The modernizing monarch is gone. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, 90, died yesterday. He was buried in a simple ceremony. The kingdom’s ruler since 2005 — and counterbalance to more hardline clerics — is succeeded by his half-brother, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, a traditionalist. But Salman, 79, may also be ailing, and one of his first moves may need to be establishing who among the next generation of princes should follow him.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Let the spree begin. The European Central Bank announced today that it’s launching a massive bond-buying program to tackle stagnation in the eurozone. The government bond purchases get underway in March to the tune of nearly $70 billion a month. This move toward quantitative easing is aimed at heading off deflation which, if left unchecked, could lead to higher unemployment. It marks an more aggressive stimulus program than expected, but many still fear it’ll be too little, too late.
There’s no one in charge. U.S.-backed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi suddenly resigned today and his entire cabinet stepped down, giving armed Houthi rebels an opportunity to complete a coup that began with their storming of the presidential palace. The political crisis complicates the U.S. fight against extremists in Yemen, where the American military has been deploying drone strikes against Al-Qaeda targets. While the Houthis oppose the Sunni Islamists of Al-Qaeda, their battle with the militants could also stir sectarian unrest in predominantly Sunni Yemen.
The militants are pulling countries together. Envoys from 21 nations — including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi — are meeting today in London to find a collaborative strategy for tackling jihadist militants. The talks, Kerry says, must focus on using both military and domestic police forces to thwart terror. Meanwhile, Peshmerga fighters in Iraq have managed to disrupt a crucial ISIS supply line, and Japan is awaiting word about two hostages and a looming $200 million ransom deadline.
They didn’t find the evidence convincing. Federal investigators looking into the police-shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown are not recommending that the shooter, Darren Wilson, face civil rights charges. Wilson, who maintains he was attacked by Brown, has since resigned from the force. The police-brutality protesters who filled Ferguson’s streets for months after the shooting are sure to be incensed. But it’s Attorney General Eric Holder, whose decision is expected by spring, who gets the final say on whether charges will be filed.
The Great White North is throwing in the towel. In a surprise move aimed at taming the effects of crude’s collapsing prices, the Bank of Canada has cut its key interest rate from 1 to 0.75 percent. A big oil exporter, Canada has become the first G7 country to slash rates in response to the threat of deflation brought on by cheaper oil. It may not be the last: The slumping global economy is forcing central banks from the eurozone to Japan to consider drastic measures.
He’s one of the most powerful men in one of America’s most influential states, leading the Assembly since 1994. But not anymore. Federal agents took Sheldon Silver into custody on Thursday. He’s accused of “bribes and kickbacks” that netted him $4 million. The future of the legislature leadership remains up in the air for the third most populous state in the nation. And it doesn’t do much to help New York’s already troubled political reputation.
Bibi’s heading to Washington, but not to the West Wing. Without consulting the president, House Speaker John Boehner invited the Israeli prime minister to speak about Iran in front of a joint session of Congress. The stunning break in protocol coincides with Obama trying to close a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic — which Netanyahu has fiercely opposed. The speech, to be held on Feb. 11, signals deep divisions between the parties over Iran, as well as a personality clash that will underscore Obama’s homestretch.
House GOP approves legislation to ban federal funding for abortions. (Washington Post)
President won’t meet with Israeli prime minister during Washington visit. (NYT)
Bill Belichick says he had no knowledge of ball mishandling. (USA Today)
Slow jury selection pushes back opening statements in Boston. (Buzzfeed)
Ukrainian troops withdraw from Donetsk airport. (BBC)
GOP presidential hopefuls Romney, Bush to meet in Utah. (NYT)
House Republicans drop anti-abortion bill. (Washington Post)
He’s meant to be adorned in gold, not glue. Curators at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum permanently damaged Tutankhamun’s burial mask after knocking off his braided beard as they cleaned the funerary relic. They then crudely repaired it with an irreversible epoxy glue and used a spatula to remove excess residue from the 3,300-year-old mask, leaving scratches. The museum — already struggling from Egypt’s downturn in tourism — has dimmed the lights on the boy king in an attempt to save face.
This is one helluva fish story. Aussie fishermen in Victoria accidentally ensnared a 6.5-foot-long Chlamydoselachus anguineus and had no idea what they had netted. They also couldn’t find any colleagues who had ever seen the creature before. Yet it’s one of the planet’s most primitive species and has been baring its 300 teeth for nearly 80 million years. It was swimming far above the normal depth for its species when caught, and has become the first frilled shark spotted by humans in living memory.
Talk about a lousy shave. The leader of Germany’s right-wing, anti-Muslim PEGIDA movement resigned yesterday after a Facebook selfie surfaced of him posing as Hitler with the unmistakable mustache and hairdo. Lutz Bachmann apologized and said he would no longer lead the movement, which has drawn as many as 25,000 people to weekly protests against immigrants. Many are concerned by the group’s xenophobic tones, so while its “fuhrer” may be gone, all eyes will be on the group’s new look.
Genetically modified organisms just got less scary. Biologists at Harvard and Yale say they have designed a technique to confine engineered genes found in GMOs by keeping them from intermixing with wild organisms. The researchers created bacteria that could survive only on lab-grown amino acids, a dependence that would prevent them from spreading uncontrollably into the wild via bees or the wind. The technique could be instrumental in providing a safer method for using genetically modified bacteria in the development of foods, medicines and fuels.
Mister Softee wants to be relevant again. Under new CEO Satya Nadella, the tech giant has unveiled HoloLens, a virtual-reality headset that superimposes 3D renderings onto the real world. It’s the company’s most ambitious project in years and the shiny centerpiece of its new Windows 10 operating system, due out this autumn with a bevy of other tools. These include a Siri-like virtual assistant, on-screen note-taking and Xbox One streaming. Look out Oculus, Microsoft has the virtual reality market in its sights.
This should make Mother Nature happy. The environmentally minded former VP joined singer Pharrell Williams in Davos yesterday to announce a potentially historic climate-change campaign. Reviving the original 2007 concept, Live Earth 2015 will take place on June 18, featuring more than 100 artists and performances on every continent. They hope to attract a global audience of 2 billion viewers and collect signatures encouraging world leaders to approve a new climate accord. Clap along if you feel like eco-activism is the truth.
You can’t call this dribbling. NBA team values jumped 72 percent in the past year, according to Forbes, scoring the biggest single-year boost since 1988. With help from Steve Ballmer’s recent $2 billion purchase of the Clippers, the average franchise now rings in at $1.1 billion, and the Los Angeles Lakers top the chart at an astounding $2.6 billion. And with new television contracts worth nearly three times the old ones, the NBA looks set to score even bigger in the coming years.
They’ll apparently let anyone in. Famed Harry Potter foe Draco Malfoy has joined … Gryffindor. Actor Tom Felton, who played Malfoy in the movie series, joined Pottermore — an interactive retelling of the series — and was shocked to find himself “sorted” into Potter and Ron Weasley’s boarding school house, rather than his beloved Slytherin. Felton tweeted about his heartbreak under the hashtag #slytherinforlife, prompting a response from series creator J.K. Rowling, who apparently didn’t think the sorting hat was broken. “I could’ve told you that years ago,” she responded.