The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. The World’s Attention Turns to Switzerland This Week

    Up in the Swiss Alps, the annual meeting of CEOs, prime ministers and other international bigwigs convenes this week with the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Meanwhile, in Montreux, “Geneva II” Syria peace talks begin. Look for some juggling among several attendees at both, as well as wooing of a more open Iran by Davos business leaders. Both meetings kick off on Wednesday. While no one seems to dispute the need for peace in the Middle East, some question whether, in this digital age of entrepreneurship, old-school Davos-style networking is still worthwhile. 

    Sources: AP, CNBC, ReadWrite

  2. Sometimes the Spotlight Proves a Little Too Hot

    French men and their mistresses often conjure eye rolls and smirks, but revelations of President François Hollande’s late-night moped rides hit a decidedly seedy note this week, exacerbated by his first lady’s high-profile hospitalization. Hollande will now struggle to get out from under the sheets to try to fix France’s embattled economy. On a less sordid note, Gov. Chris Christie is battling to revive his presidential chances in the wake of Bridgegate. Republicans responded to his scandal by trying to redirect the spotlight to Hillary Clinton, following a Senate intelligence report that found the 2012 Benghazi attack was “likely preventable.”

    Sources: The Economist, CNN

  3. Rohingya Muslims Still Face Oppression in Democratized Myanmar

    Multinational corporations are flocking to Myanmar, which has “opened up to democracy” after two decades of military rule. But democracy has little value for the Rohingya, an oppressed ethnic minority, who are not even recognized as citizens. A year and a half ago, violence broke out between Burman Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, and nearly 150,000 Rohingya were driven from their homes and into inadequate displacement camps. Violence has continued since then, with reports suggesting that several Rohingya were killed in western Myanmar this week.

    Source: Roads and Kingdoms, Time

  4. Somali Piracy Drops to Six-Year Low

    While Captain Phillips is racking up award nominations, the chaos that inspired it seems to be subsiding. Piracy at sea has hit its lowest level in six years, largely thanks to a reduction in incidents off the Horn of Africa. In 2013, there were 15 cases of piracy off Somalia, compared to a peak of 237 in 2011. The change is attributed to increased international navy patrols and armed guards on ships, as well as to the increased stability provided by Somalia’s government. Indonesian waters had the highest levels of piracy in 2013, accounting for more than 50 percent of the cases.

    Source: BBC

  5. Spying Changes Ahead, Super Bowl Crime Alert, Syria Says Yes

    Syria’s main opposition group agrees to attend Geneva peace talks. (Al Jazeera).

    What the spying practice overhaul means for future policy making. (NYT).

    New Egypt constitution gets 98% backing of referendum voters. (BBC).

    Dozens stricken with stomach illness on Royal Caribbean cruise. (CNN). 

    Super Bowl on high alert for human trafficking crimes. (USA Today).

    Movie producers feel the pinch as Hollywood’s Golden Age fades. (WSJ).

  6. Brilliant Minds Explain Which Scientific Ideas Are Ready for Retirement

    In a forum asking which scientific ideas are ready for retirement, the world’s most pre-eminent scientists and artists, including Richard Dawkins, Ian McEwan and Alan Alda, answered that we should let go of narrow theories like the utility of mouse models for human research, ideas of human uniqueness, and even the notion of infinity. They argue that we should instead focus on broadening our understanding of concepts and phenomena, like expanding definitions of addiction to include activities like love and eating, or delimiting our categorical understandings of race and wealth to include a spectrum. By letting go, they believe, we will gain more knowledge.

    Source: The Guardian


  1. How the Allies Beat Nazi Germany With a Board Game

    For Allied prisoners of war in World War II, getting a Monopoly set in a care package was a real treat. When they realized the board contained a map to freedom and forged currency hidden among the Monopoly money, the game took a different turn entirely. Historians have recently uncovered the story of Clayton Hutton, a British intelligence officer assigned to the impossible task of helping captured soldiers make great escapes. Hutton had the genius idea of concealing small escape tools — compasses, wire cutters and maps — in board games sent to POWs. Much more than an international pastime, during the war, Monopoly saved lives.

    Source: EuroGamer

  2. NBA’s Ibaka and His Remarkable Journey From War Zone to Game Zone

    Growing up in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, Serge Ibaka lived through two bloody wars before he hit puberty. Despite a violence-filled childhood of poverty, Ibaka managed to catch the world’s eye as a teenager at a South African basketball tournament. Now, the 6-foot 9-inch Ibaka is an Oklahoma City Thunder power forward with record shot-blocking skills. He’s one of the NBA’s most versatile, hard-working players — a rare combination American basketball experts say, but after his long, hard struggle to the United States, Ibaka’s drive and work ethic is part of the package.

    Source: Grantland

  3. Many Billion-Dollar Tech Startups on Brink of Disaster

    Silicon Valley is exploding with ambitious young tech startups these days. Companies like Twitter and Snapchat have skyrocketed into billion-dollar territory in less than a decade. But the higher the price tag, the steeper the fall. File-sharing giant Dropbox suffered several hours of a power outage last week, a technical glitch that no billionaire company can afford. But some suggest that this may be a symptom of the tech industry getting rich quicker than it can maintain. Remember VA Linux, whose shares jumped 700 percent in its first day? Neither does Silicon Valley, which offers no job stability for startups. 

    Source: Wired

  4. Lena Dunham Rejects Industry Sexism and Takes on Vogue

    No doubt to the fury of her fans, Lena Dunham is fronting the February issue of Vogue — not as a fashion icon but as an inspiring comedian and a Girl. Known for being candid about her body type and for criticizing the idea that women should look like catwalk queens — who are so very Vogue — Dunham pokes fun at what she normally derides. It’s an interesting start to the year for the fashion magazine, with many hoping the move will help transform people’s too-perfect images of beauty. Imagine what March could bring.

    Sources: NYMag, Vogue

  5. The Iran Nuke Deal, Negotiation and Neuroscience

    According to neuroscience, our brains are wired to detect and reject a perceived injustice. Fairness is a currency with a transfer rate so high that refusing something we perceive to be unfair is a motive in itself, a principle that translates into victory and loss without any material goods exchanging hands. In that light, Iranian diplomat Javad Zarif’s remark in a recent YouTube video that his country is being told it “cannot do what everyone else is doing” makes better psychological sense. As well as their own firmly held perceptions of what is fair in this upcoming deal, both sides need to accommodate for another view.

    Source: The Atlantic

  6. Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon Team Up for Chris Christie Takedown

    New Jerseyites are pretty fed up with Gov. Chris Christie this week — perhaps none more so than the state’s most famous ambassador, the Boss himself. Jimmy Fallon is notorious for his hilarious musician impressions, some of which Bruce has seen fit to accompany. But this week, the Boss and Brooklyn’s favorite comedian kicked back at New Jersey’s scandal-mired governor with “Gov. Christie’s Traffic Jam,” a traffic-related new take on “Born to Run.” It looks like Christie, who “slow-jammed” on the show last year, isn’t as much of a rocking duet partner as Springsteen — or the state of New Jersey — would like.

    Source: NPR