He could probably use some friends. Following a two-year investigation, feds are reportedly preparing to charge the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with using his political office to promote a Democratic donor’s business interests and accept unlawful gifts. He stands accused of helping a Florida doctor who was engaged in a dispute over Medicare payments. The 61-year-old New Jersey Democrat, once considered a rising star, now looks destined to become a test case for the prosecution of sitting lawmakers.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Market watchers predicted a sluggish February because of the heavy snow in the U.S. But this surge apparently can’t be stopped. As one analyst noted, they predicted a “freeze-up” but got “a barn burner.” Some 295,000 jobs came online, and unemployment dipped to 5.5 percent. The one shadow remains wages, which haven’t budged much. The employment numbers harken back to 2008, in a good way, but the stagnant pay means many workers still don’t feel confident about what’s going on. When that changes, then the economy can really soar.
The remaining wealth of an Assyrian empire dating to the 13th century BC is gone. UNESCO has called the destruction a “war crime.” Militants declared the priceless artifacts symbols of false gods. They took valuable items then smashed the rest, reportedly bulldozing an entire area, according to reports, videos and photos. An online archive from UCLA, Oxford and Berlin’s Max Planck Institute tracked Nimrud findings online, in order to preserve records for the public in light of nearby violence. It may end up serving as a requiem.
War makes strange bedfellows, but Saudi Arabia wants the U.S. to play chaperone. Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militias are slowly gaining momentum as they surround the ISIS stronghold of Tikrit. Senior Iranian military leaders have been guiding operations, and Iraqi officials claim they’re all working together as one. But in the never-ending battle for Middle East dominance, pro-Sunni Saudis are growing alarmed by the increasing Shia presence amid Iraq’s ranks. And to maintain balance, they’re calling for U.S. boots on the ground.
They cleared the minimum bar. All 31 of the largest U.S. banks are equipped to withstand a severe recession or market meltdown, though they could suffer combined losses of nearly $500 billion. The passing grades on the Federal Reserve’s capital-ratio exams bode well for next week’s test of spending plans that would allow banks to raise dividends or buy back shares. Final marks are due next Wednesday, but the nation’s banking system — rebounding after the financial crisis — appears to have learned its lesson.
The strongest rebel force in Aleppo has reportedly lost its commander. Al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate confirmed that an airstrike killed Abu Homam al-Shami and three other leaders at a meeting in the northern Idlib province. Details remain sketchy, but the news comes on the heels of a major Nusra attack on Syrian intelligence headquarters. Losing its “military brain” is expected to negatively impact the group and may affect U.N. plans to negotiate with the militants about sending relief aid into the country’s largest city.
He’s declaring it a win. Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, says the eurozone crisis has ended thanks to the promise of quantitative easing. The program of government bond-buying to the tune of $69.7 billion a month launches next week. Draghi’s forecast for a Europe steering clear of stagnation was bolstered by predictions of inflation hitting nearly 2 percent by 2017. While the news boosted Germany’s blue chip stock index yesterday, the euro fell to $1.10 against the dollar, its lowest level in 11 years, with some calling the forecast optimistic.
South Korea seeking attempted murder charges in envoy attack. (BBC)
Car ramming in east Jerusalem injures 5. (Jerusalem Post)
Clinton email review may highlight snags in security. (Washington Post)
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny freed from Russian detention center. (DW)
Nine hurt in Uygur knife attack at Chinese rail station. (SCMP)
The soccer games featuring pitch royalty made international headlines. Tickets ranged from $55 to $2,500, with profits earmarked for projects like helping the displaced children from Syria’s civil war. Now investigators are questioning whether the millions raised actually went to the needy — or if players, including superstar Lionel Messi, pocketed the cash. A special unit of Spain’s Guarda Civil is asking questions. Witnesses have come forward that don’t make Messi look good. This charity case may not end well.
Throw it on. Holi festivals mark the coming of spring, and the vanquishing of an evil Hindu demoness. They’re also a visual riot of colored powder raining on faces, clothes and streets. Class and other differences fall away under the clouds of red, yellow, orange and purple. The festivals have expanded internationally in recent years, thanks to expats as well as foreigners who want in on the fun. One look at these stunning photos, and everyone will start making travel plans.
Flying solo is dangerous. The Star Wars actor sustained head gashes after the single-engine World War II-era plane he was piloting ditched into a Los Angeles golf course yesterday. The veteran pilot, who was alert and conscious before being transported to a hospital, reported that the plane had suffered engine failure. Reprising his role as Han Solo, the 72-year-old Ford broke his leg last year on the set of Star Wars: Episode VII. Perhaps it’s time to reawaken the Force.
They may need a smaller Big Top. The famed American circus is calling time on its performing elephants as of 2018, citing animal welfare concerns. This move, ending a century-long tradition, follows 35 years of protest by animal rights activists. Many are applauding the decision, which will see the 43 performing elephants retire to a Florida sanctuary. But while the spotlight will still shine on horses, dogs and tigers, some wonder whether an elephant-free circus will remain “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Too little, too late. Meteorologists have confirmed its arrival, but there’s little reason to grab your umbrella. Cycling through every three to seven years, the phenomenon of warmer waters in the tropical Pacific often dumps massive moisture along the West Coast. But not this time. This “not particularly impressive” cycle is so weak that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it barely qualifies as an El Niño. And with the rainy season ending soon, the Golden State will remain as parched as ever.
There’s a new gender gap, but it doesn’t involve a glass ceiling. A study of 64 countries reveals that girls are generally outperforming boys in class, and the average gap in literacy is equivalent to an extra year of schooling. Teenage boys are 50 percent less likely than girls to achieve basic proficiency in math, reading and science. Education experts chalk up the startling difference to pressure on boys to act like “it’s not cool to be smart.” But the effects carry on through university and beyond.
So much for perfect attendance. San Francisco’s key outfielder was hit by a pitch from Cubs prospect Corey Black in the sixth inning yesterday, breaking his left forearm. Having played 383 consecutive games — the MLB’s current active record — the eccentric slugger is now out for six to eight weeks. It’s a bad sign for the Giants, who are short on hitters after the departures of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. But doctors hope there’s time for Pence to mend and come out swinging this season.