The Presidential Daily Brief


  1. Ukrainians Welcome Long-Awaited but Fragile Calm

    The world watched in horror this week as scores died in clashes between protesters and police in Kiev. Hopes for calm in the Ukraine capital — plagued by turmoil for months over the president’s push to align the country more with Russia than the EU — rose and fell each day, leaving some speculating about a civil war. On Friday, President Viktor Yanukovych seemed to give the demonstrators what they wanted: a new election. Ukraine’s parliament also voted for criminal code amendments that have now freed his rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, from prison. Yanukovych agreed to a national unity government and constitutional changes reducing presidential powers. The opposition accepted the offer, tentatively drawing the crisis to a close. On Saturday, the presidential palace was found abandoned, but Yanukovych refused to quit, calling the situation a “coup.” Also on Saturday, Ukrainian MPs voted to oust Yanukovych – a decision he does not accept – and hold early presidential elections in May. 

    Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, NPR, NYT, BBC, WSJ

  2. A Frenzied Hollywood Preps for That Tiny Golden Statue

    Oscar buzz crescendos this week in advance of next Sunday’s awards blowout. The critics have their predictions, which seem to change with each source they talk to. Stylists prep for what’s become their own epic night. The swooning press covers every detail, down to the roller rink that helped inspire Disney’s Frozen. But ultimately it comes down to film. And in this digital age, one writer notes that only a single cinematography-nominated movie was shot on film, and not digital, and wonders what this means for the future of the archives and the industry. 

    Sources: Vanity Fair, LA Times, NYT, Sydney Morning Herald

  3. Big Medals and Big Money: Games Come to a Close

    On Sunday, a total of 294 medals will have been distributed in 98 events — six times as many medals as the first Winter Games in 1924. Though some grumble about the watered-down value of an Olympic medal, the economic benefit of more events means that medal distribution is likely to grow. But the price tag of the Games may start coming down, as potential host cities shy away from high costs and future contenders emphasize the use of existing infrastructure. While the biggest individual winner at Sochi may be Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerdalen, the biathlete who’s won 13 medals in six Olympics, the biggest collective winners may be Sochi’s stray puppies, a favorite souvenir of American athletes.

    Sources: BloombergABCBleacher ReportWSJ

  4. Germany Considers Counterespionage against U.S. 

    After allegations earlier this year that the NSA bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, Germany is fighting back. Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière indicated that they may in fact be doing an about-face on spying, hinting that all threats of espionage will be responded to — whether they come from friend or foe. America’s Teutonic allies may be tiring of what they see as U.S. intractability over allegations. Sources in Merkel’s party have hit out at U.S. officials, saying, “They’re like cowboys who only understand the language of the Wild West.” It looks like Germany is rustling up a new response.

    Source: Der Spiegel

  5. New Interim Ukraine President, Top Drug Lord Arrested

    Ukraine: Parliament speaker named interim president. (BBC, CBC).

    Mexico’s most wanted drug lord Joaquin ‘Shorty’ Guzman arrested. (CNN, WSJ).

    Historical knockout in Rousey and McMann UFC 170 bout. (USA Today).

    Major flaw in Apple software for mobile devices could pose hacking risk. (Reuters).

    Gold medal-winning U.S. skier sets stunning goal for 2018 Olympics. (USA Today). 

  6. Ransom Money Lines Terrorists’ Pockets

    A declassified U.K. report into ransom payments around the globe reveals that at least $70 million has been doled out to kidnappers in the last four years. Disturbingly, it seems that much of the money is going directly into the pockets of terrorist groups, with the Algerian al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb receiving as much as $45 million. Researchers say the money is used, in turn, to buy weapons. So paying for the release of loved ones remains an unspoken reality for the international community — and if it goes unchecked, it could mean we all end up paying a higher price.

    Source: All Africa


  1. Parachuting Enthusiast Builds Monument to Humanity

    The official center of the universe is a bronze plaque inside a granite pyramid just outside of Yuma, Ariz. — at least according to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and the pyramid’s whimsical creator, Jacques-André Istel. The 85-year-old Istel and his wife began constructing the town of Felicity in the 1980s; though they once dreamed of developing a town of thousands, Istel instead decided to create a monument to the history of humanity. Etchings on hundreds of panels of granite are designed to last 4,000 years and illustrate topics from Viking death rituals to the invention of the safety pin. The dreamlike open-air museum reminds visitors that they are part of a much grander human story whose most significant developments are sometimes only recognized in hindsight. 

    Source: NYT Magazine

  2. What Starts in the Womb Might Make Boys More Fragile

    Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are the sturdier sex, they are actually more vulnerable to environmental pollutants and neurological disorders than girls. Males undergo more complicated fetal development in the womb — and with a greater number of cell divisions comes a greater risk of error and susceptibility to harmful chemicals like insecticides and pollutants. Females’ higher estrogen levels also provide them with stronger immune systems, since the hormone counteracts the antioxidant process. The higher male birth rate may in fact be nature’s way of correcting for the developmental fragility of boys. 

    Source: Scientific American

  3. Bolivian “Cholitas” Find New Respect

    Recognizable by their high bowler hats and puffed-out skirts, Bolivia’s “cholitas” have long been treated with disdain. Traditionally from poorer, rural areas, the cholas were stigmatized as maids and housekeepers. But modern times have helped adjust attitudes towards these women — so much so that they have reclaimed their identity and begun celebrating their culture. Fashion shows are even dedicated to their unique style. And perhaps even more important are the economic opportunities these women are now enjoying with more professionals, such as lawyers and journalists, joining their ranks. 

    Source: BBC

  4. How Fraternities Became Dark, Powerful Forces at U.S. Universities

    Frat houses have become disturbingly common arenas for violence and injury. But many members look back on their fraternity experience as one of the most valuable of their undergraduate lives. Universities find themselves strangely dependent on fraternities — they attract (and house) students and provide donations from alums — making them reluctant to rein in potentially dangerous activities. To protect themselves from liability, frats have set up careful insurance schemes, regulations and codes of conduct. But it’s hard to imagine any external force that could compel fraternities to change significantly.

    Source: The Atlantic

  5. Modern Relationships versus the U.S. Government

    Republicans and right-wing religious groups are quietly pushing for state laws that would permit discrimination against gays on religious grounds. Lawmakers in at least 10 states have considered such measures, although none have passed. Opponents liken the moves to discriminatory Jim Crow laws. Meanwhile, a polyamorous advocate says our national laws don’t reflect the many permutations of relationships today. “Our laws are about 20 years behind what families actually look like,” she says. 

    Sources: The Atlantic, Mother Jones

  6. London Museum Struggles to Acquire First 3D-Printed Gun

    Cody Wilson set the world talking in 2013 when he produced and fired the first commercial 3D-printed firearm, the Liberator. After a legal quandary left him unable to distribute the blueprints online, owing to firearm exportation laws, Wilson voluntarily removed the plans from his website. But the historic innovation in firearm technology piqued the interest of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and curators have taken their shot at acquiring an original. Legal wrangling across the Atlantic and varying government definitions have slowed the process to a crawl, but museum staff hope to have the Liberator by June to add as a must-see for visitors of historical weaponry collection.

    Sources: Wired