The Department of Defense has proposed reducing U.S. forces to pre-World War II levels in order to meet the planned 2015 budget caps. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined the bold plan, which includes cutting at least 50,000 active-duty soldiers, closing bases and eliminating both the A-10 ground attack aircraft and U-2 spy planes. These measures are likely to ignite a strong debate in Congress, but Hagel argues that the new and increasingly unpredictable geopolitical landscape requires the military to adapt. The proposed changes may lead to fewer boots on the ground, but Congress must first weigh up the level of risk.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The market saw the largest price gains in eight years, according to new real estate data out today, with the 20 major U.S. markets all seeing price boosts. Rising mortgage rates and the continued unleashing of a pent-up market contributed. The frenzy slowed toward the end of the year, but experts have found the good in both sides. Higher home prices build wealth, which helps the overall economy. That said, the year-end dampening could be a sign of the market finally finding some equilibrium moving into 2014.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro is trying to gather public support to put an end to violent anti-government protests. Demonstrators have been setting fire to trash and building barricades in the capital Caracas to denounce the administration’s inability to address rampant crime, unemployment and food shortages. Maduro says the violent security crackdown, in which 13 people have died, is the fault of the opposition for trying to destabilize his government. But playing the blame game is doing little to ease the country’s worst unrest in a decade.
Pope Francis has taken a bold step towards setting the Vatican’s finances straight by restructuring its outdated administrative and bureaucratic systems. The reform includes the creation of the Secretariat of the Economy, a new department with broad powers to oversee all economic affairs that will be led by Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney. The decision comes after several scandals raised doubts about the Church’s opaque asset management system. Now the pope hopes to show the world his people can practice what they preach.
President Yoweri Museveni has signed a bill that could lead to life imprisonment for gay people. Museveni described homosexual acts, which are already illegal in the country, as unnatural and accused Western groups of trying to promote it among children. President Obama warned that the move may damage Uganda’s ties to the U.S., which gives the country $400 million in aid annually. Human rights campaigners have expressed fears for the safety of gay people, especially after a newspaper published a list of “200 top” homosexuals.
Ukraine seeks to form unity government. (BBC).
New Italian leader passes first Senate hurdle. (DW).
Major Bitcoin site goes offline. (USA Today).
Honda appoints first female to board. (The Guardian).
Attorney general sees way to curb bans on gay marriage. (NYT).
Known for fighting the paranormal in his signature role alongside Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, Ramis will long be remembered for his clever brand of on-screen humor. The actor, writer and director, whose film work also included Animal House, Stripes and Groundhog Day, died yesterday at age 69. He suffered from vasculitis, a disease where the body’s immune system turns against the veins and arteries. Celebrated as a genuine “nice guy,” colleagues have paid tribute by pointing to both his comedic genius and his ability to inspire. Many will find themselves whistling a familiar 1980s smash hit today and mouthing the words “Who You Gonna Call?” by way of a farewell.
Exhausted organizers got the last word after a spelling duel between Sophia Hoffman and Kush Sharma resulted in a tie: “legendary.” The indefatigable competitors, aged 11 and 13, showed no signs of letting up after going 66 rounds in Kansas and burning through 300 Scripps-approved words. Those running the contest found themselves lost for words and called it a draw — at least for now. At stake is a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. The competitors will face off again after organizers have a chance to comb through the dictionary for something, anything, to stump these wondrous wordsmiths.
Sina Corporation has reportedly hired Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse to manage an initial public offering (IPO) of its popular Chinese Twitter-like site. It boasts 60 million daily active users, but its position in China is precarious. Weibo, after all, is a popular forum for political discussion and dissent, and a government crackdown over the past two years has led to its membership falling by 9 percent. Sina hopes to emulate the success of Twitter’s IPO last November, but Western investors may be wary of involvement with such a heavily censored network.
HBO, which brought us The Wire and Girls, is wooing us again with upcoming comedy Silicon Valley. The eponymous show follows young programmers trying to make a windfall in the high-tech capital without falling into the pitfalls of success. Created by Mike Judge — who showed off his flair in Office Space — the new comedy is a timely, irreverent look at the mecca of app developers and tech behemoths. The show is set to air in April, but one thing is for sure: The geek is officially the hero du jour.
Major League Baseball is looking to protect its players by penalizing runners who try to intentionally or maliciously target catchers in a bid to dislodge them from home plate. A collision in 2011 resulted in a broken leg and torn ligaments for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, which sparked the controversy leading to this one-year experimental rule. So far, it’s getting mixed reactions from players and managers. The NFL’s recent high-profile settlement on concussions has made waves in professional sports, bringing about changes aimed at safeguarding players’ well-being.