Smart takes
March 20, 2014
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As Russian President Vladimir Putin works quickly to consolidate Russia's new hold on the Ukrainian province of Crimea, the West is trying to come up with a united and appropriate response. Most people are trying to find the right middle ground between sending in U.S. Marines to liberate Crimea and ignoring Putin's naked expansionist aggression. --Peter Weber

Kneecap Putin's cronies
The sanctions leveled against Russian officials by the U.S. and Europe are too weak and irrelevant to make any difference, says Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny in The New York Times. To get to Putin, "Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin's cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West." After naming names, Navalny adds:

The invasion of Ukraine has polarized members of Russia's elite, many of whom view it as reckless. Real sanctions, such as blocking access to their plush London apartments, will show that Mr. Putin's folly comes with serious costs. [New York Times]

Meet Putin's fire with a thick blanket
The West needs to isolate Putin completely until he pulls out of Crimea, says Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in The Washington Post. "The Russian people should see that Putin's actions will bring about a decline of Russia's status as a global power, not a return to supposed Soviet glory." The U.S. and its NATO allies should also impose an arms embargo and open up NATO membership to "all interested partners in Europe." Finally, Rubio adds, Obama should up his reassurances to the former Soviet satellites nervous about Putin's neo-imperialist actions, providing "lethal military support" and deploying "additional military assets and even U.S. personnel to our allies, including Poland and the Baltic states."

Walk softly but carry a big stick
The point of U.S. and European actions should be to keep Putin out of the rest of Ukraine — Crimea is already in Russia's hands, says Fred Kaplan at Slate. But the key to boxing in Putin is understanding that his "actions have been driven less by a belief that the West is weak than his knowledge that Russia is." That doesn't mean the West can ignore Putin — "a bitter autocrat with a head full of grandiose daydreams can be a dangerous creature." What's needed is a ratcheting up of penalties while leaving room for diplomacy, he says:

Draw up plans for containing and countering Russian troops in the event of an incursion into Ukraine — not sending U.S. or NATO troops, but shipping arms, maybe some advisers and black-bag Delta forces — and talk about these plans with the allies, and Ukrainian officials, on open phone lines. Putin surely knows the limits of his army.... Over those same unencrypted phone lines, a senior official should also talk about some moves that would really isolate Russia from the rest of the world.... These are threats of actions to take place if Russia goes deeper into Ukraine — not reprisals for the seizure of Crimea, which would have no effect and probably wouldn't be enforced anyway. [Slate]

Develop
April 25, 2015
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A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal Saturday, leveling historic structures, causing widespread damage, and killing at least 1,457.

The quake struck around noon about 50 miles from the capital, Kathmandu. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers pick through the rubble in search of survivors.

"We never imagined that we would face such devastation," Minister of Information and Communications Minendra Rijal said.

The quake also triggered a fatal avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least a dozen climbers while injuring or trapping several more. From Romanian climber Alex Gavan:

The U.S. said it would send a disaster response team and pledged $1 million in aid. Jon Terbush

Ongoing investigation
April 25, 2015
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An internal review of NBC anchorman Brian Williams' reporting has found several more alleged exaggerations, according to multiple reports. The New York Times on Friday reported NBC found a half-dozen such instances; CNN and The Washington Post later upped the tally to 10 and 11, respectively.

In February, NBC suspended Williams as it launched an investigation following his apology for embellishing details of his wartime reporting from Iraq. When completed, the investigation is expected to form the basis of NBC's decision to keep or cut ties with Williams. Jon Terbush

Watch this
April 25, 2015
Screenshot / White House

President Obama and Bill Nye sat down Friday for an Earth Day chat in the Everglades where they discussed America's lagging interest in, and understanding of, science.

After discussing ways to get American kids excited about science again, the conversation turned to Washington's inability to reach a consensus on climate change. And on that front, Obama lamented the way some lawmakers are "being part of the climate-denier clubs and basically stiff-arming what we know are facts — and not rebutting them with other facts, but rebutting them with anecdote or just being dismissive."

'"Oh, I'm not a scientist,'" Nye chimed in, mocking the standard defense climate change skeptics employ when pressed on their beliefs. —Jon Terbush

Watch this
April 25, 2015

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday, causing substantial damage and killing at least 1,000 people, according to government estimates. Via the BBC, here's some footage of the quake and the immediate aftermath. —Jon Terbush

Smoke if you've got em
April 25, 2015
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Hawaii on Friday passed a bill that would raise the legal smoking age to 21 while also banning the sale and purchase of electronic cigarettes for anyone under that age limit. If Democratic Gov. David Ige signs the bill — he has yet to indicate whether he will — Hawaii would become the first state in the nation to raise its smoking age to 21.

"The activities we've engaged in over the years to manage smoking — our additional efforts in education, the raising of cigarette taxes — this is a continuation of those policies," Democratic state Senator Rosalyn Baker told Reuters. Jon Terbush

No justice no peace
April 25, 2015
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Baltimore's police commissioner on Friday conceded that officers made mistakes in their handling of Freddie Gray, the unarmed black man who died last weekend of a severe spinal injury while in custody.

"We know that police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner," Commissioner Anthony Batts said, adding that 30 investigators are probing the incident.

"If someone harmed Freddie Gray, we will have to prosecute him," Batts said.

As they have all week, demonstrators took to Baltimore's streets Friday to protest the incident. Jon Terbush

and now for something completely different
April 25, 2015
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After a 40th anniversary screening of the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the five surviving members of the Monty Python comedy troupe — John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones — reunited live on stage on Friday for a special Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Q&A was moderated by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, a longtime Monty Python fan who quickly embraced the anarchic spirit of the evening. As he asked the panel about their career-long commitment to a "healthy disregard for authority," John Cleese wandered around the stage, grabbed Oliver's question sheet, and stuffed his microphone into his mouth, as the rest of the Monty Python members repeatedly switched seats in an impromptu game of musical chairs.

When the Monty Python members did settle down, they spoke engagingly (and often coarsely) on a wide variety of subjects, including the filming of Holy Grail, their 2014 series of live shows at London's 02 stadium, and the state of comedy in general. "I think we don't talk enough about this awful political correctness," complained Cleese. "I do a lot of… I don't know if they're really racist jokes, but jokes like, 'Why do the French have so many civil wars? Answer: Because they like to win one now and again."

"I used to do these jokes, and then I would say, 'There were these two Mexicans,' and the room would freeze. And I would say, 'Why's everybody gone quiet? We did jokes about Swedes, and Germans, and Canadians, and the French. What's the problem about the Mexicans? Are they not big enough to look after themselves?' I find a lot of that very condescending."

The group also recalled the 1989 funeral of deceased Monty Python member Graham Chapman, during which Cleese delivered a legendarily irreverent eulogy. "Graham's whole ceremony was like that, because we were laughing and then crying, and then laughing and crying. It was as though the emotion was sort of flowing through us, instead of getting blocked, like it usually does in England," said Cleese. "When I was writing it, I got that idea, and I thought, 'No, I can't do that.' And then I thought, 'That's exactly what Graham would like.' Because one thing Graham could not stand was what he called mindless good taste."

John Oliver brought the evening to a close by praising Monty Python one last time. "We've established there's nothing less funny than sincerity, but you're the f----ing greatest," he said, to an enthusiastic standing ovation. Scott Meslow

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