Davos talks next week will tackle the bad with the good, from burgeoning terrorism and a global economic slowdown to Uncle Sam getting his groove back. Great financial minds will weigh America’s impact on the world’s economies as the Fed diverges from other central banks, U.S. consumers open their wallets and Dakota shale shakes up the oil industry. “The U.S. is now regaining its position in the world economy,” says JPMorgan Chase chairman Jacob Frenkel. With Secretary of State John Kerry and Will.i.am both attending, it’ll be hard to ignore Team USA.
The Presidential Daily Brief
How much is too much? As throngs turned out across France to support freedom of speech and buy Charlie Hebdo’s “survivors’ issue,” featuring Muhammad on its cover, Pope Francis said that insulting anyone’s religion is likely to draw a “punch in the nose.” Tens of thousands of Muslims protesting the magazine worldwide seem to agree. The pontiff wasn’t excusing the terrorists, emphatically denouncing those who kill in the name of religion. But he warned that provoking believers was bound to draw a reaction. European police, meanwhile, have arrested several suspected militants and remain on high alert for reprisals.
So close, and yet a world away. The Cuban embargo has isolated one of America’s closest neighbors for decades, setting it apart as the Caribbean’s relic of the past. But with cultural exchange likely to begin, “Yanquis” may soon start seeing Cuba in a very different light. Tourism is expected to be a big draw, giving the communist island’s struggling economy a much-needed boost. But with places like Havana often described as frozen in time, Cuba must brace itself for a 21st-century shock.
The years of mortgages-for-anyone spurred frenzied building. The credit crash of 2008 left many housing developments lying fallow, with residents who expected a suburban Valhalla living beside unwanted, overgrown, garbage-strewn lots. In a few areas, planners have downsized, but they risk owners’ wrath if property values drop as a result. One Georgia town’s lauded efforts to create low-income housing has also increased crime. Is it a cyclical problem that will correct itself, or is a new generation intent on inhabiting walkable, urban spaces going to leave these subdivisions in the dust?
Obama plan would tax wealthy to aid middle class. (NYT)
Three million assemble in Manila to hear Pope Francis. (LA Times)
U.S. frees Qatari ‘enemy combatant’ after 14 years. (Al Jazeera)
ISIS releases 350 sick and elderly Yazidis to Kurds. (BBC)
Greece arrests three in terror investigation. (USA Today)
Time to break away from the pack. OZY’s CEO sat down with Gwen Ifill at PBS this week to talk about going beyond the norm. A few recent OZY gems include “Poland’s Jeff Bezos,” entrepreneur Rafal Brzoska, who’s revolutionizing parcel delivery in his country, Europe and perhaps the world. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, meanwhile, may be flying low on many a radar, but he’s a big hit at home. After just months in office, he’s offering monthly cash payments to the poor in a bid to improve living standards and jump-start the economy.
We’re not sunk yet. One of the most extensive studies of the world’s oceans ever conducted reveals that we’ve done nearly irreparable damage to its delicate ecosystems, but there’s still time to reverse course. As overfishing, pollution, mining operations, climate change and other habitat-altering activities increase, marine animals may disappear as fast as many land species did after the Industrial Revolution. Researchers hope the ocean can avoid the kind of “wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land.”
Coreco Pearson Jr. isn’t your average young GOP fan. The African-American student body president from Augusta, Georgia, is just 12 years old, but’s he’s already hit the campaign trail. The pre-teen is leading the push to lower Georgia’s age restrictions for holding public office. A vocal campaigner for his state senator, Pearson has ambitions to run himself one day. Why the GOP? Inspired by John McCain, he says, it’s patriotism — “not a race thing.”
Flashbangs are a popular “non-lethal” tool for authorities. Meant to keep cops safe, they create a bright light and loud noise, temporarily blinding and deafening anyone nearby. Trouble is, there’s little oversight of how or when they’re used, and police forces are reaching for them more and more, sometimes with devastating effect. They burn hotter than molten lava and have killed, maimed or injured at least 50 people in America since 2000, including a toddler whose family now owes $1.6 million in medical bills.
As German journalist Angela Köckritz reported on the Hong Kong protests, she began fearing that her Chinese assistant, Zhang Miao, was getting too involved. She was right to worry: Miao’s support of the protest movement and her social media presence landed her in a Chinese prison. When Köckritz tried to help, authorities accused her of being an agitator and a spy. Rather than risk jail time herself, Köckritz fled to tell the world about her colleague’s plight. Miao faces charges of inciting public disturbance and up to 10 years behind bars.
The reigning Super Bowl champs almost weren’t. Back in 1997, the then-unpopular Seahawks — lacking funds for a stadium — were set to move to Los Angeles. A Hail Mary ballot measure enabled the local soccer community to come a-knockin’, and advocates for a Major League Soccer team in Seattle offered to join forces. The vote to give the Seahawks and Sounders a new stadium passed by a shoestring: 51 to 49 percent. And while the teams may not share a fan base, their histories are forever intertwined.
The Discovery Channel has spiraled in recent years into a collection of “reality” shows, fictional documentaries and bizarre stunts. But Rich Ross, the parent company’s new president, says the channel — recently slammed for falsely claiming viewers would see a snake eat a man — will once again focus on facts. “Brands are all about trust,” he says, noting how he wants people to believe what they see. And, yes, this means no snake-oil salesmen on his watch.