He’s no lame duck. The president is pushing hard to advance his agenda before the clock runs out. Despite fierce GOP opposition, he’s taken unilateral executive action on immigration, Cuba and environmental protections. He won’t be shy about whipping out the veto pen either, now that Republicans control Congress. “I’m going to defend gains that we’ve made in health care… on environment, and clean air and clean water,” Obama said in a year-end interview. Why the bold action now? The improving economy is giving him cover to do more.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The search is resuming over a wider area, but any hope of finding survivors is fading. An AirAsia plane that disappeared off the coast of Borneo probably crashed and sank to the ocean floor, Indonesia’s top rescue official said after reviewing radar data. Bound for Singapore, Flight QZ8501 was carrying 162 passengers over the Java Sea in severe weather when it lost contact with Jakarta early Sunday, less than an hour after departing Indonesia’s Surabaya airport. More than 1,100 personnel from at least seven countries are aiding in the desperate search for the downed plane.
The Internet fell off a cliff on Dec. 25, when Gmail usage flatlined throughout the country. Chinese officials say they didn’t do anything, but Google says it’s not a tech issue — nor is it just a user glitch, especially in a country that has had a history of cutting off Gmail on occasion, like the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. Companies that use Gmail internally may have to rethink their whole process as international business leaders predict a potential hit.
They’ve been saved. Nearly all of the Norman Atlantic’s 478 passengers have been rescued after the car ferry caught fire off the coast of Greece while en route to Ancona, Italy. Ten people died, including at least one who tried escaping the burning ship. Rescue crews in helicopters and on nearby boats raced to help in gale-force winds and choppy waters. Some survivors were injured or suffered hypothermia, with a few requiring hospitalization, but the majority are back on dry land — safe and sound.
What do dictators and downloads have in common? Making history for video-on-demand. Sony Pictures said its comedy about a plot to kill North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was downloaded two million times in four days, earning more than five times its limited theatrical haul of $2.8 million. Moviegoers have flocked to see the Seth Rogen flick since Christmas Day, but the film is nowhere near recouping its $44 million cost. Still, the hackers may have inadvertently forged a new frontier.
The future is up for grabs. President Stavros Dimas failed to get a required 180 parliamentary votes to stay in power. That means snap elections on Jan. 25, with the leftist Syriza party leading the polls. The anti-austerity party wants to renegotiate the national bailout deal Greece made the EU and others, and write off the national debt – which could potentially lead to Greece getting booted from the eurozone. Nervous investors have already caused a 10 percent drop in the markets, with more instability to come.
More talk, less emotion: a recipe for defusing tension between cops and communities. That’s the view of NYC Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, who rebuked officers for turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio during a weekend funeral for a murdered policeman. Thousands turned out to pay tribute to Officer Rafael Ramos, but some let politics get in the way, which Bratton deemed “inappropriate.” He hopes a “lot less rhetoric and a lot more dialogue” will help the country move forward.
New poll says Jeb Bush is Republican presidential frontrunner. (CNN)
Healthcare worker who returned from West Africa is being treated in Glasgow. (BBC)
Mumbai attack leader wins appeal. (Globe and Mail)
South Korea offers to discuss unification with Hermit Kingdom. (BBC)
Hamas blocks Gaza war orphans’ trip to Israel. (AFP)
U.S. assembles expert team to crack the psychology of ISIS. (NYT)
Ukraine targets oligarchs with taxation overhaul. (FT) sub
Danny Meyer is hungry to expand. The New York restaurateur is cooking up a $100 million IPO for his famed burger joint, where customers willingly wait hours in line. The public offering will allow America’s hottest burger chain to expand from its current 63 locations to at least 450 spots. Why all the hype? Fans rave about the hormone-free Angus beef on buttered buns slathered with a signature sauce. The challenge is to expand worldwide while keeping true to the quality-over-quantity approach.
She’s still got it. After some of her new album Rebel Heart was leaked online, the 56-year-old Queen of Pop took control and released tracks herself — and proved she’s still full of surprises. Madonna’s series of lukewarm recent albums has spurred criticism. But Rebel Heart’s mash-up of genres, guest artists and social issues might just put the Michigan native back on top. With references to ISIS, the Illuminati and Rihanna, Madonna’s angry, hard-hitting 13th album is a timely look back at the year.
He traded bullets for petals. Someone laying flowers on Pope John Paul II’s tomb isn’t unusual. But when it’s the former Turkish nationalist who shot the pontiff in 1981, it’s remarkable. Mehmet Ali Ağca opened fire on the pope’s car, leaving John Paul II in critical condition and giving rise to the bulletproof “Popemobile.” After three decades in prison — where the pope visited and forgave him — Ağca was released in 2010. His gesture echoes loudly against the backdrop of a changing Catholic Church.
Toilet paper, spare tires and now this — the cruelty of Venezuela’s economic crisis knows no bounds. The Coromoto ice cream shop has been forced to temporarily shut its doors in the touristy city of Merida because of a milk shortage. With 863 choices, the shop holds the Guinness World Record for the most extensive variety of flavors. But the scarcity of basic goods and high black-market prices have seen profits melt.
Computer codes are heartless. Even if you’ve had the worst year of your life, Facebook’s “Year in Review” automatically bundles your most popular posts into a collage that’s meant to be merry and bright. But for blogger Eric Meyer, who lost his six-year-old daughter to brain cancer this year, it was an “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty.” A Facebook product manager later apologized to Meyer and promised to “do better.” By the way, Facebook itself had quite the Year in Review.
Need to check your email? Just hail a taxi or catch a bus. Folks running the transit system in the 240,000-strong city of Porto seem to think wireless Internet is a basic human right. They’ve installed a system that turns 600 taxis and buses into mobile hubs for people on the go — the world’s largest vehicle-based network. The routers, run by app startup Veniam, also collect data about driving patterns to inform future urban planning decisions.
Nah, it was just a joke. The equivalent of April Fool’s in much of the Spanish-speaking world is December 28, the Day of the Innocents, and a contender for this year’s top inocentada prank has to be an article published by Mundo Deportivo. The popular Spanish sports daily published pictures of a fake, 183-euro, trippy blue jersey that soccer star Lionel Messi would wear in 2016. And for a while, the rumor caught on…
The 49ers and their head coach have “mutually agreed” to part ways, and all signs point to the former Wolverines quarterback returning to his alma mater. In four seasons, Harbaugh led the Niners to a 44-19-1 record and a trip to the Super Bowl, but frequent clashes with the front office pushed him out a year before his contract ended. Expect Michigan to trot out its coup of a coach on Tuesday — unless a Hail Mary play by Oakland wins the day.