Many analysts — including me — have suggested that Vladimir Putin's Russian regime should pay an economic cost for the ongoing invasion of Crimea, not least to discourage further Russian expansionism into Eastern Europe. Yesterday's "referendum," in which 97 percent of those who took part voted to join Russia, does nothing to change that. After all, having Russian soldiers on the streets and pro-Russian mobs intimidating non-Russians hardly makes for a free and fair vote.
Yet already, the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Crimea may be coming back to haunt Putin. Reuters reports that Russia's deputy economy minister Sergei Belyakov warned on Monday that the country's economy is in crisis. The Russian economy was already in a perilous state, having shrunk for two consecutive quarters. And now Russia's currency, the ruble, is weakening, causing expectations of growth in inflation. Russia's stock market has fallen significantly during the Ukraine crisis, down over 20 percent already this year.
Will continued economic weakness stop Russian expansionism? Perhaps. The threat to Russian business interests may motivate Russia's oligarchy to rein in Putin. But maybe the opposite happens. Viewed through an economic lens, Putin's takeover of Crimea seems like a diversionary tactic to bolster Putin's support with nationalist fervor while the previously strong Russian economy weakens. If the Russian economy continues to weaken, it's possible that Putin may become more desperate and reckless to maintain his regime's grasp on power.
It's a good thing Michigan State's men's basketball team pulled off a 62-58 win over Oklahoma on Friday night, or Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart might have been hearing from Tom Izzo.
The Spartans' coach joked with MLive.com that the team's slow start in the Sweet 16 game was probably due to his allowing the players to go see a movie earlier in the afternoon. And Izzo picked Get Hard, because, "I didn't want anything too deep," that might throw the team off mentally.
"This wasn't too deep," he added.
The No. 7 Spartans survived to take on Louisville Sunday, so a suggestion for Izzo if he needs another movie to keep his team occupied before warmups: Pick something else. Literally, anything else.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may be readying an official start to his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Reuters reports.
The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday that Rubio has reserved the Freedom Tower, in downtown Miami, for an "undisclosed event" on April 13. While Rubio staffers declined to comment on the reservation, the Tampa paper notes that the Freedom Tower was used to assist Cuban refugees who fled after Fidel Castro took over the country in 1959; and that Rubio could consider the Miami landmark to be "an ideal, postcard setting to kick off a presidential campaign promoting the promise and greatness of America by the son of Cuban immigrants."
Health officials got some rare good news in the fight against Ebola this week, thanks to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science. Virologists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that the current outbreak has not given rise to an even more virulent and contagious form of the virus, despite "extensive and prolonged human-to-human transmission," the researchers note.
The Los Angeles Times reports that earlier research suggested the virus was mutating at nearly double the rate as in past outbreaks; if that were the case, it could evolve past experimental tests and vaccines in progress. But researchers genetically sequenced samples of Ebola taken from patients in October and November of 2014, and found that the virus had not significantly mutated.
"Whereas from a public health perspective, the current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa continues to be an extremely pressing emergency, it is doubtful that either virulence or transmissibility has increased," the researchers added.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 10,000 people and infected another 24,907, according to the World Health Organization.
Saying he wanted to create "a tribute to my dad and Spock," Adam Nimoy told Variety on Friday that he plans to produce and direct a documentary about the iconic Star Trek character, played by his father Leonard Nimoy.
The elder Nimoy died in February at the age of 83; he had been suffering for nearly a year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But Adam Nimoy said he and his father had discussed the documentary, which will be entitled For the Love of Spock, at length.
The project will reportedly highlight the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which premiered on Sept. 8, 1966. Zachary Quinto, who has played Spock in two recent film takes on the franchise, will narrate, and William Shatner, who played James T. Kirk in the original series, plans to appear in the documentary.
Despite violence, technical difficulties, millions of Nigerians turn out to vote in presidential election
Millions of Nigerians arrived at polling stations across the country on Saturday, ready to cast their votes in a tight presidential election, The Associated Press reports.
The race between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari is the first election since Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960 that has even a chance of favoring an opposition candidate over a sitting president.
That may be in large part due to the continuing Boko Haram insurgency in the country; Buhari has criticized Jonathan for his failure to force the militants out of Nigeria. The election was originally scheduled to take place in February, but it was postponed due to security fears. Jonathan's opposition has suggested the move allowed the sitting president more time to garner support.
Saturday's election has not run perfectly, AP notes: Local officials have reported at least two car-bomb explosions; Boko Haram militants waving guns have turned some villagers away from polling sites; and some polling stations have reported technical difficulties with biometric voting cards, meant to discourage fraud at the polls.
For much of the 2014-15 regular season, Michigan State's men's basketball team was decidedly average. The Spartans went 21-10, and there was some talk as to whether they'd even land a spot in the NCAA tournament. Having downed No. 2 seed Virginia and, on Friday night, No. 3 seed Oklahoma, the No. 7 Spartans are headed for the Elite Eight as the lowest seed left standing.
And Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo should be happy, especially considering he's now earned 12 wins coaching the lower-seeded team in the NCAA tournament — the most by any coach in history. You can check out the rest of this weekend's matchups via Sports Illustrated, but ahead of the Spartans' Sunday game against Louisville, let's enjoy this gem of a commercial for Werner ladders, in which someone convinced Izzo to dance to Ginuwine's Pony.
Why? Why not? —Sarah Eberspacher
Gender was not the reason former partner Ellen Pao was passed over for a promotion at prominent venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, a California jury in Silicon Valley ruled on Friday. The jury also determined that the firm had not retaliated against Pao following her allegations, Time reports.
Pao's suit had asked for $16 million in compensatory damages from Kleiner Perkins, an early investor in companies such as Google and Genentech. The suit prompted intense debate around gender politics at play in Silicon Valley; Pao alleged that in her seven years with the firm, she was overlooked for promotions because of her gender, and subject to inappropriate behavior from male colleagues who went undisciplined. But Kleiner Perkins argued that Pao was a difficult employee who failed to improve in areas on which she was critiqued, and that she failed to build “thought leadership” with fellow employees.
Following the verdict, Pao, who is interim CEO at online forum Reddit, said she hoped her suit still help other women working in Silicon Valley.
"My story is their story," Pao told reporters. "If I've helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it."