The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Concerns over Passport Theft as Search Continues for Flight MH370

    Fears of foul play are growing as, more than 24 hours after its disappearance, the search continues for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Suspicions have been raised by the realization that two passengers may have been traveling on stolen passports belonging to an Italian and Austrian who, though listed on the flight’s manifest, were not on-board. As families anxiously await news, the only clue is a 12-mile oil slick on the surface of the Gulf of Thailand. Since there were three Americans among the 227 passengers, the FBI has joined the multinational investigation team.

    Sources: NYT, BBC, LA Times

  2. Putin Fighting for Ukrainian Loyalties

    Russia’s leader has had everyone on tenterhooks wondering how far he’d go to keep Crimea under his thumb. Peninsula lawmakers helped him out, green-lighting a March 16 referendum on a proposed break from Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders say they won’t recognize the vote, and President Obama has said that it would violate both Ukraine’s constitution and international law. Western leaders are urging Putin to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means and allow international monitors for the region. But Russia seemed unmoved, giving another thumbs-down to Ukraine’s new leadership, which it deems illegitimate. The week ended where it started: in unknown territory.

    Sources: BBCNYT, USA Today

  3. Snowden Hits SXSW and Bachelet Takes the Oath in Chile

    This year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, will feature a very special guest on Monday: fugitive Edward Snowden. He will appear via a live feed from Russia to lead a discussion on how the tech community can help defend against mass surveillance. Lady Gaga takes over Thursday, and pundits already wonder if this signals the end of the grassroots bacchanalia. Meanwhile, Chile will swear in Michele Bachelet as president. Isabel Allende Bussi, daughter of a president and now the first female leader of Chile’s upper house, will bestow the sash on Bachelet, unsubtle symbolism for a big step in women’s history. (An earlier version of this brief incorrectly listed Ms. Allende Bussi’s accomplishments.)

    Sources: CNN, Forbes, Reuters

  4. U.S. Senate Blocks Obama Civil Rights Nominee Over Cop-Killer Case

    The U.S. Senate refused to confirm Debo Adegbile, President Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, because he defended civil rights, say critics. Senators weren’t pleased that Adegbile defended a death-row inmate while he was head of litigation at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. It didn’t help that his client was controversial convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. One killer is apparently not the same as another, because the Senate did confirm John Roberts to the Supreme Court after he defended a death-row inmate who was executed in Florida last year after being convicted of killing eight civilians.

    Sources: WSJTimeNYT

  5. Tea Producers Accused of Complicity in Indian Slavery

    The Guardian newspaper has accused one of the world’s largest tea producers of facilitating human trafficking on a plantation in Assam, India. Workers are paid 91 rupees a day, less than half the minimum wage, and campaigners argue this makes it easier for traffickers to lure people with promises of a better life. The plantation is owned by a consortium, including Tata Global Beverages — which has made a legal complaint against The Guardian — and the investment arm of the World Bank.

    Source: The Guardian

  6. BPA-Free Plastics Might Not Be Safer After All

    Is that a plastic cup in your hand? Even PBA-free plastics aren’t safe, according to new evidence. “Almost all” the tested commercially available plastics leached synthetic estrogens, a major study funded by the National Institutes of Health found. The estrogen-like chemicals in the plastics have been linked to cancer, diabetes, obesity and endocrine disruption, and pose a particular risk for young children. Who’s slamming the evidence? The $375-billion-a-year plastics industry, which critics claim is attempting to bury the negative findings in a campaign reminiscent of the smoking-isn’t-so-bad-for-you days.

    Sources: Mother JonesIBT


  1. Revamped SAT to Better Reflect Students’ Schoolwork

    One of America’s most anxious rites of passage is being overhauled to align it more with what students actually learn in high school. College Board CEO David Coleman has declared it’s time to ensure the SAT is not about “last-minute tricks or cramming.” To better measure students’ college aptitude, the revised test — out in 2016 — will scrub obscure vocabulary, make the essay optional and end penalties for wrong answers. The SAT last underwent a redesign in 2005, and more than 1.6 million students take the exam each year.

    Sources: NYT, LA Times, CNN

  2. Does Stonehenge Have a Song in Its Heart?

    The majestic standing stones in southern England may have formed a prehistoric xylophone. Researchers have been trying to figure out why the ancient arrangement, built more than 4,000 years ago, was sourced from a Welsh mine 200 miles away. Experts at London’s Royal College of Art recently noted that the Welsh stones ring like bells when struck with a hammer. The notion of ancients rocking the stones will no doubt strike a chord with those intrigued by Stonehenge’s mysterious origins.  

    Sources: AtlanticBBCRoyal Academy of Art

  3. Erstwhile Assange Ghostwriter Describes Life at Wikileaks Manor

    Andrew O’Hagan’s essay on ghostwriting for Julian Assange offers some eye-opening commentary on the Wikileaks founder. Describing several months spent in an English country mansion, working on an autobiography that would never come to fruition, O’Hagan suggests the project dissolved because Assange was afraid of self-examination. While Assange is often cast as a larger-than-life figure, O’Hagan paints a very different picture of a “thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful, narcissistic” man.

    Source: London Review of Books

  4. Archaeologists Fear Destruction and Theft of Ancient Syrian Artifacts

    Before the outbreak of civil war, Syria was one of the world’s richest archaeological sites, encompassing everything from ancient Greek civilization to the early days of Islam in the Levant. Despite initial attempts to protect historical sites and artifacts, a vast number of cultural treasures have now been damaged by fighting, stolen by opportunistic international criminals and deliberately targeted by Islamic extremists.  While the true extent of the loss is unknown, archaeologists fear that just three years of conflict may have cost the Syrians — and the world — 3,000 years of heritage.

    Source: NYT

  5. Mathematicians Love Equations the Way Others Love Art

    All those numbers and squiggles add up to beauty for math experts, according to a new study. Researchers at University College London analyzed mathematicians’ neurological responses to a variety of equations with an fMRI scanner and found that seeing a “beautiful” equation caused an increased activity in the A1 field of the medial orbitofrontal cortex. That region is connected to emotional responses for music or art. The complex study demonstrates that, for mathematicians, an equation’s song can be as moving as a prima donna’s.

    Source: Nature

  6. The Powerhouse Canadian Basketball Team You’ve Never Head Of

    They play to 500 people who venture out in minus-30-degree chills. There are no fancy television deals, and team members have no full scholarships. But the men of the Carleton University Ravens not only leave their national rivals in the dust, but have conquered some of America’s top teams to boot. And as NCAA March Madness heats up with speculation on tournament matchups and top draft picks, one writer predicts that Canadian imports could become the new rising stars of the basketball world. 

    Sources: Grantland, USA Today