The Presidential Daily Brief


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    State Department Pulls Half of its Staff From Havana Embassy

    They aren’t taking any chances. The U.S. government is pulling its nonessential embassy staff out of Cuba, citing unexplained attacks that have injured 21 people connected with the mission. Suffering from issues ranging from sleep deprivation and dizziness to hearing impairment and cognitive difficulties, workers are believed to have been targeted with a sonic weapon, though an FBI investigation has failed to pinpoint a cause. Cuban officials have sought to reassure their U.S. counterparts they’re not trying to harm them, but for now, Americans are keeping their distance.

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    Mumbai Train Station Stampede Kills 22

    Blame it on the rain. A heavy downpour sent people running for shelter near Mumbai’s Elphinstone station during morning rush hour. But the rush turned into a stampede when falling concrete made some think the bridge was on the verge of collapse, and 22 people were killed in the crush. More than 30 others were hurt. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Prayers with those who are injured,” as attention turns to Mumbai’s crumbling infrastructure, which saw 3,400 people die last year in falls from trains or while crossing tracks.

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    HHS Secretary Apologizes for Private Jet Use

    Back to economy you go. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who came under bipartisan fire for using taxpayer-funded private jets, has apologized and promised to stop using them. He’ll write a check for $51,887, which he says will cover the cost of all his trips — though other estimates indicate his charter flights and international military jet use cost taxpayers more than $900,000. Meanwhile, the White House says it’s investigating the reported use of private email accounts by several top staffers, including presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.

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    ISIS Claims New Audio Recording of Leader

    Were rumors of his death exaggerated? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hasn’t been seen since 2014, when he established his “caliphate” in Mosul. Now that city’s liberated, but in ruins, and many assumed al-Baghdadi, who has a $25 million price on his head, had been killed. But yesterday ISIS released a new recording of a speaker who sounds like al-Baghdadi referring to events of recent weeks. While officials try to verify if it’s really him, the recording might boost the morale of ISIS fighters attempting to hang onto Syrian territory.

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    China Moves to Shutter North Korean Companies

    It’s not business as usual. As a nuclear-armed North Korea has put the world on edge with missile tests and a war of words with President Donald Trump, its one major ally is turning its back. Complying with recent U.N. Security Council sanctions, Beijing has told North Korean businesses operating in China to close up shop in 120 days. That’s dire news for the Hermit Kingdom, which depends on China for as much as 90 percent of its trade, and could prompt more threats from Pyongyang aimed directly at Beijing.

  6. Twitter’s Information, ICE Crackdowns and the PDB Quiz

    Know This: Yesterday Twitter representatives appeared at congressional briefings on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but lawmakers said their presentation was “inadequate” and “deeply disappointing,” revealing little new information. A four-day immigration raid across a handful of so-called “sanctuary cities” rounded up hundreds of people. And Elon Musk says his space rockets could be used to travel between Earth cities.

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

    Tune In: OZY and WGBH have teamed up to create a fabulous new show for PBS, Third Rail With OZY. The show tapes every Friday in NYC in front of a live studio audience. Want to get in on the action? Sign up here.


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    China’s Electric Car Industry Has a Battery Problem

    Charge them with littering. China’s stepped up electric car production, becoming the world’s biggest market for the technology and promising this month to eventually phase out gas cars altogether. But with hundreds of thousands of electric and hybrid cars come lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which currently last around five years. By 2020 China’s expected to have more than 275,000 tons of LFP battery waste. Europe’s got the same headache: Only about 5 percent of electric car batteries there get recycled, and improper disposal can contaminate soil and water.

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    Pornhub Boosts Accessibility for Visually Impaired

    That thing about going blind is just a myth. But the internet’s largest adult website is going above and beyond to improve accessibility for the visually impaired. Last year, Pornhub launched a Described Video category that includes detailed narration of each scene. Now it’s expanding its display options to include enlarged text and customized color contrasts, plus keyboard shortcuts and alternative text to describe images. Making porn more accessible might not sound like important work, but Pornhub, the 38th most popular site on the internet, could inspire others to follow suit.

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    Japanese Fauna Still Washing Ashore in US After 2011 Tsunami

    Land ahoy! Before 2011’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, researchers had never recorded Japanese debris washing all the way across the Pacific. But since 2012, 289 native Japanese species have reached North America — and the sponges, sea stars, barnacles and fish are still coming, surviving the open ocean by hitching rides on the enormous amount of durable human-produced debris. There’s evidence they’ve reproduced during the voyage, but the Japanese species aren’t yet taking root in North American waters — though scientists say it’s likely too early to tell.

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    ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes Are TV’s Costliest

    The Iron Bank sends its regards. Game of Thrones will reportedly drop a record $15 million per episode on Season 8, with a total budget of $90 million. The series started off spending a somewhat ordinary $6 million per show. But now that it’s HBO’s golden goose, showrunners are filming from Morocco to Iceland, and those fiery dragon battle scenes aren’t going to digitally generate themselves. Plus there are more actors to pay and, industry folks confide, fewer available veteran filmmakers in TV’s new golden age who share the Lannisters’ fiscal restraint.

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    NBA Adopts New Rules to Help Curb Intentional Losing

    Tanks for the memories. Current NBA draft lottery rules — which see the worst teams get first dibs — have encouraged “tanking,” with teams sending out their worst lineups in order to lose games and increase their chances of a top pick. Now those rules are changing: The three worst teams in the league will have an equal chance at first draft. While authorities caution that this won’t end tanking, they’re calling it “an incremental step” toward a solution. The new rules will take effect for the 2019 draft.