Here’s where Washington stands so far. In an White House speech, President Obama blasts Republicans over the budget debacle, accusing them of holding the nation hostage. Meanwhile Americans and foreign tourists start to feel the impact of the impasse. Historic sites are shuttered and some federal employees are sent home. House Republicans still refuse to strike a deal to fund the federal government, forcing the first partial shutdown in 17 years. Many agencies have fee-based revenue that will allow them to ride out a minor shutdown, but those reserves won’t last forever. Something’s got to give, and based on the opinion polls putting most of the blame on the Republicans. So far only a small piecemeal deal appears to have been broached.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Baroness Catherine Ashton has been called a “garden gnome” and flies coach. But she’s also been called key to the renewed international negotiations with Iran, which has signalled it wants to make a deal within the year. She’ll certainly have her work cut out for her. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu have traded barbs this week over Iran’s honesty when it comes to talking nukes, as the U.N. General Assembly continues. Ashton’s next test comes at the next Group of Six talks in Switzerland Oct. 15.
Though tensions may be easing between the U.S. and Iran, Venezuela has no such plans for a détente. President Nicolas Maduro, who took over after the death of Hugo Chavez, announced the expulsion of America’s top embassy official as well as two other U.S. diplomats in connection with an alleged plot to “sabotage” Venezuela’s electrical grid and economy. Relations between the two countries looked to be headed toward a thaw as Chavez began making amends on his near-death bed. But, his successor is well versed in Chavez’s anti-American playbook (which led him to expel the U.S. ambassador in 2008), and is likely engaging in some saber-rattling to distract from his lack of popularity and Venezuela’s serious economic troubles.
The government may be shutting down, but a central plank of the Affordable Care Act is just gearing up: online insurance exchanges went live today. Some glitches have already been reported as the Web site appeared to be overwhelmed. For the 58 percent of non-elderly Americans who get their health insurance through their employer, Obamacare may not represent much change. But for the estimated 15 percent of Americans who are uninsured and for those who buy their own insurance, the new marketplaces at Heathcare.gov could significantly change the way they shop for and receive coverage. There are three key dates to keep in mind: Dec. 15, the date by which a plan must be purchased for it to go into effect on New Year’s Day; Jan. 1, 2014, the day new coverage goes into effect; and March 31, the date by which individuals must purchase some kind of coverage in order to avoid paying a penalty.
Armed gunmen have made off with more than $800,000 of tablets and personal computers stolen from the cargo area of one of Brazil’s busiest airports. Ten men outmaneuvered airport security and took two guards hostage before making off with the electronics. Security — among other issues — is a major headache for Brazilian authorities ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Thousands of foreign tourists are expected to converge on Brazil and the first match will be played in Sao Paulo. And while many observers will be surprised if Brazil’s summer in the spotlight runs smoothly, most would agree it’ll probably go better than Qatar 2022.
Global markets shrug off U.S. government shutdown. (CNN).
Canada to launch billion-dollar free market for medical marijuana. (NPR).
High-ranking U.S. generals fired over Afghanistan security failures. (NYT).
Japan to hike sales tax for first time since 1997. (BBC).
Turkey’s PM unveils new slate of political reforms. (The Guardian).
Filmmaker Charles H. Ferguson has announced that he can no longer create a documentary about the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, so he is canceling his project with CNN. Although Ferguson admits pressure came from both the right and the left, it was ultimately Clinton’s aides, he says, who hindered access to sources and made the documentary “nearly impossible” to film. NBC also announced yesterday that it is canceling its proposed Hillary mini-series staring Diane Lane as Clinton. Not only does Team Hillary’s reluctance to feature in a major documentary provide further hints of a 2016 presidential campaign, it also begs the question: is there really anything that the potential candidate has left to hide after all these years in the public eye?
Marina Shifrin hated her impossible job, so she did what any professionally frustrated Millennial news producer might do — she made a video. Not satisfied with just some boring resignation memo, Shifrin, an American working in Taiwan, videoed herself dancing her way through her deserted, pre-dawn office to Kanye West’s “Gone,” then added captions and posted her notice on YouTube. Her goofy prank earned more than 4 million hits in less than four days. She also posted about her thoughts on her private blog, with a more serious question: Is this the future of journalism the world over?
Nervousness and frustration are linked to the increasing tendency among mobile phone users to sense “phantom vibrations,” or the sensation of mistakenly feeling a call or text. About 90 percent of college students reported phantom vibrations in one study, although few felt much concern about the phenomenon. Still, the correlation with heightened levels of anxiety has led one psychologist to prescribe a self-imposed weaning off of technology, even for half an hour at a time. With our mental health on the line, will we be able to just look away? It’s unlikely — the average American teenager, to take but one example of electronic obsession, now spends 11 hours a day on electronic devices, up from just 7.5 hours four years ago.
In a move that seems designed to unite the faithful, Pope Francis announced that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will both be canonized in April — the first time two popes will be made saints simultaneously. John Paul II is a favorite of conservative Catholics and, at just nine years, his canonization process will be the fastest in modern times (second place took 27 years). Modernizer John XXIII needed a little extra nudge from Francis to get across the finish line, with the current pope waving the rule requiring a second miracle for the man who convened the Second Vatican Council. More than a million pilgrims will likely descend on the Vatican for the event, and if Benedict XVI chooses to emerge from seclusion for the occasion, the ceremony could be even more unprecedented: two deceased popes commemorated by two still living.
Legend claims that in the waning days of World War II, Nazis burried diamonds and gold bars somewhere in Bavaria. Dutch filmmaker Leon Giesen thinks he knows where. Claiming to have cracked a code hidden in a piece of sheet music left behind by Hitler’s private secretary, Giesen financed a geological survey by hawking 50-euro treasure maps. The survey disclosed an “anomaly” beneath the surface near the town of Mittenwald, and now all Giesen needs to do is convince a few wealthy benefactors that his interpretation of the cryptic message is correct and raise enough money to lead an excavation. The quest, worthy of a Dan Brown novel or Indiana Jones film, has many understandably skeptical. As one local historian observed, “It could be a treasure chest. But it could just be a manhole cover.”
Late night runs to McDonald’s for double bacon cheeseburgers are not typically included in the eating regimen of Olympic hopefuls, but Lolo Jones is no typical athlete. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in London, the U.S. Olympic hurdler decided to give bobsledding a try — and won a silver medal at her first World Cup event. In bobsledding, “mass pushes mass,” so Jones has been working to gain 30 pounds in preparation for the Oct. 12 U.S. team trials for the upcoming Sochi games. But before you decide that training for the bobsled might be up your alley, remember that an Olympic two-man bobsled has to weigh a minimum of 384 pounds, and sprinting with that thing over ice is no cakewalk.
Source: USA Today