The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. ”20th Century’s Most Extraordinary Man”

    The plaudits don’t feel like hyperbole as the world mourns Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at 95. His body will lie in state starting Tuesday at the Johannesburg stadium that hosted South Africa’s World Cup in 2010, followed by a funeral scheduled for December 15 in Qunu in his ancestral home province. Hear his own words on NPR. Check out The Guardian’s gallery of newspaper fronts. Ponder his African legacy. And share your thoughts in the comments.

    Sources: The Guardian, USA Today, PoliticoWall Street Journal, BBC

  2. Mandela Family Speaks, Storms Blast U.S., Landmark Trade Deal

    Nelson Mandela’s family makes first public statement. (BBC). 

    Landmark W.T.O. global trade deal reached after two decades. (NYT, CBC).

    Ice, snow and cold rain to blast more of U.S. this weekend. (USA Today, NPR). 

    Thrilling match-ups, “group of death” set in FIFA World Cup draw. (CBC). 

    $44 million Stonehenge makeover follows 30-year controversy. (The Guardian).

  3. North Korea Releases American War Veteran

    A month after being detained by North Korea, U.S. citizen Merrill Newman has been freed. The 85-year-old Korean War veteran had just finished a private tour, reconnecting with his military past, when he was removed from his U.S.-bound plane before takeoff, accused of committing “a long list of indelible crimes.” The move to free Newman may bring hope to the family of Kenneth Bae, another American citizen in North Korean captivity.

    Sources: NYT, WSJ, Globe and Mail, CNN

  4. ”Cautious Optimism” as Another U.S. Budget Deadline Looms

    Private negotiations between Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican chair of the House Budget committee, and Sen. Patty Murray, his Democrat Senate cohort, seek a two-year deal over federal expenditures. That feels almost like a lifetime agreement compared to the recent stopgap budget measures, such as the one that resolved the 16-day government shutdown this fall, but punted the big questions to a new deadline of December 13. Both chambers need to pass a deal by this coming Friday. Look for a deal that ends sequestration but also caps discretionary spending. 

    Sources: USA Today, Reuters

  5. An Election, but No Resolution, in Honduras

    Protests wracking Ukraine and Thailand caught international headlines this week, but Honduras has struggled with its own angry crowds over presidential election results. The November 24 vote favored the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez over Libre Party’s Xiomara Castro. But allegations of election fraud now involve an EU election observer’s defection, accusations of dead voters, the hactivist collective Anonymous and crowdsource vote-counting efforts. An official recount has been pushed off because the challengers didn’t show. The U.S. had pumped $11 million into the election, and nothing less than the fragile Honduran democracy is at stake.

    Sources: The Guardian, AP, Washington Post, PanAm Post

  6. Following the Life of a Simple T-Shirt around the Globe

    In a series of short films, NPR traces the various stages of T-shirt production, exploring the economic and social realities behind the industry. Starting in the cotton plantations of Mississippi and journeying through Bangladesh and Colombia, it shows how the lives of those behind the garment are affected. For one seamstress in Bangladesh, the work is enough to lift her and her family out of extreme poverty. Though the disastrous collapse of a garment factory in the country left hundreds dead, all seem to agree that without the industry many more lives would be in ruin. 

    Source: NPR

  7. Chaos in the Middle East Is Creating Space for Radical Groups

    Intensifying violence in Syria is causing increasing concern to the U.S. administration over the possible insurgency of radical groups such as Al Qaeda. In May President Obama announced that the weakened state of such organizations meant the end of the global war on terror. However, this narrative is being complicated by the power vacuum emerging in the chaotic power struggle in Syria, in which Al Qaeda bases pose renewed threats to Israel and Europe. Whether this is of sufficient concern to prompt a more interventionist policy from the Obama administration is yet to be seen, but activity in the country will no doubt be closely monitored. 

    Source: NY Times


  1. Tragic Story Shows Both Sides of Extreme Obstacle Courses

    Preparing for Tough Mudder — the obstacle course that shocks, beats and bruises its participants — transformed Avi Sengupta from an obese junk-food addict into a trim and muscular athlete. But during the race he died, drowning while crossing a deep pit of murky water. Though race officials and the local sheriff called it an accident, Sengupta’s family and friends claim gross negligence. For many, the rewards of the grueling race are great, but the risk could be even greater.

    Source: Outside

  2. Vermeer’s Secret Technique Discovered by Texas Inventor?

    For four centuries, art historians have argued about how painter Johannes Vermeer was able to create photo-realism on canvas. Many believed he was a genius of unrivaled talent. Others suggested camera obscura but couldn’t prove how it would have worked. That is until Tim Jenison, an inventor with no painting experience, tried a system of mirrors and learned he could replicate almost anything. To prove that Vermeer could too, Jenison spent 10 years recreating the scene of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, down to the 17th-century paint. Vermeer is a genius, but Jenison may be one too.

    Source: Vanity Fair

  3. How North Texas Is Turning into a Christian Film Powerhouse

    It took only $20,000 for three Dallas-area friends to make Beware of Christians, an inward-looking documentary about Christianity in America. The film grossed over half a million dollars. Now the filmmakers have a multimillion-dollar budget to make their first fictional work — almost all of it bankrolled by wealthy Dallas investors. Welcome to North Texas, where oil money and Christian entertainment collide. The industry is attracting outsiders too. Rick Santorum and Glenn Beck have production companies with two goals in mind: Make a bunch of believers and make a bunch of dollars.

    Source: D Magazine

  4. Interstellar Think Tank Talks Colonizing the Final Frontier

    The British Interplanetary Society is used to sounding far-fetched. In the 1930s, they came up with head-scratching plans for a multi-stage rocket and lunar lander (quite similar to the 1969 machinery that first made it to the moon). Now, BIS is focused on a new scheme: the free-floating, solar-powered space colony. Think lush landscapes, a water cycle, a menagerie and artificial gravity. For materials, they’d mine their stopping-off point: the moon. While it sounds too utopian to be feasible, we may have to hope it’s doable, for future generations’ sake. 

    Source: BBC

  5. Chinese Dissident Ai Weiwei Takes on Infamous Prison

    The infamous Alcatraz prison is undertaking a major artistic endeavor. The institution will be taken over by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei for an exhibition in which he hopes to explore “the idea of loss of freedom.” Ai has a unique perspective on incarceration, having spent 81 days in detention following his investigation into the Chinese government’s shoddy construction of a school that left thousands of children dead after it collapsed. 

    Source: NY Times