The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Many Feared Dead After Super Typhoon Ravages Philippines

    The death toll is expected to rise significantly in the wake of super storm Typhoon Haiyan, as rescuers workers struggle with collapsed buildings, landslides, and cut power and phone lines. In hardest-hit Tacloban City, bodies were left strewn in the streets. The Super Typhoon hammered the country with 3.5 times the force of Katrina, with gusts reaching as high as 235 mph. “It was like a 747 (jet) flying just above my roof,” said deputy mayor of Coron town. John Kerry praised the country’s spirit, saying the US is ready to help. Haiyan will continue towards Vietnam.

    Sources: BBC, New York TimesCNN, The Guardian

  2. Are American Retailers Nearing the End of Black Friday? 

    Black Friday commerce is morphing into Black November this year as retailers grapple with six fewer shopping days than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some chains are already advertising deals. Kmart is drawing fire for opening stores 41 hours in a row, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving, rehashing last year’s broader controversy over stores that opened early, making employees skip their turkey. With e-commerce still growing, all this makes some wonder if Black Friday will soon fade to black.

    Sources: WWLP, Business Journal, Time, NPR, CBS

  3. Twitter IPO Success Might Not Be Worth Tweeting About

    All eyes were on the stock market this week, waiting for Twitter’s highly anticipated initial public offering. The opening price, originally set at $26, opened at $45.10 (73 percent higher) and soared upwards to 92 percent in early trading. And while this sounds like success for the social media company, skeptics abound. Stalling growth in Asia could spell #trouble for Twitter. And by Silicon Valley standards, Twitter, with a current value of $31.5 billion, is a little bird in a big nest (Facebook is valued at around $120 billion). But unlike Facebook’s, Twitter’s IPO is less likely to see the same roller-coaster trading chaos — and it’s all down to timing.

    Sources: Reuters, Forbes, Wired, Toronto Star

  4. Years of Secret Talks Led to Iran Breakthrough, but Israel Still Not Happy

    This week’s big news was a deal halting Iran’s nuclear development for six months, giving the world powers-that-be more time to craft a more permanent deal. But senior Obama administration officials quietly worked ties with Iran for years to get to this point, including Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, while she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. The deal’s biggest detractor might be Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. His advisor, Yuval Steinitz, a former dove turned hawk, has shuttled to America and started making the press rounds detailing Israel’s concerns. Looks like Steinitz’s star is rising. Talks continue this weekend in Geneva.

    Sources: Tablet, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian

  5. Space Walk for Olympic Torch, “Hunger Games” Theme Park Plans

    Sochi Olympic torch goes on historic spacewalk in rebranding efforts. (BBC, NPR).

    ”Hunger Games” expectations include big profit, maybe a theme park. (Businessweek).

    Afghan troop deaths up almost 80% in 2013 fights, US deaths drop. (The Guardian).

    Abductions of journalists covering Syria largely unreported. (Globe and Mail).

    Cuts in hospital subsidies threaten safety-net care sites. (New York Times).

  6. Is the Internet Doomed to Go Corporate?

    Network neutrality — the principle that Internet providers cannot block or make commercial deals with websites for financial gain — may soon be as retro as floppy discs and Windows 95 screensavers. The U.S.’s second most powerful court looks likely to repeal a 2010 law that prevents Internet providers from discriminating against users and creating corporate monopolies on the Web. What comes next for the average surfer if the law is struck down? Websites like Google, Wikipedia and YouTube may load faster for users who subscribe to Verizon rather than AT&T, or vice versa, depending on providers’ commercial interests. 

    Source: Wired

  7. Financiers and Foot Soldiers: What Somali Pirates Make

    Somali pirates are back in the news, but not because of Tom Hanks’ hit movie. A former D.C. resident of Somali descent is currently on trial for piracy in the U.S. He claims he’s an innocent translator; the feds say he was a hired negotiator who received a lucrative payoff. Higher up the chain, the man who turned piracy into a multimillion-dollar business was busted by Belgian agents who convinced him his story would be the next Captain Phillips. The would-be star arrived in Belgium to consult on the script and was promptly arrested. Masterminds who dodge capture can expect millions — unlike the foot soldiers, who risk life and limb for payouts between $30K and $70K per target.

    Sources: Foreign Policy (sub), Reuters, Global Post


  1. Squatters Attempt to Create Oasis in a Rough Neighborhood

    A couple of years ago, residents of one of Detroit’s toughest areas were puzzled when a group of free-spirited squatters turned up preaching peace and love. The newcomers set up in abandoned houses off the grid, with outhouses and wood-burning stoves. To give back to the area, the squatters fixed up bicycles for kids and gave away produce from their gardens. But some longtime residents were not impressed, seeing them as disrupters who have sown further discord with their transient, couch-surfing community and nudist morning runs. The neighborhood has become an experiment in how to relate across different backgrounds — and a demonstration that one person’s utopia can be another’s hell.

    Source: USA Today

  2. NASA Determines Our Galaxy Has 8.8 Billion “Earths”

    In a recent study, NASA has calculated that the Milky Way galaxy holds at least 8.8 billion planets with conditions that would support life like the one we know on Earth. The galaxy is packed with planets spinning in what scientists call the “Goldilocks zone.” Because of their specific orbits around medium-size stars like our sun, they’re not too hot or too cold to support life. Does this guarantee extraterrestrial life is out there somewhere? At this point, we are light-years from the nearest habitable planet — but with the confirmed existence of more Earth-like planets than people on Earth, running into Vulcans seems more likely. 

    Source: National Post

  3. Polymaths May Be Humans at Their Best

    The 21st century often doesn’t have time for most “jacks of all trades, masters of none.” College and the working world aim to churn out specialists and experts. However, the proverbial Renaissance man or woman may actually reflect the natural human state of mind — and be a healthier, more creative person than the resident tunnel-vision monomath. Becoming a specialist from an early age discourages natural learning processes that occur in the brain well into adulthood, cutting people off from developing a wider than socially acceptable set of skills. Skeptical? Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were all polymaths, and they did OK. 

    Source: Aeon

  4. Japan’s Animation Giant Steps Down Amid Controversy

    Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, whose name has become synonymous with animated Japanese cinema after box office hits like Spirited Away, has announced that his new film The Wind Rises will be his last. A storm of controversy is brewing over the 72-year-old director’s exit. The Wind Rises, which tells the story of the man who designed the infamous World War II Zero fighter plane, has been criticized for being both militant and antiwar. Studio Ghibli’s usual North American distributor has distanced itself from the film; it will see a weeklong U.S. release without a Disney logo in sight. 

    Sources: New York Times, Japan Times

  5. Average Refugee Worker Turns Green Beret Turns College Football Star

    Texas long-snapper Nate Boyer just might be the unlikeliest man to ever play big-time college football. He’s 32 and tried at least three careers before finding his way to Austin. He never even planned to go to college. Boyer first tried his hand at an acting career, then a self-styled attempt at humanitarian work in Sudan. At loose ends after his volunteering stint, he signed up for Green Beret training, made the cut, and fought in the Iraq War. Next stop: the University of Texas, where he made the football team despite having never played seriously in his life. If the trajectory of his CV says anything, it’s that opposing teams should know there’s no stopping Nate Boyer.

    Source: Grantland


  6. Women Go on a Sex Strike Until Their Road Is Fixed

    In Aristophanes’ famous antiwar play, Lysistrata, the women refused to have sex until the Peloponnesian War was ended. In a less famous but potentially more practical real-life adaptation, women in a Colombia town started a sex strike in 2011 until the shoddy road leading to their village was paved and no longer vulnerable to flooding and mudslides. At first blush, sex and transit might seem unrelated, but not when pregnant women were dying from their lack of ability to get to the hospital for births. Like Lysistrata, this story has a happy ending: a 5-mile stretch has now been paved — though, presumably to their partners’ chagrin, some women are saving themselves until the road is finished.

    Source: Global Post