Militants linked to Al Queda have torched police stations, freed prisoners and occupied mosques in Falluja and Ramadi, two major Iraq cities. Meanwhile, a car bomb in Beirut killed at least five people and wounded more than 60. Both attacks have some links to Syria and, as the New York Times notes, taken together, offer “the latest evidence that the Syrian civil war was breeding bloodshed and sectarian violence around the region.”
The Presidential Daily Brief
More than 100 million residents lie in the path of a major winter blast slated to hit the East Coast with dangerously cold temperatures, gusting winds and serious snowfall. Perhaps the hardest hit will be New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, who faces a major test on his second day in office. Godspeed, Mr. Mayor. Although this might be the perfect evening to polish off those New Year’s revelry leftovers.
Since the South Sudanese government turned on itself last month, at least 1,000 people have died in the crossfire. President Salva Kiir has declared a state of emergency in several parts of the country as rebels loyal to Riek Machar, Kiir’s former VP, fight it out with government troops. At the urging of the UN, government and rebel delegations have agreed to meet in Ethiopia to conduct peace talks. UN representative Hilde Johnson expressed optimism for the talks. “On January 1 the country is at a fork in the road, but it can still be saved from a further major escalation of violence,” she said.
Bill de Blasio took over as New York City’s 109th mayor on Wednesday after being sworn in by former President Bill Clinton in a star-studded event at City Hall. De Blasio promised to narrow the gap between the city’s rich and poor, ushering in a new era of liberal politics in a town long run by Wall Street friend and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The change reflects a new emphasis on equality for New York City. Using the Dickensian phrase “tale of two cities,” de Blasio pledged to “give life to the hope of so many in our city.”
Former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf has failed for a second time to appear in court to answer treason charges. On Christmas Eve, the special court postponed the ex-president’s first hearing when guns and disassembled explosives were found along his route to the trial. Now, a similar security scare — this time two pounds of explosives discovered a mile away from Musharraf’s home — has kept him out of court. Musharraf faces treason charges for imposing emergency rule as president in November 2007, and he could be arrested if he fails to appear a third time.
On Wednesday, Latvia became the 18th country to join the eurozone, and Great Britain opened the doorway for immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria to begin working in the country on the same terms as citizens from other EU countries. Both developments have proven controversial. Roughly half of Latvians objected to the euro move, prompting the government to push its implementation without consulting citizens through a referendum. And British euro-skeptics worry that an influx of immigrants from poorer European countries will put greater pressure on the British welfare state.
Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford files for reelection. (Politico).
Helicopter reaches stranded Antarctic explorers. (BBC).
Hackers leak 4.6 million Snapchat usernames and phone numbers. (Reuters).
Palestinian envoy to Czech Republic dies opening a safe locked for 30 years. (The Guardian).
Ten killed in suicide bomb attack at popular hotel in Somalia. (The Hindu).
Italian Fiat to acquire the rest of Chrysler in $4.35 billion deal. (Bloomberg).
Colorado is now the only U.S. state selling marijuana as a recreational drug. New Year’s Day, dubbed “Green Wednesday,” marked the first day of marijuana sales for up to 30 Colorado stores. Pot will only be available in Colorado (and, later this year, Washington) to over-21s, and can only be smoked on private premises. Supporters of the legislation hope for a significant dip in drug crime as well as a tourism surge, but skeptics remain concerned that the law will lead to younger users and more hazardous driving conditions.
After a year of historic victories for LGBT advocates, 2014 began with another milestone: a same-sex marriage in front of 80 million television viewers. Danny Leclair and Aubrey Loots married atop the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Float as it proceeded along the Rose Bowl parade route. The move came despite objections from gay marriage opponents and even some LGBT community members, who worried that such a public ceremony could prove divisive and undermine the expansion of marriage rights. The Boy Scouts also lifted their ban on openly gay youth members, but the prohibition on gay leaders and adult Scouts remains.
Japan’s largest criminal syndicates are recruiting homeless men to clean up radioactive contamination left by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The homeless are illegally hired to perform these high-risk jobs at below minimum wage. The project to clean up the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl is funded by taxpayers to the tune of $35 billion and involves major contractors whose networks have been infiltrated by Japanese gangsters, known as the yakuza. Part of the problem is the sheer number of groups involved in the decontamination work, with at least 733 companies performing work in the area for the Japanese Ministry of Environment.
Source: South China Morning Post
“Her,” the latest film by screenwriter and director Spike Jonze, has been well received by the critics, but few can actually claim to have seen what is already being tipped for a Best Picture Academy Award nomination. The movie, set in a not-too-distant future, charts the developing relationship between a man and his computer. Starring Joachim Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, “Her” explores what Jonze describes as “loneliness… our particular kind of melancholy.” Currently only showing in select theatres in eight U.S. cities, “Her” will receive a wider release on January 10.
Racing legend Michael Schumacher remains in a coma after sustaining a serious injury to his brain while skiing. Although he was wearing a helmet, and would certainly have died without one, the efficacy of ski helmets is under renewed scrutiny. Since 2003, three times as many skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. are wearing helmets, amounting to 70 percent of those on the slopes. But there has not been a drop in serious brain injuries during that period. It seems the use of safety equipment is simply allowing skiers to undertake greater risks, buoyed by a false sense of security.