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.


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