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]
Throughout May, severe storms have dumped heavy amounts of rain on Texas, resulting in the state having its wettest month in history.
The average rainfall across Texas has measured 7.54 inches, shattering the previous record of 6.66 inches set in June 2004, Time reports. Near the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one region has received more than 20 inches of rain. At least 19 people have died this month due to flooding caused by the record amount of rain.
"It has been one continuous storm after another for the past week to 10 days in several regions of the state," State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in a statement. "It has rained so much that the ground just can't soak any more moisture into it, and many creeks and rivers are above flood stage." Nielsen-Gammon added that the start of El Niño and wet air coming up from the south contributed to the massive amount of rain, and he predicts that the weather will change over the next few days. Catherine Garcia
On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed that live samples of anthrax were inadvertently sent to private research labs in nine states and one in South Korea.
"The Department of Defense is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their investigation of the inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis, also known as anthrax, from a DoD lab in Dugway, Utah, to labs in nine states," spokesman Col. Steve Warren said. "There is no known risk to the general public, and there are no suspected or confirmed cases of anthrax infection in potentially exposed lab workers. The DoD lab was working as part of a DoD effort to develop a field-based test to identify biological threats in the environment."
The samples were shipped out on April 30 to a military lab in Maryland, and from there were sent to eight companies across nine states. When a lab in Maryland detected their shipment contained live samples, they contacted the CDC, ABC News reports. Three workers who were possibly exposed to the spores have decided to take antibiotics. The Department of Defense often sends dead or inactivated spores to research facilities, officials say, and when they do ship live samples it is under specific safety protocols. Catherine Garcia
Tracy Morgan and Walmart have reached a settlement nearly one year after Morgan was seriously injured in a highway crash involving one of the company's trucks in New Jersey, the comedian's attorneys announced Wednesday.
On June 7, 2014, Morgan was returning from a performance in Delaware when the limousine he was in was hit by a Walmart tractor-trailer driven by Kevin Roper. Accident investigators said that Roper was speeding and had been awake for more than 24 hours when he crashed into the limo, killing 63-year-old comedian James McNair and injuring Morgan; his assistant, Jeffrey Millea; Millea’s wife, Krista; and comedian Ardie Fuqua.
The terms of the settlement were not made public, but Morgan's attorneys said Walmart took "full responsibility for the accident." In a statement, Morgan said, "Walmart did right by me and my family, and for my associates and their families. I am grateful that the case was resolved amicably." Roper has pleaded not guilty to one count of death by auto and four other counts of assault by auto, the Los Angeles Times reports. Catherine Garcia
Nebraska became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in decades on Wednesday, as state lawmakers narrowly voted to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' (R) veto of the bill.
The Omaha World-Herald notes that 30 of Nebraska's 49 senators must vote to overturn a gubernatorial veto; the state's senators voted 30-19 to override Ricketts' veto. The repeal marks a victory for independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha (pictured), who has spent four decades lobbying for the death penalty's abolishment.
Nebraska joins 18 other states and Washington, D.C. in banning the death penalty. Sarah Eberspacher
Rand Paul enjoys composting, cuts his own hair, and other facts we learned from his Us Weekly profile
Us Weekly, the tabloid that regularly provides readers with content like this full slideshow of "Hollywood's Most Eye-Catching, Ogle-Worthy Bulges," netted a celebrity of a different sort this week to participate in its trademark "25 things you don't know about me" questionnaire. Tabloid readers hungry for the latest tidbits of celebrity trivia (Ariana Grande thinks Bruce Almighty is "the greatest movie ever"! John Stamos eats crackers in bed!) will have to settle for some fun facts from GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul, who shared everything from his favorite drink (root beer float) to his most unlikely hobby (composting) with the magazine.
Like a true politician, the 25 facts are a carefully calculated smattering of humanizing personal details ("I love working in the yard on my days off. Mowing the lawn is very therapeutic for me") and overt ideological pandering to his libertarian-leaning fan base ("Growing up, my parents did not enforce a curfew. They believed excessive rules can have unintended consequences"). Apparently a bald eagle even lives in a nest near his backyard.
The most confusing item — aside from the fact that he cut his own hair on his wedding day — is the last one on the list:
25. One thing I never travel without: my Ray-Ban sunglasses. It's important to protect your eyes from the sun. [Us Weekly]
Despite the fact that Rand supporters can't actually get their hands on Ray-Bans branded for his 2016 campaign, at least this proves the former ophthalmologist-turned-GOP hopeful is loyal to his favorite brand of sunglasses.
Only 63 percent of Americans have saved any money for retirement within the past year, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday.
The survey of 5,800 Americans, conducted last fall, found that 31 percent of Americans have no retirement savings or pension plans. And among adults older than 45, almost 25 percent of respondents didn't have retirement savings. Thirty-eight percent of respondents, meanwhile, said they don't plan on retiring and will "keep working as long as possible," USA Today reports.
The results weren't all bad, though: 29 percent of respondents surveyed last year expected their income would be higher in 2015, an increase from 21 percent in 2013. And 65 percent of adults surveyed said their families are "living comfortably" or "doing okay," compared with 62 percent in 2013. Meghan DeMaria
A study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One describes what was likely a grisly murder — and it happened 430,000 years ago.
A skull found in Spain's "Pit of Bones" in the Atapuerca Mountains is evidence of the world's first murder. It dates to the Middle Pleistocene time period and belonged to a young adult.
The skull is covered in red clay and was shattered into pieces. Forbes explains that the skull also showed two depression fractures, proving the victim was subject to blunt force trauma to the head. The researchers explain that the skull fractures were not accidental, since both fractures were likely caused by the same object and are found on the skull's facial region. They believe the victim's death was "the result of interpersonal violence."
— Alex Knapp (@TheAlexKnapp) May 27, 2015
Nohemi Sala of the Complutense University of Madrid, author of the study, explains in the paper that the find is significant because it "represents the earliest clear case of deliberate, lethal interpersonal aggression in the hominin fossil record." According to Sala, the find proves that murder was "an ancient human behavior," rather than a more recent development. Meghan DeMaria