U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for missteps in rolling out the glitch-ridden Healthcare.gov as she testified before a House panel this morning. Calls continued for her resignation, while Democrats came to her defense. Whether or not the system’s failures warrant her resignation, the political repercussions of her leaving would be severe. Her replacement would need Senate confirmation, which would give the GOP a chance to stall the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. President Obama is expected to address the healthcare problems during a speech later today in Boston.
The Presidential Daily Brief
President Bashar al-Assad has sacked a deputy prime minister for attending unauthorized meetings with the U.S. Qadri Jamil was one of the more moderate voices in the Assad administration and had shown a real commitment to resolving the conflict with opposition forces. But he was working too independently for the government’s comfort. The move is a blow to the U.N.’s efforts to convene the Geneva II peace talks. Opposition members have refused to engage unless Assad is removed, but, as this latest move underscores, Assad is not going to tolerate anyone negotiating in his place.
Still uncertain that the American economy can grow unaided, the Federal Reserve is leaving its low interest rate policies unchanged, and will keep buying $85 billion per month in bonds. With no word on when officials may pull back on the program, investors are left in a “continued guessing game about the path of a Fed policy that has been an important driver of asset prices and interest rates.” Overall, the Fed remains relatively optimistic when it comes to jobs and economic growth.
Sochi was sold as the greenest Olympics ever: Russia’s bid included a “Zero Waste” pledge that promised to use reusable materials and not dump construction supplies. But an hour away, trucks are emptying tires, spray cans, foam, and concrete into a massive illegal dump. In the $51 billion Sochi budget, not a single dollar goes to construction waste treatment. Worse, the landfill sits inside a zone where dumping is banned due to an aquifer that supplies much of Sochi’s water. With less than 100 days until the Winter Olympics, out of sight won’t be out of mind for long if Sochi doesn’t clean up.
Dozens killed in Indian bus inferno. (USA Today).
China’s second largest lender set to acquire Sao Paulo bank, and foothold, in Brazil. (Bloomberg).
Costa Concordia captain’s lover was on the bridge when the ship ran aground. (Al Jazeera).
Australia pulls remaining troops out of Afghanistan. (Sydney Morning Herald).
Are sports drinks to blame for elite athletes having such bad teeth? (The Atlantic).
Some 150 years since Ottoman sultans hatched the idea, Istanbul opened the first tunnel under the Bosporus Strait that separates the city’s European and Asian sides. The 8.75-mile rail tunnel is the world’s deepest, and will be a key piece of a new commuter network capable of transporting 75,000 passengers per hour. That should alleviate some of the congestion caused by more than 2 million people crossing the Bosporus daily via bridge, but many fear the tunnel, just 11 miles from a major fault line in the earthquake-prone country, was rushed to completion so the opening coincided with yesterday’s 90th anniversary celebrations of modern Turkey.
You might want to consider switching to beer. Save that Chambourcin for a special occasion: the wine industry may hit a bottleneck in short order. Last year saw an under-supply of 300 million cases, and the future looks grim. The wine-producing triumvirate of Spain, France and Italy are steadily losing grape acreage, and demand outpaces growth in American and China. Of the top six producing nations, only China has seen increased acreage in the past decade. Without a European revival, wine may become scarce and pricey soon. Where’s Jesus when you need Him?
Roshen, a Ukrainian chocolate company, is caught between the EU and Russia in an ongoing battle to secure exclusive trade agreements with Ukraine. Russia had already banned wine from Moldova and milk from Lithuania before turning to Roshen’s popular chocolates in an attempt to influence former Soviet states sympathetic to joining (or helping others join) the EU. Ukraine and Moldova will both decide whether to sign association agreements with the EU by the end of next month. But for food companies like Roshen that are caught in the middle of the trade war, and have customers on both sides, either arrangement will be bittersweet at best.
Google-owned Motorola is experimenting with build-your-own-phones, using an open network of developers. The products would allow consumers to customize their phone hardware by adding components to a Motorola “endoskeleton.” The modular phone concept was generated by Phonebloks, a successful open-source platform, and could be available to consumers next year. And it’s not just a cool toy. A key aim is reducing electronic waste and eradicating built-in obsolescence. Is this the perfect antidote to iPhone fatigue, or does handing design to users risk taking some of the “smart” out of smartphone?
Lying on the field after a vicious collision on Oct. 20, Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley wanted to know if he would ever use his arms again. “I cannot answer that yet,” the neurosurgeon said as he strapped him to a gurney. The hit Finley took was not abnormal for an NFL game, but the spinal cord contusion he suffered left him barely able to speak or breathe, with minimal movement in his legs. The contusion is expected to heal, but in his first-person essay for MMQB, Finley details his recovery and uncertain future. Despite the harrowing experience, Finley seems determined to do the Lambeau Leap again.