The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Alpine Crash Was Accident, Not Terrorism

    Everyone is left wondering why. The Airbus A320 — one of the safest jets currently flying — from Lufthansa’s budget subsidiary Germanwings crashed in the French Alps, almost certainly killing all 150 people aboard. Officials are treating it as a tragic fluke. Recovery teams have collected the cockpit voice recorder but will have to go back for the black box to try to determine what caused the plane’s eerie and inexplicable eight-minute descent prior to the crash. The search for bodies will resume in the morning.  

    DW, NYT, Reuters, WP

  2. The California Bill that Would Legalize Murder

    It’s a question of legislative process. Having paid his $200 fee, attorney Matt McLaughlin can start collecting signatures for his Sodomite Suppression Act — a bill that would allow the execution of people who are openly gay. Should he manage to collect 365,888 signatures, the discriminatory and violent proposition could be printed on ballots. But California law gives officials no recourse to exclude it — they could raise the fee, they say, but it might prove a barrier to other grassroots initatives. McLaughlin, however, could be disbarred.


  3. U.N. Offers Benefits to Married Gay Couples

    Not that there weren’t a few objections. Russia launched a final bid to block new U.N rules, proposed last summer, that extend all the benefits of heterosexual couples to legal same-sex unions among United Nations staff around the world. Backed by Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, Russia protested that the new regulations discriminate against countries that abridge the rights of their gay citizens. The rule was upheld, 80 to 43. It goes into effect immediately.

    NPR, Reuters

  4. More Chlorine Gas Attacks in Syria

    They’d told the U.N. they were done with that. The forces of President Bashar al-Assad are being blamed for more chlorine gas attacks on a Syrian village, just a week after identical charges raised alarms with the U.S. and the U.N., which negotiated with Assad to hand over his store of chemical weapons. This time the village was near provincial capital Idlib, currently the site of fierce fighting between Assad’s troops and a rebel alliance (including al-Qaida fighters) who say they’re trying to liberate the city. 

    WP, Reuters

  5. Rebels Drive Offensive South in Yemen

    And they’re spoiling for a fight. The Shiite Houthi rebels are battling their way through Yemen, disrupting a largely Sunni population in their path to Aden, where President Hadi is frantically trying to gather international support. Saudi Arabia has expressed tenative backing for Yemen’s government if its internal turmoil continues much longer, but set no deadlines or specifics in place. One Houthi commander said that if Saudi Arabia intervenes, the Houthis will march into Riyadh as well — but the Houthis have also expressed a commitment to fighting al-Qaida.


  6. Boko Haram, Losing Ground, Kidnap Hundreds

    They may suspect the end is near. The militant group terrorizing West Africa has been largely driven away by a multilateral force including troops from Chad and Niger, who are now chasing Boko Haram to Gwoza, its last major stronghold. But the group may be looking for an out: Their forces kidnapped more than 500 women and children when fleeing the town of Damasak, and some suspect they plan to hide in the country posing as farmers. Deafeating the group might give President Goodluck Jonathan a boost in Saturday’s elections. 

    Reuters, CFR, Buzzfeed

  7. Afghanistan Gets a Slower U.S. Withdrawal

    They’re staying put. The U.S. and Afghanistan reached an agreement to keep 9,800 American troops in the country through the end of 2015. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made the request directly during a White House meeting Tuesday. Obama originally had planned to pull all but about 1,000 troops out of Afghanistan by early 2017, and half of the current 10,000-strong force within the coming months. Obama said the decision to extend the U.S. presence is a trade-off toward ensuring American troops won’t have to return down the road.



  8. Israel Denies Spying on U.S.-Iran Talks 

    This could blow up in their faces. Israeli officials are denying charges that they spied on nuclear negotiations, calling the allegations “utterly false.” White House officials reportedly learned last year that Israel had penetrated the closed-door talks, then leaked confidential information back to Congress to build support against any Iranian deal. Netanyahu’s administration says the accusations only aim to undermine already-tense U.S.-Israeli relations. Talks with Iran continue, meanwhile, with the goal of sealing a framework deal by the end of the month.

    WSJ (sub), BBC

  9. Fukushima Cleanup Wasted Billions of Yen

    We’re talking more than a third of taxpayer funds — $4.93 billion — for dealing with Fukushima No. 1, according to a government audit. Expensive machines and untested practices resulted in little, the report found. One business group handled almost everything, in spite of public requests for more transparency and an open bidding process. The government was supposed to recoup some funds from the Tokyo Electric Power Co. that were paid for victim compensation and rebuilding, but the missteps may hinder that, costing Japanese taxpayers even more.

    Japan Times, Asahi Shimbun

  10. Afghans Protest Woman’s Violent Death

    The public killing of a woman falsely accused of burning the Koran has caused crowds to take to the streets. Farkhunda, 27, was beaten with boards and set on fire last week, as a group of police officers watched. It apparently began when Farkhunda angered men selling trinkets at a mosque, who in turn made the false accusation. Farkhunda’s death has become a symbol for frustrations over women’s rights and police failures. The president has ordered an investigation. Sadly, it’s too late for Farkhunda.

    Globe and Mail,

  11. Fed Official: Raise Rates or Face Bubbles

    Better start now and take it slowly. If the Fed doesn’t start to gradually raise interest rates, aggressive hikes later could result in devastating asset price bubbles, according to the chief of the Reserve Bank of St. Louis, James Bullard. He sees low U.S. inflation as temporary and believes fears over increased rates hurting international markets are overstated. Bullard’s sentiments echo some economists’ concerns that near-zero rates, despite low American and British unemployment, could lead to something reminiscent of the 1990s tech bubble.

    FT (sub)

  12. Utah Brings Back Firing Squads

    Well, that backfired. European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment have made it harder for U.S. states to get their hands on lethal cocktails. But Utah has found a solution: The Beehive State is reaching for its gun. Just 11 years after making death by firing squad illegal, Gov. Gary Herbert signed the option back into law yesterday, making Utah the only state where firing squads can be used. Herbert’s office said they’d prefer to use injections, but they will take aim, if necessary, to execute a death warrant.

    BBC, NPR

  13. Tunisia Cancels Plan to Reopen Museum

    They wanted to send a very different message to terrorists and tourists alike. But today Tunisia postponed its plan to reopen the National Bardo Museum, site of last week’s deadly terror attack, amid security concerns. The reopening ceremony, together with yesterday’s firing of several police chiefs, was meant to boost confidence and shore up Tunisia’s crucial tourism industry after militants took aim at the country’s already-weak economy. The first test will come tomorrow, the day tourist-filled buses normally arrive in the capital.

    The Guardian, France 24


  1. Google Glass Wants to Teach You to Dance

    Strictly Ballroom taught us to “listen to the rhythm!” Not content with such a plebian solution, Google has gotten a patent for technology that would coach nervous geeks the world over by detecting the music that’s playing and offering instruction on appropriate dance moves. It would also potentially detect the dance moves of others and give tips on copying their two-steps. It’s not clear if this will become a regular feature for the next generation of Glass.


  2. Helium Shortage Pushes Innovation for Divers

    Did you know there was a global helium shortage? We blame all those balloon displays at weddings — and the fact that helium, especially when supercooled, is an incredible research tool with finite supplies. Responding to the drought of Element #2 , U.S. Navy scientists have created a new diving suit design that eliminates the current design’s tendency to waste helium (which currently helps divers avoid the bends). It’s only in the prototype stage but the Navy hopes it’ll save space on expedition vessels too.


  3. Father’s Emotional Outlook May Affect Kids

    It’s not all mom’s fault, for once. Researchers at the University of Iowa and Northwestern have found that a father’s postpartum depression may affect children much as their mother’s would. The study of 200 couples found that children internalize and externalize the behavior of their fathers and may lead to the development of hitting, lying, and anxiety disorders. The lead author suggests fathers should be screened for depression before and after a pregnancy, as mothers are, in order to develop a winning game plan.


  4. Ted Cruz Is Losing His Health Insurance

    Politics make for strange bedfellows. The Texas senator, who raised more than $500k in his first day on the campaign trail, says his wife will be quitting her job at Goldman Sachs to join him on the road full time. That means they’ll no longer be covered under her company health plan, so Cruz says he’s planning to sign up for Obamacare — a policy he hates so much he once railed against it for more than 21 hours on the Senate floor.    

    Des Moines Register

  5. Oakland’s Photo Archive of Drivers Exposed

    Dude, there’s my car. An Ars Technica reporter obtained records from the City of Oakland’s Police Department’s automatic license plate readers and found the technology can accurately track driver’s local whereabouts. The machines can read 60 plates per second and pick up date, location, and time of scanning. Over three years, 4.6 million reads of 1.1 million plates were performed, only finding plates of potential criminal suspects .2 percent of the time. Regardless, the database is only expected to grow as Oakland and other cities continue to add LPR cameras.

    Ars Technica

  6. Angelina Jolie Pitt Opens Up About Surgery

    She’s rich, she’s beautiful, she has acess to everything — and she just had her ovaries surgically removed. Jolie Pitt penned an honest, medically-specific essay that outlined her high risk of cancer, and her decision to have surgery that would lead to an early menopause. Her mother died of ovarian cancer at age 49; Jolie Pitt is 39. With Hollywood so youth-focused, some hail Jolie Pitt in almost heroic terms for her openness about all-too-often ignored changes in women’s bodies.

    Quartz, NYT 

  7. Twitter Adopts New Anti-Harassment Tool

    They’re taking on the bullies. The social media giant is rolling out a new quality filter — only available to verified users on ioS — that allows tweeters to hide offensive or abusive posts from their timelines. This follows a series of high-profile trolling incidents like #gamergate and noxious tweets targeting actress Ashley Judd. When Twitter will make the filter more widely available remains unclear, but this and other recent features enabling easier reporting of online abuse signal the firm’s willingness to finally punch back.

    TechCrunch, Business Insider

  8. The X-Files Returns to Television

    The truth is still out there, and so is the audience. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will return for a limited six-episode run of their seminal series, reuniting them with series creator Chris Carter. At its audience peak, more than 20 million people watched the stories of the glum detective, the clinical investigator and their very creepy handlers, a then-record audience for a sci-fi show that likely gives the Fox studio hope they’ll return en masse. The show is expected to start filming this summer. 

    Hollywood Reporter

  9. Google Hires Ruth Porat as New CFO

    She was considered the most powerful woman on Wall Street, as the chief financial officer of Morgan Stanley. And now she’s heading out to Silicon Valley. Porat’s switch is being viewed as a symbol of the nation’s shifting business power center. Porat knows California, having grown up in the epicenter of high-tech, and attended Stanford. She sits on the college’s board, and has handled IPOs for firms like Priceline. She’ll immediately be considered one of the most powerful female tech leaders in the world.

    Forbes, CNN

  10. Chinua Achebe’s Obit Goes Viral … Again

    Things fall apart, even online. Two years after his death, Twitter and Facebook erupted in mourning for the famed Nigerian writer. Social media was alight yesterday with posts and reports of his obituary, as well as new grief-stricken responses to his passing. It’s unclear how the wave started — even U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice fell for it — but it highlights Nigerian culture in the run-up to the country’s weekend election. And it gives us another chance to remember a literary great.


  11. Former NFL Star Gets Nine Years for Rape

    Darren Sharper, former All-Pro safety and Super Bowl winner with the New Orleans Saints, pleaded no contest Monday to drugging and raping two women in Los Angeles — one of a few incidents that ensure he’ll remain behind federal bars for nearly a decade. All of the incidents occurred after Sharper, 39, retired from his 14-year NFL career in 2011. As part of his deal, he also pleaded guilty to sexual assault in Arizona, and other hearings are still pending in Nevada and Louisiana.