The Hermit Kingdom just got even more isolated. Mere days after President Obama threatened a “proportional response” for its alleged hacking of Sony, the country suffered one of its worst network failures in years. “They are totally offline,” says one Internet security expert, who described the outage as consistent with a “distributed denial of service” attack. All eyes will be on the rogue state, which has threatened an attack on “the whole U.S. mainland” if America sought to avenge the Sony hack.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They’ve dug in. The world’s top petroleum exporter has reiterated its refusal to cut output levels, even as crude prices plummet to their lowest in five years. The Saudi strategy — going against decades of efforts to prop up prices — is a big gamble to maintain market share against a new energy rival: American shale oil. The kingdom can survive at least two years with low prices, which means Americans can expect cheap gas for the foreseeable future.
One of the most soulful voices in music is gone. The British-born blues and rock singer, best known for his gritty rendition of the Beatles classic, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” has died of lung cancer. He won a Grammy in 1983 for a duet with Jennifer Warnes called “Up Where We Belong” and had another hit with “You Are So Beautiful.” Cocker, who turned in an epic performance at Woodstock, became the voice of a younger generation when his famous song was used in the opening credits to The Wonder Years.
One is claiming victory, the other refusing defeat. Tunisians voted yesterday in a presidential runoff election between octogenarian statesman Beji Caid Essebsi and former human rights activist and interim president Moncef Marzouki, 69. Anti-Islamist Essebsi claims to have won by a clear margin, but Marzouki, who is popular with conservatives, refuses to concede. Official results are expected late today, and the victor will be put in charge of security, defense and foreign affairs, but with limited powers to appoint or dismiss senior officials.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley reportedly invited passersby to follow him on Instagram, saying “watch what I’m going to do” before shooting two police officers dead in their car in Brooklyn. The murders have shocked a nation already uneasy over the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases, which have led to months of protests. Critics blame NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and recent police reforms for the cops’ deaths — a sign that strained relations between authorities and the public are far from resolved.
They were onto him, but it wasn’t enough to halt the deadly November 2008 terror strike that claimed 166 lives. As computer whiz Zarrar Shah planned his carnage online, British and Indian spies reportedly began tracking his Internet searches and correspondence. U.S. officials say they were unaware of their allies’ intelligence efforts but had traced signs of a plot on their own, warning Indian security several times before the attack. Will these nations now learn to pool efforts in a bid to thwart future terror attacks?
Salsa dancing classes don’t lie. Princess Cristina, the king’s sister, will face charges over accusations that she and her husband, a former handball champion turned businessman, abused business funds to fuel a lavish lifestyle. Specifically, that Inaki Urdangarin used his Duke title to embezzle $7.5 million via contracts with a non-profit he founded. Christina says she knew nothing, but a judge wants her to stand trial anyway and set a hefty bail Monday. Heavy falls the crown, indeed. Cristina is sixth in line for the throne.
Inquiry opened into top aide to former Chinese president. (NYT)
S&P 500 climbs to highest close after three-day rally. (Bloomberg)
Pakistan arrests six in wake of school massacre. (DW)
North Korea skips U.N. Security Council meeting. (USA Today)
U.S. home sales drop more than expected. (Bloomberg)
Man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ drives into Dijon crowd, injuring 11. (France 24)
Winning White House in 2016 will cost at least $1 billion. (FT) sub
Science says we’re overthinking the whole gift-giving thing. Recipients really just want easy-to-use things that aren’t too fancy — and hopefully something from their wish lists. Meanwhile, millennials are increasingly disconnected from physical possessions like cars, houses and furnishings, earning them the moniker “Generation Rent.” Young people value experiences over valuables. For businesses, this calls for mobile services, rental offers, flash sales, subscription services and other innovative approaches to keep customers engaged. So keep it simple and make it memorable.
Can’t we just use the shruggie? Twitter is its own echo chamber with a special language full of invented phrases. To keep up, it seems you really do need a glossary to cut through the ironic inside jokes — or risk igniting a Twitterstorm. If someone calls you a “thirsty rando” or full of “garb” for that “hot take” on the Sony hacking controversy, now you know how to respond. Or you might just pledge to “never tweet” again.
His account is bone-chilling. Jürgen Todenhöfer, 74, is the first Western journalist to be granted access to the heart of ISIS, exploring Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Among his discoveries: the militants control territory larger than the U.K., enjoy an “almost ecstatic enthusiasm” as hundreds of willing fighters arrive each day, and likely can’t be wiped out by airstrikes alone. In short, the militants are “much stronger and much more dangerous” than Western powers think.
Emily Blunt is a consummate performer, but it was acting that gave her a voice. Set to appear in Disney’s Christmas release, Into the Woods, Blunt reveals that she struggled with an extreme childhood stutter. A teacher advised her to audition for a school play, hoping that being someone else would help her to speak fluently. Several smash hits later, she’s still facing her fears, having calmed her nerves to sing on screen and belt out tunes in her role as the Baker’s Wife.
The Florida State Seminoles sophomore quarterback — accused of school code violations for an alleged sexual assault in 2012 — was facing anything from a reprimand to expulsion. But retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, chosen to conduct an investigative hearing by FSU, ruled yesterday that there was insufficient evidence to “satisfy the burden of proof.” The Alabama-born Heisman winner was cleared of wrongdoing, and the woman in question has five days to appeal.
Maybe OPEC should switch gears. While fuel costs are plummeting, prices for the beloved olive tree fat are the highest they’ve been in six years, largely thanks to a drought in Spain and a plague of fruit flies in Italy. Production’s still going strong in Greece, but war in Syria has affected both supply and demand. The result? Shoppers will likely switch to cheaper alternatives like canola, with olive oil consumption set to fall by seven percent in 2015.