Bowing to critics, and striving to avoid a politically troublesome Congressional face-off, President Obama announced today an administrative change that will allow health insurance customers to keep their current care for another year, even if that coverage doesn’t meet new standards. The reversal addresses a broken promise — that no one would lose their current coverage — that has frustrated many and sparked a political firestorm. It’s far too early to say whether this will be a sufficient balm.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The Senate confirmation hearing of Janet Yellen, Obama’s choice to replace Ben Bernanke as the next Fed chair, had been billed as “Must-see TV for Wall Street.” She’s considered a dove who, like Bernanke, favors low short-term interest rates and a monthly bond-buying program to boost the U.S. economy and employment rates. Yellen “sailed through” the hearing, calmly fielding questions about big bank regulation and income equality. There seemed to be little doubt about Yellen’s suitability for the job; both Republicans and Democrats treated her confirmation as inevitable.
Afghanistan’s opium industry continues to soar despite Western pressure and 12 years of war. Afghan growers planted 36 percent more acres in 2013 than in 2012, with production up 49 percent. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, a key ingredient in hard drugs like heroin. Poppy farming has become more lucrative than legitimate business, and once opium-free provinces are now witnessing a growing surge. Considering that opium cultivation has steadily grown since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, many fear that opium production will only increase as NATO forces withdraw.
Officially, exiled Brazilian leader Joao “Jango” Goulart died of a heart attack in Argentina in 1976. But a Uruguayan intelligence officer doing time for drug smuggling is offering a different story. Expelled from Brazil after a 1964 coup, the leftist president may have been poisoned on the orders of the country’s former military leaders. An autopsy is under way as part of a campaign by the Brazilian National Truth Commission to uncover crimes by past regimes. The investigation is a bold move for the commission, which only began its work last year, and could mark a new era of openness and honesty between Brazil and its neighbors.
James ”Whitey” Bulger draws two life sentences plus five years for “unfathomable” crimes. (Boston Globe).
Prince Charles qualifies for a pension today at 65, but is yet to start the job he was born to do. (BBC).
Massive U.S. rescue fleet arrives in the Philippines, China significantly bolsters Haiyan aid. (CNN).
Snapchat turns down $3 billion offer from Facebook, hopes future offers don’t go poof. (NYT).
Toronto mayor’s colleagues call for his resignation. (The Globe and Mail).
In the first month of Obamacare, a mere 106,000 Americans enrolled in new health insurance plans, less than a quarter of the 450,000 target. Only 26,794 enrolled through the glitch-riddled HealthCare.gov. The White House claims that the low enrollments mirror those experienced by Massachusetts during Romneycare’s initial months, though critics argue that the analogy compares rotten apples to oranges given the staggered launch of the Bay State’s plan. The poor results raise the stakes even higher for the president, who is said to be considering new legislation that would allow Americans to keep canceled health care policies ahead of the House’s Friday vote on a GOP plan to address that issue.
Eurosceptics Marine Le Pen of France and Geert Wilders of Holland have formed a “historic alliance” between their far right parties before next year’s European Parliament elections. They share a distrust of the EU, think Europe has become too tolerant of Islam, and hope to curb immigration. “The time of patriotic movements being divided is over,” said Le Pen, while Wilders called for liberation from the “monster of Brussels.” The irony of nationalist movements cooperating notwithstanding, could this new coalition, and the rise of extreme parties like Golden Dawn in Greece, become a major threat to a tolerant and united Europe?
Disney has already established that cartoon elephants can carry a tune. Now the Thai Elephant Orchestra is investigating real-life pachyderms. Founded by American musician Dave Soldier and conservationist Richard “Professor Elephant” Lair, the group features elephants that play custom-built “unbreakable” drums and conventional instruments like harmonicas. The result? Elephants can create basic melodies, improvise and play for enjoyment just like humans. Soldier has even had a human orchestra play elephant music for an unsuspecting audience in New York, who guessed the composer was John Cage or Milica Paranosic.
In a bid to promote exercise before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the Moscow subway is offering free rides to anyone who can do 30 squats before stepping on the train. Single subway rides cost less than $1, but many commuters are sweating their stuff at ticket machines. Nationwide Olympic fitness schemes have worked in the past — a year after the 2012 London Games, 11 percent of the British population reported being more active, with nearly a quarter of people between 18 and 24 claiming to have been inspired by the Olympics
Valentine’s Day may be extra-spicy come 2015. Universal Pictures has announced that the film version of the erotic bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” will not be released until Feb. 14, 2015. It is not clear whether the decision to postpone was prompted by the change in male lead — from Charlie Hunnam to Jamie Dornan — the fear of competing with summer blockbusters, or just wanting to teach eager fans a lesson in delayed gratification. But even if the movie fails to leave viewers tied to their seats, the film promises to be a tough act to follow.
He is “the Muhammad Ali and the Michael Jordan of cricket,” according to fans of India’s Sachin Tendulkar, the sport’s finest batsman in decades. With the start of this morning’s five-day match against West Indies in Tendulkar’s home city of Mumbai, the 40-year-old legend will bid adieu to the game he mastered in his 24-year career. Indians know him as a man whose play united Brahmins with Dalits, Muslims with Hindus. In the words of analyst Mark Nicholas: “To many Indians, he is a god. Or God.”