Foreign affairs
March 4, 2014

Yesterday, I suggested that the best way to undermine Putin's regime and his ability to project power into Europe is for America to develop the infrastructure to sell natural gas cheaply to Europe.

Now, here is some data to show just how strong a stranglehold Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas company, has on European energy markets:

This position — in which Putin can turn off the gas in the middle of winter, and plunge countries into an energy crisis — has given him the ability to strong-arm European countries into accepting Russian foreign policy. This position of strength has blunted the European response to Russian soldiers taking over Crimea.

By providing competition to Gazprom, America can give European countries more leverage in negotiations with Putin, and more ability to sanction Russian incursions into Eastern Europe. John Aziz

don't quit your day job
11:40 a.m. ET
William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Powerball winners of yesteryear, rejoice: The odds were ever in your favor.

Starting October 7, that will no longer be the case for people playing the popular lottery game, thanks to a Monday change by New York's Gaming Commission, The Buffalo News reports.

Powerball players select numbers from two lines of possibilities. Up until now, the first line's field size has been 59 numbers, and the second has been 35 numbers. Officials changed the top field to a larger 69 numbers, and the bottom to a lower 26. So, people will have a better chance of guessing one number in the bottom field correctly, but picking all five correct numbers in the top field will be harder. The net effect, officials say, will be more partial winners — but fewer jackpot payouts. The odds of winning $1 million for correctly guessing the top five numbers and one bottom number will be 1 in 11.7 million, down from 1 in 5.1 million, for example. And the chances of winning a jackpot will fall from 1 in 175,223,510 to 1 in 292,201,338.

On the upside, these changes don't go into effect for another three months, so get thee to a gas station or bodega — and good luck! Sarah Eberspacher

Cuba Libre
11:25 a.m. ET
U.S. Navy/Getty Images

For the first time since the 1960 trade embargo, it just might be possible to take a cruise to Cuba. The world's largest cruise company, Carnival Corp., announced Tuesday that it plans to offer trips to Cuba, departing from Miami. The cruises will be weeklong stints aboard the Adonia, a smaller ship that carries 710 passengers.

But don't light up that cigar and pour a glass of rum just yet: These cruises won't be vacations. Rather, the Cuban cruises will be a part of Carnival's newest brand, fathom, which sails passengers to a destination to do volunteer work. The cruise ship would only be allowed to stop at a specified county in Cuba, so passengers wouldn't necessarily be getting a full tour of the Caribbean island nation, either.

At this point, the cruise itinerary is not yet approved by the Cuban government. If Cuba approves Carnival's proposal, prices for the trip will start at $2,990. Becca Stanek

election 2016
11:20 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who announced his long-shot campaign for president last week, prides himself on being a fighter — for the working class, for fallen soldiers on all sides, for America. But what voters may not know is that his penchant for pugilism extends to actual fights, the kind where people get beaten to a bloody pulp.

That's the accusation made by a former aide named Chase Untermeyer, who authored a little-known book about his time at the Pentagon called Inside Reagan's Navy. (Webb served as Reagan's secretary of the Navy.) Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast unearthed this tidbit from the book:

Untermeyer recounts a session in Webb’s private office, during which the Navy secretary reminisced about a long-ago violent dustup with a ponytailed biker.

"I had him by the hair and was beating his head on the sidewalk when he suddenly went limp on me," Webb recounted. "Then it came to me: I had killed the f--king son of a bitch, and I would be put on report back at the Academy! So I revived him — whereupon he came to and kicked me in the head about 10 times till I was able to grab his leg... Moral: Show no mercy in a fight." [The Daily Beast]

In the book, Webb is portrayed as a humorless, self-serious striver who is so convinced of his epic role in American history that he views insults to himself as "treason."

Webb's campaign reportedly did not respond to a request for comment. Ryu Spaeth

Survey says...
11:04 a.m. ET
John Moore/Getty Images

The World Health Organization's response to West Africa's Ebola outbreak was lagging and dangerously inconsistent, according to a new independent report on the international body's practices.

The report, led by former head of Oxfam Barbara Stocking, critiqued WHO's initial response to the epidemic that began in 2013 and has since claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.

"The panel considers that WHO does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response," the report reads, as covered by The Guardian.

While the report also blasted individual countries' slow responses — especially citing the implementation of travel bans to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — the bulk of the blame fell on "significant and unjustifiable delays" by WHO's workers. Such gridlock could be detrimental in the event of future public health emergencies, and the report advises the creation of a WHO emergency preparedness center, which could operate independently and with authority in affected countries. Sarah Eberspacher

Space is cool
11:01 a.m. ET
Handout/Getty Images

Actually, it's red!

Pluto has long been popularly depicted as grayish or blue, though scientists have suspected for decades that the distant dwarf planet has a reddish hue. But because Pluto is millions of miles away, we really didn't know for sure. Now, thanks to photos taken by the unmanned spacecraft New Horizons, we know that Pluto is red.

New Horizons, which has been in transit for nearly a decade, has come closer to Pluto than any manmade material ever has before. In a week, New Horizons will be a mere 7,750 miles from the surface of Pluto. By that time, we'll surely learn a whole lot more about Pluto than just its color. But for now, the color thing is exciting.

Unlike Mars, which had claim to the "red planet" label first, Pluto's red coloring is likely due to "hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto's atmosphere and on its surface," NASA says. Mars is just red from boring old iron oxide. Jeva Lange

long walks
10:45 a.m. ET

If Disney is looking for a sequel to Homeward Bound, this is it: An 8-year-old Shar Pei mix named Georgia trekked through 35 miles of California canyons and suburbs to return home through the backyard doggy door after having been missing for nine days, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Georgia got lost while chasing a rabbit in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve in late June. Due to a high number of coyotes in the region, rangers told her owner, Kris Anderson, that the 30-pound dog likely wouldn't survive even a night.

However, at 8:30 a.m. over a week after she went missing, Georgia unexpectedly ran into Anderson's room and jumped on the bed. The dog was emaciated, covered in scratches, and in need of a good bath — but she somehow walked at least 35 miles home from the park, braving a storm, Fourth of July fireworks, traffic, and maybe even a coyote or two.

How animals find their way home after getting lost is a bit of a scientific mystery: In 1920, Bobbie the dog walked from Oregon to Indiana to get home, and in 2013, a Florida cat walked 200 miles home, to West Palm Beach from Daytona. Some scientists have found evidence that mammals can construct mental maps, similar to the way a rat finds its way out of a maze.

We may never know how Georgia did it — it's just all the more reason to wish animals could talk. Jeva Lange

Greek debt crisis
10:31 a.m. ET
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

New Greek Finance Minster Euclid Tsakalotos reportedly showed up to an emergency summit in Brussels to determine Greece's economic fate without any written proposals in hand. While Tsakalotos was urged to offer his reform proposals in written form, three eurozone sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said that he only offered Greece's creditors an oral update on the country's financial situation, The Associated Press reports. Details of what updates Tsakalotos gave in his oral presentation were not available.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will soon arrive at the summit in hopes of working out a bailout deal. On Sunday, Greece soundly rejected austerity measures proposed by European creditors in a bailout plan. Becca Stanek

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