ISIS claimed responsibility today for Wednesday’s terrorist attack in Tunis, which claimed 23 lives. President Beji Caid Essebsi vowed last night to “exterminate” the terrorists involved. Three Tunisians, including one police officer, and 18 tourists from eight countries died in the onslaught at the National Bardo Museum. While the attack is likely to test Tunisia’s fledgling democracy and could cripple its tourism industry, hundreds of citizens took to the streets to protest the violence. Authorities killed two of the gunmen and have arrested nine linked to the attacks.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They’ve given themselves some wiggle room. While the 28 EU countries agreed to extend their sanctions on Putin’s Russia until the end of the year, they explicitly tied the move to the Minsk agreement that calls for a total ceasefire by December 31. That means they could roll sanctions back before 2016, but that’ll depend on Russia’s next move. Not that it looks good for peace: The US and UK have both announced they’ll provide training to Ukrainian soldiers while Russia expanded its planned military drills.
Everyone was already panicking. The budget originally put forth by House Republicans demanded $100 million of cuts from government departments over the next decade. But it turns out there should have been another zero: The budget actually calls for $1 billion in cuts, causing federal departments to worry about where they will cut corners — and who will choose to work in government when it necessitates punishingly low wages compared to the private sector. Republicans say their budget aims to create a surplus within the next ten years.
They’re milking it for all it’s worth. Since the Obama administration declared Venezuela a threat to national security, President Maduro has gone on an anti-American bender, claiming that the US is an imperialist power trying to exert control over Venezuela’s governance. Now he’s seeking 10 million signatures for a petition calling on Obama to halt a freeze on the assets of Venezuelans accused of human rights violations. Other South American countries, including Mexico and Brazil, defended Maduro and are calling on the US to change its mind.
He hadn’t been seen in weeks. Otis James Byrd, a 54-year-old riverboat employee, was discovered hanging by his neck from a bedsheet near his home in Claiborne County, Miss. Byrd served time for murder, but had been on parole since 2006. The FBI is running the investigation, at the NAACP’s urging, though even basic details are still sketchy: ”We don’t know if it’s suicide or homicide,” said one agent, but if it’s a homicide the case will likely be investigated as a hate crime.
They can’t draw it out much longer. Negotiations with Iran over sanctions and its nuclear program are in their fourth day, and the US’s priority is speed: If parties don’t reach agreement by the March 31 deadline, a bill in Congress may remove the president’s power to unilaterally approve a deal. But a multilateral group that includes China, France and Germany is also negotiating with Iran, and may be holding out for a better deal. Iran wants sanctions lifted, but will need international — and United Nations — cooperation to get that done.
They’re after the president. Yemen’s current leader, President Hadi, has fled from his palace in Aden after a warplane attacked the building during an assault on the city. Houthi rebels, who ousted Hadi and now control Yemen’s capital, are thought to be behind both ground and air attacks. Hadi’s people say he’s still in the country, but it remains to be seen whether his followers can deflect Houthi attacks — and whether al-Qaida will swoop in to fill the power vacuum.
We may never know the details. A grand jury declined to charge police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the high profile chokehold death of Eric Garner, who police say was stopped for selling untaxed cigarettes — and now Judge William Garnett has denied to a motion to release certain details of the case, requested because the public has had difficulty reconciling the verdict with the widely-circulated video of Garner’s death. The New York Civil Liberties Union and its partners say they appeal the decision.
Her name was Farkhunda. The Afghan woman who was beaten and burned to death by a crowd that accused her of burning a copy of the Quran was identified by her father. He said she had suffered from mental illness for years. Mental illness is a major problem in Kabul, where the government estimates that years of war and trauma have left two-thirds of the country with some form of psychological disorder. Afghans have widely condemned the murder, and police are still investigating.
The Yazidis bore the brunt, according to the UN human rights report released Thursday. It alleges that ISIS forces committed crimes against humanity as they lay siege to Yazidi villages and Christian towns — crimes including using banned chlorine gas, treating women as “spoils of war,” and handing down outlandish court sentences, including death for 13 teens who watched a soccer match. The investigators want to see the International Criminal Court start prosecuting the perpetrators — including foreigners who have joined the fight in Iraq.
It’s been four long years. They haven’t met since 2011. Until today. Ties between the Asian giants frayed over islands in the East China Sea, and as China has pressed Japan for more apologies over WWII atrocities. And they all meet with South Korea on Saturday. There are a few key issues: Japan, demilitarized after WWII, angles to re-militarize for defense purposes. South Korea has a U.S.-backed missile system not yet online, aimed at North Korea, that China wants tabled. But at least they’re talking.
Was it just a bid for support? In the last days of his campaign, Netanyahu asserted that a two-state solution was a no go if he won re-election. Now, a fourth term secured, he’s backpedaling: He says it was never a promise, but an acknowledgement that a two-state plan is ”unachievable” at the moment. But both Palestinian leadership and the White House may have permanently lost faith in Netanyahu’s commitment to achieving lasting peace in the region.
Pentagon officials confirmed that al-Shabab leader Adan Garar, a suspect in 2013’s assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, was killed by a drone in Somalia last Friday. The mall massacre, which killed 67, was one of many attacks by the Somali militants. U.S. officials believe Garar led the targeting of Westerners, particularly Americans, and say his loss will deal a blow to the group. But al-Shabab killed four in an attack on a Kenyan village yesterday, raising doubts about his death’s impact on the terrorists’ operations.
The Federal Reserve dropped the watchword “patient” from its policy report yesterday, indicating that interest rate hikes likely loom. Low U.S. unemployment has fueled expectations of a rise, but Chairwoman Janet Yellen also cited low inflation and signaled a slower-than-expected approach — which could mean a June increase is not set in stone. The news reassured markets, at least initially, and prompted gains for foreign currencies against the dollar, though they’re likely to be short-lived as the Fed begins priming markets for higher rates.
Thailand’s high court orders Yingluck to stand trial for negligence. (BBC)
Death threats reportedly sent to Caroline Kennedy. (CNN)
Seven tourists killed in China rockfall. (SCMP)
Great Barrier Reef braces for Cyclone Nathan. (DW)
Prince Charles, Camilla see the sights in America. (Reuters)
Don’t forget to eat your fatty fish. A study of 80 boys aged 8-14 in the Netherlands found that consumption of Omega-3’s for 16 weeks improved their attention span by a measurable amount. Their brains were scanned throughout the study, which involved eating margarine enriched with 650mg of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. Researchers say it’s not definitive because teacher input wasn’t included. But the results support the idea that adding the acids, which are key brain-building blocks, can help everyone’s cognitive function.
Hot coffee from your hotspot. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a mobile ordering system will start this year. Schultz said the previously announced “Green Apron” web ordering system will launch with trials in New York and Seattle. The company will test two methods: direct carriage by baristas from nearby stores and from a separate start-up called Postmates. The mobile menu is smaller than regular stores’ but includes key coffee and food items. Look for running baristas on the street starting this spring.
Preparing for a big job interview? Try firing up your XBOX One. A new company called Starfighter is making video games that test the programming skills of potential candidates and boasting top players will receive big offers. The games involve realistic elements: a task might involve a break-in of a fake bank using real-life software. The free game is supposed to improve the objective decision making of HR personnel. If you’re good at a task, you should be good at the job. A tech company erasing discriminating practices? Imagine that.
Is he going hog wild? The mayor of French town Chalon-sur-Saône has told parents that if the school cafeteria decides to serve pork, students won’t be given alternatives. He says he’s committed to secular principles — so much for atheist vegetarians — and that most students who choose not to eat pork belong to the town’s small Jewish and Muslim communities. France’s education minister has condemned the plans, voicing concerns about children being excluded … and going hungry.
Its “slow fade” from the Chinese market just picked up speed. The Internet giant’s been inching out for years, suspending email services in 2013 and cutting staff to just a few hundred. Now it’s leaving altogether, shutting operations and laying off 200-300 employees — all part of CEO Marissa Mayer’s aggressive cost-cutting strategy, which has seen hundreds worldwide lose their jobs since last fall. And while Yahoo retains a 15-percent stake in Chinese partner Alibaba, plans are afoot to spin those holdings off later this year.
NASA scientists have presented results from the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, revealing that it observed “Christmas lights” in late December last year. The ultraviolet auroral glow reached farther into the planet’s atmosphere than ever seen before, and it’s unclear why. Auroras usually indicate a strong planetary magnetosphere, but the light show didn’t correlate to the Martian magnetic field. Researchers also spotted a dust cloud orbiting at a higher-than-expected altitude, defying what they know about the planet’s atmosphere and deepening its mysterious charm.
“I know you want it” means something else now. Marvin Gaye’s heirs want more than the $7.4 million a jury awarded them by ruling that Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines” copied the R&B legend’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.” The family has filed an injunction seeking to hold the record company responsible and to block the song’s sale, distribution and performance. It doesn’t signal the death of the song so much as pending negotiations over the family’s right to future profits.
The Brits have left the building. Already up 2-1 from the first leg, Barcelona controlled City throughout the match, solidifying their slot in the Champions League’s final eight with an easy 1-0 win. Lionel Messi — who had more touches, passes and shots than any other player — set up Ivan Rakitic, who got the game’s only goal past the extraordinary efforts of Joe Hart. City’s departure means no Premier League team heads into the quarter-finals for the second time in three years.
Coming to a driveway near you. Literally. Elon Musk announced that a self-driving version of the Model S electric car will hit the market in six months. The new Tesla can drive long distances (Musk cited Seattle to San Francisco), without the driver touching a single control. He also promised to solve “range anxiety” with the new Model S, warning drivers if they’re at risk of running out of power, directing them to nearby stations. Best of all, if you’re on private property, drivers can remotely summon their vehicle.
Those “I Voted” stickers won’t be so special. The U.S. president said mandatory voting might be a good way to fight the influence of money in politics. During an address in Cleveland, Obama pointed to mandatory voting policies in other countries like Australia. Only an estimated 37 percent of eligible U.S. voters went to the polls in 2014. But with Republicans in charge of Congress and expanded voting all but sure to largely benefit Democrats, don’t expect movement on his idea anytime soon.