The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. American Prisoner in North Korea Begs the U.S. to Do More

    Kenneth Bae would like to go home. The U.S missionary was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea after his arrest in 2012. He had been leading a tour group. Bae addressed the media on Monday. His family, glad that he’s alive, wants someone from the U.S. government to visit North Korea in person to bring him home. The U.S. offered to send an envoy to help bring him home, and officials hope Bae’s public appearance means Pyongyang is inching toward freeing him.

    Sources: Reuters, Chicago Tribune 

  2. More Frigid Temps Hit the Heartland and East Coast

    Winter is coming? Try winter is revisiting the U.S. and then some. Multiple cold fronts could spread lower-than-usual temperatures across the same areas frozen solid by the polar vortex earlier this month. And those unusually low temps hit during what are already typically the coldest days of the year. When Detroit’s high is supposed to be 15 degrees, maybe meteorologists should find another noun. 

    Source: USA Today

  3. UN Invites Iran to Peace Talks, Syrian Opposition and US Unhappy

    The UN invited Iran, Syrian President Bashir Assad’s main ally, to participate in the opening day of this week’s Syrian peace talks. And then the Americans asked the UN to rescind the invite, following the lead of the Syrian opposition, which has threatened to withdraw unless UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon revokes the invitation. The U.S. State Department has argued that Tehran’s participation should be conditional upon its acceptance of the 2012 Geneva Communique, which has established the need for a transitional governing body in Syria. Ban believes the Iranians do support the 2012 agreement, but others aren’t so sure.

    Sources: The Guardian, NYT, Al Jazeera, CNN

  4. Ukrainian Government Promises Talks as Violence Escalates

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has agreed to host talks with opposition leaders and pro-European protesters following violent demonstrations in Kiev. Last week, the government passed anti-protest laws that were condemned internationally and sparked Sunday’s clashes, in which police and protesters were injured. Opposition leaders called for a peaceful demonstration but the crowds continued to shower police with smoke bombs, fireworks, and stones. Around midnight, the president announced the formation of a working group for immediate talks, which are set to begin today.

    Sources: NYT, BBC, FT(sub)

  5. Obama Interview Looks Ahead to Presidential Homestretch

    To mark the beginning of President Barack Obama’s sixth year in office, the New Yorker has published an intimate profile of the president. Editor David Remnick had a series of conversations with the U.S. president, covering everything from the Iranian Nuclear Agreement to Malia Obama’s goal of becoming a filmmaker. Obama expressed support for the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, defended his authorization of unmanned drone strikes, and observed of Edward Snowden that “the benefit of the debate he generated was not worth the damage done.”

    Source: New Yorker

  6. China Tries to Combat Sex-Selective Abortion

    Chinese authorities have cracked down on an illegal clinic offering sex-selective abortion as part of a broader effort to curb the widespread practice. Ten people were arrested in connection with the operation, which the country’s health ministry claims attracted 1,000 clients over the past year. Chinese families face strong social and economic pressure to have male children, causing a severe population imbalance, with 112 boys born for every 100 girls in 2012. But the government crackdown on sex-selective abortion, coupled with the relaxation of the one-child policy, may help counteract what economist Amartya Sen described as “gendercide.”

    Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera

  7. U.S. Lawmakers Accuse Russia of Abetting Snowden as Putin Promises Graft-Free Olympics

    U.S. congressional leaders suggest earlier links between Edward Snowden and Russia. (NYT).

    Putin gears up for Olympics with pre-Games interview. (The Guardian).

    Chinese growth slows to 14-year low. (BBC).

    Taliban claims responsibility for deadly Pakistan bombing. (Al Jazeera).

    Okinawa elects mayor opposed to U.S. marine base relocation. (NYT).


  1. Swiss Firm Turns Family Ashes into Diamonds

    If grandma didn’t leave you a sparkling ring or pendant to remember her by, don’t despair. Swiss firm Algordanza takes cremated human remains and compresses them into diamonds for the whole family to treasure, turning ashes into gems in a just a few months. All anyone needs is between $5,000 and $22,000 and a pound of ashes. Each diamond is as unique as the individuals were in life, but most of them come out blue in color. Nearly 900 sets of remains are processed each year, giving deceased loved ones a final chance to shine.

    Source: NPR

  2. Parents’ Google Questions About Children Reveal Gender Bias

    Google, is my child a genius? Is my kid ugly? According to aggregated Google data, American parents in the digital age are still asking age-old questions about their children’s prospects. The trouble is that these queries reflect gender bias. Parents are 2.5 times more likely to ask about how gifted their son is than their daughter, and they’re 1.7 times more likely to question the weight of a daughter than a son. The data sheds troubling light on the relative extent parents value these characteristics in their children, both reflecting and reinforcing gender norms in society.

    Source: NYT

  3. Filmmaker Provides Insights into the Private Life of Mitt Romney

    For nearly six years, filmmaker Greg Whiteley had unfettered access to the private life of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Through political triumphs and defeats, Romney’s “pathological politeness” made him unable to say no to Whiteley’s persistent presence, giving viewers a raw image of the politician. For a man often described as robotic on the campaign trail, Romney comes across as personable, and even endearingly quirky. Not so much a political film as a drama about a family undergoing the scrutiny involved in fighting a presidential campaign, Mitt may win the vote of Republicans and Democrats alike. 

    Source: New Republic

  4. Haitian Graffiti Artist Paints Visual Story of Country’s Social Problems

    Jerry Moise Rosembert wields social justice in a spray can. A native of the capital Port-au-Prince, graffiti artist Rosembert has risen to notoriety and fame against a backdrop of some of Haiti’s worst recent crises. His art, often splashed on the houses of corrupt foreign NGO workers and members of Haiti’s political elite, depicts the country at its best. “Haiti will never perish,” declares one of his slogans. Since the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, Rosembert has become one of the best-known faces in alternative Haitian politics for his critique of foreign aid and post-earthquake politics.

    Source: Fusion

  5. Peyton Manning Steers Denver into Super Bowl Showdown

    Having fought his way back onto the field after a neck injury that many feared would claim his career, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 400 yards on Sunday, returning Denver to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998. The Broncos dismissed the New England Patriots 26-16 and now face Seattle for the big event after the Seahawks beat San Francisco 23-17. The match-up will pit the country’s best offensive team, Denver, against Seattle’s top-notch defense, providing the ultimate year-end showdown. Manning, 37, said of Sunday’s win that he realized “we’ve done something special.”

    Sources: LA Times, USA Today