Republican efforts to block presidential nominees, most recently for judgeships, has spurred Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to lead a major rule change that reverses some 225 years of practice. The move allows executive branch and judicial nominees to take office with a simple majority vote, instead of requiring a 60-vote super majority to pass. Even Democrats who initially opposed any such change say they’ve grown so frustrated with GOP stonewalling that they support this so-called “nuclear” option. Republicans call it a power grab. “This changes everything,” said Republican Sen. John McCain.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Earlier this morning we reported that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to extend the stay of some U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But in a surprise move today, Karzai suggested waiting until his successor is elected, currently slated for April. He said he doesn’t trust the U.S. — and the U.S. doesn’t trust him. The deal hammered out would have likely kept several thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan, very few in combat roles.
Mass protest by representatives from developing nations halted discussion at a U.N. climate change conference Wednesday. Delegates from 132 countries reached their boiling point when representatives from Australia, the U.S., EU, and other wealthy countries declined to discuss who should pay compensation for climate change until after 2015. Incidents like Typhoon Haiyan were fresh in negotiators’ minds as a forceful reminder that poorer countries are often hit hard by climate-related disasters. But the developed countries at the summit roundly rejected the idea of a U.N. fund for climate change damage.
Source: The Guardian
The Church of England looks to be well on the way to having female bishops following an overwhelming 378 to 8 vote in favor of revamped plans to include women in the episcopate. Though some of the church’s more conservative factions continue to fret about the prospect, the latest proposals appear to be striking a better balance between progressive and traditional interests in the church. Many are crediting the work of new Archbishop Justin Welby for the approval, which represents major progress after a similar proposal was defeated just one year ago.
President Obama took some time out from dealing with concerns over health care and Afghanistan to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, upon a diverse set of 16 people. Honorees ranged from former President Bill Clinton to country singer Loretta Lynn to Gloria Steinem and Oprah. If there were any hard feelings over Clinton’s recent critique of the Obamacare rollout, it didn’t show. President Obama praised the former president as representing the “very best of America” and thanked him for his humanitarian work and his advice over the years, including on the golf course.
The U.S. and U.K. struck a secret deal to allow the NSA to spy on Britons. (The Guardian).
French police name arrested Paris gun suspect. (BBC).
Gates Foundation “next generation condom” contest produces 812 ideas, 11 winners. (NYT).
Westgate suspect denies link to al-Shabaab. (Al Jazeera).
Billionaire proposes private Mars fly-by for 2017. (Washington Post).
No one seems to know where Merrill Newman is, exactly – not his family, not the U.S., nor even, it seems, the Swedes, who are acting as intermediaries with the North Korean government. Newman, 85, is a Korea War veteran, retired businessman and experienced international traveler from California. He was aboard his flight from Pyongyang to Beijing when officers took him into custody last month. His family broke their silence yesterday. Most unnerving, experts say, is that Korean has remained so mum.
In January, the Pentagon announced that the ban on women serving in combat roles would be lifted, and today, the first three women will graduate from the U.S. Marines’ intensive infantry training course. But while male graduates of the punishing program go directly into infantry roles, further obstacles await their female colleagues. The Corps says it needs two more years to decide whether women can serve as “grunts” in the infantry. Surely after completing arduous obstacle courses and a 12.5-mile march with 90-pound packs, these ladies are ready for more than a desk job.
The wrong people may be taking antidepressants. Up to 10 percent of adults in developed countries are prescribed antidepressants, far more than actually suffer from depression, according to a new OECD report. The financial crisis may explain part of the increase, but the pills are often being prescribed in a futile attempt to treat normal unhappiness. The problem is exacerbated by pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and the inaccessibility of talking cures. On the flip side, 40 to 50 percent of those who do suffer from clinical depression, and who could benefit from the drugs, are not receiving them.
Source: The Guardian
Roasted coffee sales have tumbled as single-cup coffee brands like Green Mountain and Nespresso claim an increasing share of the market. Coffee nerds may sneer, but it’s forecast that by year’s end sales of coffee pods will have more than tripled. Around 36 percent of U.S. adults own a single-cup coffee maker, which are most popular among affluent 18- to 34-year-olds. Pod coffee is expensive, 60 to 70 cents a cup, but it’s quick and consistent. Coffee brewing is slowly becoming a ritual that many young professionals are just too busy to enjoy.
If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, why not let her (or him) have your spare bedroom rent-free? LoveRoom, a new social networking site, lets people the world over rent their spare rooms to good-looking folks, free of charge. Originally started as a joke by an entrepreneur who noticed that his apartment sold faster when his girlfriend featured in real estate photos, LoveRoom now has some 1,100 users, most of them male. A brilliant scheme for meeting interesting, attractive people? Or merely a new way of giving catfish hoaxers directions to your house?
Yesterday’s blockbuster deal between the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers appears to be a true victory. The deal not only gives the Tigers an All-Star second baseman in Ian Kinsler, but jettisoning Prince Fielder (and his $168 million in salary) allows the team to make a bid to retain Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, a free agent after 2014. The Rangers make a hefty upgrade at first base in Fielder, and Kinsler’s departure paves the way for top prospect Jurickson Profar, a Curacaoan shortstop and former Little League World Series star.