Climate deniers are going to love this. The International Energy Agency says carbon emissions stalled for the first time in 40 years, staying at 32 gigatonnes in 2014. They’re crediting lower energy consumption in China and OECD countries, thanks to their efforts to curb pollution. But experts warn that this is no time for complacency, and a full report will be released this summer ahead of G20 negotiations for a new international climate agreement.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The cradle of civilization is getting a new home. Egypt announced it’s creating a new city between Cairo and the Red Sea with investments from the Middle East’s wealthiest countries, including Saudi Arabia. The plan calls for the country’s parliament, ministry and foreign embassies to move and will sustain more than 1.5 million jobs. U.S. officials are praising the plan as forward-thinking, and international investors are mostly optimistic, predicting economic growth after initial political upheaval.
Deaths could run into the dozens, the U.N. says, after a powerful category 5 storm plowed into the islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific today. Massive swells, inland flooding, landslides and falling trees had been predicted. One witness said the rain appeared to be coming down horizontally, such was the storm’s wind power. So far, reports estimate 44 deaths, but that number is expected to rise, given the number of poorer residents living in shanty towns on the islands.
The Swedes may hit the road. Julian Assange, the notorious hacker who leaked classified intelligence documents, remains holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy. He’s also suspected in a sexual assault in Sweden. The Swedes have failed to get him to Stockholm, and the clock is ticking — the statute of limitations runs out in August. Nordic prosecutors are now considering traveling to London, and they want a DNA sample. Sweden has an extradition deal with the U.S., so if Assange gets to Stockholm, Stockholm could turn him over to the Americans. Game on.
There’s no excuse for such violence. That was the U.S. president’s response to the shooting of two police officers at a protest in Missouri. As a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live yesterday, Obama acknowledged that anger over the endemic racism highlighted in a scathing Justice Department report was legitimate. But he condemned the “criminal” behavior that followed Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s resignation on Wednesday. The wounded officers have been released from the hospital, but the search for suspects — and for positive change in Ferguson’s law enforcement — continues.
Iraqis say they’ve all but beaten the terrorists in the battle for Tikrit, with troops and militiamen reclaiming police headquarters and a hospital. Success could give Iraq a solid launching point for further gains against the militants while signaling a great victory for its fledgling democracy. But losing ground doesn’t mean ISIS is losing friends: They’ve accepted a loyalty pledge from Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram, which may help the so-called caliphate gain stature against rival al-Qaida in Africa.
Pyongyang is adding fuel to the fire. The Hermit Kingdom launched several short-range missiles into the sea from its eastern coast yesterday in response to military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. Though all ballistic missile tests by the North are banned under U.N. resolutions, tit-for-tat responses like this are par for the course. But with Kim Jong Un also buddying up to the Kremlin for a “year of friendship,” tensions over the dictator’s nuclear ambitions are bound to boil over.
The Anglo-American bromance is cooling a bit. The Obama administration lashed out at the U.K.’s decision to become a founding member of a new Beijing-led financial powerhouse, labeling the move a sign of Britain’s “constant accommodation” of the Chinese. U.S. authorities worry that the $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank would allow Beijing to extend its power in the Asia-Pacific region, and the rare public spat underscores the U.S. rivalry with China as they jockey for power in the global economy.
Syrian spy suspected of helping teens join ISIS. (CBC)
EU blocks Hungary-Russia nuclear reactor deal. (FT) sub
Iceland drops plans to bid for EU membership. (WSJ) sub
Investigators decide Harper Lee is aware of second book. (NYT)
Momentum builds for proposal to abolish Medicare cuts. (The Hill)
Will this create envy across the aisle? Unraveling a political and psychological mystery, a new study suggests that left-wingers are more content than their conservative counterparts. Instead of relying on self-reporting — like previous studies that showed right-wingers to be happier — psychologists used objective mood indicators such as word choices and genuineness of smiles. They concluded that conservatives tend to be less truthful about their happiness level, while liberals experience more actual joy. Sadly, this probably won’t solve the gridlock in Washington.
What happens to a solar-powered electric grid when the sun goes dark in the daytime? Germany will learn the answer on March 20. Last time Deutschland descended into daytime darkness, only 1 percent of the nation’s energy came from the sun. Now it’s up to 7 percent. That’s enough to seriously curtain the system. Options include ramping up natural gas plants and asking big users, like manufacturing plants, to scale back for an hour. As more nations go solar, Germany’s juggle may be our future.
Simplicity, thy name is Motorman. Mopeds spew more air pollution than SUVs, but the zippy bikes aren’t falling out of style in international urban centers anytime soon. Enter Dutchman Ronald Meijis’ electric fix. His wheels won’t charge your iThing or carve donuts. They look like an old Schwinn mated with an early Harley. Yet trendy commuters from Ibiza to Zurich have fallen hard. While pricey, the battery bike consumes less than two pennies per mile of energy. The bike hits U.S. shores within the year.
This is bound to set South by Southwest abuzz. The Texas capital’s police chief has banned the unmanned aerials during big events, noting that “folks don’t like drones,” and threatening to confiscate them and fine their owners. Organizers of the film, music and tech festival, which begins on March 17, have warned attendees against bringing their own whirring wonders. Some trade-show areas may feature the airborne robots — thanks to a deal between SXSW and authorities — but privately owned ones simply will not fly.
You almost need to get rich to get hitched. Buoyed by the economic recovery, the average cost of American nuptials hit a five-year high in 2014, soaring 16 percent in four years. The Knot’s survey of 16,000 brides found the cheapest average cost in Utah at $15,257, while the Big Apple took the biggest bite at a jaw-dropping $76,328. Young couples should chew on this: Getting married costs, on average, as much as a 15 percent down payment on a median-priced U.S. home of $208,700.
They couldn’t let it go. The media giant has officially announced a sequel to its icy Oscar-winner. The news isn’t surprising, given that Frozen took $1.3 billion at the box office and many millions more in merchandise. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck are returning, and Kristen Bell hinted that she’s reprising her role as Anna by tweeting “Dreams really do come 2!” Meanwhile, Arendelle fans can warm up with the animated short Frozen Fever, debuting in cinemas today with Disney’s live-action Cinderella.
They’ll never forget this one. Bhutan, a Himalayan monarchy ranked dead last in international soccer, won its first-ever World Cup qualifying match against Sri Lanka yesterday, beating them 1-0. The 209th-ranked squad once lost 20-0 to Kuwait back in 2000, then the worst defeat ever, but has now made history again. On Tuesday, the two teams will square off a second time, with the Sri Lankans looking to regain their dignity and the Bhutanese daring to dream of a second-round advance.