The seas are looking rough. The U.S. has demanded the return of an unmanned underwater drone seized by a Chinese warship. According to the Pentagon, the unarmed U.S. Navy glider drone was collecting unclassified scientific data in international waters in the South China Sea when a Chinese warship approached and picked up the 10-foot device – despite radio messages from the American oceanographic vessel trying to pick it up themselves. The drone was reportedly testing water salinity and temperature. The Chinese have not yet responded to a formal diplomatic complaint from the U.S.
The Presidential Daily Brief
That was fast. At least 6,000 people were evacuated from the besieged city to rebel-held zones in neighboring Idlib province. But even as human rights groups worried about freezing winter weather and overcrowding in refugee areas, Syrian officials suspended the evacuations entirely, saying rebel groups had broken the cease-fire terms by taking hostages. The fate of the 50,000 still trapped in Aleppo remains unclear. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a peace deal’s necessary to stave off further massacres, but he’s unlikely to wrangle one before Barack Obama’s term ends.
It goes all the way to the top. The Obama administration indicated it has evidence that Vladimir Putin himself directed the hacks that helped damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances, while the Kremlin called the claim “rubbish.” Donald Trump falsely accused the White House of only raising concerns after the election, while continuing to express doubts about Russian involvement. The situation leaves American law enforcement in a bind, with Russia disinclined to extradite hacking suspects, but President Barack Obama vowing to retaliate “at a time and place of our own choosing.”
He won’t do the two-state two-step. David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience, has long been outspoken about his views on Israel: He supports Israeli settlement of the West Bank, doesn’t consider annexation of occupied territory to be illegal, and has compared Jewish support for a two-state solution to collaboration with Nazis during the Holocaust. While some Jewish groups expressed deep reservations, Friedman said he’s excited to work from the embassy in Jerusalem, “Israel’s eternal capital,” though the U.S. embassy is located in Tel Aviv.
They’ve got a yen for stability. Executives from Japanese banks with major presences in the U.K. reportedly told British officials that if they don’t receive some clarity on Britain’s future rights to EU markets, they’ll start relocating their London operations within six months. Without passporting rights, which allow banks to run European business from London, many financial institutions will have to find a new European hub. Bank officials say they know it’s unlikely that passporting will be available post-Brexit, despite attempted assurances from British finance minister Philip Hammond.
Know This: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be questioned by an ethics watchdog over alleged fundraising shenanigans. Cuba owes the Czech Republic $276 million — and wants to pay it in rum. And North Carolina’s GOP is trying to change the state governor’s powers right before a Democrat is sworn in.
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May the odds be ever in your favor. Game2: Winter looks like a real-life Hunger Games, with 30 contestants pursuing a $1.6 million prize while stranded in Siberia for nine months and broadcast 24/7 online. They’ll be allowed knives, but no guns, and they’ll sign waivers acknowledging they could be killed or raped. While Russian laws will apply, the course is 30 minutes away from civilization by helicopter. At least 60 people have reportedly applied to contend with subzero temperatures, wild animals and, most dangerous of all, each other.
Dona eis requiem. Controversial Catholic organization Opus Dei is at a turning point after the last connection to its founding generation passed away this week. Established in 1928, the sect inspires its 90,000 mostly non-clergy followers to aspire to behave like saints. With Bishop Javier Echevarría now gone, the world’s got its eyes on Opus Dei, which has been called a “church within a church” for its secrecy and prominence in right-wing politics. Now its members will have to elect a new prelate, who’ll set the sect’s direction.
Check the label. The Food and Drug Administration only approved 19 new drugs in 2016, a move that’s raising eyebrows for big pharma. Last year, the FDA approved 45 medications — a two-decade high. So why the sudden downturn? Biopharma companies filed fewer applications for drugs this year, potentially anticipating a new era for pharmaceuticals ushered in by the 21st Century Cures Act. The recently passed bill is set to speed up the time between testing and distribution of new drugs — but some worry it’ll lower the FDA’s standards too far.
Unfurl your sailor mouth. Social scientists say letting loose some f-bombs or other taboo terms helps humans vent and convey intense emotion — though sometimes curses arrive via reflex. One study showed cursing could help people cope with pain when submerging their hands in ice water. Many arguments against profanity have been punctured, too: It doesn’t harm impressionable children and people with larger vocabularies actually deploy curses more often. But overuse does desensitize people to the words’ power, if you happen to give a flying f…lamingo about that.
Speak softly and wear a loud print. The broadcaster’s long public battle with acute myeloid leukemia ended yesterday. Sager was known for his colorful, eye-catching wardrobe and a low-key professional style stalking basketball sidelines in 26 years with Turner Sports. But the hall-of-famer was also on the field for Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and slept in the stall next to Seattle Slew the night before he won the Triple Crown. NBA teams will observe a moment of silence in Sager’s honor before their next games.