The Presidential Daily Brief

Important

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    Witness: White House Officials Quit Amid Ukraine Aid Freeze

    According to transcripts released yesterday, White House budget official Mark Sandy testified last month that two colleagues quit shortly after President Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine. Sandy didn't disclose their identities or directly tie their resignations to the matter — now the central question looming over impeachment investigators — but indicated that both staffers expressed "frustration." Such concerns could hint at the scope of dissent within the White House over Trump's decision.

    What's next? The inquiry moves to the House Judiciary Committee next week, where lawmakers will consider whether to draft articles of impeachment.

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    Hong Kong Holds Out for Lasting Calm

    With faculty members saying there's no sign of the protesters who had been holed up inside the city's Polytechnic University since Nov. 13, local police are preparing to lift their cordon around the formerly besieged campus. After weeks of intense clashes, another sign of stability emerged when the crucial Cross Harbor Tunnel was re-opened to traffic today.

    Will the calm last? Some analysts are skeptical, suggesting Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other officials haven't fully acknowledged the message sent by last weekend's district council elections, which were a resounding success for pro-democracy parties.

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    Trump to Designate Mexican Cartels as Terror Groups

    President Trump told conservative host Bill O’Reilly that his administration is "well into [the] process" of designating Mexico's notorious drug rings as foreign terrorist organizations. That would make it illegal for Americans to support the cartels in any way, as well as block suspected members from traveling to the United States.

    How has Mexico responded? Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard expressed alarm over the comment, saying it could jeopardize security cooperation — currently based on "mutual respect" — between the two sides.

    Don't miss this OZY investigation of Mexico's own fentanyl crisis.

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    Hopes Rise — Again — for US-China Trade Deal

    The prospects of Beijing and Washington finally inking an agreement seem their best in weeks, after China's Commerce Ministry said yesterday the two sides have "reached a consensus." That comment followed a high-level phone call between trade negotiators that apparently went smoothly. Yet a sore spot remains over U.S. lawmakers' recent approval of a bill supporting Hong Kong's protesters.

    What's on leaders' minds? Experts say President Xi Jinping — just like President Trump — needs to score some sort of political win at home by securing more than just a delay in tariff hikes.

  5. Also Important...

    The death toll in Albania's magnitude 6.4 earthquake has risen to 25. Seven Bangladeshi Islamists have been sentenced to death for their role in a 2016 terror attack that killed 22. And the latest United Nations assessment of greenhouse gas emissions painted a "bleak" picture ahead of climate talks in Madrid next week.

    #OZYfact: Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is identified in less than 0.5 percent of drug lab reports. Read more on OZY.

    OZY is changing! And we'd love to hear your feedback as we evolve and improve: Click here to fill out our 2019 User Survey. It should take no longer than 10 minutes, and you could win one of three $100 Amazon gift cards — or even an all-expenses-paid trip to meet the OZY team in California!

Intriguing

  1. Why Americans Are Dying Younger

    Life expectancy of working-age Americans has been declining since 2014, and a new study published in JAMA pinpoints the main causes: Drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and high blood pressure. Researchers say it's a "distinctly American phenomenon," noting that other countries haven't seen a similar decline among people aged 25 to 64. While U.S. life expectancy increased from 1959 to 2011, it has lagged behind other wealthy nations since the 1980s.

    Where is the problem most evident? While life expectancy actually rose on the West Coast, the worst-hit states were in the Rust Belt and the Ohio Valley.

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    Microsoft Warns of New Malware Strain

    Yesterday Microsoft engineers detailed Dexphot, a sophisticated and complex breed of malware that silently hijacks Windows computers' resources to mine cryptocurrency. It uses fileless execution, meaning there's nothing on a hard drive for antivirus programs to detect. And it's a persistent little squatter: Elements periodically reinfect computers after the malware's main components are erased.

    Is it still a threat? Microsoft has deployed countermeasures to fight Dexphot, and infections have decreased from a peak of 80,000 in June.

    Read OZY's profile of the economist helping Venezuelans through cryptocurrency.

  3. Tunisia Leads the Middle East's #MeToo Movement

    In the birthplace of the Arab Spring, thousands of women are telling their own stories of sexual harassment through the social media campaign #EnaZeda, the Tunisian version of #MeToo. And much like the Arab Spring, it’s expanding quickly, OZY reports: Like-minded online groups are cropping up across North Africa and the Middle East, prompting hope that their stories will spark change offline.

    What's next for the movement? Upheaval in Tunisia's government threatens to eclipse #EnaZeda's publicity, while activists are seeking more funding to beef up lax enforcement of a 2017 anti-harassment law.

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    Top Tokyo Sushi Joints Lose Michelin Honors

    A famed sushi restaurant in Japan's capital has been left out of the latest Michelin Guide because it stopped taking public bookings. Sukiyabashi Jiro, which has hosted the likes of ex-President Barack Obama, had consistently snagged the top rating of three stars since 2007. Now, the 10-seat establishment only takes regulars, well-connected clients and those referred by top hotels. Top-rated Sushi Saito was also dropped for the same reason.

    Is Tokyo's gastronomic standing threatened? Not exactly: It still boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in the world.

  5. Philippines' Southeast Asian Games Compared to Fyre Festival

    Athletes preparing for the Southeast Asian Games aren't awarding the hosts any medals. Some venues spread across 23 cities aren't finished, and some competitors are sleeping on hotel floors and going hungry in the shadow of a nearly $1 million torch tower. The games officially begin Saturday, though a qualifying soccer match played Monday had no scoreboard.

    Will there be repercussions? Politicians are pointing fingers — with one likely regretting saying the games would show "how far the Philippines has come" — though President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson has shrugged off the complaints.