The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Obamacare Website Rushing to Make Weekend Deadline

    Today’s the day: Fixes for the troubled website are due for the self-imposed deadline of end of day Nov. 30. After a month of frantic hardware and software upgrades – plus an overnight shutdown Friday – the goal is to have the online health insurance marketplace running smoothly for the “vast majority” of visitors. What does success look like? 50,000 simultaneous users and no crashes. Some specialists are skeptical, but time will tell. As the deadline passes users shouldn’t expect any fanfare. The milestone is expected to pass unmarked.

    Source: New York Times, CNN, ABC News

  2. A Stuttering Economy Still Prays for a Really Good Christmas

    U.S. economic numbers for October, released early this week due to Thanksgiving, were a decidedly mixed bag — unemployment was down, but so were manufacturing orders, which could still be due in part to the government shutdown. Business Insider lays the economy out on a map. It certainly doesn’t help the many Americans who remain anxious about their financial standing this holiday season, as a new poll finds, or the retailers battling it out over precious consumer dollars. 

    Sources: NBC, Washington Post, WSJ

  3. Biden Visits Asia Amidst Heated China-Japan Dispute 

    Joe Biden probably thought he had enough talking points ahead of his trip to Asia next week. But China’s recent provocations in the East China Sea are now agenda item No. 1. China’s recent move, sending fighter jets into the disputed air zone, has further rattled its unnerved neighbors Japan and South Korea. Biden also plans to reinforce U.S. commitment to the tension-filled Asia-Pacific region, including reassurances to its ally, Japan. The VP will meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose new ”nationalist” program seeks to abandon the nation’s longstanding pacificism. Let’s hope “Uncle Joe” can help smooth relations before this Pacific muscle flexing turns nasty. 

    Source: BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Washington Post

  4. Iran Nuclear Accord Still Faces Many Obstacles and Opponents

    This week’s historic nuclear agreement with Iran faces criticism both in the U.S. and Middle East. Saudi elites are wary of Iran’s return to the international stage and fear their Shiite rivals could rally minorities against Sunni dominance in the region. Iran and Saudi Arabia have in effect fought a proxy war in Syria, with Iranian mullahs backing Assad and Saudi money funding Sunni rebel jihadists. Meanwhile, though the White House can rescind some of the sanctions imposed on Iran by executive order, it will need Congressional action to remove those passed into law — an action that may never materialize. What many welcomed as a move towards a more stable Iran could still be a long way from the finish line.

    Sources: Politico, New Yorker, Businessweek, The Guardian

  5. Major Protests Shake Up the World from Thailand to the Ukraine

    Despite mass protests, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra survived a no-confidence vote this week. But demonstrations continue as anti-government protesters oppose the involvement of the PM’s brother in her rule. In Kiev, Ukraine, protests continue over the government’s decision to support closer trade ties with Russia instead of the EU. Bulgaria’s anti-government protests are dying down, but disapproval rates remain high. None of these governments look likely to budge on the issues at hand, but activists can take heart in the outcomes of protests in Brazil, where the government is trying to control inflation to quell unrest in the favelas. 

    Sources: NYT, BBC, ReutersThe Guardian, FT (reg.)

  6. Pressure for Cancer Gene Screening in Israel Leave Many Uneasy

    Israel hopes to tackle its disproportionately high breast and ovarian cancer rates with advance screening, but not without controversy. Ashkenazi Jews have much higher mutation rates than the general population and could be helped by targeted early testing, but the strategy is not without drawbacks. Israel’s debate raises issues similar to screening for other diseases: stigma (HIV/AIDS testing), dangerous overtreatment (prostate cancer), and psychological burdens without solutions in sight (Huntington’s Disease). Adding further complication are the nation’s tricky religious and ethnic divides, uneasy divisions only amplified by state sponsored medical treatment for some residents and not others.

    Source: NYT


  1. Injured Skiing Champ Still Headed For Sochi Slopes

    Skier Lindsey Vonn is on the verge of becoming better known for tearing through her knee than for tearing down the slopes. After a serious injury last February sidelined her for the rest of the year, Vonn was scheduled for a comeback this weekend. But then she partially tore a ligament in the same knee during training this past week. Despite the setbacks, Vonn is eying a December return. But even if she doesn’t ski all season, high-level competition in Sochi is still on the table. Why? ”Because she’s the best in the world,” says the U.S. women’s head coach. 

    Sources: USA Today, NBC Sports

  2. Mexico Looks to Exorcism to Fight the Drug War

    In light of the brutal drug violence plaguing Mexico, Catholic priests report a dramatic increase in exorcism requests. Having claimed 70,000 victims since 2006, Mexico’s drug wars have made death an everyday reality. But even those who engage in violence are turning to faith: the cult of Saint Death may have as many as eight million followers, some of whom pray for money and help avoiding arrest. Opponents see the movement as a sign of rising Satanism and blame the church’s abuse scandals for its loss of credibility and subsequent failure to rebuff the cult. 

    Source: BBC

  3. What Milan Stands to Lose in Face of Financial Crises

    Two iconic Milanese institutions, national newspaper Corriere della Sera and world-renowned soccer club Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan), will no longer be majority-owned by Italian investors. After years of scandals and corruption, foreign investors are scooping up Italian companies and institutions. There is a common belief that what becomes fashionable in Milan quickly spreads to the rest of the country; but for the sake of Italian sport, media and industry, one can only hope that Berlusconi’s expulsion from parliament will mark a new beginning for Italy. 

    Source: Der Spiegel, NY Times

  4. Comics Publisher Rattles Hollywood With “Simple, Radical Invention” 

    Under the old Hollywood model, comic book publishers sold characters and story rights to film studios; if the movies were successful, Hollywood reaped more rewards than the publishers. Marvel Comics turned the tables in 2006 with a new strategy: making their own movies and connecting characters to each other so that fans of one superhero becomes fans of them all. Marvel turned Iron Man, a superhero largely unknown to mass audiences, into a blockbuster and followed up with Thor, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk. Mega-franchise The Avengers weaved them all together in a superhero-charged combination. Should old-school studios take a page from Marvel’s (comic) book?

    Source: Buzzfeed

  5. Coin and BitCoin Look to Revamp Money As We Know It

    The tech world is doing its best to make cash passé: through the invention of a digital currency (BitCoin) and amalgamating credit, gift and loyalty cards onto a single card (Coin). Coin takes all of your cards with a magnetic strip and creates one slightly thicker card. BitCoin moves beyond cards to a stateless, fully digital currency. While these two approaches to changing the way we spend have Silicon Valley buzzing, they also have their drawbacks – from irreversible transactions to theft and fraud problems. So, maybe it’s not time to trade in your cash just yet.

    Sources: Wired, Wired