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.

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