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. John Aziz
The internet tends to go wild over anything Bill Murray does, so the announcement of a Netflix-only Bill Murray Christmas special is a pretty big deal. The star-studded cast list released by Netflix — which includes George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman, Rashida Jones, and Miley Cyrus, among others — offers even more reasons to get excited.
But despite all that promise, the brief teaser for A Very Murray Christmas sees the star looking pretty glum:
Cheer up, Bill! 'Tis the season (roughly seven months from now). Scott Meslow
Close your eyes and think back to that classic Notting Hill scene in which Julia Roberts asks Hugh Grant to love her. Now, speed ahead to the two-minute mark in the video, below, and have that touching moment ruined forever.
Roberts and Grant are just two of the actors who poke fun at themselves in a sketch for NBC's "Red Nose Day" — Daniel Craig and Liam Neeson also take turns confessing to their "real" voices, all of which, the sketch claims, have had to be dubbed over for audiences.
Give Roberts credit: She takes the brunt of the gag but seems to be having a ball in her documentary-style interviews. However, watching Craig insist he is a "manly man" is good for a laugh as well. Enjoy the stars revealing their less than velvety "real" voices, in the video, below. —Sarah Eberspacher
Hundreds of protesters marched in Washington state on Thursday after news broke that a white police officer in Olympia shot two unarmed black stepbrothers. The men were allegedly trying to steal beer from a grocery store. Both men are in stable condition and are expected to survive the shooting.
Ryan Donald, the police officer who confronted the stepbrothers, said the 21- and 24-year-old men had assaulted him with a skateboard on Thursday. Witnesses at the scene claimed one of the men was "advancing aggressively toward the officer," according to The Seattle Times.
Police say the men were not armed with guns when they were shot, and a team of detectives is investigating the shooting. The protesters marched from a park to the Olympia police headquarters on Thursday night, chanting the names of the shooting victims as well as slogans including "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace." Meghan DeMaria
Johnson tricked Nick Mundy, a fan and correspondent for the YouTube channel "Screen Junkies," by canceling a planned interview. But as Mundy panicked over whether or not he had somehow botched the opportunity, Johnson came out in a tuxedo to deliver the real news: the interview was canceled in favor of a surprise wedding, officiated by Johnson, that brought Mundy and his fiancee Dilara into wedded bliss.
"Just when you thought the day was gonna be terrible — it's actually gonna be the greatest day of your life," said Johnson as he led Mundy into the makeshift chapel full of their friends and family:
"This is cool, 'cause it's real," says Johnson as he marries the couple. "By the power invested in me — Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, ordained by the state of California and the almighty universe itself, I now pronounce you husband and wife." Scott Meslow
Since 2002, the Clintons have been raking in speaking engagement fees that, on the high end, ranged from $100,000 for Chelsea Clinton, $500,000 for Hillary Clinton, and $1 million for Bill Clinton.
After pressure from outsiders that found discrepancies in the foundation's accounting, the Clinton Foundation released the previously undisclosed fees Thursday. The list comprised 97 speaking engagements that span 13 years and netted the organization between $12 million and $26.4 million.
No specific dates were included in the list of payments, but Bloomberg reports that at least a few came as Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state. All told, there are nearly two dozen speeches paid to Clinton and her husband by foreign groups that will be of particular interest to critics given the presidential hopeful's role and influence at the time as a top diplomat. Other major donors include universities and Wall Street giants.
Jeb Bush may differ from his brother on money, but he and George W. Bush are apparently alike when it comes to massages.
In 2006, former President George W. Bush gave Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel a shoulder massage, a move Vice President Joe Biden later recreated with Defense Secretary Ash Carter's wife. Now, Jeb Bush has joined in, as he massaged the shoulders of Salem New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce President Donna Morris at an event Thursday.
Morris joked to Jeb Bush, "Oh, you take my breath away," and he responded with the massage. Check out Bush's move in the video below. —Meghan DeMaria
That's certainly the implication of The New York Times' analysis of Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC, which for several elections has been "among the most powerful forces in national politics, a shadow party that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, data, and opposition research to help elect candidates." And while you can certainly never count out a political operative who's been as successful as Rove has, the Times makes a compelling case that the mighty may have indeed fallen.
The nonprofit arm of Crossroads is facing an Internal Revenue Service review that could eviscerate its fund-raising. Data projects nurtured by Mr. Rove are being supplanted in Republican circles by a more successful initiative funded by the Koch political network, which has leapfrogged the Crossroads organizations in size and reach.
And the group faces intense competition for donors from a new wave of "super PACs" that are being set up by backers of the leading Republican candidates for president, who are unwilling to defer to Mr. Rove's authority or cede strategic and fund-raising dominance to the organizations he helped start. [The New York Times]
The Times rattles off other factors, too: the death of Bob Perry and Harold Simmons, two of Crossroads' biggest donors; the losses of ever-so-many Crossroads-backed candidates in recent elections; the departure of top fundraisers like Ed Gillespie and Haley Barbour; Rove's rather unfriendly relationship with Jeb Bush; and on and on. Read the whole thing here. Ben Frumin