkett Smith's comments don't bode well for the fate of Fish Mooney — a major player in Gotham, but one who, tellingly, never appeared in a Batman comic book or film. If Pinkett Smith isn't booked for season two, there's a very real chance she'll be diminished or dead by the time the first season ends.

Only in America
1:17 p.m. ET

The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that would see elementary and high school teachers arrested if they assign subject matter deemed "harmful" to children. If the Republican-sponsored bill becomes law, it would ban books, artworks, and other materials that depict "nudity, sexual contact, [or] sexual excitement" from schools. Teachers found guilty of assigning such materials could face up to six months in jail.

space stuff
1:10 p.m. ET
NASA Photo

NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres on Friday, eight years after scientists first launched the probe on its $473 million mission.

Ceres lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and Dawn will spend 16 months exploring the dwarf planet. Ceres is the asteroid belt's largest object, an impressive 590 miles in diameter. Like Pluto, Ceres is classifed as a dwarf planet, because it's "big enough to retain a round shape but doesn't necessarily stand out in a celestial crowd," NBC News explains.

Scientists discovered Ceres more than 200 years ago, but the dwarf planet still baffles scientists. NASA hopes the new mission will reveal more about the previous Dawn images of Ceres, which showed mysterious spots on its surface. The patches, which are in the same basin, may be signs of ice or liquid water beneath Ceres' mantle. If Ceres was once suitable for life in the solar system's "early days," the mission could help scientists better understand how the solar system was formed," NBC News explains.

Dawn will begin taking new photos of Ceres in April, and its mission is scheduled to run through June 2016. Before its mission to Ceres, Dawn spent 14 months exploring Vesta, the asteroid belt's second-largest object.

This just in
12:37 p.m. ET
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The NCAA released its findings on Friday from an investigation into Syracuse University's athletic programs, The Washington Post reports.

A news release from the NCAA cited multiple infractions dating back to 2001, primarily by the men's basketball program but also by the football program, including "academic misconduct, extra benefits, failure to follow its drug testing policy and impermissible booster activity."

The NCAA sanctioned Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim with a nine-ACC-game suspension, and the Orange will lose 12 scholarships over the next four years. Syracuse announced earlier this year that the basketball team would forego participation in the ACC and NCAA tournaments as a self-imposed punishment; the NCAA declared that sufficient and announced it will not impose more postseason bans, although both the basketball and football teams will be on probation for the next five years. 

The men's basketball team must also forfeit wins from five seasons, but Sports Illustrated notes that the team's 2003 national championship will not be forfeited.

12:19 p.m. ET
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Legendary documentarian Albert Maysles has died at 88.

Maysles' 60-year career as a documentarian began with the short Psychiatry in Russia in 1955. In the decades that followed — and often in collaboration with his brother David — he helmed acclaimed documentaries like SalesmanGimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens.

In October, Maysles spoke with the Los Angeles Times about his 2014 project Iris, which debuted at the New York Film Festival, preaching the "kindness" he believed a great documentarian must possess. "If you have the ability to connect through empathy, you see how the world changes," he said.

Maysles' final film, In Transit, will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

Innovation of the Week
11:30 a.m. ET
Courtesy photo

Jumping rope "hasn't changed much since it was invented," said Adam Clark Estes at Gizmodo. But a Kickstarter campaign for a "Smart Rope" aims to bring this humble piece of workout equipment into the 21st century. Like most high-tech fitness gadgets, this "LED-laced, sensor-laden jump rope" can track your activity — jumps, in this case — and sync with a smartphone app to help you "analyze your stats." But you don't have to wait until after your gym session to gauge your workout's quality, since the Smart Rope has embedded LEDs that display your stats — including pace, time and calories — "in front of your very eyes while you're working out," creating the illusion of LED stats floating in midair. For now, the Smart Rope is still raising funds, but early backers can reserve one, starting at $60.

See More Speed Reads