The Presidential Daily Brief

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    Airstrikes Hit Hospitals in Syria, Killing Several

    Any ceasefire will be too late for these victims. Twenty-three people have died following attacks on medical facilities in northern Syria. At least 14 were killed and 30 injured by an airstrike on a children’s hospital and a school in Azaz that reportedly took out part of a highway used for bringing in humanitarian aid. In another strike, a hospital and a Doctors Without Borders facility were destroyed in Maaret al-Numan, killing at least nine. It remains unclear who’s responsible for the devastation, but fingers are being pointed toward Russia.

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    Antonin Scalia Death Ignites Fight Over SCOTUS Nominee

    The justice’s passing prompted some Republicans to demand that Obama decline nominating a replacement before his term ends. But the president has promised to do just that, and the resulting debate could shape the 2016 campaign. Ted Cruz is threatening to filibuster any nominee, and Democrats will likely use any stonewalling as a rallying cry. Legal experts say Obama may pick a consensus candidate, but former Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer tells OZY that “even a resurrected John Marshall” nominated by Obama would have trouble getting approved by this Senate.

    Courting Controversy

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    Turkey Bombs Kurdish Fighters in Northern Syria

    Have they crossed the line? Ankara is shelling U.S.-backed Kurds fighting against ISIS in northern Syria. International pressure is mounting for Turkey to halt its attacks, which were prompted by concerns over the Kurdish militia’s territorial gains near the border. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says his troops were provoked and responded appropriately, “and will continue to do so.” Turkey is also denying reports that around 100 of its soldiers have entered Syria. Meanwhile, Damascus is calling on the U.N. to take action against Turkey for shelling its northern region.

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    Four U.S. Citizens Reportedly Arrested in Bahrain

    Were they simply doing their jobs? The island nation’s U.S. embassy says it’s aware that four Americans have been arrested during rallies for the fifth anniversary of an uprising associated with the Arab Spring. Local police say one of the U.S. citizens is accused of participating in the protests and attacking police, while the others were taken into custody at a checkpoint. Some are believed to be journalists but may have entered the country posing as tourists. For now, the state department says it’ll be keeping their identities under wraps out of respect.

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    John Paul II Documents Reveal ‘Intense’ Friendship With Woman

    These were no “Dear John” letters. The BBC reports that it has seen correspondence revealing a close relationship between the former pope and a married woman. The pontiff wrote and met with Polish-born American philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka over 30 years, even inviting her to join him on group trips. There’s no suggestion of any impropriety, but there are hints that Tymieniecka revealed intense feelings for the pope. He wrote that he “could find no answer to these words,” and described her as a “gift from God.”

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    Japanese Economy Contracts in Blow to ‘Abenomics’

    Did Shinzo Abe’s hopes just shrink? Japan’s economy contracted 0.4 percent in Q4 for an annualized 1.4 percent dip — its second quarterly drop last year. Experts blame weak demand for expensive items like cars and appliances, while Tokyo insists “the fundamentals (of the economy) remain good.” But some think Abenomics — focused on fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms — is failing to bear fruit, and that the news will spark new Bank of Japan measures after its adoption last month of the first-ever negative interest rate.

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    Grammys: Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ Wins Album of the Year

    She fulfilled her wildest dreams, snagging the evening’s big prize. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars nabbed Record of the Year with “Uptown Funk” and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” took Song of the Year. But it was rising hip-hop star Kendrick Lamar who dominated with five awards, including Best Rap Album. Notable moments included a David Bowie tribute and Johnny Depp rocking with Alice Cooper, plus Swift’s confident response to Kanye West, warning young women there will be those who try to “take credit for your accomplishments.”

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    Doctors Blame Zika Effects on Monsanto

    Are the mosquitoes scapegoats? Some medical studies have now linked the virus to an outbreak of microcephaly in Brazil, but Colombia’s president points to 3,177 cases of Zika among pregnant women in his country without a single case of microcephaly linked to the infection. A group of Argentine doctors, Physicians in Crop-Sprayed Towns, has released a report blaming the birth defects on pyriproxyfen, a chemical used to control Brazilian mosquitoes manufactured by Sumitomo Chemical, a Monsanto partner. Meanwhile, biotech companies are still scrambling to make a Zika vaccine.

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    Supporters Cry Foul After Indian Student Protester Arrested

    Thought race protests at Yale and Mizzou were bad? Take a look at India’s top liberal arts college, Jawaharlal Nehru University, where student campus leader Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested for “sedition.” The charge, stemming from a colonial-era law, is the same one once leveled against Gandhi. This time, the accused comes from a Communist family in the poor state of Bihar. His actions? “Anti-India slogans,” the government says: Kumar appeared at a right-of-center event to criticize the “saffronizing” of the country — referring to the ruling party.

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    Stephen Fry Leaves Twitter After BAFTA Joke Backfires

    He’s flown the coop. The British polymath drew laughs and ruffled a few feathers with a joke at Britain’s film awards last night. Referring to best costume design winner Jenny Beavan’s casual outfit — she nabbed the accolade for work on Mad Max: Fury Road — Fry quipped: “Only one of the greatest cinematic costume designers would come to the awards ceremony dressed like a bag lady.” Critics tweeted furiously in response, and while the QI host explained that it wasn’t meant to insult his dear friend Beavan, he has since deleted his account.

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    Is There a New War on Whistleblowing?

    It’s a question of who’s being protected. On Jan. 1, North Carolina enacted the Property Protection Act, allowing companies to pursue civil damages against employees who collect data or record images or videos in nonpublic areas of a property without permission. Some worry that workplaces and factory farms will get a free pass to break laws if folks are too scared to expose them. But the law’s proponents say it protects both businesses and legitimate whistleblowers, so many are waiting to see how it will be enforced.

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    Giant Iceberg Kills 150,000 Adélie Penguins

    They’re landlocked. A new study of a colony of Antarctic penguins has found that the birds, 160,000 strong in 2011, have been trapped by a grounded iceberg roughly the size of Rome. Unable to reach the ocean for food, the flightless creatures have been forced to walk the long way around — nearly 40 miles — which has killed off all but 10,000 and left the survivors weak and lethargic. Researchers say that unless the ice breaks up or there’s outside assistance, the remaining penguins will disappear by 2020.

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    ‘The Revenant’ Wins Big at the BAFTAs

    What an adventure! The revenge epic about a mortally wounded fur trapper took home five awards in Britain last night, including best film, director and actor, while Mad Max: Fury Road nabbed four wins in technical categories. There was also plenty of local love, with both supporting acting slots going to English thespians: Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs and Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies. But the lead acting honors for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson may help build momentum for them ahead of the Academy Awards on Feb. 28.

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    Peyton Manning Cited in UT Sex-Assault Lawsuit

    So much for a Super Bowl afterglow. Six former female students allege that the University of Tennessee has condoned a “hostile sexual environment” toward women for decades. The future Hall of Famer was one of 10 former student athletes named in the suit. Manning’s involvement relates to a 1996 incident in which he allegedly placed his naked genitals on a female trainer’s face. He’s denied the claim and already resolved a suit over the incident, but the renewed attention could taint an otherwise storybook ending to his football career.