The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Housing Numbers Roll Down, But Don’t Worry

    New home sales fell in the U.S. in December, but that’s OK, experts say. Price gains and slim year-end inventory still signal a solid market. Meanwhile, other data shows that blacks are less likely to apply for home mortgages than other ethnic groups — and were more likely than whites to be denied loans when they did apply. Black and Hispanic homeowners were also more likely to lose value in their home than whites since the housing bubble burst. Imagine the economic impact if the home-buying playing field were truly level. 

    Sources: Reuters, CNN, Quartz

  2. U.S. Launches Strike Against Al-Qaeda in Somalia

    Defense officials in the U.S. are trying to establish whether a missile strike against a suspected Al-Shabab militant was successful. The Al-Qaeda-linked group has been behind many terrorist attacks, including one in September in a major Kenyan shopping mall used by foreigners. The U.S. is deepening its involvement in the country, which was the focus of the film Black Hawk Down , by sending military advisors to the capital. This comes in the wake of a failed raid last year to capture an Al-Shabab commander.

    Source: BBC

  3. Tunisia Passes Post-Revolution Constitution While Egypt and Syria Burn

    In the country that started the Arab Spring, a new constitution has been passed guaranteeing equal rights for men and women and freedom of conscience. It has been a few years in the making, but Tunisia now has one of the most progressive constitutions in the region and hopes its patience pays off with stability. Egypt, which has already had two constitutions, has just declared that presidential elections will be moved up, paving the way for the popular army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to take power amid increasing violence. In Geneva, Syria has agreed to let women and children leave the besieged city of Homs as negotiations now turn to power transfer.

    Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Reuters, BBC

  4. India and Japan’s Economic Relationship Leaves China Out in the Cold

    As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits his counterpart in New Delhi for bilateral talks, China is being left behind. India has invited Japan to invest in infrastructure in underdeveloped areas in the northeast of the country, which are considered out of bounds to Chinese investors. This move could potentially be explosive as it involves territories that are disputed over by India and China. The India-Japan nexus will not only help to develop long-neglected areas and ports in India, but could set up an alternative supply chain in Asia, threatening China’s dominance in that sphere.

    Source: Times of India

  5. Obama Ready To Work Without Congress to Achieve Policy Goals

    The State of the Union address is set for tomorrow, but aides have already begun revealing what the president plans to say and do. Republicans are fuming over statements that Obama is willing to increasingly use executive powers this year to bypass congressional opposition. This comes just two weeks before another fiscal showdown is set to take place on Capitol Hill when the U.S. Treasury loses its authority to continue borrowing money. The ostensible purpose of this strongman approach is to enact policies aimed at issues like unemployment.

    Source: NYT


  1. Genetic Surprises from a 7,000-Year-Old Man

    He had dark skin and blue eyes, with genes that were part African and part what today we would call Nordic — an unexpected combo that suggests today’s light-skinned Europeans are a relatively new development. The findings come from the results of the genetic mapping of a prehistoric man whose remains were found in a high-altitude Spanish cave in 2006. Lactose intolerant, he survived on the original Paleo diet — heavy on the meat. Still to come: test results from a second set of remains also found in the cave. 

    Source: BBC

  2. Daft Punk Hit it Big Alongside Lorde at Grammys

    The French electronic duo, in robot suits, won Grammy awards for album and record of the year. Other winners included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for best new artist. Their gay rights anthem ”Same Love” set the stage for the marriages of 33 couples during the event. Bruno Mars dedicated his award for pop vocal album of the year to his mother, who died last year. Teen sensation Lorde snagged song of the year and pop solo performance awards for Royals. But Taylor Swift’s hair, and its inspired Vine, may have taken the night. 

    Sources: The Guardian, LA Times, Billboard, USA Today

  3. Stephen Hawking Says There Are No Black Holes

    The world’s most-celebrated physicist has a far-out new contention: black holes don’t exist, at least not in the way we thought. In his latest paper posted online, Hawking argues that black holes — dead stars compressed into matter-munching vortexes — don’t destroy matter after all, but rather release it back into space in a new form. Traditionally, it’s been thought that nothing — not even light — could escape from a black hole. Hawking argues that this point of no return is just a matter of perspective. His controversial ideas may be a new final frontier for space enthusiasts.

    Source: Wired

  4. Owing Is Normal for America’s Young Adults, With or Without Degrees

    Twelve years ago, the U.S. Department of Education started following the lives of about 15,000 high school sophomores from a variety of backgrounds as they grew into young adulthood. Its findings reveal a worrying portrait of a typical 27-year-old American. Nearly 90 percent of these young adults have some college education, but only a third hold a degree. Over half of them took out significant student loans and still live within 10 miles of where they were brought up. Perhaps most alarmingly, 40 percent report being unemployed at some point since Obama took office.

    Source: The Atlantic

  5. Holocaust Survivor Returns Award in Protest Against Hungary’s Far Right

    Randolph L. Braham survived forced labor during the Holocaust and being a Soviet prisoner of war. He went on to become not just an historian, but the leading expert on the Holocaust in Hungary. But the 91-year-old emeritus professor says he is returning a high state award to the Hungarian government to protest against the country’s “history-cleansing campaign,” or what he sees as official efforts to wipe the Holocaust from Hungary’s history books. Braham cited the government’s toleration of monuments to far-right Hungarian figures, including former leader Miklos Horthy, who was complicit in the Nazis’ efforts to wipe out Hungary’s Jews.

    Source: Guardian

  6. Swiss Underdog Finds That It Helps to Relax Against Rafa

    Eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka has beaten Rafael Nadal to secure his first Grand Slam at the Australia Open. The Swiss tennis player, who would have been forgiven for suffering from nerves, tweeted about relaxing before the match despite facing an opponent he had never beaten before. Wawrinka didn’t expect to win but managed to dismiss Rafa in four sets, with the Spaniard being troubled by a back injury. This is the first time since 2009 that someone has beaten the top four players — Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray — to a Grand Slam title. If he was relaxed before, Wawrinka certainly has reason to put his feet up now.

    Sources: USA Today, BBC