Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and until recently, one of the nation’s top leaders, was executed Thursday after being dubbed a “traitor for all ages” by state-run media. He was booted from his post days ago, and the swift death sentence stunned Korea-watchers. In Bangladesh, senior opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah has been hanged for his role in war crimes during the 1971 fight for independence. Government skeptics allege the country’s prime minister used the prosecution of Mollah as a political tool, but Bangladeshis want atonement for the atrocities of a war that killed three million.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Readers of the fact-checking site Politifact have chosen the president’s infamous promise “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” as “lie of the year.” While other politicians also said the same, Obama appears to have said it more often, and had a bigger audience. “Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous,” the Politifact says.
Jerusalem’s creamy stone was bathed in white after the city saw its largest snow dump in 60 years. Some areas reported almost 20 inches of snow. Stranded motorists suffered 12 hours in cars, while Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv closed. Meanwhile, the East Coast of the U.S. braces for a mid-December storm that could bring up to five inches to the big cities this weekend, the largest so far this winter.
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass the $1 trillion, two-year budget pact agreed to by party leaders on Tuesday. The bill is expected to pass the Senate next week, ending political monetary squabbling that dates to 2011. The bill increases military and domestic spending slightly while working to decrease the overall reliance on deficit spending. But the deal split Republicans. Idaho Rep. Raul R. Labrador said, “I haven’t decided whether I’m a really strong no or just a no.” And there’s still no deal on the farm bill, which governs crop insurance and food stamps.
Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took power last year promising reforms. Despite blockades, fistfights, theatrics and a strip show in protest, Peña Nieto has opened the oil sector for private investment. Though the nationalized oil industry is bound up with pride and sovereignty for many Mexicans, the president is prioritizing a prosperous Mexico over scathing opinion polls. The industry’s productivity has been dropping for years, and Peña Nieto hopes that direct investment may provide the jolt it needs. America, for its part, welcomes the prospect of cheaper oil with no Middle East political strings attached.
A brutal conflict that has killed millions and displaced millions more during two decades of fighting is slowing, slightly. Eastern DR Congo’s M23 rebels started peace talks back in October after several crushing defeats, but a deal had been difficult to reach. Formerly a part of the DRC’s military, the members of M23 mutinied last year over allegations that the DRC failed to honor a peace deal from 2009. This latest peace agreement aims to end the fighting, but does not provide immunity to the rebels — or address the other 30-plus rebel groups operating in the eastern DRC.
UN inspectors confirm Syrian chemical weapons attacks. (NPR).
Missing American in Iran was working for the CIA when he vanished. (ABC News).
JPMorgan nears settlement over bank’s ties to Bernie Madoff. (NYT).
Spain to block Catalonia’s independence referendum. (Al Jazeera).
Kenya says government security lapses fueled mall attack. (WSJ).
Could the next breakthrough antibiotic come from your backyard? Quite possibly. Medicines like terramycin and streptomycin have been found in soil samples unrelated to medical research, raising the prospect that you and your yard could contribute to the next frontier of drug development. At present, most pharmaceutical companies put far more money into long-term treatments – e.g., cancer drugs – than into antibiotics. Which is why researchers Josiah Zayner and Mark Opal recently started sending out simple test kits for people to look for antibacterial properties in their household plants, gardens and chemicals. This may not uncover the next big medication right away, but, Zayner and Opal argue, it has only positive long-term effects.
In 1968, 39-year-old U.S. Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr.’s B-57 collided with another airplane and vanished into the Laos jungle. The native of New Haven, Conn., was listed as missing in action, and later presumed to have been killed. The U.S. government had been on a search mission for the crash site since 1993; six years ago, human remains and parts of an aircraft were located in Laos. DNA testing recently confirmed that the remains are McGouldrick’s. Today, 43 years after he went missing, McGouldrick will finally be laid to rest by his family in Washington, D.C.
Despite aiming to “inspire a generation,” the 2012 London Games so far have failed to convince young Brits to quit spending so much time on Instagram and start exercising. Official figures reveal a decline in the number of 16- to 25-year-olds involved in sports since the event. The data also points to a sharp drop in popularity for traditional sports like football and volleyball. This has prompted Sport England — the organization behind the study, which invests $490 million of public funding a year in promoting sports — to emphasize more “unusual” offerings for youths. Bad news for politicians trying to justify the Olympic-size bill for the Games, but good news for Zumba lovers.
Source: The Guardian
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug opens today in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries worldwide. The penultimate installment of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy has gotten much better early reviews than the first Hobbit film. While critics seem to enjoy the epic fight scenes and special effects, it doesn’t compare to the adoration the Lord of the Rings trilogy generated a decade ago. Still, the fantasy sequel should achieve blockbuster status. Its opening took in an estimated $2.8 million in France on Wednesday, and the film had the best opening day of the year in Holland, Belgium and Finland. Not such an unexpected journey after all.
Major League Baseball’s rules committee is expected to approve a significant change that would ban plate collisions as early as next season. According to the new rules, catchers can no longer block the plate, and runners can’t target catchers; violators will be subject to disciplinary action. The move is designed to minimize injuries that result from plate collisions and to address concerns about concussions. Eliminating one of the game’s most exhilarating, albeit dangerous, traditions may anger some, but the league appears to bet people will come to terms with the change. After all, how many people today still complain about batting helmets?