The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Syria Talks: So Much Hope Ends With Insults

    The Geneva II peace talks over war-ravaged Syria that began with such fanfare seem to have ended all too quietly. Both sides criticized the other, even as a UN envoy said they found common ground. The parties agreed to some local cease-fires for humanitarian aid access. The next talks are set for Feb. 10, although whether they move past accusations from this week that ranged from immaturity to torture might need divine intervention.

    Sources: BBC, Reuters

  2. Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Boston Bombing Suspect

    Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could face the death penalty if found guilty of the attack that killed three and injured 260. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors would argue for the ultimate punishment, arguing that “the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.” Seventeen of the 30 charges against Tsarnaev, who pleaded not guilty, carry the possibility of capital punishment. Though the state of Massachusetts abolished the death penalty in 1984, Tsarnaev will be charged under federal law, which reinstated the death penalty in 1988. A trial date has not yet been set.

    Sources: BBC, NYT

  3. Italy Convicts Knox of Murder a Second Time, Co-Defendant Found Near Border

    An Italian court has reinstated its guilty verdict against American Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of Meredith Kercher in 2007. Knox and Sollecito, who maintain their innocence, received sentences of 28 and 25 years respectively. The latest verdict outweighs their successful 2011 appeals, which authorized their release after four years in prison but was overturned by Italy’s supreme court. Early this morning Sollecito was found in a hotel near the Italian border, where Italian authorities enforced the travel ban issued with the verdict. Knox has refused to return to Italy and may be subject to a lengthy extradition process.

    Sources: BBC, NYT, Washington Post

  4. Study Points to Longer Executions as Drugs Prove Unreliable

    U.S. executions are taking twice as long under new protocols introduced in July 2012. A worldwide ethical boycott of U.S. departments of corrections has reduced the supply of the drugs used in the conventional three-drug cocktail, and states like Texas are scrambling for alternatives. Executions using single drugs, like pentobarbital, have been shown to take up to half an hour to complete. The study, published in The Guardian, found that before the change, executions took an average of 10 minutes, within a reliable range of 9-11 minutes. After the change, this went up to a 20-minute average, and a range of 12-30 minutes.

    Source: The Guardian

  5. U.S. Nuclear Team Members Suspended Over Cheating

    Some 92 officers who have their hands on the U.S. nuclear strike buttons cheated on monthly tests — not exactly the news anyone wants to hear about people responsible for such serious weaponry at the Malmstrom Air Force Base. Air Force officials have acknowledged that this points to systemic problems in the nuclear force, noting that the pressure from commanders to achieve perfect marks has led to a “climate of fear.” With three examinations a month, it is a high-pressure gig. But would we really want it any other way? 

    Source: LA Times


  1. ‘Indonesia’s Obama’ Looks Toward the Presidency

    Jakarta’s Gov. Joko Widodo, aka Jokowi, appears as a man of the people: visiting neighborhoods and bureaucrats, jamming to his favorite band, Metallica. While such handshake politics is a given in the U.S., in Indonesia, a land of more formal politicians, he’s a revolution. He still can’t keep the annual floods at bay, and he’s polling below a majority, but he’s still the front-runner for nation’s July elections.

    Source: GlobalPost

  2. Australian Government Approves Dumping Near Coral Reef

    Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the dumping of three million cubic meters of dredging spoil in its park in Queensland as part of a coal port expansion. The expansion will allow an additional 70 million tons of coal to travel through the port each year. Greenpeace and other conservation groups have heavily criticized the decision, saying the sediment could endanger the famous coral bed and sea grass. They also fear a busier port will raise the risk of shipping accidents and spills near the marine park.

    Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera

  3. Johansson and Oxfam Part Ways over Middle East Controversy

    Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson has resigned as a global ambassador for Oxfam, an international anti-poverty organization. The trouble started when Johansson signed an advertising contract with SodaStream, the Israeli producers of the popular make-at-home soda machines. Oxfam objected to the deal because SodaStream operates a factory in an illegal Israeli settlement on the West Bank. Many activist groups advocate boycotting such companies, and Oxfam argues that they undermine anti-poverty efforts in the Palestinian territories. Johansson has defended SodaStream, but could fans consider it selfish to choose an advertising contract over a highly respected NGO?

    Source: Washington Post

  4. Vodka Puts Russian Men at High Risk of Early Death

    A survey of more than 150,000 Russian men has found that those who drink excessive amounts of vodka — a common problem — have a 35 percent chance of dying before they reach 55. Male life expectancy in Russia, on average, is just 64, ranking it among the world’s bottom 50 countries on that measure. And a quarter of Russian men die by 55, compared to just one percent in the U.S. The study, published in The Lancet, points to Russia’s long-standing high rates of alcohol consumption. It’s time for Russian men to drink to their health with water or wine instead.

    Sources: Washington Post, BBC 

  5. Historians Fight Back Against ‘Historical’ Twitter Feeds

    It’s not often that historians leave the library to fight back against the modern world, but the spate of “historical” Twitter accounts has prompted them to do just that. Accounts like the hugely popular “History in Pictures” post striking historical images, allegedly for educational purposes. But the account is actually run by two enterprising teenagers who do not credit photos, provide context or encourage followers to dig deeper. Historians argue that these kind of viral accounts prevent meaningful exploration and critical engagement. 

    Source: The Daily Dot

  6. 52 Athletes Protest Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws

    More than 50 current and former Olympians, including Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick, have joined the chorus of voices denouncing Russia’s laws on homosexuality. The “Principle Six” campaign — named after the clause of the Olympic Charter that guarantees non-discrimination — aims to demonstrate that Russia’s laws violate the ideals of the Games. The signatories include 12 athletes competing at Sochi. They also criticize the International Olympic Committee and the competition sponsors for not doing enough to address the problem. But with just a week to go before the opening ceremony, a positive Russian response seems unlikely.

    Source: The Guardian