The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. The Supremes Agree to Hear Religion vs. Health Care Case

    Private companies have challenged the Affordable Healthcare Act provisions that require reproductive health coverage, including birth control, and today the Supreme Court agreed to hear their arguments. One of the plaintiffs is Hobby Lobby, Inc, a national chain of more than 500 craft stores, whose Christian owners say the government mandates run counter to their beliefs. The case will likely be heard in March, with a decision by the end of June. 

    Sources: CNN, USA Today

  2. U.S. Fly-Over Challenges China’s Airspace Assertion

    Two American bombers flew through what most of the world considers international airspace above the East China Sea. But China declared the area an “air defense identification zone” and claimed the right to monitor, and take action, against aircraft that entered the space – a move thought to put more pressure on Japan over nearby islands. One expert calls the Chinese declaration mostly hot air – but dangerous enough that it could burn.

    Sources: NYT, Global Post

  3. Afghan Security Agreement in Jeopardy After Karzai Makes New Demands

    Whether up to 15,000 U.S. and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014 now depends on President Hamid Karzai signing, by year’s end, a bilateral security agreement produced after months of negotiation. On Monday Karzai, rejecting the advice of his own assembly of elders, or loya jirga, indicated that he would not sign the agreement unless new conditions were met. The conditions include the end of American raids on private homes in Afghanistan and the release of all Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The White House insists negotiations are closed.

    Sources: Washington Post, NYT, BBC

  4. Thai Prime Minister Imposes Curfew After Citywide Protests

    A curfew has been declared in Bangkok after two days of protests against PM Yingluck Shinawatra’s government over an amnesty bill that would have given legal immunity to her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a 2006 military coup and convicted of corruption in 2010. Protesters took over several government buildings and cut power to the finance ministry in an effort to prevent the bill’s passage. Observers fear a repeat of the 2010 anti-government demonstrations. Debate over a no-confidence vote against the current prime minister starts today, with a vote slated for Thursday.

    Sources: BBC, USA Today, Reuters, Bangkok Post, CNN

  5. Walmart Names McMillon Its New CEO

    Walmart announced a new CEO on Monday: Doug McMillon, the firm’s affable chief of international operations, who is about as thorough a company man as they come. He takes the reins on Feb. 1.  McMillon, who once worked under founder Sam Walton, joined the company as a summer associate at a distribution center and has spent nearly all of his professional life with Walmart. The new CEO will have plenty on his plate, as the retailer grapples with sluggish domestic sales, setbacks to foreign expansion, and the continued rise of Amazon and discount web commerce.

    Sources: WSJ (sub), Bloomberg, Quartz

  6. Opposition Leader Announces Hunger Strike Amid Massive Protests

    In the largest demonstrations since the 2004 Orange Revolution, some 100,000 protesters took to the streets of Kiev over the weekend to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to suspend signing a trade and integration deal with the EU. Jailed former president Yulia Tymoshenko’s lawyer announced on Monday that she would go on a hunger strike to push the government to change course. Meanwhile, Yanukovych attempted to strike a conciliatory note to soothe thousands of protesters, who were ultimately dispersed by police with batons and pepper spray.

    Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Deutsche Welle

  7. Obama Takes on Iran Critics, Buddha Gets a New Birthday

    White House begins campaign to defend Iran nuclear deal. (Reuters).

    UN warns that conflict in Central African Republic is descending into ”complete chaos.” (BBC).

    FDA orders genetic testing company 23andMe to stop marketing its at-home kit. (NPR).

    Discovery of early Buddhist shrine sheds new light on Buddha’s life. (NYT).

    Severe storm threatens to ice roads in northeast U.S., chill Thanksgiving travel. (CNN).


  1. Report on Newtown Shooter Reveals Much But Sheds No Light on Motive

    In the months before the Sandy Hook Elementary rampage last December that claimed 26 lives, Adam Lanza refused to speak to his mother, obsessed over Columbine and other mass shootings, changed clothes compulsively, and played a lot of Dance Dance Revolution. He had received treatment for Asperger’s and other mental health issues. The details were revealed in a report released by the Connecticut State Police, which includes the most in-depth picture of the 20-year-old to date but still can’t answer the biggest question of all: why. 

    Sources: NYT, The Guardian, NPR, USA Today

    New Details, Few Answers

  2. Afghan Government Proposes Stoning Punishment for Adultery

    Twelve years after Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership was toppled, President Hamid Karzai’s government has proposed the reintroduction of stoning as a penalty for adultery. Human Rights Watch condemned the measure as “backsliding to Taliban-era abuses.” As of September 2010, stoning is considered a legal punishment for adultery in eight countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Although the practice is associated with Islamic Sharia law, it has not been widely adopted by Muslim countries, nor is it mentioned anywhere in the Qu’ran.

    Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera, WSJ

  3. Honeybees Can Be Trained to Sniff Out Cancer, Other Diseases

    Scientists have found that bees can detect diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis, and even certain kinds of cancer on people’s breath. Bees have a keen sense of smell and have been previously used by humans to detect chemicals and concealed explosives — like Pavlov’s dogs, honeybees respond to food rewards. The bee diagnosis is still in its early stages — trained bees fly into one of two chambers after a human breathes into a specially-designed glass — but researchers are hopeful about what our fuzzy flying friends can do.

    Source: The Guardian

  4. Aussie Family Reclaims World Record for Home Decorated with 500,000 Lights

    A New York family of Christmas enthusiasts won a Guinness World Record for decorating their house with 350,000 lights last year, besting the record’s former holders, the Richards family of Forrest, Australia. The Richards redoubled their efforts, decorating their house with 31 miles of lights and reclaiming the title. The display costs $2,291 a month for a local renewable energy company to power. The Richards raised more than $70,000 in donations for charity when they first broke the record in 2011, and plan to brighten other people’s lives in more ways than one again this year.

    Source: NPR

  5. Croatian Soccer Player’s Pro-Nazi Chant Overshadows Nation’s World Cup Bid

    Croatian international soccer player Josip Simunic helped his team land a spot in the 2014 World Cup last week – and celebrated with a pro-Nazi chant broadcast around Maksimir stadium. Simunic has been fined the equivalent of $4,400 for shouting “Za dom,” or “for the homeland,” a phrase used by the fascist, Nazi-supporting Ustaša regime during World War II. Worryingly, many in the stadium chanted back the response given by Croatian fascists in the 1940s. With Croatia having been fined previously by FIFA and other soccer bodies for fans’ racist behavior, actions like Simunic’s are paving a rocky road to the World Cup for the upstart squad.

    Source: CNN