The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Jobs, Earnings Far Lower Than Expected for December

    The U.S. economy added less than half the number of jobs economists expected last month, 74,000 instead of 200,000, the lowest job growth in three years. The unemployment rate dropped, but that was attributed mostly to job-seekers stopping their search. The weather likely played a part, but analysts point to weak earnings suggesting that maybe it’s not just about Mother Nature. Coming the same month as the Fed easing off on its stimulus program makes some wonder if optimism was premature.

    Source: NYT, CNBC

  2. Afghan Prison Release Tests U.S. Relations

    Afghanistan has announced it will release 72 prisoners accused of Taliban links and attacks on American and Afghan troops. Afghan officials insist they do not have enough evidence to try the prisoners. Despite strong pronouncements from U.S. senators to the contrary, both sides claim the release will not necessarily affect the signing of an agreement to keep a small contingent of American troops in Afghanistan past 2014. Two Afghan officials claim President Hamid Karzai saw the release as a way to both compel the Taliban to negotiate and punish the U.S. for what he sees as insincere efforts to start talks.

    Sources: NYT, Washington Post, WSJ (sub), BBC

  3. White House May Unveil New NSA Reforms

    President Obama has met with civil liberties and privacy advocates, as well as lawmakers, to hear their case for sweeping reforms to the NSA’s surveillance program. Obama is reportedly considering proposals ranging from extending privacy protections for foreign citizens to creating a post for an advocate of privacy issues in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The president still seems to be deciding which reforms to propose, but given the diametrically opposed positions of the intelligence community and privacy advocates, some parties are sure to end up disappointed.

    Sources: The Guardian, WSJ (sub), NYT

  4. West Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency After Spill

    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has declared an emergency in nine counties of West Virginia after a chemical spilled into the Elk River, affecting at least 100,000 people. The chemical, which is used in coal preparation, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and into the river. The contaminated water cannot be used for drinking, bathing, cooking or washing clothes, and the emergency will remain in effect until the water treatment plant has been completely flushed. Tomblin asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help supply bottled water, but residents have already begun stripping store shelves.

    Sources: USA Today, NBC

  5. Alcoa and Affiliate to Pay $384 Million in Anti-Corruption Settlement

    In what will be the fourth-largest foreign bribery settlement ever negotiated by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, aluminum giant Alcoa will pay fines of almost $400 million for bribing members of Bahrain’s royal family. The bribery scheme, which involved a complex arrangement of middlemen and shell companies, dates back to 1989 and was used to secure highly profitable contracts with Bahrain’s government-run aluminum plant. The settlement is part of a movement towards heavier fines for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, under which Siemens paid $1.6 billion in 2008.

    Sources: NPR, WSJ (sub), Washington Post

  6. Arrested Diplomat to Leave U.S., South Sudan Targets Rebels

    Target data breach impacted millions more customers than previously thought. (NYT).

    Indian diplomat indicted for U.S. visa fraud flies home after being granted diplomatic immunity. (NYT).

    South Sudan’s army launches offensive against rebels. (The Guardian).

    U.S. Justice Department puts Wall Street on notice about new measures to crack down on money laundering. (Reuters).

    Pakistani teen dies tackling suicide bomber, saving classmates’ lives. (The Guardian).


  1. Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Becomes EBook Bestseller

    A surprising work is seeing a resurgence in popularity, thanks to the anonymity of eBook reading. According to journalist Chris Faraone, free English versions of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” have been downloaded by readers more than 100,000 times. And the paid version on Amazon is topping the digital retailer’s propaganda and political psychology chart. While print sales of Hitler’s political ranting remain negligible, Faraone believes the surprising interest in electronic versions indicates a cultural curiosity that is now easily satisfied with the click of a button in private.

    Source: The Guardian

  2. Scientists Hatch 700-Year-Old Eggs

    The scientific community may have ruled out a “Jurassic Park” resurrection of dinosaurs, but researchers have recently hatched marine creatures from eggs buried 700 years ago. The eggs, found in South Center Lake, Minn., were laid by ancestors of modern day water fleas. Laid long before Europeans colonized the area, the comparison of these water fleas with their contemporary progeny allows scientists to analyze how humans impact the evolution of wild species. By demonstrating the extent of science’s capability to resurrect ancient species, these humble water fleas could also have their own effect on the course of evolutionary research.

    Source: NYT

  3. Reddit Offers News, Entertainment — and Guns

    A recent investigation has revealed that the social media and news forum Reddit hosts firearms sales — and their gun market is growing. In the last six months, “Redditors” sold and traded more than 1,000 guns on the website, mainly through a subreddit called GunsForSale. The most notable of these trades occurred in 2011, when a Redditor got official permission from Reddit to engrave the firm’s alien logo on nearly 100 assault rifles. Reddit instructs moderators to comply with federal and state laws, but some users’ comments reportedly suggest they may be exploiting a loophole.

    Source: Mother Jones

  4. Sydney Launches New Year with Artistic Style

    For three weeks every January, Australia’s largest city is transformed into the southern hemisphere’s arts capital. With entertainment ranging from music to dance, drama to painting, the Sydney Festival celebrates a broad sweep of contemporary culture. This year’s highlights include a production of Henry Purcell’s opera ”Dido and Aeneas,” in which the 17th Century work is transported to an underwater world; a new theater piece by writer Tom Wight, ”Black Diggers,” which explores World War I aboriginal diggers; and a sound and dance piece called ”Am I” that explores where life begins and the quintessential meaning of “I.”

    Sources: Sydney Festival, The Guardian

  5. Figure Skater Sets Sights on Sochi Glory

    U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner missed a spot on the 2010 Winter Olympic team after a fall at the U.S. championship. Convinced she would retire if she could not win the nationals within two years, Wagner, 22, went on to secure the 2012 and 2013 titles. Hard work has paid off. She now looks set to become an Olympian in Sochi. An outspoken critic of Russia’s anti-gay laws, Wagner has also become a guiding conscience of the U.S. team. Be sure to check out Ozy’s look at U.S. Olympic hopefuls.

    Sources: NYT, Washington Post