The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Climate Change Takes Center Stage at Davos 

    From the U.N. Secretary General to Hollywood actors and Coca-Cola executives, everyone is talking about the need to quickly counteract the negative effects of climate change. Ban Ki Moon praised the U.N.’s initiative this week to cut emissions by 40 percent, and business leaders from Southeast Asia have acknowledged how changing weather patterns have disrupted their supply chains. It may be that shifting political alliances and new economic relationships hold the key to an effective response on the environment. All eyes are on U.S. officials to see how they will respond to growing global climate concerns and what, if any, commitments the Obama administration will make.

    Sources: RTCC, NYT, TimeUSA Today

  2. State of the Union Homestretch: Still Ups and Downs for Obama

    Three months ago, President Obama’s approval ratings were lower than George Bush’s on the day he admitted that the U.S. had invaded Iraq on bad intelligence. Partisan politics are meaner and tougher than ever, and Democrats face the possibility of losing the House and maybe even the Senate in 2014. Afghanistan and Syria remain in crisis, and Snowden is still telling all from abroad. This is not the America that Obama envisaged on the campaign trail, but as he prepares for this week’s State of the Union, the president’s most recent battles — health care, nuclear negotiations with Iran and class inequality — suggest an emerging legacy project. Will we see economic and Middle East wrap-ups by 2016?

    Source: New Yorker

    Coming Up: Roller-coaster Ride

  3. Syria Talks Begin, but Hope Remains Elusive

    When serious negotiations are needed even to arrange seats at the table, it’s easy to wonder how fruitful discussions on Syria’s future can be. On Saturday, foes met briefly in the same room, and communicated via a UN envoy, not yet ready to talk directly to each other. Preliminary talks began this week in Montreux, Switzerland, and have included high-level diplomats from 40 nations and organizations, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who says Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is “not ready for a solution.” But they leave out discussions of possibly partitioning Syria, which one report says is de facto happening. Even if a deal is reached between the Assad government and the opposition, al-Qaida militants on the ground won’t necessarily play nice.

    Sources: BBCAl Jazeera, NYTAl-Arabiya, Global Post

  4. Football Rant Reactions Reveal Racial Tension

    Following Richard Sherman’s emotional outburst after the Seahawks’ win over the 49ers, the lead contender for Defensive Player of the Year has reaped much criticism — and sparked a national conversation about race. Some have called Sherman a thug, but the Stanford grad defended his comments as part of old-school football. Like Muhammad Ali, Sherman has a habit of getting into his opponent’s heads. But perhaps he isn’t the antithesis to Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning that some commentators suggest, and the pair’s Super Bowl showdown will be nothing more, or less, than a contest between athletes at the top of their game.

    Sources: AP, The Nation, The Guardian, NPR

  5. Deaths in Maryland Mall Shooting, Olympic Fears Rattle Families

    Syria peace talks “off to a good beginning;” Humanitarian issues top agenda. (BBC).

    French president Hollande confirms split from partner of seven years. (The Guardian).

    At least three dead in Columbia, Maryland mall shooting. (CNN, USA Today).

    Li Na ends bad luck streak, wins her first Australian Open. (USA Today, WSJ).

    Ukraine’s President offers PM position to opposition leader. (BBC).

    Olympic fears prompt anxiety in athletes and their families. (NYT).

  6. Could the Digital Revolution Split the Economy?

    Staring at a screen definitely has its perks. The digital economy is growing exponentially, from current 8 percent to possibly 15 percent annually, mostly from e-commerce and broadband fees. But global reality has trouble catching up. While the digital business is particularly booming in places like Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K., regions with restricted access to the Web — like China, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East — are missing out on benefits the digital age could offer their economies. Looks like the world should start hunting the Internet for bargains and taking down some firewalls. 

    Source: Time

  7. Sick Children Are Turning to China for Stem Cells 

    Beijing’s Wu Stem Cells Medical Center is known across the world for its expensive — and some say miraculous — experimental treatments. The center offers advanced stem cell treatments for conditions like cerebral palsy, heart disease and cancer. But these treatments are still unverified, making them unavailable in many countries, including the United States. For children like Gabriel Omar Santoro, a boy with cerebral palsy from Argentina, the center seemed like a potential lifesaver. His mother raised funds for months to secure his treatments, and he’s seen marked improvements. But other children have not been so lucky. Does this hope in the face of despair come at too high a price?

    Source: Medium


  1. Meet the Anonymous Innovator Behind Beyoncé’s Latest Hit

    The Internet exploded last month when Beyoncé unexpectedly released possibly her coolest and most ambitious album ever. But very few rabid tweeters noticed Boots, the man who “co-produced 80 percent of the album,” according to Queen B herself. Boots, who remains an anonymous face in the singer’s entourage — but will very likely be in the background at her Grammy performance on Sunday — had musical influence in almost every song. Here’s what we do know: Boots is a high school dropout from Miami who likes Aphex Twin and breakdancing, and can hear a hook in tracks that leaves even Beyoncé frustrated. 

    Source: Pitchfork

  2. A Math Whiz Tackles Online Dating

    With about 40 million fish in the digital dating sea, it shouldn’t be so hard to catch one. But when UCLA mathematician Chris McKinlay failed to find his soul mate with OkCupid’s algorithms, he decided to design a new one. After he singled out the survey questions chosen by the type of women he liked and tweaked his profile to mathematical perfection, he got a message from the woman who would become his fiancée — and who had found him by entering three random criteria into her search. It took one very clever man almost two years, 84 dates and more than 12 different dating profiles to realize that love remains an unsolvable equation. 

    Source: Wired

  3. U.S. Colleges Tend to Favor Leaders, Not Followers

    At higher education institutions in the United States, leadership and other lofty characteristics, such as maturity and concern for others, feature as prominently in admissions literature as intellectual capabilities. U.S. colleges seem to prize leaders — those who they believe will make big changes in their future fields — over followers or lone wolves. In contrast, European schools often idealize self-reliant students. But does selecting business-oriented “leaders” really benefit society? The approach may produce alumni that schools can show off, but it may come at the cost of losing students with other interpersonal talents. 

    Source: The Atlantic

  4. Ethiopian Grain May Rise to Quinoa’s Heights

    High in protein, gluten free, rich in calcium and iron — teff is the next food fad to hit the West. Its flour has the potential to become the leading alternative to whole-grain flours in breads, but it has to overcome some obstacles first. One: The Ethiopian government’s ban on exporting raw teff; only injera, a flatbread made from teff flour, is allowed to be exported. Two: Booming demand is making teff more difficult to access for Ethiopia’s poorest, which compounds the country’s severe malnutrition problem. As the government seeks to boost yields, it will need to act quickly to prevent southern European producers from dominating the world market for Ethiopia’s favorite crop.

    Source: The Guardian

  5. Being Amazed Is Good for You

    Dropping your jaw could make you a better person. Experiencing awe not only releases stress and relieves sleep disorders, but can actually improve quality of life, according to a report by Harvard psychology students. In the face of breathtaking sights, participants regained a positive attitude toward life, felt more compelled to volunteer and cared less about material items. In other words, it takes the Grand Canyon to put your utility bill into perspective. 

    Source: Utne

  6. The Yankees Knock Spending Out of the Park 

    Last Wednesday, the New York Yankees dropped a whopping $155 million on 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. This nine-figure price tag is no longer special for the Yankees, who currently have six similarly priced players. Last year, however, the Red Sox spent five times less than the Yankees did — and, as it turns out, they weren’t the ones who had their worst season since 1992. How have the Yankees managed to go stale on such a high budget? Experts suggest that their big-spending strategy is a tough habit to break. With hundreds of millions at play, the Yankees will have to lose their gambling addiction to stay in the game. 

    Source: NYT