Ground Control to Major Tom … the glam rock legend has died. His son confirmed that Bowie died “peacefully” and surrounded by family, ending a secret 18-month battle with cancer. The London-born star behind hits like “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars” and “Ziggy Stardust” just released his latest album, Blackstar, on Friday. Many have taken to social media in disbelief, echoing lyrics like “planet Earth is blue,” with friends and fans tweeting remembrances. Ricky Gervais perhaps best summed up popular sentiments, saying, “I just lost a hero.”
The Presidential Daily Brief
Can Europe stay united? Germany’s Angela Merkel now wants to make it easier to deport lawbreaking asylum-seekers in the wake of some 150 sexual assault complaints during year’s end festivities in Cologne. Many of the suspects were refugees — a fact that spurred Saturday’s demonstration there of some 1,700 members of the anti-immigrant group Pegida. They clashed with pro-migrant activists as well as police, who fought back with water cannons, making it appear that last year’s 1 million-plus arrivals — beyond stoking fears of Paris-style terror — are tearing the continent apart.
Don’t expect a greatest hits show. Previewing his final State of the Union address on Tuesday, the U.S. president said he’ll focus not simply on what he considers the successes of his two terms, but also on America’s future agenda. Getting away from the typical SOTU list of policy initiatives, Obama and his aides say he’ll offer an optimistic look at the bigger picture. He’ll tout accomplishments like the Iran deal and climate change agreement, but he also plans to go deep on “who we are” and “what kind of country we want to be.”
For a Hermit Kingdom, it’s making lots of noise. On Wednesday, Kim Jong-un announced that he was the proud father of a newly detonated hydrogen bomb. It’s not clear what kind of bomb was tested, but it certainly shook the globe, prompting Washington to tell Beijing its good-cop approach — allowing some cross-border trade — is failing to contain Kim’s nuclear ambitions. Now South Korea is blasting propaganda across its border while the U.S. mulls financial sanctions — leaving analysts to debate whether it’s up to China to quiet the region.
This could blow up in their faces. Tensions have been flaring between the two countries since the Saudis executed Shiite leader Nimr al-Nimr. But Middle East scholar Frederic Wehrey says it’s not simply Sunni-Shiite tensions at work: The cleric’s controversial death may have been a move to appease Sunni clerics upset that their kingdom is helping America fight ISIS Sunni militants. As both nations struggle to maintain governmental authority and cultural identity in an era of religious upheaval, they’re likely fanning flames bigger than either state can control.
Americans can count on a peaceful transition of power this coming year, but that’s not necessarily true of 2016’s other elections. In Taiwan, front-runner Tsai Ing-wen’s predicted victory isn’t in doubt, but China’s reaction to her leadership very much is. Portugal’s recently formed leftist coalition, meanwhile, will likely be tested by a new center-right president and economic woes. And Africans face the mounting threat of civil unrest in places like Gambia, the DRC, the Republic of the Congo and Uganda, as long-term leaders look hell-bent on clinging to their thrones.
Sean Penn Tale ‘Helped Capture’ Mexican Cartel Boss, Object Hits Charity Hospital in Yemen and Kills Four
Sean Penn interview with ‘El Chapo’ reportedly aided his violent re-arrest. (AP)
‘Projectile’ kills four at Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen. (Reuters)
‘Powerball’ lottery rises to $1.3 billion after no winner Saturday. (USA Today)
In U.S. detente twist, some Cubans rush to immigrate elsewhere. (NYT)
Battered Steelers advance past Bengals, 18-16, in wild-card playoff. (ESPN)
Returning host Ricky Gervais made a few people uncomfortable last night, opening with a joke about Sean Penn before settling into mostly conventional fare. Best drama went to The Revenant and star Leonardo DiCaprio took best actor. But it was also a night for underdogs, with 69-year-old Stallone thanking his “imaginary friend” Rocky as he accepted the trophy for best supporting actor for Creed. Other winners included Lady Gaga, Christian Slater and Ennio Morricone, but Hollywood is mostly buzzing over whether Stallone will enjoy another knockout at the Oscars.
He left his island home at age 10 to train in England. And while most don’t look toward the middle of the Irish Sea for world-class gymnastics, Tony Duchars is one of the best gymnasts ever to vault off the tiny Isle of Man. He’s training with Olympian Louis Smith’s coach in Cambridgeshire, where he’s honing his graceful style and acrobatic strength. Having just joined Ireland’s junior team — he has dual British and Irish citizenship — Duchars is looking to rock Irish and island gymnastics by sticking his landing at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Of all the rules Germans could break … A new law now obligates their largest, publicly held companies to have at least 30 percent of supervisory board positions occupied by women, or be actively working toward that goal. But even in the land of the world’s most powerful woman, many companies are ignoring the law — fines run no higher than $54,000 — while others are exempted by regulatory loopholes. The sanctions, analysts say, need to be more painful if the country wants to transform its male-heavy boardrooms with a feminine fix.
War and Peace pushed them toward an uncomplicated life. There are only two Tolstoyan communes left in Britain, each with just a handful of members. They carry on a tradition dating back to 1894, with the establishment of the first Essex-based brotherhood inspired by the Russian novelist’s principles of pacifism, sharing and distrust of government. Those devoted to Tolstoy’s vision, combined with a love for communal life, are living out their simple, Spartan lives together, but their dwindling numbers may mean the movement’s on the verge of finally closing the book.
It’s the great divide. Argentina’s 1-million-plus-square-foot Centro Cultural Kirchner opened last year with a lavish 2,000-seat concert hall in the shape of a whale, 50 music venues, a modern art museum and bossy guides at every turn. It’s among 170 projects that bear the name of deceased President Néstor Kirchner — revered by the working class — and built by his wife and successor, Cristina. But with 30 percent inflation, polarization over her performance and a new conservative leader, the nation might just take a leap … and change the center’s name.
They’re not game. While netting a chance to host the Olympics has long been considered a coup, many cities are starting to think it’s just a big scam. Why, they ask, should taxpayers shoulder the debt-accruing logistical nightmare when the only modern Olympic host to have made any money was Los Angeles in 1984? Now all U.S. cities, except L.A., are snubbing the 2024 Summer Games, balking at spending billions, and ushering in a future in which the IOC may be forced to beg for new players.