He took a victory lap. In tonight’s State of the Union address, the president seized credit for the economic recovery and asked Americans to “turn the page” to focus on the less wealthy. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” Obama asked. The president proposed lifting up the middle class through free community college, child care and retirement savings, and paid sick leave — a populist approach aimed at squeezing the rich for their “fair share.” Obama’s activist agenda sets the stage for 2016, but is already sparking fierce fights with the Republican-controlled Congress.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They’ve stormed the palace. Shiite Houthi rebels are battling against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s Sunni government. They’re shelling the president’s private house (where he’s thought to be hiding) and have convinced some military to refuse to fight them. The UN is “gravely concerned.” But no one’s entirely sure what the rebels really want. The fear is a collapsed government could lead to full-on civil war, and complicate the U.S. fight against fight against Al-Qaeda.
The City of Light is not pleased. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said today that the city will seek legal action after the network “insulted” the French capital by airing segments claiming that certain neighborhoods were “no-go zones” for non-Muslims. An exec at Fox News, which has apologized profusely for the discredited information, called the threat “misplaced.” Paris has seen tourism plummet in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. But not everyone is buying the validity or wisdom of such a suit.
Long live the president. Zambians vote to replace the late Michael Sata today. His death set off violence and confusion in a usually stable nation. The ruling party’s Edgar Lungu is the front-runner. Copper mines may prove key, as a major share of the Zambian economy even as global metal prices plummet — and some politicians want more royalties to tackle national debt. Because the vote is to finish out Sata’s reign, Zambians do it again in 19 months.
It didn’t need to split hairs. The Supreme Court unanimously struck down today an Arkansas state prison rule that prohibited inmates from growing beards more than a quarter of an inch long. The ruling is a big victory for inmate Gregory Holt and other prisoners making religious liberty claims. The decision means prisons must show that restricting a religious freedom is absolutely necessary and the least restrictive means of maintaining security. Some facilities may need to take a shave to their facial-hair bans.
For over 30 years, Beijing’s economy averaged 10 percent annual growth, slipping down around 8 percent since 2012. But last year, the number dipped to 7.4 percent. It’s an enviable number for most countries, but with China’s 1.35 billion population, it needs high growth to maintain job stability and avoid social unrest. Predictions that India will outpace China next year as the world’s fastest-growing economy are also likely to raise concerns, so economists foresee more stimulus measures ahead.
They have 72 hours to pay $200 million. That’s what purported ISIS militants have told Japan’s government in a video posted online. Two hostages, identified as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa, were taken in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge of $200 million in non-military funding to countries fighting ISIS. Abe condemned the kidnappings and vowed to save the hostages, but he also said that Japan —a signatory to the U.N.communique rejecting terrorists’ ransom demands — would not give in to terror.
On the surface the news might seem contradictory. Energy heavyweights Halliburton and Baker Hughes, which made a fall deal to merge, beat profit estimates for the last bit of 2014. But that’s little comfort to some 8,000 employees of those companies expected to lose their jobs. The justification: The big bucks will be offset by downturns this year, as the price of oil stays low. Not to mention the merger that will make many redundant. At least they waited until after Christmas.
The world economy is hitting a speed bump. The International Monetary Fund cut its global growth outlook by the steepest amount in three years, projecting expansion of just 3.5 percent this year and 3.7 percent in 2016. It’s the latest signal that cheaper oil won’t be enough to offset weakening demand almost everywhere in the world except the United States. The forecast arrived on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where leaders must now chart a gloomier course with more drastic maneuvers.
What’s an oil spill worth? A civil trial against BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill kicks off today in New Orleans. This would be the largest-ever fine under the Clean Water Act. BP is expected to cite plummeting oil prices as evidence it can’t afford a big bill. The decision should set legal precedence. Meanwhile, the outgoing Texas governor earmarked a $4 million BP grant to university research on cleanup, restoration and drilling — so hopefully this won’t happen again.
Crashed AirAsia plane ascended quickly to an unusually high altitude. (NYT)
Gunman identified in Brigham and Women’s Hospital shooting. (Boston.com)
U.N. warns of regional danger posed by Boko Haram. (DW)
U.S. Polanski extradition request goes to Polish court. (Sky)
Argentines demand probe into prosecutor’s death. (BBC)
Former oil exec warns that $5-a-gallon gas looms. (USA Today)
EU seeks anti-terror alliance with Arab states. (France24)
Economist Intelligence Unit predicts ‘crisis of European democracy.’ (BBC)
They’re making a comeback. Tiger populations around the world are still in decline, but the number of wild tigers in India has risen by more than 500 in the last four years, according to a new census. Today’s 2,226 estimated tigers pale in comparison to the 100,000 believed to have roamed Indian forests a 100 years ago, but conservation efforts aimed at saving the animals — which got under way in the 1970s — are beginning to stem the tide.
Treating the world’s most serious psychiatric diseases may one day be possible with a single drug. Scientists have known that mental illnesses like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder share common genes, but now they’ve found that corresponding genetic mutations work together on bodily processes later in life, affecting things like immunity and brain signaling. If patients’ symptoms match particular biological pathways — the next focus for research — it could lead to the development of one revolutionary drug to treat them all.
The president wants your ear — and your clicks. When Obama takes to the airwaves tonight for his annual address, an online “river of content” will supplement his every move. Folks can watch live on the Internet and access supporting materials, as always, but this year staffers are going for a personalized, interactive approach, with a grid of shareable boxes explaining proposed policies. Some will be interactive, prompting listeners for feedback and showing localized data. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will then provide the GOP’s response.
It’s got the Best Picture statuette in its crosshairs. Yet even with a record weekend opener estimated to top $105 million, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper probably won’t hit the bullseye. It’s been eight years since the highest-grossing of the nominees took Best Picture (The Departed), and in eight decades only two films won without their director also being nominated. With those odds — and its controversial portrayal of Islamophobic violence — this patriotic flick is likely to go down in a blaze of glory.
Any way you slice it, it’s a cheesy diet-buster. On days that American kids consume pizza, the fatty wedges make up a whopping 20 percent of their daily calories, a new study shows, and they take in more fat and sodium than on non-pizza days. But the pies — consumed by 20 percent of youths on any given day — don’t need to go entirely. Just swap in healthier versions featuring whole grains, more veggies and less cheese, sliced into smaller portions.
Don’t call him a mixologist. Jeff Magill, 64, represents a rare breed: a bartender who eschews exotic cocktails and flipping bottles in favor of salt-of-the-earth chit-chat. For 34 years, he’s been pouring drinks at Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, made famous by Saturday Night Live’s cheezborger skit. He knows when to leave it alone and when to dole out advice. But most of all, he knows how to create liquid joy for the guy who’s staring into his beer and “working through some stuff.”
That took some air out of their sails. The NFL is looking into whether New England, who stomped Indianapolis 45-7 on Sunday, used balls that weren’t fully inflated, making them easier to catch and throw. If found guilty, the Pats could be slapped with a $25,000 fine and lose draft picks. Nobody is suggesting that deflated pigskin made the difference on Sunday. But while QB Tom Brady wrote off Deflate-Gate as “ridiculous,” their Super Bowl opponents, the Seahawks, may welcome the distraction.