If there was a winner, it was Bernie Sanders. The self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist has done well online in every debate, with digital traffic, polls and engagement always high. But this time most pundits joined the party too, saying that Sanders won, if slightly. Momentum is clearly on the Vermont senator’s side, but while Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire, he must perfect his pitch to Black voters — a demographic that prefers Clinton — or South Carolina, another early and much more diverse primary, could stop him in his tracks
The Presidential Daily Brief
It’s complicated. After hailing “a good day” for diplomacy over military confrontation because of Saturday’s certification of Iran’s nuclear compliance and the lifting of its financial sanctions, the president announced new sanctions. Targeting 11 entities alleged to have aided Iran’s ballistic missile program, the measures were put on hold last month following Iranian warnings that it could endanger talks toward Saturday’s release of U.S. prisoners. Still, Obama said the two countries “have a rare chance to pursue a new path,” one sweetened by $100 billion in unfrozen assets and freer access to global oil markets.
They’re out. Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and two other Iranian-Americans imprisoned by Tehran arrived in Switzerland today, giving Obama a chance hail their release as a diplomatic breakthrough enabled by the Iran nuclear deal that went into effect Saturday. The freedom of four U.S. citizens — one of whom apparently chose stay — was obtained by nullifying sanctions violation charges against 21 Iranians in the U.S. and elsewhere. But the ordeal continues for families of two other Americans, one a former FBI agent suspected to have died and the other a businessman whose release U.S. officials have pledged to secure.
Security forces in the capital, Ouagadougou, stormed a hotel and cafe, reportedly freeing some 126 hostages from 18 nations Saturday. But 28 captives are dead — including one American missionary — along with four attackers who blasted their way into the popular foreign hangouts Friday night. The end of the siege was followed by word that an Australian surgeon and his wife were kidnapped in the country’s north. Al Qaeda-linked militants, who staged a similar hotel attack in neighboring Mali last year, claimed responsibility in both incidents, and Australian officials are reportedly negotiating for the couple’s release.
No pressure. The 2,500 world leaders — alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono — set to attend the 46th World Economic Forum next week have their slates full, from refugees and climate change to a bitter, disinvited North Korea. The U.S. is sending a high-level delegation, including VP Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry. Though this year’s theme of “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” aims to look ahead, participants are saddled with present concerns like Europe’s migrant crisis and whether Beijing’s destabilizing moves could trigger another global financial crisis.
Ziggy Stardust has left the stage. OZY’s Eugene Robinson paid tribute to the working-class kid whose affinity for art rescued him from a life of wage-slave predictability. We can’t forget the excess, abuse and sheer lunacy, Robinson says, while remembering “the music that made it all make sense.” From Bowie’s open — and fluctuating — sexuality, to the drugs and dresses, there was always the music, which was “completely incandescent.” There may be some Bowie records you don’t like, says Robinson, but not a single one is bad. “This is magic, and he was the magician.”
They’re taking their leave. Veiled threats, sometimes accentuated with the flash of a machete, and mixed messages from the government are pushing people of Haitian descent — who make up the largest ethnic minority in the Dominican Republic — into neighboring Haiti. An estimated 200,000 have lost citizenship rights — their birthright under the 1865 constitution — and some 84,000 have left or been deported. With comparisons to Nazi Germany, periodic lynchings and harassment of human rights advocates, the country’s Washington-based lobbyists are finding they have more than a little explaining to do.
Oil producers are over a barrel. Black gold has lost its luster, plunging from $115 a barrel in June 2014 to near $30 today. The developing economies of Nigeria and Venezuela, which have prospered from crude profits over the past decade, are now watching revenues slide. Even wealthy Saudi Arabia, which has refused to prop up prices by cutting production, may soon rack up deficits, while suffering — along with Russia — a loss of geopolitical clout as oil prices are expected to remain depressed through 2016 and beyond.
ISIS reportedly kills 135, kidnaps 400 from Syrian loyalist town. (CSM)
Two die as home is blasted by tornado in southwestern Florida. (USA Today)
Report: Militia kidnaps three Americans in Baghdad. (NBC)
Clinton hammers Sanders’ record ahead of Democratic debate. (CNN)
California SpaceX launch sends ocean survey satellite into orbit. (Bloomberg)
Lights, comedy, action. Named one of 50 to watch in 2015 by Vulture.com, this 27-year-old has had a big year thanks to his absurd humor and secret weapon — his background. For one, he makes light of growing up gay in the South, with two Presbyterian minister parents. Plus, unlike most comedians, he trained at NYU Tisch School of the Arts as a dramatic actor. Who knows if he’ll be the next Jim Carrey, but he has caught the eye of comedy heavyweights and is set to appear in Judd Apatow’s upcoming Netflix series, Love.
Florida artist Ashley Olsen lived a fairy-tale life, having moved to Florence in 2014. She used Instagram to meticulously document her idyllic existence and the romance of living abroad — until her Italian boyfriend found her dead by strangulation in her apartment last weekend. Now Italy’s international community fears the investigation will be botched, like the one that followed the 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher, and rancor over refugees is likely to be reignited by Thursday’s announcement that an undocumented Senegalese immigrant has reportedly admitted guilt in connection with the case.
They may not welcome immigrants, but they’ll take Britons with bad teeth. Hungary has a thriving and government-backed dental tourism industry, attracting patients from such countries as the U.K. and America. It’s part of a burgeoning business in poorer nations where vital medical procedures are available for a fraction of what they’d cost in other countries — particularly the United States — with expensive healthcare. A new book by journalist Sasha Issenberg examines this trend, and how governments that promote it are increasingly putting foreigners’ care above their own citizens’ health.
Put those hands together. Several studies claim that prayer has a mysterious, inexplicable medical effect on the person being prayed for — but Harvard researchers have found that in well-controlled experiments, those benefits disappear. So what exactly is the power of prayer? Pastor Benjamin Dueholm writes that beyond strengthening social bonds among the faithful, prayer is thought to reduce anxiety and improve memory. In fact, some spiritual practices have been shown to affect brain activity and cardiovascular rhythms, while they’re all good, says Dueholm, for “gaining control over our body, our mind, our fate.”
Can he get the drop on Father Time? The New Yorker’s aging Tad Friend set out to master his favorite sport, which he swears isn’t “just for douche bags,” even if it seems to be the province of the white elite. Twenty million people play squash, a sport largely tethered to the U.K. and its former colonies. But after taking a lesson with the world’s former top player and enduring countless hamstring pulls, Friend climbed his way to No. 10 in the over-50 U.S. rankings — and isn’t likely to volley quietly into that good night.