Greece draws battle lines over bailout

The new Greek government has taken a defiant stance on the country’s debt obligations, saying it will not negotiate existing bailout conditions with the three entities who put the 2010 agreement in place – the European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) – but rather wants direct talks with European leaders in a bid to cancel more than half the money Greece owes.

Greece:EPA                       (The Eurogroup’s Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Yanis Varoufakis at their tense press conference Friday night – EPA/Irish Times)

Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said the “logic” of austerity had been repudiated when the Syriza party, under new prime minister Alexis Tsipras, won Sunday’s election. German finance minister Wolfgang Schaubel, meanwhile, said that Germany “was averse to blackmail.

According to The Economist the stakes are high, and “it could all get very messy.” The paper says:

Greek voters may be living in a fool’s paradise if they think Mr Tsipras can deliver what he says, but the Germans too have to look at the consequences of their obstinacy.

Greece has a Feb 28 deadline with its lenders, so watch this space.

Peace talks between the sides in the Ukraine conflict were called off on Friday after an upsurge in heavy fighting in the east of the country.

US Central Command said a US air strike had killed an ISIS chemical weapons specialist near Mosul in Iraq last week.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the CIA and Mossad killed a senior Hezbollah figure in an elaborate car bombing in Syria in 2008, details of which have just come to light.

Voting for a new President in Italy moves to its final decisive round on Saturday after a single candidate failed to emerge after lawmakers’ second vote on Friday.

Saudi Arabia postponed for a second time the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi. No reason was immediately given.

The outbreak of measles centered in California continues to spread, with more than 100 cases now confirmed.

* POLITICS * Mitt Romney eventually decided against a third run at the Presidency, saying in a conference call with reporters that it was “time to give the next generation a chance to lead.” The New York Times said:

The news on Friday that Mr. Romney would opt out of the race revealed as much about the party in 2015 as it did about the former Massachusetts governor’s weaknesses as a candidate. Republican leaders, especially the party’s wealthiest donors, are in an impatient and determined mood. They are eager to turn to a new face they believe can defeat what they anticipate will be a strong, well-funded Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

* BUSINESS * Shake Shack’s share price more than doubled on its NYSE debut, turning Danny Meyer’s “burger joint that began 14 years ago in a hot-dog cart [into] a $1.7 billion behemoth.”

Qatar Airways became the biggest shareholder in IAG, the airline group that owns British Airways and Iberia, and is in the process of bidding for Aer Lingus.

* MEDIA * Henry Blodget explains why Michael Bloomberg should buy The New York Times, even if it isn’t for sale.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab goes to meet Mashable and see how it’s attracting the “connected generation.”

Wired writes about investor Steven Klinsky and the “grand plan to give everyone a free year of online college.”

The AP’s “robot journalism” project is in full swing.

* SPORTS * Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held his annual press conference, stressing that the organization had “done a lot of soul searching this year” and saying he had no intention of resigning. But the Commissioner again managed to draw the wrong kind of headlines with his responses to CNN reporter Rachel Nichols.

Meanwhile, Ben Affleck, Mat Damon and others admitted to being behind DeflateGate.

Ernie Banks’ memorial service will be held in Chicago on Saturday, what would have been his 84th birthday. The subsequent procession route will pass his statue, currently in Daley Plaza, and, of course, Wrigley Field.

wrigley(image: CelebrityFeed)


Warnings as Ukraine crisis escalates

As the conflict in Ukraine escalates, EU foreign ministers agreed to extend existing sanctions against Russia until September, but stopped short of imposing new restrictions.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, meanwhile, warned that the conflict could escalate into a “hot war” between Russia and the West. Testifying at the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said caution should guide the next steps by the US. “I’m uneasy about beginning a process of military engagement without knowing where it will lead us and what we’ll do to sustain it,” he said.

This week’s Economist looks at the position of current Russian President Vladimir Putin, who “upgraded the war into a Russia-NATO conflict just as Standard & Poor’s, a rating agency, was downgrading Russia’s credit rating to junk.”

The annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine have thus helped Mr Putin to consolidate power at home. But as the economy deteriorates, he cannot afford to let go of eastern Ukraine and seems trapped by the logic of escalating conflict.

Separately, the British government has summoned the Russian ambassador after Russian military aircraft were intercepted operating near UK airspace, apparently disrupting commercial aviation. The Foreign Office said the incident was “part of an increasing pattern of out of area operations by Russian aircraft.”

raf (image: RAF/Daily Telegraph)

* WORLD * With the passing of Thursday’s deadline for the possible exchange of a Jordanian pilot and a convicted female terrorist, the fate of the two hostages purportedly held by Islamic State remains unclear. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said only that efforts were being made in cooperation with other governments to free journalist Kenji Goto.

In Egypt’s Sinai region at least 25 people, mostly military personnel, were killed in attacks claimed by a group allied to IS.

On Friday, the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia will hand down a final verdict in the cases of five men convicted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

* POLITICS * UPDATE 9.30 AM FRI: Mitt Romney is to provide reporters with an “update” on his plans for the upcoming election cycle via a conference call at 11am ET. The Daily Beast says he’s running. NBC’s Chuck Todd says he has to decide now, as the “ground is crumbling” under his feet.

The White House appears set for its first clash with the new Republican-controlled congress after the Senate passed a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has previously signaled he would veto.

Meanwhile, the White House has also threatened to veto eight bills taken up by the House of Representatives.

The only Republican senator who didn’t vote on final passage of the Keystone bill was Marco Rubio, who was wrapping up a fundraising swing through California, prompting more speculation that he is preparing a Presidential bid.

John McCain’s “illegitimate son“, Senator Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, formed a political committee called Security Through Strength – with deliberate Reaganesque echoes – and said he is “testing the waters” on a run. “I’m tired of just complaining,” he said. Such a move would certainly force foreign policy into a higher profile in any primary contest.

Talking of John McCain; turns out he’s not a big fan of the Code Pinks.mccaincaller  (image: Daily Caller)

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, may delay the formal announcement of her campaign until the summer, Politico reports, saying there are pros and cons to such a strategy.

* BUSINESS * Music streaming service Spotify is looking to raise about $500m, potentially delaying an IPO for one of the most highly-valued startups.

Amazon posted higher-than-expected fourth-quarter profits – bouncing back from two quarters of steep losses – driven by growth in Amazon Prime.

Disneyland has big plans for the 60th anniversary of its Anaheim park. Meanwhile, a top CDC official said the recent measles outbreak centered at the park likely came from overseas. It’s a small world after all.

Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack restaurant sold 5million shares at $21 in its IPO, higher than initial indications. The company starts trading on the NYSE on Friday, with the symbol SHAK.shakeshack(image:

* MEDIA * In light of new VC funding deals for Mashable and Business Insider, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram analyses whether new media can scale or not. He writes:

When it comes to showing that they can scale to a size that would make them a competitor for existing major-media brands, only Vice has arguably achieved that, with a business that covers news on a global level, produces entertainment and drives a lot of advertising revenue, all based on a valuable millennial audience.

At the same time, however, advertising is also part of the problem.

Headline of the day (and no, it doesn’t come from your spam inbox): ‘You can earn $13,000 a year selling your poop’.

* SPORTS * Nominations closed on Thursday for the presidency of Fifa, world soccer’s governing body. Despite a slate of several challengers, it seems unlikely that current incumbent Sepp Blatter will be seriously threatened.

The story gives us a chance to revisit John Oliver’s item ahead of last year’s World Cup (and gives him a chance to revisit his favorite Blatter clip):

* CULTURE * The future of Downton Abbey could be in doubt, with creator and writer Julian Fellowes apparently yet to commit to a seventh series.

Kenneth Ireland, who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for rape and murder and spent 21 years in jail, was awarded $6m by the State of Connecticut. He becomes the first person in the state to be compensated for a wrongful incarceration claim since a law was passed seven years ago. Ireland was released in 2009 and in October last year was appointed to Connecticut’s Parole Board.

Finally, Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes humans should be worried by the threat of artificial intelligence. In his third Reddit AMA, Gates said he didn’t understand “why some people are not concerned” about the implications of super-intelligence.

Meanwhile, a surgical robot with multiple arms – admittedly operated by doctors, at least for now – carried out its first operation in England, removing a cancerous tumor.

Agony continues in ISIS hostage drama

A possible prisoner exchange between the Jordanian government and a group claiming to represent Islamic State is shrouded in uncertainty after Jordan said it had received no assurance that its pilot, Mu’ath al-Kasaesbeh, who is apparently being held by the group, is safe.

There is also no further information on the status of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, apparently being held by the same group, and also being used as a bargaining chip by IS to gain the release of an Iraqi woman convicted terrorist, Sajida al-Rishawi, who has been imprisoned in Jordan.

In an as-yet unverified recording which emerged on Wednesday, a man thought to be Goto apparently extends the IS deadline for the release of Sajida al-Rishawi until “sunset on Thursday.

Japan-Hostage-Social Networks   (image: Associated Press)

Christopher Dickey at The Daily Beast analyses the agenda and strategy of the hostage-takers, and the effect this very public, human saga is having on the countries involved, the region and the wider world:

What is clear from its demands as they were presented and evolved over the last few days is that ISIS may be led by a group of religious fanatics who carry out gruesome campaigns of conquest and terror, but it is also a skilled political player, showing flexibility and shrewd judgment about its opponents whether they are right next to the war zone in the deserts of the Middle East, half way around the world on the Pacific Rim, or, for that matter, on the banks of the Potomac.

* WORLD * Fighting flared between Israel and Hezbollah near the Golan Heights, resulting in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UN peacekeeper. The exchanges represent the worst escalation in tensions since the two sides fought a month-long war in 2006.

An Australian coroner began the inquest into December’s siege at the Lindt Cafe in downtown Sydney. Follow coverage from the Sydney Morning Herald here; ABC News Australia here; The Australian here; or Sky News Australia here.

Financial markets in Greece took a tumble on Wednesday after the country’s new government moved to make good on campaign promises that investors worry could set it on a collision course with Germany and other Eurozone governments.

* POLITICS * The Senate Judiciary Committee’s pre-confirmation hearing for Attorney-General nominee Loretta Lynch seemed at times to be more about the man she has been picked to replace, Eric Holder. Lynch stressed her track record of independence, but also defended President Obama’s recent actions on immigration.

lynch(image: Associated Press/Yahoo)

In today’s GOP jostling, Mitt Romney used a speech in Mississippi to further flesh out a potential campaign persona should he decide to mount a third Presidential bid. He argued that Republicans should focus less on their primary process and more on winning a general election.

Meanwhile, some members of the Koch brothers’ influential donor network may be leaning towards Marco Rubio.

For plenty on the right, though, the Sarah Palin show may have – finally – jumped the shark as fallout continues from her Iowa speech at the weekend. Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast writes:

My new book (out early in 2016) is called Too Dumb to Fail, and will focus on how conservatism was once a proud intellectual philosophy, but has been dumbed down over the years.

Palin has contributed to this phenomenon by playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics, co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism.

And this makes me wonder if  I might have contributed to this by boosting her—and by publicly chastising her conservative critics.

* BUSINESS * The Federal Communications Commission warned hotels that blocking guests’ personal wifi access was illegal.

Facebook’s fourth-quarter earnings grew by a third, driven by mobile advertising. The social networking company says it now has 1.39 billion active users.

Fast food chain McDonald’s ousted its CEO Don Thompson, replacing him effective March 1 with the company’s chief brand officer, Steve Easterbrook. “It’s tough to say goodbye to the McFamily,” said Thompson in a statement.

* MEDIA * A report on the Future of News commissioned for the BBC recommends that the corporation should concentrate on expanding its local news offering in the wake of a significant decline in the numbers of “front line” journalism jobs in the UK over the past decade. It also says the BBC must put greater emphasis on the role of the World Service, which “faces a choice between decline and growth.”

Pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan announced that he is to stop blogging. In a note to his readers on Wednesday he says:

You were there when it was just me and a tip jar for six years, and at Time, and at The Atlantic, and the Daily Beast, and then as an independent company. When we asked you two years ago to catch us as we jumped into independence, you came through and then some. In just two years, you built a million dollar revenue company, with 30,000 subscribers, a million monthly readers, and revenue growth of 17 percent over the first year. You made us unique in this media world – and we were able to avoid the sirens of clickbait and sponsored content. We will never forget it.

* SPORTS * There’s a really great read by David Pierce at The Verge looking at ESPN and the future of sports coverage.

If you are slow,” says Anthony Mormile, ESPN’s VP of digital video, “and want to make it beautiful, you can’t live in the Twitter space. Because some guy just held his phone up to his TV and put it up on Twitter, or some guy just GIF’d it, or some guy made a Vine and got the whole play up, and here we come eight minutes after it happened with a ‘ta-da! look at this beautiful opening. And we’ve got music and natural sound!’ And you’re like ‘we already saw it, dude’.

* CULTURE * It seems that humans and neanderthals first had sex with each other about 55,000 years ago. Here’s where.

After a real-life family plot line that would make a gripping novel in itself, Stieg Larsson’s protagonist Lisbeth Salander is returning in a fourth story in August.

Finally, with all the hype about the ads for Sunday’s Super Bowl – whether for Budweiser or GoDaddy or anyone in betweenthis may be the spot that everyone ends up talking about on Monday.

Hostages facing new IS deadline

UPDATE 7.30AM ET WEDS: With less than two hours until the hostage-takers’ deadline passes, the Jordanian government said it is prepared to release a convicted woman terrorist in exchange for the release of a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic State. A statement through the official news agency said: “Jordan is ready to release the Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, if the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, is released unharmed.” No mention was made of the Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, also apparently held by the same group.

MIDNIGHT TUES: Japanese and Jordanian officials are working towards securing the freedom of two of their nationals held by Islamic State, after a video was released containing a threat to kill Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Lt Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh, a Jordanian pilot who was shot down and captured by IS in December.

jordan (image: Reuters)

Several hundred people gathered outside the Jordanian Prime Minister’s office on Tuesday, urging the government to meet the demands required for al-Kaseasbeh’s release.

The video reportedly said the two men would be killed “within 24 hours” unless Jordan released an Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, convicted of terrorist acts in 2005.

Goto’s mother issued a video plea for her son’s life to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who described the captors’ new message as “despicable”.

* WORLD * Kurdish forces reportedly took control of the Syrian city of Kobani from IS after four months of fighting. But US officials warned that halting the momentum of IS does not represent a turning point in the overall campaign.

Gunmen attacked a hotel in the Libyan capital Tripoli, killing nine people, reportedly including one French person and one US citizen. A group saying it was related to ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced the members of his cabinet, including hardline anti-bailout economist Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister.

In Saudi Arabia, President Obama and a US delegation paid their respects to the late King Abdullah. The President met with the new King Salman and discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the global energy market. The First Lady also made news for her clothing choices.

herald(image: Boston Herald)

Thirty thousand homes in New England – including the whole island of Nantucket – are still without power after a blizzard slammed Boston, Cape Cod  and surrounding locations. yet the fact that the much-hyped storm merely brushed New York City led to criticism, recrimination and mockery – pretty much all the things New Yorkers do best.

Early on Tuesday, the National Weather Service held its hands up, posting:

The storm has moved further east and will be departing faster than our forecasts of the past two days. The result is much less snow than previously predicted for the western half of our region. The heaviest of the snow will be over Long Island and southern Connecticut with lighter snow elsewhere through the morning hours.

The science of forecasting storms, while continually improving, still can be subject to error, especially if we’re on the edge of the heavy precipitation shield. Efforts, including research, are already underway to more easily communicate that forecast uncertainty.

New York politicians, meanwhile, defended the decision-making which brought the city to a standstill; Mayor Bill De Blasio even staged a dramatic reading of a story in The Onion which, given some of the pre-storm coverage, might have seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

As you’d expect, there were memes aplenty – samples here, here, and here; while Erik Wemple at the Washington Post explains how the storm was a successful product-placement for The Weather Channel.

* BUSINESS * The US Federal Reserve concludes its two-day January meeting on Wednesday, with indications that it will maintain a “wait-and-see” approach to interest rates. The Fed’s policy statement will be released at 2pm ET.

Apple’s quarterly revenues were the largest in the company’s history, with CEO Tim Cook saying the company had been selling 30,000 iPhones an hour. The company has now sold more than one billion devices running the iOS operating system.

Yahoo! detailed the tax-beneficial spinoff of its stake in AliBaba.

London Heathrow is no longer the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger numbers. That distinction now belongs to Dubai.

* MEDIA * The Guardian unveiled its first complete web redesign since 2007, completing a process that has been in beta for a year. 130,000 pieces of reader feedback had been received since the project began, it said.

* POLITICS * The RNC is set for a significant digital shake-up, Politico reports, with its top digital official “set to leave for a rival data operation tied to the Koch Brothers.” The news comes the day after details emerged of the Kochs’ spending plans for the upcoming cycle.

As for the potential 2016 field, it seems that Mitt Romney – who may or may not be getting closer to a decision about seeking the Presidency for a third time – just can’t win with Rupert Murdoch. If Romney does run, he’s apparently planning to “re-brand himself as authentic…” according to the Washington Post.

Romney sat out Rep Steve King’s Iowa gathering at the weekend, but other possible GOP candidates who showed up subsequently found themselves, perhaps unsurprisingly, skewered brilliantly by Jon Stewart. Scott Walker – widely acknowledged to have performed well at the weekend and who on Tuesday set up a Presidential exploratory committee – became a target for criticism from a whole other source altogether.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence, himself occasionally mentioned in GOP circles as a possible Presidential player, got himself some probably unwanted ink on Tuesday after announcing that his office was starting its own “news” outlet to compete with existing media organizations.

With 100 days to go until the British general election, the outcome could go either way (or indeed, any one of several messy ways). Here’s a quick primer on who the parties are and what they’re saying, while there’s still wrangling over proposed TV debates with even the possibility of them taking place without Prime Minister David Cameron.

(quick programming note – as campaigning and coverage heats up in Britain, I’ll give UK politics its own category here, as a way of distinguishing its politicians’ desperate appeals to keep their jobs from similar obfuscations in other countries.)

* SPORTS * UPDATE: Former Real Madrid and Barcelona soccer star Luis Figo announced he is planning to run against Sepp Blatter for President of Fifa. He told CNN that “I care about football, so what I’m seeing regarding the image of FIFA – not only now but in the past years – I don’t like it.” The deadline for nominations is Thursday with five, possibly six, candidates likely to contest May’s election.

Meanwhile, soccer clubs around the world spent a record $4.1bn on transfers in 2014, according to Fifa. English teams, fueled by lucrative TV deals, represented the biggest contributors to the total, spending $1.2bn, way ahead of next biggest spender, Spain, whose clubs collectively spent $700m.

Another Super Bowl Media Day came and went, with the crucial questions asked and answered (at least the ones not connected with DeflateGate). Performance of the day, though, was Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch.

(ABC News/YouTube)

* CULTURE * The all-female cast of the new Ghostbusters movie was apparently confirmed.

Researchers in Australia may have taken a step towards finding a cure for potentially fatal peanut allergies.


Blizzard hits Northeast, shuts down NYC


NYDN    (New York Daily News)

MIDNIGHT ET MON: States of Emergency are in place in seven northeastern states from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire as a major winter storm bears down, bringing blizzard conditions and hurricane-strength winds to New York and through New England. About 30 million people are affected.


While forecasts of snowfall amounts and worst-affected areas seemed to be in flux through much of Monday, the worst of the weather is expected to hit in the early hours and through Tuesday afternoon.

Transportation throughout the region is at a virtual standstill after an unprecedented travel ban for non-emergency vehicles. The city that never sleeps is largely shut down, with the New York mass transit system closed at 11pm on Monday night. Announcing the city’s travel restrictions, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio had to clarify that food delivery bicycles “are not emergency vehicles.”

In the final couple of hours before driving would supposedly attract a $300 ticket, both MSNBC and CNN – using something called a Blizzardmobile – decided to drive around New York’s largely deserted streets, creating strangely compelling programming that some viewers likened to performance art or a JJ Abrams movie.

Amtrak said it was suspending service between New York and Boston – the country’s most heavily-travelled rail corridor – on Tuesday.

New York airspace was effectively closed with at least 7,000 flights cancelled through Wednesday, with a hefty knock-on effect to national schedules expected for following days.

Keep up to date with reports at the following sites:

* The National Weather Service is here

* The Weather Channel updates are here

* Slate‘s Blizzard Blog by Eric Holthaus is here

* The Guardian‘s live blog is here

* The Boston Globe resources and blog are here

* The New York Times updates and interactive snowfall graphics are here

And here’s a handy snow measurement guide from the BBC:


(image: BBC US)

* WORLD * The US closed its embassy in Yemen on Monday “as a precaution” but said there were no plans to evacuate embassy staff amid continuing turmoil in the capital Sanaa.

President Obama will meet the new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh on Tuesday, after the President cut short a trip to India, which ended with ended with a pledge of $4bn in investments and loans.

The Argentinian government moved to dissolve its domestic intelligence agency in the wake of the death of public prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

* POLITICS * Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was hospitalized on Monday after being taken ill at an event in Johnston, Iowa. He was described as” alert and resting comfortably” after suffering “flu-like symptoms.”

Advocacy groups controlled by the Koch brothers are expected to spend almost $1bn in the 2016 election cycle – a figure approximately equal to the expected spending by both major parties. The Washington Post reported that the number was announced to participants at the annual meeting of the Kochs’ donor network, Freedom Partners.

During that gathering Jon Karl of ABC News hosted a roundtable policy forum with GOP hopefuls Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

A small recreational drone that crashed on the White House grounds on Monday has highlighted the potential threats from such equipment – just four days after warnings of exactly that type of vulnerability.

* BUSINESS * The price of oil steadied after OPEC’s Secretary-General signaled that prices may have bottomed out.

* SPORTS * Tuesday is Super Bowl Media Day and far from reporters having to stretch out non-stories in the run-up to Sunday’s game, DeflateGate has provided a fount of debate and opinion and – despite some fans’ weariness – shows no sign of easing up.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he would expect an apology from the NFL after it was eventually proven that his team had broken no rules. On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman also said he thought the Patriots wouldn’t be punished, but for a different reason.

Dave Zirin at The Nation has a thoughtful piece about Roger Goodell, Christopher Hitchens and former President Bill Clinton, writing:

It is understandable why people do not care about the Patriots ball-maintenance or whether public officials lie about their sex lives. But we should care about people in power who hector us about our own morality as an exercise in spin.

Incidentally, it was on January 26, 1998, that this happened.

Lance Armstrong told the BBC that he “would probably do it again.”

* MEDIA * Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was convicted of leaking classified information about his work to  New York Times reporter James Risen.

* CULTURE * Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now officially co-writers of Sam Smith’s hit ‘Stay With Me’ after Smith acknowledged “similarities” with Petty’s 1989 hit ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and the two sides came to “an immediate and amicable agreement.”

Finally, world leaders will gather in Poland on Tuesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, for ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. One hundred survivors from 19 countries are expected to take part.

This aerial video by the BBC shows the camp as it is today.

Northeast braces for ‘historic’ storm

NWSsnow (Snowfall forecast – image: National Weather Service)

Millions of people in the northeastern United States are getting ready for what looks set to be one of the worst winter storms to hit the region in years. Blizzards are predicted for both New York City and Boston, where “potentially historic” conditions, and anything between two and three feet of snow is expected.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio said that New Yorkers “should prepare for something worse than we have ever seen before.”

More than 3,000 flights have already been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday at major airports in Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The Weather Channel‘s Jim Cantore is headed to Boston for their live coverage, always a sign of where the worst is expected. But as Eric Holthaus writes at Slate:

Not that long ago, the thing to do on a week like this would be to camp out in front of the Weather Channel and live vicariously through Jim Cantore. But now the best place to watch a storm is on Twitter. Predictably, weather Twitter is already freaking out…

* WORLD * Voters in Greece emphatically rejected austerity policies to hand a national election victory to the left-wing party Syriza and its charismatic young leader Alexis Tsipras, rallying behind his slogan “Hope is Coming!” Tsipras told thousands of jubilant supporters in Athens: “Greece leaves behinds catastrophic austerity, it leaves behind fear and authoritarianism, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and anguish.”

Syriza will now have to form a governing coalition and its victory, while expected, was greater in scale than anticipated, setting Greece on a collision course with the rest of the EU and reviving uncertainties over the direction of the EuroZone and the single currency. Both the Euro and oil prices slipped early on Monday.

Japan is understood to be working with Jordan and other countries in an attempt to secure the release of a second Japanese hostage, following apparent confirmation that another had been killed by Islamic State.

At least 30 people were killed in renewed violence in Ukraine, with pro-Russian separatists blamed for artillery attacks on residential areas of the town of Mariupol – including this dramatic raw video from the Associated Press:

(Associated Press)

Eighteen people, including a prominent female activist, were killed during protests in Cairo marking the anniversary of the ouster of Egypt‘s President Hosni Mubarak four years ago.

In India, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi announced a deal on nuclear trade and a 10-year framework agreement for defense co-operation. Al Jazeera looks at why Obama’s trip to India is so important.  You can watch a live stream of the Republic Day parade, via Doordarshan, here.

Aboriginal rights protests disrupted the Australia Day parade in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott prompted an angry reaction from Republicans by deciding to bestow Australia’s highest honor on Prince Philip, husband of the British monarch.

Rev Libby Lane will be ordained as the Church of England’s first woman Bishop on Monday.

A giant asteroid will pass the earth at a relatively safe distance on Monday. If you can’t see it with the naked eye, you can watch via the Virtual Telescope project here.

* POLITICS * With Chris Christie forming a PAC, there are now about two dozen potential hopefuls in the frame for the Republican presidential nomination. Some of them took their case to GOP voters in Iowa over the weekend, with former HP CEO Carly Fiorina perhaps the breakout star.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was the victim of a phone hoaxer claiming to be the director of GCHQ, prompting a review of Downing Street security procedures. The “imposter” apparently told the Evening Standard “I was off my face on booze and cocaine.”

* BUSINESS *  Irish airline Aer Lingus looks set to accept a takeover bid from IAG, which also has controlling stakes in British Airways and Iberia.

Over the weekend, two of the web’s largest travel sites took a step towards amalgamating, when Expedia bought Travelocity for $280m.

* MEDIA * WikiLeaks protested after it emerged that Google had handed over emails of some of its staff to the US government, The Guardian reports.

Christopher Kompanek at the Washington Post has a Q&A with Larry Wilmore on the comedian’s first week hosting The Nightly Show on Comedy Central.

* CULTURE * As the Hollywood awards season continues, the Producers’ Guild awards were held on Saturday and the 21st Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday, offering some further signposts ahead of next month’s Academy Awards.

Sunday night was Burns Night, in honor of Scotland’s national poet. Here’s what it is and how it’s celebrated around the world.

* SPORTS * Mongolian-born Hahuko won his 33rd career Grand Sumo championship, the most in the sport’s 270-year history.

Twenty years ago, Manchester United’s enigmatic French winger Eric Cantona leapt over the pitchside barriers at Selhurst Park, diving feet-first at an opposing fan. Jim White wonders what if a similar incident happened today?

In what ESPN’s Bob Ley described as “the most surreal press conference of the century” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick invoked a scientific explanation for DeflateGate before admitting “I’m not a scientist” and referencing the movie “My Cousin VinnySports Illustrated looks at the legal ramifications of his comments.

Bill Nye, who actually is a scientist, said Belichick’s explanation didn’t make any sense, while in its cold open, Saturday Night Live went for the Few Good Men analogy:

(Saturday Night Live/YouTube)

Meanwhile, there was apparently a Pro Bowl game Sunday.

And an NHL All-Star game.

Over at Major League Baseball, a new era began as Rob Manfred took over as Commissioner from Bud Selig, with a couple of interesting ideas.

The city of Chicago announced that Ernie Banks’ statue – which is currently in storage during Wrigley Field’s renovation – would be moved to Daley Plaza downtown for a public memorial from Wednesday through Saturday.

Finally, a nice touch in the agate of Sunday’s New York Times sports section… ernie (image: New York Times)

Japanese PM left ‘speechless’ by hostage tape

UPDATE 10PM ET SAT: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday evening that the tape which had surfaced reportedly detailing the death of hostage Haruna Yukawa appeared to be genuine. Abe said he was left “speechless” by the murder and would not comment on speculation regarding the second hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, saying only that the government was still working on the situation.

UPDATE 2PM ET SAT: A recording apparently saying that one of the hostages had been executed reportedly came to light on Saturday. Japanese authorities and US intelligence agencies are working to determine its authenticity. Meanwhile Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was “using every diplomatic channel and means to work towards a release.”

MIDNIGHT ET FRI: Japan said it “would not give up” and was doing “everything [we] can to win the release” of two of its nationals apparently held hostage by Islamic State. But after the deadline passed on Friday with no word from the kidnappers, the fate of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa remains uncertain.

According to CNN: “An ISIS spokesman told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the group would release a statement “soon” about the hostages. That statement didn’t come. When asked whether ISIS has been in negotiations with the Japanese government, the spokesman told NHK he wouldn’t comment.”

The mother of Kenji Goto has made an emotional video appeal for his freedom, saying her son, a freelance journalist, “is not an enemy of Islamic State.”

kenji (image: NHK/The Independent)

In Japan, where the hostage crisis has dominated news coverage since a video of the men was posted on Tuesday along with the ransom demand, some believe the captives acted recklessly by putting themselves in harm’s way.

* WORLD * As leaders head to Riyadh to pay respects to Saudi Arabia‘s King Abdullah, the  new King, Salman, promised continuity in the kingdom’s energy and foreign policies. The New York Times says the new monarch comes to power at a “crucial time in his nation’s relationship with the US.”

In Yemen, the collapse of the government has forced the US to “suspend some counterterrorism operations” according to the Washington Post. The administration said it had withdrawn some staff from its embassy in Sanaa, where demonstrators burned US, French and Israeli flags. According to Business Insider:

“[Former President] Hadi was a unique figure who not only tolerated drone strikes, he welcomed them,” said Bruce Riedel, director of the Brookings Institution think tank’s Intelligence Project. “I don’t think we’re going to have that kind of enthusiastic partner in the foreseeable future.”


(image: AP/Business Insider)

President Obama heads to India this weekend, where on Monday he will be the “chief guest” of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the country’s Republic Day parade, the first US President to be so honored. And it will be a trip full of “firsts”. [UPDATE: It was announced early Saturday that the President would cut his trip short, canceling a planned visit to the Taj Mahal on Tuesday to fly to Riyadh to pay respects to King Abdullah.]

The situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, with fresh fighting thwarting hopes for a cease-fire. The New York Times reports:

While the separatist forces now seem ascendant, analysts have little doubt that their fortunes are tied to the level of support provided by Moscow. In August, on the verge of defeat, they were rescued by an all-out Russian incursion that turned the tide on the battlefield and drove Kiev to the bargaining table. The same dynamics appear to be at work now, Ukraine and NATO say, with Russian troops in unmarked uniforms apparently joining the separatists in the assaults on Ukrainian positions.

Greece votes on Sunday in an election which could be the “most important in recent memory”, with the ruling New Democracy coalition trying to fend off a challenge to its austerity policies from opposition party Syriza, which promises to raise the minimum wage and boost living standards. An exclusive poll for The Huffington Post Greece finds that, “Greeks will vote mostly based on the hope that the crisis will recede, and not on the fear that it might get worse.”

Historic talks between the US and Cuba wrapped up Friday with apparently a long way to go before diplomatic relations can be normalized; Havana warned against attempts to  “meddle in its internal affairs” after a senior US diplomat met with a group of dissidents. It will likely be several weeks before the next round of talks can be arranged.

* POLITICS *  If Florida Senator Marco Rubio does actually make a run for the GOP nomination, as appears increasingly likely, he has signaled that US policy towards Cuba will form a centerpiece of his campaign, even if another former GOP candidate thinks talking to Rubio about Cuba is “like talking to a stone wall.”

About two dozen senior Republicans will appear on Saturday at the Iowa GOP’s “Freedom Summit” in downtown Des Moines. But as much as Iowa congressman Steve King talks the event up in order to claim the role of, er, kingmaker – “Odds are, the next president of the United States will be there,” he says – the two apparent early front-runners, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, along with Rand Paul and Rubio, will be sitting it out.

You can watch the speeches at the Des Moines Register‘s live blog here.

Meanwhile, the DNC announced that the 2016 Democratic convention will be held – in an as-yet unnamed city – the week of July 25, immediately following the Republican gathering in Columbus, Ohio.

* MEDIA * The latest Newsonomics column from Ken Doctor talks about challenges raised by the “US Newspaper Industry’s $1.4bn Money Hole”.

The parent company of the ubiquitous and delightfully quirky in-flight shopping magazine SkyMall filed for bankruptcy, prompting lots of listicles lamenting the loss of its cornucopia of absurdities. Here are the favorites from Yahoo Tech (18); ABC News (10); Time (12); Cosmopolitan (22); Huffington Post (19), you get the picture.

My own favorite – as apparently it was for many, many others – was this guy…


(image: SkyMall)

In possibly more encouraging publishing news, despite reports of its demise, the owner of “hip chronicle of ag life” Modern Farmer magazine says it will be back in the summer.

* BUSINESS * Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, owner of the Three digital network, is in talks to buy rival network O2 from Telefonica. If the $15bn deal goes through it would create Britain’s largest mobile group and would be Mr Li’s largest overseas acquisition.

McDonald’s reported a 21% drop in year-on-year fourth-quarter earnings, and said it would be looking at changes to its menu to try to win back customers. Ironically, one of the new breed of restaurant chains that are now eating McDonald’s lunch is Chipotle, which McDonald’s once owned.

Wearable camera company GoPro teamed up with the National Hockey League to let TV viewers experience games from the players’ perspective, while footage can be incorporated later into highlight packages. It’s GoPro’s first deal with a major professional sports league and use of the technology will start this weekend during the NHL’s All Star Game.


RIP, Mr Cub.

ernie B8FrvpnCcAIA5QX

(image: Chicago Sun-Times)

Two basketball “Ks” in the news – The NBA’s highest-paid player, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff;  Meanwhile in college hoops, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Sunday goes for what would officially be his 1,000th win, when his Blue Devils take on St John’s at Madison Square Garden.

In the NFL, as DeflateGate  dominates the pre-Super Bowl narrative – and brings out the best in the New York tabloid headlines – the ProBowl takes place on Sunday, while in business developments, the Miami Dolphins and SeaWorld are ending their marketing partnership.

In soccer, after a thrilling quarterfinal that saw Iraq beat Iran 7-6 on penalties after a 3-3 draw, the Asian Cup semi-finals start on Monday, with Iraq playing South Korea and hosts Australia taking on the UAE.

Meanwhile, the Africa Cup of Nations continues this weekend and it’s the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. The first tie of the round was played on Friday night, with Cambridge United – the lowest placed team still in the competition – holding Manchester United to a goalless draw in front of about 7,500 fans at the Abbey Stadium. Cambridge’s reward is a money-spinning replay at the 75,000-seat Old Trafford.

Finally, isn’t it kind of ironic as we bid farewell to the man who wanted to “play two”, baseball is looking at ways to speed up the game?

* CULTURE * Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Here’s how many of his countrymen would have watched his funeral at the time, via the British Pathe newsreel

(British Pathe News/YouTube)

Saudi King Abdullah dies, aged 90

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died on Thursday aged 90, and was succeeded by his brother, Salman, who is 79. As The Atlantic reports, the King’s death comes at a tumultuous moment in the Middle East. David Ignatius writes at the Washington Post of the nation’s “coming struggle.”

The New York Times calls the King a “shrewd force who reshaped” his country while the Wall Street Journal said his passing “clouds an already tense relationship with the US.”

saudi:AP  (image: AP/USAToday)

In a statement, President Obama expressed his condolences, saying:

As a leader, he was always candid and had the courage of his convictions. One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.

An obituary in The Guardian said the “monarch’s reign saw the spread of division, corruption and strife, and was saved only by ‘black gold’.”  With Saudi Arabia the largest member of OPEC, oil prices jumped in early Asia trade Friday.

 Al Jazeera looks at the King’s legacy, writing:

..As Arab uprisings raged elsewhere, he [King Abdullah] spent $130 billion on housing, jobs and other social benefits in a bid to win the hearts and minds of his subjects. His calculation appears to have worked, because despite online calls for a day of rage to protest the lack of democracy, no anti-government protest movement of the type seen elsewhere ever took hold in the kingdom.

And the king remained a largely popular figure.

His critics believe he could have done more, given Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth, to help his population. But if the stability of Saudi’s monarchy is under threat, it’s not from looming poverty or a possible uprising but from old age — and a potential succession problem.

Or, as Steve LeVine writes at Quartz: “We have a new Saudi Arabian king, but the world already wants to know who will succeed him.”

* WORLD * The President of Yemen and US ally, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, resigned, along with his prime minister and cabinet, hours after apparently agreeing a deal with Houthi rebels who had captured the presidential palace amid violent clashes this week. The turmoil appears set to continue. Jamie Dettmer writes at The Daily Beast:

The stage now seems set for the outbreak of full-fledged sectarian civil war, one that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror network’s most dangerous and capable affiliate, is likely to exploit for its advantage.

The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial will be delayed because  jury selection is taking longer than expected. Tsarnaev’s lawyers, meanwhile, are making a third attempt to have the trial moved outside Massachusetts.

The mother of one of the two Japanese hostages being held by Isis issued a video appeal for his life, as the hostage-takers’ deadline approaches with Japanese authorities  reiterating they will not pay the $200m ransom.

As President Obama prepares for his visit to India at the weekend, negotiators from the two countries are in London trying to finalize a nuclear trade agreement that the leaders can announce.

In the end, it might not matter though. Apparently the world’s Doomsday Clock is ticking again.

* BUSINESS * The European Central Bank broke out the “big bazooka”, announcing a quantitative easing program that will see it buy one trillion euros worth of bonds. Paul Krugman called the move a “political triumph“. While stocks rallied, the euro sank to its lowest level against the dollar since 2003. The FT’s Ralph Atkins and Ferdinando Giugliano look at the details:

Mario Draghi wasn’t the only person giving a press conference about deflation, but more of that later.

File storage provider Box priced its IPO at $14 a share and begins trading on the NYSE on Friday under the symbol, er, BOX.

Ever wondered why CEOs sound so inane at Davos? Bloomberg’s Justin Fox explains.

* POLITICS * Republican presidential hopefuls – and potential rivals for the same sources of finance – Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush had what was called a “gentlemanly” meeting in Utah. Bush is on a cross-country fundraising blitz hoping to lock down enough big donors to scare off other candidates. Neither Bush nor Romney will be at the GOP’s “Freedom Summit” in Iowa this weekend, but plenty of other potential contenders will.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver found a high-profile defender in NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, following Silver’s arrest on corruption charges.

In the aftermath of the State of the Union, President Obama was interviewed by three “YouTube stars” and while – as you’d expect – he had his critics, the end result was refreshingly entertaining.

(YouTube/The White House)

The White House, meanwhile, said the President would not meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addresses Congress in March at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner.

* MEDIA * Supporters of journalist Barrett Brown are warning of a “dangerous precedent” after he was sentenced to 63 months in jail by a court in Dallas for charges related to  “linking to hacked material”. The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying the case raised “uncomfortable similarities” to that of Aaron Swartz.

Bill Gates will be The Verge’s first-ever guest editor for the month of February. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter was just published, previewing some ambitious goals for the next 15 years. Time looks at what the organization has accomplished in its first 15 years.

The Economist appointed Zanny Minton Beddoes as editor, She’s currently business affairs editor, and will be the first woman to hold the top position.

Former Home Secretary Leon Brittan, a key figure in Margaret Thatcher’s government, died aged 75.

* CULTURE * The Sundance Film Festival got under way Thursday night and runs for the next 10 days. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s event blog is here.

The New York Times reports that Martin Scorsese “appears to have met his match in Bill Clinton” following disagreements over a potential documentary about the former President.

So… now there’s someone who has the face of “Frostbit Boy” tattooed on his leg? Of course there is.

* SPORTS * One of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, Jeff Gordon, announced he was stepping away from full-time racing after the 2015 season. As Matt Crossman writes in Rolling Stone:

Driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon has won four championships, 92 races and $146 million in prize money at NASCAR’s top level. He is not the best driver of all time, but he’s in the top five. He is inarguably the person most responsible for NASCAR’s tremendous rise in popularity from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

Finally, it’s entirely possible nothing you heard at any of Thursday’s “DeflateGate”: pressers would sound out of place here:

(YouTube/Bad Lip Reading)

Havana hosts historic huddle

Thursday sees the second day of talks in Havana between US and Cuban diplomats on the re-opening of embassies in each others’ capitals and other aspects of normalizing relations. The meetings are the first official diplomatic contact between the governments for a generation. Perhaps predictably, there were initial stumbling blocks around some long-standing differences.

US TV networks presented their evening bulletins from Havana on Wednesday.

cuba:AP (image: AP/Bellingham Herald)

* WORLD * The US Justice Department appears ready to close the investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri, without bringing civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson, the New York Times reported. Both the Justice Department and lawyers for Brown’s family did not comment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress next month. With the invitation made and accepted without consulting the White House, it was considered a breach of diplomatic protocol. The spat comes as rhetoric ramps up over potential sanctions against Iran. In the State of the Union, the President repeated his call for congress not to pass a sanctions bill while negotiations were ongoing. “He [the President] expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: ‘Hell no!” said Boehner.

Some in the President’s own party are opposing him – Sen Bob Menendez, co-author of the current bill, said Wednesday that the more he heard from the administration, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Yet even the Israeli secret service Mossad has reportedly broken ranks with Netanyahu to warn against the sanctions bill.

Yemeni President Hadi agreed a tentative deal with concessions to Houthi rebels who had surrounded his personal residence since Tuesday following violent clashes in the capital. But the situation remains fragile and any fragmentation of the country would prove a challenge for the US and its regional strategy.

One of the most-watched videos on the BBC site on Wednesday was a personal story in the “Witness” series, by a former US drone operator who walked away from his job after five years – and after helping kill 1,600 people.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted he was not to blame for the delay in the publication of Sir John Chilcot’s long-awaited report into the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The report will now be released sometime after the general election in May. Blair, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, issued a statement saying he regretted the delay and stuck to the line when questioned by reporters.

(video: Robin Brant/YouTube)

Also making an appearance in Davos on Thursday will be Prince Andrew, who according to The Telegraph, may make his first public statement on sex allegations that arose in a US court case.

In Germany, supporters of anti-Islam group Pegida marched on the streets of Leipzig on Wednesday. A similar demonstration planned for Dresden on Monday had been cancelled after police discovered a plot against one of the group’s leaders, Lutz Bachmann. On Wednesday, Bachmann stepped down from the group’s leadership after newspapers published a selfie from his Facebook page.

* POLITICS * Republicans in the House of Representatives cancelled a largely symbolic vote limiting abortions, which was planned for Thursday – the 42nd anniversary of the Roe vs Wade supreme court decision – after pushback by GOP women members. Instead, the House will vote on a bill that would ban the use of tax dollars for abortions.

Wednesday’s fifth anniversary of the Citizens United law was marked by protests during  the morning session at the Supreme Court.  In an interview last year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told The New Republic why Citizens United was “the worst ruling the current court has produced.”

With polls showing NJ Gov Chris Christie at the lowest approval rating for four years in his home state, he’ll be heading to Iowa this weekend for the GOP “Freedom Summit”. To help you keep, er, track, WNYC’s Christie Tracker podcast celebrates its official launch next week with an event at Montclair State University.

* BUSINESS * The European Central Bank looks set on Thursday to announce a plan for buying government bonds in a bid to stimulate the EuroZone economy. The Fed-style quantitative easing program could involve spending 50 billion Euros a month until the end of next year. Details will be announced at a press conference in Frankfurt at 2.30pm local time (8.30am ET).

Microsoft debuted Project HoloLens, its head-mounted holographic computer. Gizmodo has a round-up of everything the company announced about Windows 10.

Uber raised another $1.6bn as it continues to plan for further global expansion.

Wednesday was a bad day for job losses. American Express is to shed more than 4,000 jobs, about 6% of its global workforce. Meanwhile eBay is planning 2,400 job cuts ahead of its reorganization later this year.

* MEDIA * The Guardian is the most popular UK newspaper on Twitter; measured by who’s driving the most tweets. Earlier this month, a similar analysis found The Washington Post the most popular US paper. Twitter itself, meanwhile, launched a ‘while you were away’ recap feature.

The Sun took a swipe at its News UK stablemate The Times for reporting that the tabloid was ending its page three topless pictures, by, er, running a topless picture on page three.

CNN is preparing a political game show, to be hosted by Anderson Cooper.

* SPORTS * Real Madrid headed European football’s rich list for the tenth season in a row. The annual survey by Deloitte showed that total combined revenue for the continent’s top 20 richest clubs rose by 14% on the year, to €6.2bn. Every club in the English Premier League reported record revenues this year because of new broadcast deals, with all 20 clubs included in the top 40 richest.

As “DeflateGate” rumbles – or wheezes – on, Dave Zirin in The Nation writes on why, just hours after the State of the Union address, “where the most powerful person on earth put forth arguments on war, peace and the health of our economy, the number-one trending topic on Twitter was about deflated balls.

Finally, LPGA golfer Brooke Pancake announced she’d signed a sponsorship deal with, yes, Waffle House.

UN condemns Yemen ‘coup’

UPDATE 2PM ET WEDS: President Hadi is expected to agree to power-sharing with Houthi rebels following a meeting with militant leaders. A statement is expected later today.

MIDNIGHT TUESDAY: The situation in Yemen is increasingly uncertain after Houthi militants took the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa in an apparent coup. In an emergency meeting of the security council, the UN condemned the action and backed President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi as the “legitimate authority.” Hadi, who is thought to be surrounded in his private residence, which has come under “heavy shelling”, is an ally of the US and has supported US drone strikes on Al Qaeda forces in his country.

Clashes have intensified since the weekend between government forces and Houthi rebels, and a US embassy vehicle came under fire from unknown gunmen on Monday. US diplomatic staff are on high alert and plans are in place for a possible evacuation of the embassy.


(image: AFP/BBC: Yemen crisis – Who are the Houthis?)

* POLITICS * President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, his first to a Congress under full Republican control. His speech focused on broadening economic equality, combatting terrorism and urging greater bipartisan co-operation.

You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America.

I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home — a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong.

The BBC’s Jon Sopel said the President “..learnt from the rock stars who play a gig with a new album to sell. Yes, he played some new tunes – the closure of tax loopholes, the increase in tax credits and the like. But some of the biggest applause came when he went to the back catalogue and replayed his greatest hits.”

Iowa’s freshman Senator Joni Ernst delivered the official Republican response, but there were plenty of others to choose from.

With hours of live coverage and analysis chasing a steadily declining audience – Obama’s 2014 speech had one of the smallest combined viewing audiences of the past 20 years – TV networks, social media and the White House itself tried some new ways of capturing potential eyeballs on the “trolliest night of the year”.

The Guardian‘s Emojibama Twitter feed was hilariously compelling, while CNN and MSNBC used the Bing Pulse audience sentiment tracker, which surprisingly showed around 90% of MSNBC viewers agreed with the President – almost as many as text option “A” on the Ed Show most nights.

The President now takes his message on the road, visiting Idaho on Wednesday and Kansas on Thursday. It was also announced today that he would visit Selma, Alabama on March 7 to mark the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march.

Back at the White House, meanwhile, Wednesday is Big Block of Cheese Day.

Talking of food, reporters at Time analyzed some 12,400 press pool reports to serve up a compilation of pretty much everything Obama has eaten as President. It’s brilliantly moreish.

Elsewhere, in things potentially presidential, after Bobby Jindal’s European vacation this week, another GOP Governor, Chris Christie, is heading to London next month on a trip to promote New Jersey, with a soccer match apparently potentially on his schedule. If he plans to pack his famous orange sweater, he’ll be perfectly at home on the terraces at Kenilworth Road.

Meanwhile, Clinton The Musical will open off-Broadway in April.

* WORLD * Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe pledged to do everything possible to free the two Japanese hostages apparently held by ISIS. “Their lives are the top priority,” said Abe, who is seeking the help of Middle East countries. The militant group has demanded a $200m ransom for the two men, but Abe has said Japan would not bow to terrorism.

Police in Tel Aviv shot and arrested a Palestinian man who attacked bus passengers with a knife, injuring 17, four of them seriously. The attack happened near the Maariv Bridge in Israel’s second largest city.

A new round of peace talks on the situation in Ukraine will be held in Berlin on Wednesday. The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will take part.

Sir John Chilcot is expected to write to Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday explaining the reasons for the decision to delay publication of Chilcot’s report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The report is now expected to be released after the general election in May.

The doctor shot at a hospital in Boston on Tuesday morning has died. Police said the suspect died earlier of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They did not give any information regarding a motive.

* BUSINESS * The World Economic Forum meeting starts in Davos on Wednesday, and 1,700 private jets are dropping off their precious cargo amid warnings of epidemics, growing effects of income inequality, a decline in optimism about the global economy, and if all that wasn’t depressing enough, it costs more to be there thanks to the Swiss Central Bank.

Quartz has a searchable database of the attendees, while senior writers at the Financial Times look at what they can expect:

SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket and satellite company, announced it had raised $1bn from new investors Google and Fidelity. 

Microsoft will unveil specific details of its Windows 10 system on Wednesday.

* MEDIA *  The Mayor of Paris said she was contemplating legal action against Fox News over the channel’s remarks about Muslim “no-go zones” in the city. Anne Hidalgo said: “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.” The Lord Mayor of Birmingham – who is Muslim – is apparently not taking a similar path.

The BBC agreed a deal with US public broadcaster PBS to jointly develop and deliver a range of factual programming.

Facebook rolled out some changes aimed at having fewer “hoax” stories show up in users’ feeds.

* SPORTS * In “DeflateGate”, ESPN reported quoting “league sources” that 11 of 12 balls used by the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Conference Championship game had been “under-inflated”. The NFL made no initial comment and the investigation is continuing.

NBC announced it will stream the Super Bowl for free on February 1 and Aaron Rodgers doesn’t think God is a football fan.