The Presidential Daily Brief


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    Portuguese Train Derails in Spain, Killing Four

    It’s a disturbing trend. A derailment near the Spanish-Portuguese border killed four people and injured nearly 50 today, increasing a grim tally of Continental rail accidents. The crash, which killed the train’s engineer, happened in the town of O Porrino — on the way to the Portuguese town of Porto. It occurred in the Spanish region of Galacia, where a 2013 high-speed rail crash killed 80 people. Three died in a June Belgian crash and 23 in July Italian collision, and now investigators must sift through new wreckage to determine a cause.

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    U.S., Russia Agree to Syria Ceasefire

    Will this one hold? After marathon talks in Geneva, the two powers struck a deal to end hostilities in the conflict-torn Middle Eastern state on Monday, with the government and rebel groups joining in a tenuous partnership to target al-Qaeda and ISIS. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the agreement a possible “turning point” in a war that has killed as many as 500,000 over five years. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was ready to comply, but war-weary Syrians can’t be blamed for skepticism.

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    Trump Appears on Russian State TV, Doubts Kremlin Hacking

    Some days the bear gets you … on camera. Interviewed on Kremlin-owned network RT America, Donald Trump said it’s “unlikely” that Russia’s behind the Democratic Party email hacks, contradicting the FBI’s conclusions. Trump’s campaign later said it hadn’t realized the interview with Larry King would air on his RT show. Mike Pence, meanwhile, echoed the mogul’s assertion that Vladimir Putin’s a better leader than Obama. And Hillary Clinton’s allies are increasingly concerned that the media’s shaping voters’ perceptions by holding her to tougher standards than her impetuous opponent.

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    Alpine Gondola Mishap Precipitates Rescue Cliffhanger

    Don’t. Look. Down. Strong winds tangled cables on high-altitude gondolas above the glaciers of France’s Mont Blanc, leaving 110 passengers stranded. Helicopters hovered over 36 Vallée Blanche cable cars, winching up passengers until fog rolled in, according to one witness. Those whose cars were close enough to the ground were lowered with ropes, but 33 remaining passengers had to stay overnight, swinging aloft until this morning, when the cables were reportedly unsnagged and could resume transit to terra firma — and less harrowing modes of transportation.

  5. US Troops Failed to Rescue Taliban Hostages, Himalayan Tsunami Robots and the PDB Quiz

    Know This: Seal Team 6 fought the Taliban to rescue U.S. and Australian hostages, but didn’t find them. Facebook’s been disliked for deleting the historic “Napalm Girl” Vietnam War photo because of child nudity restrictions. And Donald Trump, in yesterday’s Russian TV appearance, says he actually doesn’t dislike Hillary Clinton.

    Comprehend This: Tsunamis? In the Himalayas? Glaciers shift, sending deadly volumes of water toward human settlements. To glean advance warnings of such events, forward-thinking Nepalese are using swimming robots to map trouble spots.

    Try This: Feeling presidential after a week of briefings? Prove it with the PDB quiz.


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    Researcher Names Parasite After Cousin: Barack Obama

    Thanks a lot, cuz. When it comes to personal tributes, one of the president’s relations may have pushed the boundaries of comfort. Meet Baracktrema obamai, a parasitic blood fluke that infects the lungs of Malaysian turtles. The thread-like flatworm owes its name to its discoverer, retired biology professor Thomas Platt, who is Obama’s fifth cousin, twice removed. “It’s long. It’s thin. And it’s cool as hell,” Platt gushes about his “incredibly resilient” find’s presidential traits, but let’s see how the parasite-in-chief goes over at Thanksgiving.

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    Airbnb Promises to Tackle Racial Discrimination

    Not every house is a home. Airbnb has responded to accusations of racial discrimination, and they’re promising change. Black customers have complained that they’re turned down in disproportionate numbers: The home rental service shares users’ names and photos, raising the potential for bias from would-be hosts. Airbnb says they’ll assist customers who experience discrimination, and they’ll partner with Black universities and organizations to train and diversify their recruitment pool. One anti-discrimination group called it “an important step in the right direction” that other tech firms ought to emulate.

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    Imagine a World Without ‘Star Trek’

    It’s been a 50-year mission. Star Trek debuted this week in 1966, but it almost didn’t air, which would have spawned a timeline too grim to contemplate. Created during the Cold War and the space race, the groundbreaking show imagined an optimistic extraterrestrial future and shaped an entire generation of science fiction. (We’re scanning you, Star Wars.) Its technology influenced the design of cell phones and spaceships, and its tolerance-focused politics launched a new TV era. But it’s not done: Star Trek: Discovery takes off in January on CBS.

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    How Switzerland Reduced Suicides by Cutting the Military

    Some unintended consequences are good. The famously neutral European nation has one of the world’s highest gun ownership rates, largely because young men purchase weapons at a discount after compulsory military service. So when Switzerland cut its army in half in 2003, Bern researcher Thomas Reisch noticed the country’s suicide rate among men fell, too, saving about 30 lives annually, and mirroring American firearm suicide research. U.S. gun rights advocates argue that there are other ways to end one’s life — but most aren’t nearly as fast or effective.