The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. NSA Seeks to Build Code-Breaker to End All Code-Breakers

    A lab in suburban College Park, Md., apparently holds secret contracts to build a quantum computer that could bust open almost every kind of encryption there is — including banking, medical and government records world-wide. The project falls under a $79.7 million government research program. The reporting comes from Edward Snowden’s latest document release. Of course, achieving a working quantum computer is a unicorn fantasy sought by many top-level scientists, so whether the U.S. is closer to achieving the dream than anyone else remains a mystery.

    Source: The Washington Post

  2. Cambodia Protests Turn Violent as Police Kill 3

    Garment workers demanding higher wages clashed with law enforcement, which sprayed the crowd with live fire in Phnom Penh. The protests aren’t just about money, but politics. The ruling Cambodia People’s Party refuses to budge from a $100 per month limit and face allegations that millions of votes were stolen in a recent election. The opposition promises a $160 per month minimum garment wage if elections are held in July, but Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for 28 years, has balked. More protests are planned for Sunday. 

    Sources: NYT, Al Jazeera

  3. Fresh Attacks in Iraq and Lebanon Highlight Regional Volatility

    Those who feared the Sunni-Shia conflict at the heart of Syria’s civil war could lead to increased regional instability may have been right. Iraqi government forces fought Al-Qaeda-backed militants for control of two key cities in the western Anbar province, where Sunni tribal leaders have long bristled at repressive measures by the Shia government. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, a car bomb exploded near the headquarters of Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to support the Assad regime in Syria, killing five. Sectarian violence in both Iraq and Lebanon has reached levels not seen in either country for years.

    Sources: NYT, Al Jazeera, WSJ, BBC

  4. Facebook Faces Lawsuit Over Alleged Message Scanning

    A new class action lawsuit has been filed against Facebook in northern California for allegedly scanning members’ private messages for website links, mining user data and then profiting by passing it on to third parties. The suit cites independent research showing that Facebook systematically engages in such practices and seeks the greater of either $100 for each day of alleged violation or $10,000 for each affected user. Facebook has said the claims are baseless and plans to defend itself vigorously in court.

    Sources: BBC, FT (reg)

  5. Study Suggests Medicaid Expansion Increases ER Visits

    A new Harvard study on Medicaid patients in Oregon has found that emergency room usage among them is 40 percent higher than among those without healthcare coverage. The study is a major blow to those who pushed for expanded Medicaid — a health program for low-income families — under the assumption that greater access to primary care would decrease emergency room visits. In fact, the study suggests that Medicaid enrollees take advantage of more medical services across the board. That said, earlier studies have also demonstrated major health benefits for Medicaid recipients, highlighting non-economic reasons for expanded coverage.

    Sources: Washington Post, NPR, WSJ (sub)

  6. Obesity Rates Skyrocket in Developing Countries

    Obesity rates amongst adults in developing countries almost quadrupled to more than 900 million people between 1980 and 2008, according to a new report from Britain’s Overseas Development Institute. Adult obesity rates in the developed world, meanwhile, grew by 1.7 times in the same period. Higher obesity rates have been linked to rising incomes, which have enabled increased consumption of animal products, fat, salt, and sugar. Governments have been timid about making diets a political issue, but with non-communicable diseases linked to obesity placing greater strains on public health systems, dieting may be forced into the political spotlight.

    Sources: The Guardian, ABC


  1. Evolution Survey Reveals Divide Over Scientific View

    A Pew Survey of Americans’ views on evolution reveals that fewer believe that humans have evolved over time. The number of Republicans who said they believe in evolution dropped from 54 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2013, yet nearly two-thirds of Democrats say they believe in evolution. The survey indicates that partisan differences over evolution remain even when racial, ethnic and religious determinants are taken into account. No single reason seems to account for the change, but the survey points to changing political affiliations, demographics and religious beliefs as possible factors.

    Source: The Atlantic


  2. Australian Sharks Geo-tagged in Safety Drive

    Twitter users now include 338 Western Australian sharks. Government researchers have geo-tagged the sharks, and a computer alert is created if one comes within a kilometer of shore. The location and type of shark is then posted to a surf rescue Twitter account. Australia has the highest rate of fatal shark attacks in the world, and little can be done to prevent them owing to the creatures’ high mobility rates. This innovative use of integrated technology may increase safety, but some fear the tweeting sharks may create a false sense of security because not all sharks are tagged.

    Source: NPR

  3. Hubris, Social Division and Invention Define Great American Novel

    The Great American Novel is a unique term globally, displaying America’s distinct fascination with its national life. The American landscape as portrayed in masterpieces like “Moby Dick” and “Grapes of Wrath” is predominated by themes including grandiose views of American life, the desire to bridge the country’s immense social divisions, and the enterprising individual. While hubris and the American Dream have their place in American literature, historically the Great American Novel has been critical of national claims of exceptionalism. Would-be Steinbecks, take note. 

    Source: Harvard Magazine

  4. Oscars Shortlist Politically Censored Films

    Oscar-nominated documentaries are often politically controversial, but several of this year’s potential nominees are so contentious that they have been censored in their countries of origin. A documentary on Pussy Riot’s ascent to global fame, for example, has been denounced in Russia for having no cultural merit. An account of the Egyptian revolution’s spiral into chaos has hardly been screened in the Middle East. The director of a film about Indonesian death squads, meanwhile, has chosen to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals. We will find out whether any of these have made the Oscar-nominee list on Jan. 16.

    Source: NYT

  5. NFL Fans Set to Watch Evenly Matched Teams Fight it Out

    The road to this year’s Superbowl will be paved with hard-working teams and some equal matchups. This weekend, football fans will enjoy the NFL’s Wild Card pairings between Kansas City and Indianapolis, with the Chiefs looking for revenge for their loss to the Colts a few weeks back. The New Orleans Saints will take on the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time this season, and the San Diego Chargers face a tough, evenly matched game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Green Bay may struggle against the San Francisco 49ers without their best defensive player, Clay Matthews, but the Packers are playing on home turf.

    Source: LA Times