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.

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