The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Snow Shutters East Coast, Again

    New York expects its heaviest snow this season, and the federal government in D.C. has shut down. The Mid-Atlantic feels the brunt in the afternoon, with New York and New England taking more of a blow overnight. NPR even dug up an esoteric meteorological name for the wintry hit. And it’s not just a regional minipocalypse when thousands of flights are canceled. But with the wind, blowing snow, and sub-freezing temperatures, who really wants to go anywhere, anyway? 

    Sources: NPR, The Guardian, Weather Channel

  2. Syria Accused of Torture, Iran Sees Sanctions Lifted But Invite Rescinded

    On the eve of Syrian peace talks, war crimes prosecutors have accused Syria of torturing and executing thousands based on smuggled images of dead prisoners. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s main backer, Iran, had its invite to the talks rescinded after saying it would not accept the 2012 Geneva agreement calling for a transitional government in Syria. On a more positive note, UN inspectors confirmed that Iran has suspended production of enriched uranium in compliance with the nuclear agreement, and the U.S. and its partners have responded by rolling back sanctions, starting with the staggered release of $4.2 billion in Iranian frozen assets.

    Sources: NYT, Al Jazeera, BBC

  3. German Officials Investigate Possible Currency Rigging

    Germany’s national financial watchdog BaFin is sending investigators to London to look into possible currency market manipulation by Deutsche Bank, Germany’s biggest lender and the world’s biggest foreign exchange trader. It is part of an escalating global probe spearheaded by the U.S. and U.K. into alleged collusion by the world’s biggest banks to rig foreign exchange rates. Deutsche Bank has already posted $1.35 billion in fourth-quarter losses after a string of litigating and accounting charges — a sign of things to come from Europe’s banks as they fall under greater regulatory scrutiny.

    Sources: Reuters, WSJ (sub), WSJ (sub)

  4. New Jersey Mayor Accuses Lt. Gov. of Withholding Sandy Aid

    Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer has claimed that New Jersey’s Lieutenant-Governor Kim Guadagno threatened to withhold federal relief funds for the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy to her city if she did not support a real estate project in Hoboken that was important to Governor Chris Christie. This comes in the wake of Christie’s camp being accused of deliberately causing massive congestion in another NJ city as part of a political vendetta. Federal prosecutors have collected testimony from Zimmer as the US attorney continues investigations into the bridge scandal.  

    Sources: NPR, NYT

  5. Comet-Chaser Rosetta Sends First Signal in 31 Months

    Scientists at the European Space Agency are breathing a sigh of relief after receiving a signal from their comet-chasing spacecraft. Rosetta was dormant for 31 months in an attempt to conserve power as it made its way closer to the comet 67PChuryumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft’s alarm clock went off hours before a signal was heard, providing a “fairy-tale ending to a tense chapter” once it had powered up sufficiently to phone home, the ESA said. The scientists can finally sleep easy knowing Rosetta, in space since 2004, is functioning and set to land on the comet in November.

    Sources: BBC, DW

  6. Pakistan Launches Airstrikes, Explosion Kills Four in Lebanon

     The No. 8 seed Stanislas Wawrinka beats No. 2 seed, and defending champ, Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open. (Telegraph). 

    Pakistan launches airstrikes against Taliban. (BBC).

    Blast rocks Beirut neighborhood, killing four. (CNN).

    Vietnam condemns 30 drug smugglers to death. (The Telegraph).

    Japan’s annual dolphin hunt begins, draws Kennedy criticism. (CNN).

    Colombian army kills 14 FARC rebels. (BBC).


  1. American Beards Remind Us of Racial Struggles

    Centuries-old facial hairdos have made a comeback, thanks to Movember and Hollywood. Unlike the sideburns of the 1960s, today’s preferences lean towards the more elegant moustaches and beards of the 1800s. America’s affection for facial hair and grooming offer a reflection of race relations, from the revolutionary days when slaves tended to owners in need of a tidy, to emancipation and the surge of former slaves running barber shops. When that upset the social order of the time, the shops then fell into white ownership. Looking back at facial hair trends reminds us of America’s less-than-tidy social history.

    Source: The Atlantic

  2. Study Finds Jet Lag is Bad for Genes

    We’ve known that shift work and jet lag make us feel rundown and, sometimes, miserable, but scientists at the Sleep Research Centre in Surrey, England, now think they know why. They have found that flying into different time zones and working the late shift can cause major disruptions to more than 1,000 genes our bodies use to function and protect our health. The sleep experts believe health problems linked to jet lag and sleep deprivation may have their roots in these disruptions. The news gives those considering their next business trip or taking an extra shift something to sleep on.

    Sources: BBC, The Guardian

  3. 85 People Own As Much as Half of World’s Population

    The world’s 85 richest people, who could all fit on a large bus, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. As the World Economic Forum gears up in Davos, Oxfam has released a report warning of the social and political tensions that will worsen as the concentration of economic resources reaches levels not seen since the 1920s. Income inequality has been identified as one of the greatest risks to the world in 2014 by the forum and will be hotly debated at the mountain-top gathering of global leaders in Switzerland.

    Sources: USA Today, The Guardian

  4. Acclaimed Conductor Claudio Abbado Dies

    The world of classic music is mourning the death, at age 80, of one of the world’s best-known conductors. The Italian musician, who directed the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic, died in Bologna, Italy, after a long battle with cancer. He leaves behind the memory of many remarkable performances, especially of his favorite composer Gustav Mahler, who he often conducted from memory. His legacy lives on, though, through the European Community Youth Orchestra, which he founded in the 1970s to promote classical music.  

    Sources: BBC, NYT

  5. Violinist Vanessa Mae to Ski for Thailand in Sochi

    Some dream of being successful musicians, others of becoming Olympians, but Vanessa Mae wanted both. She is one of the world’s most-famous violinists — with ten million record sales — and has qualified as a skier for Thailand in next month’s Winter Olympics in Russia. Mae, 35, lives in the Swiss Alps and says skiing has been her “lifelong hobby.” Representatives from warm nations don’t tend to do well at the Winter Olympics, but if Mae brings to the slopes of Sochi what she brings to the stage, she could get a medal to hang next to her music awards.

    Source: CNN