The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. NSA Defender Condemns U.S. Spying, Spy Chief Calls Reports “False”

    Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a staunch supporter of the National Security Assocation’s mass surveillance programs — until Monday. The Democrat says that she and the President were “kept in the dark” about spying on friendly allies and that she is “totally opposed” to U.S. monitoring of leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Feinstein has since ordered a “major review” of all surveillance programs. Meanwhile, spy chief Keith Alexander testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, calling the reports of Western Europe call-monitoring ”completely false.” 

    Sources: Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, Politico

  2. Public Mea Culpa for the Obamacare Website Troubles Doesn’t Placate GOP

    Contractors hired to create the site “have not met expectations,” said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testifying before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee this morning. Her office is in charge of the new online healthcare clearing house that has been plagued by problems since launch. While officials offer reassurances about the new healthcare plan, along with the first formal apology, Republicans call the problems symbolic of a broken system. The big show is expected Wednesday, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is scheduled to testify. Opponents are already calling for her resignation.

    Sources: CNN, NYT, Politico, USA Today

  3. Obamacare Woes Continue With Enrollment Extension, Insurance Cancellations

    The Affordable Care Act may have survived the shutdown, but there may be bigger problems with the law than the White House previously acknowledged. The problems with the website have forced the administration to extend open enrollment six weeks, until March 31. Now it seems that insurance companies may cancel millions of existing private policies because they don’t meet the new standards. The President promised that people who liked their current insurance would be able to keep it, but apparently he knew that such cancellations were likely.

    Sources: Atlantic Wire, NBC News

  4. Knights Templar Cartel Attacks Power Stations in Western Mexico

    Much of the state of Michoacán languished without electricity yesterday after the Knights Templar drug cartel crippled power plants and torched filling stations. The cartel was responding to protests that called for vigilante protection from the cartel’s extortion, kidnapping and violence. That hasn’t deterred protesters, although one anti-cartel march ended in a shootout in the central city of Apatzingán. Others demonstrated at a nearby army base, calling for an end of federal support for the pro-vigilante, anti-cartel movement. Five men have been found dead, though sources disagree on whose side they belonged. 

    Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian

  5. Many N.Y. and N.J. Residents Still Feeling Sandy’s Bruise

    A year after Hurricane Sandy ripped through New York and New Jersey, the scars still show. The debris may have been trucked away, but empty parcels of sand have replaced seaside cottages. Some 22,000 households still rely on friends, federal aid, and charities to keep a roof over their heads. And in an area where affordable housing was already a struggle for many, Sandy’s strain on New York City’s most vulnerable citizens remains the most persistent. Then and now photos reveal the efforts of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans to maintain their sense of community — and how little some areas have changed in 12 months.

    Sources: The Guardian, NY Magazine, NYT

  6. Mass Graves in Congo Spur U.N. Talks

    Escalating violence between government troops and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spurred the U.N. Security Council to convene for emergency talks. The rebel group M23 is comprised of ethnic minority, ex-Congolese government soldiers who mutinied against unequal pay and bad conditions in the army last year. Since then, M23 fighters have been accused of atrocities and war crimes. France’s call for a Security Council meeting came after a U.N. peacekeeper was killed and mass graves discovered in eastern Congo. In the meantime, U.N. envoys, the U.S. and the EU have called for “maximum restraint” as the army tries to cracks down on the rebels.

    Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters

  7. Penn State Pays Sandusky Victims, Federal Judge Partly Rejects Texas Abortion Law

    Penn State to pay Sandusky victims $59.7 million. (Washington Post).

    U.S. federal judge partially blocks new Texas abortion law. (NYT).

    Japan bank execs’ pay docked for loans to yakuza mafia, but no corruption found. (Japan Times).

    Michael Jackson’s doctor released from jail after serving a half-sentence. (CNN).

    Gang-rape suspects in Kenya freed after cutting grass as punishment. (allAfrica).


  1. Is Mandela’s Party Losing Its Electoral Touch?

    As South Africa nears the next round of national elections next April, observers are trying to estimate how much the African National Congress, the country’s anti-apartheid liberation party, will slip in the polls. No one is predicting gains for the ANC; the question is how many seats it will lose. Both moderate and left-wing parties are challenging its dominance, and the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is pointing to its largely successful governance of the Cape Town province as evidence that they should be given more power. Still, liberation loyalty holds deep, and analyst Stephen Grootes predicts the ANC will still prevail with more than 60 percent of the vote, down only modestly from a 70 percent high in 2004.

    Source: Daily Maverick

  2. Why There’s No Such Thing as Just Being ’Bad at Math’

    Contrary to what many American children have been led to believe, most of us are indeed “math people” and should be perfectly comfortable with anything from polynomials to linear regressions. But the ways in which many U.S. schools have been teaching math discourage all but the most precocious students, and set up feedback loops in which only the “math kids” make it out. The literature on math education is tied to broader research about one’s ability to change IQ scores through hard work. How could the U.S. better harness untapped math talent? For starters, it could follow in the footsteps of Japan and Korea, and put the scholastic emphasis on hard work, not raw intelligence.

    Source: The Atlantic

  3. The Sun Has Been Particularly Explosive Lately

    If you are in search of some natural wonder today, we suggest looking (not directly) at the sun. It is presently at the height of its 11-year activity cycle, and has been flaring up with frequency. Several recent solar flares were strong enough — had they been directed at the Earth — to interfere with satellite communication and prompt radio blackouts. And, as if to compensate for the potential inconvenience, such major solar flares also tend to produce gorgeous auroras. Wired has more detail, and some beautiful photos to demonstrate what colossal amounts of radiation being flung from the sun’s surface looks like.

    Source: Wired

  4. Novelist P.D. James Claims to Have Solved a Real Murder

    In 1931, Julia Wallace was murdered in Liverpool and, more than 80 years later, crime novelist P.D. James believes she has cracked the case. Wallace’s husband was convicted, but later won an appeal and went free. He was called on business to an address that didn’t actually exist, and returned to find his wife dead. Was the caller the killer? No, according to James, the initial conviction was correct, and the call was a petty prank, which afforded Wallace a convenient alibi. As in 30 to 70 percent of real-life female homicides, and plenty of fictional ones too — the man did it.

    Source: The Guardian, The Sunday Times

  5. NBA Champs Kick Off League’s New Season

    The NBA basketball season kicks off today with a face-off between the Chicago Bulls and the reigning league champions, the Miami Heat. Superstar LeBron James and the Heat are shooting for a third title in a row — a feat that has only been achieved five times in the NBA’s history. The Heat are once again the favorites, but they face the emotional and physical strain of playing to retain a title, not to mention the massive bullseye on their chests that comes with the championship banners. The Bulls, whose star guard Derrick Rose promises that he is even “more explosive” after recovering from a knee injury that kept him out last season, will be planning to trip the Heat at the first hurdle.

    Source: Washington Post, Miami Herald