Europe is on edge. Anti-terrorism squads in Belgium killed two suspects and detained another person in a series of raids across the country today as European countries remained on high alert after last week’s massacre. Confronted in the eastern city of Verviers, the Islamic extremists had just come back from Syria and were planning “a major imminent attack,” authorities said. The suspects reportedly received instructions directly from ISIS, raising fears that more radicalized fighters are returning to spread terror in the West.
The Presidential Daily Brief
It took 19 days to climb into history. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson capped off the first free-climb of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall yesterday. The feat of mounting Yosemite’s 3,000-foot granite rock in one continuous expedition without climbing equipment required five years of training, herculean strength and the nerve to sleep in suspended tents. Now they’re enjoying overdue showers — first from champagne bottles — walking on flat ground, and getting a good night’s rest, which they’ll need in order to handle their newfound fame.
The blockade is crumbling. The Obama administration took the most concrete steps in 50 years today to thaw relations between the historic enemies by allowing Americans to travel to the island without special permits. Under new rules taking effect tomorrow, tourism is still out, but U.S. airlines can fly direct to Havana and Americans can use their credit cards while there for approved reasons. But the changes are giving GOP critics one more reason to cry presidential overreach.
French Muslims are feeling the heat with the Charlie Hebdo massacre spotlighting both increased radicalization and rising European Islamophobia. While much of the world anticipates extremist reprisals for yesterday’s defiant return of the satirical magazine, attacks on French mosques are on the rise, and French authorities are cracking down on condonation of terror at home. So far, scores have been arrested for anti-Semitism, defending terror and hate speech, which has some questioning whose speech, exactly, is free.
It’s growing, but it’s not making most folks richer. The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book showed moderate growth in most parts of the country, but energy-producing regions saw slower activity due to sinking oil prices. While hiring picked up, wages stayed largely flat. The report doesn’t change expectations that the Fed will boost interest rates this year for the first time since 2008. As evidence of faster growth mounts, the Fed will have more reason than ever to act.
This mama’s boy won’t be going home anytime soon. After allegedly posting extremist tweets and buying semi-automatic weapons, Christopher Cornell is being held without bail. The 20-year-old Ohioan — whose dad says he tells his mom everything — was snared by an FBI undercover operation. Cornell is accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol and shoot at people trying to flee. He faces charges of attempting to kill a government officer, and Americans, meanwhile, face the potential threat of homegrown terror.
Swiss franc soars after central bank abandons cap against euro. (BBC)
Judge lowers BP’s top fine to $13.7 billion for Gulf oil disaster. (NYT)
Tech giant pulls the plug on experimental Google Glass. (Gizmodo)
Images reveal devastating effect of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria. (DW)
Pope Francis launches five-day tour of Philippines. (AFP)
Divers examine AirAsia plane’s fuselage. (BBC)
India’s central bank cuts interest rates in unexpected move. (CNN Money)
House passes bill to block funds for Obama’s immigration plan. (The Hill)
It’s going to be a pretty pale ceremony. Observers are calling out the notable lack of diversity with this year’s Oscar nominations. All of the best actor and supporting actor nominees are white, while Birdman director Alejandro Inarritu is the only non-white finalist vying for best director. But the biggest snub belongs to Selma, which was overlooked in key categories despite a best-picture nod. Critics say academy members can’t see beyond their mostly white, mostly male fraternity.
Nothing less than the future of Internet policing is at stake. The FBI says Ross Ulbricht was a diabolical computer mastermind whose Silk Road handled billions in online drug deals, and possibly murder, in a trial that began this week. Ulbricht admitted, for the first time, that he founded the site — but says he sold it and is being framed. The FBI won’t say where some of the info came from. Cue speculation over below-board NSA links. And the trial has just begun.
You might picture barren tundra and bone-chilling gulags. But New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple’s excursion to Yakutsk, Siberia, the world’s coldest permanently inhabited area, revealed surprising abundance and opulence. Think gas, oil, diamonds and fur coats. In the Soviet era workers were given bonuses to move there — and they earned them: The mercury once dipped to minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the frozen hamlet of Oymyakon, and cars must be left running overnight to avoid mechanical freezes.
The old models were all wet. A new Harvard study says that throughout much of the 20th century the seas rose nearly 30 percent less quickly than scientists had believed. But the waters, given today’s levels, have been rising at a much faster clip than we thought since 1990 — at a rate of three millimeters a year, compared to just 1.2 millimeters before. By 2100, a devastating one-meter rise is predicted, but low-lying islands in the Pacific may not have that long.
It’s officially the world’s worst currency. The peer-to-peer payment system has plummeted 32 percent in two days, making its 12-month performance worse than the ruble or Brent crude. Peaking at $1,150 in 2013, the currency dropped as low as $170 yesterday. The extreme volatility underscores suspicions about the cryptocurrency’s longevity and legitimacy. One writer calls it “a Ponzi scheme for redistributing wealth.” But more optimistic observers say it’ll take years to mature and to ignore daily sell-offs.
They aren’t called the Razzies for nothing. The annual “Worst Achievements in Film” awards gave a big raspberry yesterday to Transformers: Age of Extinction, with a ruthless seven nods, including worst picture, worst director, and worst screen combo for “any two robots, actors (or robotic actors).” Battling the monstrous machines for the “prize” is Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which was nearly as loathed with six dubious nominations, including worst actor. But at least Michael Bay can cry all the way to the bank.
The big man’s heading off campus. Oregon’s Heisman-winning quarterback, still smarting from Monday’s championship loss to OSU, is skipping his senior season and going pro. With 58 touchdowns this year, many predict the Honolulu native will go first in the draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Mariota must find a way around the Heisman curse: No recent winner has an NFL record above .500. And the Ducks, whose second-stringer is a redshirt sophomore, must find themselves a new quarterback.