Is Obama responsible for Russia's invasion of Ukraine?
Expect to hear this argument from hawkish types who have long criticized President Obama for his lack of global swagger. It goes something like this: Obama's failure to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for his use of chemical weapons was a flashing neon sign to Vladimir Putin that he could run roughshod over both Ukraine and the American president.
But here's another argument. As we learn more about Putin's motivations, it has become clear that the Russian strongman, in the great tradition of paranoid autocrats, truly believes that the U.S. is the shadow force behind the popular movement that brought down the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian government of Victor Yanukovych. In other words, the invasion of Crimea is Putin's response to an all-powerful, omniscient America that is doing a full-court press on Russian interests across the globe, not to an America that is in retreat or leading from behind or whatever hawks want to ding Obama for.
Indeed, if Putin really believed Obama was so weak, he might have kept his troops at home.
Scientists: The Ebola virus is mutating
Scientists at the French Institut Pasteur have warned that the Ebola virus is mutating. They are now analyzing Guinean Ebola patients' blood samples to determine whether the virus may have become more contagious.
The researchers emphasized that Ebola could eventually morph into an airborne disease, though there is no evidence that this has happened so far. The Institut Pasteur is developing two vaccines that may reach human trials by the end of 2015.
The Ebola outbreak has killed about 8,795 people so far and has infected more than 22,000 people, with Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone hit the hardest.
Jon Stewart isn't impressed with Obama's side trip to Saudi Arabia
Oddly, the Big Question on late-night comedy on Wednesday was: Why did President Obama cut short his trip to India to visit Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the family of the late King Abdullah, when he skipped the big solidarity march in Paris, attended by other world leaders? David Letterman sort of shrugged at the question, but Jon Stewart spent a good part of The Daily Show pondering the quandary.
Well, he didn't ponder that much — he went for the obvious explanation: Oil. ("I can't say mad at you," Stewart said with mock doe-eyes after being informed the Saudis are responsible for our low gas prices.) After decrying Saudi Arabia's human rights shortcomings and the corrupting power of oil, though, Stewart did find one concrete example of how America's closest Arab frenemy is "a stabilizing force." —Peter Weber
Malaysia declares Flight MH370 an accident, almost a year after disappearance
The world is not really any closer to knowing what happened to Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 than when it vanished on March 8, 2014, but on Thursday, Malaysia formally declared the disappearance an accident, with all 239 people on board presumed dead. The declaration is largely meant to clear the way for the airlines to start compensating the next-of-kin of the plane's passengers — a move strongly encouraged by China, the home country of most of the passengers.
Malaysia insisted that it is still investigating the crash and hasn't given up looking for the wreckage. There are four vessels currently searching the Indian Ocean for any trace of the Boeing 777.
WHO: New weekly Ebola cases drop below 100, shifting mission from contain to destroy
The global fight against West Africa's Ebola pandemic is entering the cleanup phase, the World Health Organization suggested on Thursday. Last week, only 99 confirmed new Ebola cases were reported worldwide, the first time the number of new infections dipped below 100 since last June, the WHO said. That means, the U.N. agency explained in a statement, that "the response to the EVD (Ebola virus disease) epidemic has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic."
The biggest reductions in reported infections and fatalities were in Sierra Leone and especially Liberia, where fewer than a person a day died of Ebola in the 21 days before Jan. 25. Guinea, the third epicenter of the pandemic, saw a slight uptick in cases last week. In all, 22,092 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and 8,810 have died in the pandemic, almost all of them in the three West African nations.
Kristen Schaal mansplains subway 'manspreading' to an uncomfortable Jon Stewart
New York City's subway authority has recently tried to crack down on "manspreading," or the practice of occupying two seats by spreading your legs apart. But "what seems like a simple question of manners, taking up two seats when you could take up one, has somehow opened a new front in the culture war," Jon Stewart observed on Thursday night's Daily Show. He brought on Senior Women's Issue Correspondent Kristen Schaal to explain why the male backlash against the manspreading crackdown is misguided.
Schaal sides with the men. "The subway is the only place men have left — we have literally driven you underground to find that last inch of ball space," she said, feigning concern. "As a woman who has struggled her entire life to keep her knees together, I am your ally." Things got a little uncomfortable when Schaal insisted on giving a rousing pep talk directly to Stewart's testicles, and when she suggested her new male allies bare "a little ball cleavage" to "show us what you're fighting for." In other words, vintage Schaal. If that's your cup of tea, watch below. —Peter Weber
This BBC video puts Apple's massive, crazy profits in perspective
Apple reported incredible quarterly earnings this week, netting $18 billion largely on the back of robust iPhone sales. If you earned $40,000 a year, how long would it take you to earn what Apple did in three months? How many times over could Apple buy Lithuania (iLithuania, anyone)? The BBC tackles these questions and more in the video below, trying to make sense of Apple's recent success. Watch and wonder. —Peter Weber
Key & Peele returns with a timely spoof of football player names
Key & Peele is back with yet another East-West Bowl sketch featuring fictional football players with outrageous names, and it is as over-the-top as ever (Stumptavian Roboclick, Swordless Mimeclown, and Triple Parakeet-Shoes are among the tamer ones). For this third installment, however, we're also treated to cameos from actual players with unique monikers — hey there, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and D'Brickashaw Ferguson — showing that they're pretty good sports off the field, too. —Catherine Garcia
Watch the latest beauty craze: Live snail facials
For just $30 (plus airfare to Thailand) you can partake in the future of beauty regimens, now. The treatment features live snails making slime trails across your face — and according to The Associated Press' Denis D. Gray, it's actually pretty relaxing. The live-snail facial started in Tokyo in 2013, and has spread to London and spas in China, but helix aspera muller glycoconjugates — snail mucus — has been used for skin treatments since ancient Greece, Gray says.
The duo who run the spa in Chiang Mai, Thailand, that Gray visited are from France. "We take care of the snails as if they were our family, our babies," says one partner, Luc Champeyroux. "You can see they look very good." And if the thought of having snails crawl on your face, spreading their mucus and grazing with their 14,000 microscopic teeth sounds unpleasant, Gray offers this verdict: "If truth be told, I sort of missed my harmless, sensuous sextet when they were dislodged." To see the snails in action, watch the AP video below. —Peter Weber
In court, heroin dealer explains what it was like to sell on Silk Road
On Wednesday, a heroin dealer shared with jurors in a Manhattan federal court what his experience was like selling on Silk Road, the anonymous online marketplace.
Michael Duch, 40, was a witness at the criminal trial of Ross Ulbricht, who allegedly ran Silk Road using the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. Duch said he first started selling in April 2013 because he needed money for his own $2,000 to $3,000 a week heroin addiction, USA Today reports. He signed up using the name Deezletime, and was soon shipping heroin across the United States.
Duch said he would buy his supply from a street dealer in New Jersey, then double the price and sell it online as "East Coast style heroin," making $345.69 for each brick, or 50 small bags. Because so many customers wanted their packages quickly to avoid becoming "dopesick," he offered same-day shipping, following Silk Road instructions to wrap the product in moisture-barrier packets inside of plain mailing containers. Duch was paid in Bitcoin, the electronic currency used on Silk Road, and most of his money was going to his addiction or back into the business.
While trying to ship 25 packages of heroin at a post office in October 2013, Duch was arrested, the same month Ulbricht was nabbed in San Francisco. He agreed to cooperate with authorities right away, and said during his testimony that the whole thing seemed like a surefire way to make money and keep up his drug habit. "I saw the relative ease that came with it," he said. "There was a perceived level of safety and anonymity. I felt I could get away with it."
Raul Castro demands the U.S. return Guantanamo Bay before ties restored
Well, this could complicate the U.S.-Cuban diplomatic thaw: On Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro publicly issued some new demands before the two countries normalize bilateral relations. Among them: Ending the U.S. trade embargo, agreeing to "give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base," and paying Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars as "just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they're suffered" from the embargo.
Castro's demands, made in a speech at a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica, aren't likely to be met — especially the "just compensation" one and the return of Gitmo, which the U.S. has leased from Cuba since 1903.
But that doesn't mean the high-level talks to restore diplomatic and economic ties is doomed, recent U.S. Interests Section chief in Havana John Caulfield tells The Associated Press. In fact, it may signal that Castro is feeling the heat. Cubans have a "huge expectation of change" since Castro and President Obama announced their historic rapprochement plan in December, he said. And "the more the Cubans feel obligated to defend the status quo and to say that's nothing going to change, the more pressure it indicates to me is on them to make these changes."