Upbeat Obama ready for sixth State of the Union

President Obama delivers his sixth State of The Union address on Tuesday evening, enjoying his highest personal positives for some time, and buoyed by an improving economy.

But even a 50 per cent approval rating – his best in a year and a half (although a WSJ poll released at midnight had the number slightly lower, alongside optimism on the economy) – doesn’t make him immune to opposition, specifically to his expected proposals on income inequality.

The speech has again been written by Obama’s chief speechwriter, 34-year-old Cody Keenan, whom the President calls “Hemingway” and who once famously dressed up as a pirate for a presidential photo-op.

A lot of the expected content has already been trailed – to the extent that even the Chicago Tribune thinks canceling should be an option – but here are some steers on what to look for in the President’s speech, from The Hill, CNN, USA Today and ABC News.

You can watch live via a stream on PBS here and there will be a real-time “River of Content” from the White House.

The President will continue his pitch to the public after the speech, with events in Idaho on Wednesday and Kansas on Thursday. He’ll also be doing interviews that day with three YouTube personalities.

The GOP has tapped newly-elected Iowa Senator Joni Ernst to deliver its official response while there will also be remarks on behalf of the Tea Party by Florida Congressman Curt Clawson.

* POLITICS * Republicans, meanwhile, still seem conflicted at the notion of another Mitt Romney presidential run. Or even a first run by Jeb Bush for that matter. Among other potential candidates, Rick Santorum, took a jab at Romney, Rick Perry leaves office as Governor of Texas on Tuesday and heads to Iowa – saying he will make a decision on a run in the next few months – while Donald Trump, perhaps unsurprisingly, told South Carolina teapartiers he was the best man for the job.

On the other side of the coin, Hillary Clinton is said to be “developing a smarter, more relevant campaign” for 2016.

* WORLD * In an online video posted by sites associated with Islamic State, militants  threaten to kill two Japanese hostages unless they are paid a $200m ransom in the next three days. It is the first time the group has directly threatened Japanese nationals.

The situation in Yemen deteriorated, with reports that nine people had been killed and 67 injured in clashes between government forces and Houthi militants, before a tentative ceasefire was reached. President Hadi appears to still be in power despite fighting near the presidential palace.

European governments are pressing for better information-sharing in the wake of recent terror attacks. Meanwhile, Belgian authorities say the ringleader of a plot disrupted by police last week is still at large, with his last-known location thought to be Greece.

The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis will visit New York and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden, as part of his three-city tour of the US in September. Other stops are Philadelphia and Washington DC, but it’s possible Boston might yet be added to the schedule.

* BUSINESS * China’s GDP growth slowed to 7.4% in 2014, its lowest level since 1990. Meanwhile, the IMF lowered its growth forecasts by the most in three years, for almost every global economy except the US. The IMF says growth in India is on course to outpace China next year.

The gathering of the World Economic Forum formally kicks off on Wednesday. As USA Today puts it, with perhaps only slight hyperbole: “Davos arrives as world on verge of nervous breakdown.” 

Christie’s and Sotheby’s both reported record art sales in 2014. Christie’s global sales were up 12 per cent from the previous year to $7.7bn, while Sotheby’s auction sales were 18 per cent higher at $6bn.

* MEDIA * Britain’s data monitoring center, GCHQ, “scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organizations” The Guardian reports. The story, based on disclosures by Edward Snowden, comes as every British national newspaper editor signed a letter to prime minister David Cameron protesting about the provisions of the draft code of practice on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, covering limits on government surveillance. A period of consultation on how the legislation should be used ends on Tuesday.

A report from Deloitte indicates that North American millennials – the “generation that won’t spend” – are expected to spend some $62billion on media content this year.

nightlymashable  (image: Mashable)

Described as “undoubtedly a black show”, Larry Wilmore debuted his “Nightly Show,” replacing Stephen Colbert in the 11.30 ET slot on Comedy Central, following Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” where Wilmore often appeared as “Senior Black Correspondent.” Colbert will take over David Letterman’s Late Show on CBS on Sept 8.

After 44 years, The Sun is ending its topless Page Three pictures.

* SPORTS * In what has been dubbed “DeflateGate”, the NFL is apparently investigating whether or not the New England Patriots had the assistance of under-inflated footballs in beating Indianapolis on Sunday night’s conference championship game.

The New York Knicks won their sixth game of the season, snapping a franchise-record 16-game losing streak.

Tensions high as EU ministers meet

EU foreign ministers meet on Monday in Brussels to discuss the threat of terrorism, with Europe still on high alert in the wake of last week’s counter-terror activities. The meeting will also address the situation in Ukraine. There will be a special EU leaders summit on Feb 12 to discuss cross-border cooperation against terrorism.

Authorities in Belgium said that the mastermind of a disrupted plot to attack police is still at large. Meanwhile, the Belgian government asked Greece to extradite one person arrested in Athens at the weekend.

A march by the German anti-Islam Pegida organization set for Monday in Dresden was cancelled after what police called a “concrete threat” against one of its leaders. Police also suspended other public open-air gatherings in the city for 24 hours, meaning a planned anti-Pegida demonstration will also not take place.

bbcpegida   (image: BBC)

Last week, a rally by Pegida – Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident – in Dresden drew 25,000 people, while thousands of people marched in cities across Germany in counter-demonstrations.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker looks at the growth of Pegida in “Germany’s strange new right wing meets Charlie Hebdo”, while Timothy Garton-Ash in The Guardian calls Pegida “a vampire we must slay.”

* WORLD * The status of Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi remains unclear after reports of fighting near the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa. The BBC said the army had exchanged gunfire with Houthi rebels early on Monday. On Saturday, President Hadi’s chief of staff was abducted by Houthi forces in the centre of Sanaa. The kidnapping led to a threat to disrupt oil supplies.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped 80 people and killed three in northern villages of Cameroon.

* POLITICS * As the White House prepares for Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Republicans were quick to criticize the President’s proposed tax plan targeting big financial institutions and wealthier individuals.

Shots were fired near Vice President Joe Biden’s house in Delaware on Saturday night, but there appeared no clear indication his home was the target.

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr Day. The Hill looks at the six members of the current congress who originally voted against making the day a national holiday.

* BUSINESS * Ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, a report by Oxfam says that the world’s richest 1% is on course to see its share of global wealth increase to more than everyone else combined next year. Meanwhile, writing in the Washington Post this weekend, Lawrence Summers says “nothing is more important to the success of industrial democracies than sustained increases in wages and living standards for working families.”

* MEDIA * Fox News apologized for and corrected its segment last week “regarding the Muslim population in Europe”.

* SPORTS * Free agent pitcher Max Scherzer has reportedly agreed a seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the deal will “make a great rotation even better.”

Defending NFL champions the Seattle Seahawks are headed to this year’s Super Bowl after a dramatic comeback against the Green Bay Packers, Jermaine Kearse catching a winning touchdown in overtime; while in Foxboro, the New England Patriots overwhelmed the Indianapolis Colts to take the AFC title. The Patriots’ Tom Brady will become the first quarterback to appear in six Super Bowls when Super Bowl XLIX is held in Arizona on February 1.

Meanwhile, the NFL renewed its broadcast deal with CBS, initially to show Thursday Night Football for next season, with an option to continue in 2016.



West wrestles with complex threat

Security across Europe is high following a series of counter-terror actions, with police making a number of arrests in several countries and authorities warning of the “complex nature” of the threat. Belgium on Friday moved to expand its anti-terror laws and British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country’s threat level status was currently “severe”, indicating an attack was “highly likely.

Cameron and US President Barack Obama said in Washington that their countries would step up co-operation on tackling “violent extremism”.


(image: CNBC)

The two leaders were not always on the same page on issues of surveillance, discussing co-operation on cybersecurity and the implications of encryption technology, with “war game” exercises planned for later in the year, featuring the NSA and GCHQ.

Meanwhile, In Pakistan, demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo turned violent after the country’s parliament condemned the cover of the magazine’s new issue as “hate speech.” A photographer for AFP was shot during a protest at the French consulate in Karachi, initial reports were that his life was not in danger. Four people were reported killed in Niger, when a French cultural center was set on fire.

* WORLD * President Obama said he would veto any attempt by congress to impose fresh economic sanctions against Iran. He said any punitive moves would “jeopardize the possibility of a diplomatic solution” as negotiators continue to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Talks resume in Geneva on Sunday.

The US Supreme Court will decide on the national status of same-sex marriage by reviewing rulings by courts in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. Arguments are set to be heard in April.

Pope Francis made a hasty change to his schedule in the Philippines, returning to Manila early because of an approaching storm. The Pontiff had been celebrating mass in Tacloban, scene of a devastating typhoon in 2013. In a speech earlier to President Aquino and political leaders, the Pope called for an end to corruption and social inequality. Millions of people are expected to attend an open-air mass in Manila on Sunday.


(image: Reuters/SMH)

Saudi Arabia delayed the second round of flogging for liberal blogger Raif Badawi, apparently on medical grounds. Badawi, who had been convicted of insulting Islam, was given the first 50 of a 1,000-lash sentence last week. His wife said that the case had been referred to the Saudi supreme court.

An official US delegation – all Democrats – travels to Cuba this weekend, following Friday’s changes to rules on travel and trade, a precursor to talks on normalizing relations.

The Beagle 2 Mars Lander was found on the planet’s surface, after being lost since Christmas Day 2003. The partly-deployed lander was identified in high-resolution images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

* POLITICS * Mitt Romney told Republicans on board an aircraft carrier in San Diego that he is “giving some serious consideration to the future”. Officially, though, the number of actual presidential candidates remains zero. That hasn’t stopped preparations for a slimmed-down series of GOP debates, with the RNC apparently learning from last time out; chairman Reince Priebus saying: “We’re not going to have a circus.” Fox News will carry the first debate of nine, beginning in August. MSNBC won’t, as yet, be hosting.

As the UK prepares for its general election in May, party leaders clashed this week over participation in planned televised debates, with Prime Minister David Cameron – accused of being reluctant to take part – saying the media have become “obsessed” with the debates, the first of which is scheduled for April 2.

* BUSINESS * Bankers in London and New York are likely looking at lower bonuses for 2014 compared with last year. Goldman Sachs reported that disappointing trading results had dented its fourth-quarter performance.

Currency broker and West Ham shirt sponsor Alpari has shut its UK arm in the wake of the “exceptional volatility” created by Switzerland’s move to end the SFr cap against the Euro.

* MEDIA * The New York Post’s Twitter account was hacked, as was that of the UPI, which tweeted that the Pope had declared the start of World War Three.

* SPORTS * The African Cup of Nations gets under way in Equatorial Guinea on Saturday. The tournament was moved in November from Morocco after fears over the spread of Ebola. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Wilson writes that it’s a triumph that the tournament is taking place at all, and previews the on-field action.

Sunday sees this year’s NFL conference championship games, with Green Bay visiting Seattle and New England hosting Indianapolis. The NFL also announced it would hold a new scouting “combine” or tryout session for veteran players in March, providing additional programming for the NFL Network. As Gary Davenport writes at Bleacher Report: “Football fans are voracious. They’ll watch NFL players paint a house if it’s on TV, and plenty of folks will be tuning in on March 22.”

The NCAA agreed to restore Penn State’s wins that were stripped as part of sanctions imposed in 2012 after the child molestation scandal in the school’s football program. While some alumni spoke of a “wrong being righted”, the deal made the two parties Keith Olbermann’s “worst persons in the sports world.”

Belgium foils ‘imminent’ terror attack

With Europe still on edge in the wake of last week’s events in Paris, two gunmen were killed and another injured during a counter-terrorism operation in the Belgian town of Verviers, which officials said had prevented an imminent but unspecified, attack. About ten other raids were carried out at the same time elsewhere in the country, and Belgium’s terror alert was raised to its second-highest level.


(image: EPA/DailyExpress)

Belgian authorities believe that some of those who police had targeted in the raids had recently returned from Syria, but said that there was no immediate link to the Paris incidents.

Separately, as funerals were held for five of the people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack, French President Francois Hollande said that freedom and democracy were “not negotiable”, while attempting to also reassure France’s five million Muslims that their religion would be respected.

Pope Francis, traveling in the Philippines, also spoke out about the murders and the subsequent debate over free speech. Defending freedom of expression, he said it also had its limits.

You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit.

Or, as The Times puts it in Friday’s headline:


(image: The Times/Nick Sutton)

Meanwhile in the US, following protests, Duke University reversed a decision to begin a weekly Muslim call to prayer from its campus chapel, saying that consideration of a “serious and credible” security threat had been part of their change of heart.

* POLITICS * Republicans are holding a retreat in Hershey, PA; the first time in ten years members of both chambers of Congress have gone away together, to discuss their joint strategy on  issues like immigration in the wake of the House bill passed this week.

Newly-elected Iowa Senator Joni Ernst – she of the memorable hog castration campaign ad – will deliver the GOP response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

* BUSINESS * Switzerland took currency markets by surprise when it announced it was lifting the cap which prevented the Swiss Franc rising against the Euro. The SFr subsequently rose as much as 30 per cent in chaotic trade. Joe Weisenthal at Bloomberg BusinessWeek explains what happened and why it’s important. Paul Krugman writes about why, with Switzerland, “..you don’t get surprises. Until you do.”

Job cuts were announced by both BP and – on a somewhat greater scale – Schlumberger as the oil industry deals with the continuing fall in crude prices.

* CULTURE * On Martin Luther King’s birthday, Spike Lee blasted the Oscar snubs for Selma; while Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers talks about the absence of Ava DuVernay from Best Director nods thus: “..the Academy had the chance to nominate the first ever black woman for Best Director in its 87-year history. “And what do you say?’ ‘Oh no, it’s one of the best pictures, but nobody directed it — she didn’t do anything at all!

Critic Kenneth Turan writes in the Los Angeles Times that the best Hollywood movies “aren’t being made by Hollywood.”

Isaac Mizrahi and a QVC host had a particularly spirited debate about whether the Moon is a star or a planet. (while the characteristics of the moon make it “practically a planet” it is, technically, a satellite, or, er, moon.)

* MEDIA * The White House said that legislation to resolve the issue of net neutrality wouldn’t be necessary, since the FCC had the authority to make rules on how ISPs manage web traffic.

Finally, Google said it is ending sales of Google Glass in its current form, but insists the move is just the end of the product’s first chapter.

(YouTube/Comedy Central)

On speech, censorship and irony

The first issue of Charlie Hebdo since last week’s murderous attack on its staff sold out its 3m print run in a matter of hours. Despite protests and condemnation by Muslim leaders, a further 2m copies will apparently be printed for distribution worldwide, while controversy and debate remains among some media organizations concerning the cover, and the nature of free speech.

Sky News cut away from an interview with Charlie contributor Caroline Fourest when she attempted to hold up the cover. Other broadcast outlets and some newspapers also chose not to show the cover.

(via YouTube/Simon Cobbs)

Elsewhere, it emerged that one newspaper had decided to digitally alter images of the assembled world leaders during the solidarity march in Paris.

France, meanwhile, extended its crackdown on “hate speech”, including the arrest of controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, for the offense of “defending terrorism.”

In a speech at the University of Vermont, author Salman Rushdie said:

Both John F Kennedy and Nelson Mandela use the same three-word phrase which in my mind says it all, which is, ‘Freedom is indivisible.’ You can’t slice it up otherwise it ceases to be freedom. You can dislike Charlie Hedbo … But the fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with their right to speak.

A surprise best-seller in French bookstores this week has been Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance.

Ahead of the British prime minister’s visit to the White House, David Cameron and Barack Obama write a joint editorial in Thursday’s Times. They write:

There are more than one billion Muslims in the world, the vast majority of whom are sickened by the evil these terrorists claim to perpetrate in the name of Islam. The United States and Britain will continue to work closely with all those who believe in peace and tolerance. The terrorists know only how to destroy, but together we can do something infinitely more powerful: build security, strengthen justice and advance peace

US Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Paris on Thursday, as the city prepares for the  funerals of some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for last week’s attack, but such claims remain unconfirmed.

* WORLD * An Ohio man was arrested tonight in connection with an alleged plot to attack the US capitol. The FBI said the 20-year-old Cincinnati man, Christopher Lee Cornell, claimed to be a sympathizer of Islamic State and had come to the attention of authorities after posts on social media supporting violent jihad.

The US Secret Service is to oust four senior officials in the wake of recent security lapses.

Pope Francis has moved on to Manila, where authorities are deploying some 50,000 police and troops for crowd control, with millions of people expected to turn up to see him.

* POLITICS * The Republican National Committee gathers in San Diego for its winter meeting. Here are some things to watch for. The RNC will also be grappling with the status of Michigan National Committeeman Dave Agema. Meanwhile, the Republican convention will be held in Cleveland from July 18-21.

In the UK, comedian Al Murray is apparently set to stand in the May general election against Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party. Murray’s alter ego, The Pub Landlord’s, plan to enter the contest for the seat in Thanet South, prompted Farage to Tweet: “The more the merrier.”

* BUSINESS * A report that Samsung apparently was looking to buy Blackberry – later denied – sent Blackberry stock up about 30 per cent on the day.

RadioShack is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Britain’s Chancellor George Osborne said he believes Britain “could be the world’s richest economy by 2030.”

* MEDIA * The BBC was labeled as treating its staff “like the enemy” after details emerged of an increase in the monitoring of employee email.

Facebook launched its Facebook At Work app which lets businesses create Facebook-like networks for their employees, who might not be Facebook friends with each other.

The New York Times’ head of audience development Alexandra MacCallum, talked strategy, and whether or not the paper considers itself to be competing with sites like BuzzFeed. Separately, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim increased his stake in the New York Times, becoming the company’s biggest single shareholder.

The Online News Association will be holding its first international conference in London on March 6.

* CULTURE * This year’s Oscar nominations will be announced from 8.30am ET on Thursday morning and the only sure thing is that there’ll be plenty of speculation from now until the ceremony on Feb 22.

VH1 is about to begin airing every SNL episodes in the longest TV marathon ever, the 19-day fest to culminate with the show’s 40th anniversary.

Artist Helen Green created this gif celebrating decades of David Bowie hairstyles, to mark the Thin White Duke’s 68th birthday earlier this month.


* SPORTS *  Two climbers, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell, reached the top of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in the Yosemite National Park this afternoon, the first time the 3,000 ft granite wall has been scaled in a “free climb”. The ascent took some 19 days.

A deal has apparently been agreed for Manny Pacquiao to fight Floyd Mayweather, reportedly on May 2 in Las Vegas. Iron Mike Gallego at Deadspin explains why it comes five years too late.

Manchester City made Wilfried Bony one of the most expensive African players, signing him from Swansea City for fee that could reach £28m. With the African Cup of Nations set to start this weekend, it might be the middle of next month before 26-year-old Bony makes his first start for his new club.

The first African-registered team will take part in this year’s Tour De France beginning in July. South Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka team is led, appropriately enough, by Doug Ryder.

‘Thanks to you, France is still standing’


(image: NBC News)

France honored the three police officers who fell in the line of duty during the violent rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers in Paris last week. France’s highest honor, the Legion D’Honneur, was pinned to the caskets by President Hollande in a ceremony at police headquarters. In Israel, the four victims of the attack on the kosher supermarket were also laid to rest.

The lower house of the French parliament – after a minute’s silence and spontaneously breaking into the national anthem, reportedly for the first time in almost a century – voted to extend military action against ISIS in Iraq.

As fresh footage of the attack on Charlie Hebdo emerged, a new issue of the magazine is published on Wednesday as controversy continues over its cover. The cartoonist who drew the feature piece explained how the illustration came together.

I looked at Muhammad. He was crying. And then, above, I wrote ‘All is forgiven,’ and I wept,” he told a news conference. “And there it was. We had found our cover—not the one the world wanted us to make, but the one we wanted to make.

Meanwhile, with widespread debate over next steps and how to deal with a new growth of both anti-semitism and anti-Islam sentiments, Jacob Heilbrunn writes at Reuters on the dangers of a European-wide nationalist resurgence. German leaders attended a vigil organized by Muslim groups in Berlin, in part a response to recent anti-immigrant rallies, particularly in Dresden on Monday.

* WORLD *  There’s already skepticism over plans for new cybersecurity measures in the US and for proposed changes governing law enforcement access to encrypted material by UK prime minister David Cameron. Trevor Timm in The Guardian writes that “banning all encryption won’t make us safer,” no matter what Cameron says.

The FT’s Dan Garrahan and guests discuss the muted media coverage of last week’s Boko Haram massacre.

Wednesday is the second day of the Pope’s three-day visit to Sri Lanka, where he has given the country its first-ever saint.

According to Nasa, the “safe flyby” of an asteroid, known as 2004 BL86, set to happen on January 26, will be the closest by an asteroid this large until 2027.

* POLITICS * In what might read at first glance as a rejected script idea for Caddyshack 3, a former bartender at a county club in Ohio was charged with threatening to poison House speaker John Boehner.

In potential presidential politics today, NJ Gov Chris Christie gave his State of the State address, with one eye clearly on the national landscape.  Two other Governors who may be considering a 2016 run – Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Indiana’s Mike Pence – also delivered their annual state report card.

Meanwhile, former Governor Mike Huckabee seems to think a fruitful line of attack to promote his own possible candidacy is to criticize the First Lady for letting her daughters listen to Beyonce.

As speculation continued over a likely Mitt Romney run, Sen Rand Paul took a concrete step in that direction, hiring a new campaign manager.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton further filled out her potential campaign team while Elizabeth Warren seemed to rule out a run. Or not.

* CULTURE * Amazon announced that it had signed Woody Allen to write and direct a full series of half-hour television shows, to be available next year through Amazon’s Prime Instant Video platform.

Now you can pay ten bucks to have an envelope full of glitter mailed to someone you don’t like.

* BUSINESS *  Shares in wearable camera maker Go Pro tumbled after Apple was granted a patent for a wearable camera.

The House of Representatives is on Wednesday set to pass a package of Bills making changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, covering consumer financial protection.

* SPORTS * The Brooklyn Nets’ Russian owner, Mikhail Prokhorov is exploring the sale of the team, according to Bloomberg.

* MEDIA * Most of the New York Times’ most popular items last year weren’t news stories, a significant change compared with just a year ago.

Katrina vanden Heuvel writes at the Washington Post on the legacy of Bill Moyers, who “has turned off his microphone” after 40 years on the air.

Finally, a correction from The Guardian highlighting the importance of appropriate hyphenation.

guardiancorrex(via David Bennett)

Caught one more time

The US Military’s Central Command – Centcom – was the victim of a “hack” of its public Twitter feed and YouTube account, apparently by sympathizers of Islamic State identifying themselves as the “cybercaliphate.” But the damage done was likely less substantive than it first appeared. The accounts were suspended after about 40 minutes.


(image: BBC)

While the hack was embarrassing – coming as it did while President Obama happened to be making a speech at a conference on cybersecurity – officials said operational networks were not compromised and what had occurred amounted to “cybervandalism”.

As Fred Kaplan writes at Slate, “the proper response is a shrug.” These types of attacks are common, he says.

Hackers try to launch assaults on Defense Department computers and networks hundreds of times a day. Sometimes they succeed; once in a while, the breach is serious. This one is not.

The Centcom hack also comes after the hacker group Anonymous had targeted jihadist web sites in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

* WORLD * 10,000 French troops will bolster police from tomorrow in guarding sensitive locations around Paris and elsewhere, as authorities say a terror threat is “still present” in the wake of last week’s violent events. The French parliament is also apparently preparing to debate its own version of a “Patriot Act” covering domestic security.

In the US, the White House admitted it had made a mistake in not sending a higher profile representative to Sunday’s solidarity march in Paris. It certainly underestimated the optics of the decision and the reaction to it.

Meanwhile, the staff of Charlie Hebdo is preparing to publish a special issue on Wednesday with a planned press run of three million copies, in sixteen languages.

* POLITICS *  Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin GOP congressman who ran for the vice-presidency last time out, said he wouldn’t be a candidate in the 2016 race. Meanwhile, the top half of the 2012 ticket, Mitt Romney, appears to be moving his pre-campaign organization into a higher gear. Maggie Haberman and James Hohmann write at Politico that Romney’s time frame for a decision on a third run is “weeks, not months”.

Before ruling himself out, though, Ryan still had one last chance on Sunday to poke another potential candidate, Chris Christie, during the Packers’ defeat of the Cowboys

* BUSINESS * Oil prices slid again, with Brent off 5 per cent on the day, amid a warning by Goldman Sachs of yet further falls to come.

* MEDIA * CNN reached an agreement with the FAA to explore the use of drones in news gathering.

Lawyers for New York Times reporter James Risen said he will not be called to testify this week in a trial at which he could have been pressed to reveal sources for his 2006 book, State of War.

* SPORTS * Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon D’Or for the second straight season. The award means that, since 2008, the honor of being recognized as the world’s greatest player has been accorded only to him or Lionel Messi. The BBC reported that somehow, England manager Roy Hodgson didn’t vote for either of them.

College football’s inaugural championship playoff game ended with Ohio State beating Oregon 42-20. CNN writes about how ESPN’s $7.3bn bet paid off, while Mother Jones looks at who’s getting rich (hint – it’s not the players).

* CULTURE * Finally, the enterprising folks who run the EastSide Arts Festival in Belfast are apparently trying to get one of the city’s favorite sons, a certain George Ivan Morrison, to play an open-air show on the street where he lived and made world-famous, around the time of his 70th birthday this summer.

It’s a great idea, and could maybe even prompt other similar “street cred” shows: how about Simon & Garfunkel re-uniting – again – ‘neath the span of the 59th Street Bridge; The Foo Fighters paying tribute to Gerry Rafferty on Baker Street; an explosive performance by The Jam in Wardour Street; the remaining members of The Ramones could stop traffic at the corner of 53rd and 3rd, or The Boss braving the cold on 10th Avenue.

C’est magnifique

marche(image: HuffPo/La-Croix.com)

As many as 2m people took to the streets of Paris – and an estimated 3.7m across France – in a huge collective outpouring of resolve and remembrance for the victims of the past week’s terrorist attacks. The march in the capital was the biggest public gathering in France since the Liberation in 1944. Foreign leaders walked arm-in-arm in a demonstration of international solidarity, but it was, first and foremost, a day for ordinary people of all races and religions to come together to reject extremism.

In Germany, however, there was a firebomb attack at the office of the Hamburger Morgenpost, a newspaper which had republished Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons last week. No-one was injured.

See full coverage of events in France at The Guardian here, the BBC here, Sky News here.

As you’d expect, what was a remarkable day in France threw up plenty of talking points – from the “hypocrisy” of the presence of some global representatives; to the “controversy” over the fact that the most senior US official in attendance was the Ambassador; to JK Rowling attacking Rupert Murdoch for a tweet; and finally to a guest on Fox News sparking one of the funniest Twitter hashtags of recent months after his comments about the English city of Birmingham.

There were many memorable images from the day, but perhaps one that summed things up for a lot of people was this:


(“I’m marching, but I’m conscious of the confusion and the hypocrisy of the situation” – image: Francois Picard, France24)


* CULTURE * At tonight’s Golden Globe awards, many of the stars paid tribute to the people of Paris and Charlie Hebdo. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood took a couple of the top awards, and the newly-married Eddie Redmayne won best actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Departing show hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took their leave by skewering everything from Bill Cosby to the Sony hack to North Korea (with the help of Margaret Cho).

Roundups here via NBC News, CBS NewsThe Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter.

* BUSINESS * The 2015 North American International Auto Show gets under way on Monday in Detroit. With low gas prices, the theme looks set to be performance and power. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Volvo will sell Chinese-made cars in the US this year.

* SPORTS * Roger Federer notched up his 1,000th ATP victory by winning a tournament in Australia late on Saturday.

In the NFL playoffs, Indianapolis beat Denver and Green Bay defeated Chris Christie’s Dallas Cowboys, albeit with the help of a controversial reversed call.

Monday evening in Zurich sees the award of Fifa’s Ballon d’Or, with Messi, Ronaldo and Manuel Neuer (who would be the first goalkeeper to win) up for the top prize, while there will also be recognition for the goal of the season.

Monday is also college football’s first playoff final, between Oregon and Ohio State.

* WORLD * Indonesian divers retrieved the first of the two black box data recorders from the Air Asia flight which crashed in the Java Sea last month.

Croatia elected its first woman president, with Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic ousting incumbent Ivo Josipovic in a tight election.

Japan marks Coming of Age Day on Monday, celebrating those who turn 20 and thus pass into “adulthood”

In the US meanwhile, Sunday was the annual No Pants Subway Ride, inspired by comedic pranksters Improv Everywhere.

‘Unity is our best weapon’


(image: Vantagenews.com/The Telegraph)

France is reeling from the bloody conclusion to its worst acts of terrorism in decades. The Republic is in shock and mourning after 72 hours of violence which saw the deaths of 17 innocent people and three terrorists.

Tonight, a fourth suspect, a woman, is still being sought by police, while Al-Qaeda in Yemen reportedly claimed responsibility for the connected attacks, which turned the French capital into a virtual war zone.

* Follow comprehensive coverage and analysis via The Guardian here,  via Reuters here, via The BBC here, via Sky News here, or via Vice News here.


(image: MSNBC)

President Francois Hollande addressed the nation tonight. He praised the bravery of the French police and while warning that citizens must remain vigilant, he said:

We need to show our determination against anything and everything that can divide us. We should be firm against racism and antisemitism. Unity is our best weapon.

To that end, there will be a march of solidarity and remembrance in Paris on Sunday, yet even that has become a lightning-rod for the country’s domestic politics as the country braces for many difficult conversations in the days ahead.


* WORLD *  As the world’s attention was turned towards France, as many as 2,000 people may have been killed in a week-long rampage by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. A further 10,000 people have fled to Chad, the BBC reported.

Radical London cleric Abu Hamza was sentenced to life in prison on terror charges by a court in New York.

Rumors of the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro swept social media tonight, but there was no indication that they were any more credible than the previous occasions of his demise.

One driver died and several were injured in a massive weather-related pileup on I-94 in Michigan near Battle Creek. Some 150 vehicles were involved and the situation was further complicated when one of the trucks’ cargo of fireworks exploded.

The Golden Gate Bridge will be closed this weekend for maintenance and safety upgrades. It will be the longest closure in the history of the iconic bridge.

* POLITICS *  After seemingly insisting that he was not interested in again seeking the presidency, Mitt Romney may or may not have had a change of heart, telling a group of GOP donors “I want to be President.”

The FBI and Justice Department have recommended charges against retired Gen David Petraeus of providing classified information while he was CIA director, the New York Times reports.

The stage looks set either for a Washington showdown or a round of intense dealmaking, as Congress prepares to send a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline to President Obama’s desk.

* CULTURE *  Hollywood is preparing for the Golden Globe awards this Sunday, hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The LA Times explains why the Globes are just meaningless fun “apart from these five races.” Separately, this year’s Bafta nominees were announced. That awards ceremony will be held on Feb 8.

Eight years ago today, Apple introduced the iPhone.

* SPORTS * This weekend is the “mismatch round” of the NFL playoffs. With Chris Christie seemingly headed to Lambeau Field to root for his Dallas Cowboys against Green Bay, this cover of The Trentonian will, as Bleacher Report says, “haunt you forever”.

After the New York Times gave its Knicks beat writer a well-earned break, ESPN’s rejigged TV schedule will reduce the number of Knicks games. Matt Yoder writes: “It’s encouraging that ESPN would take the step of replacing big market bad teams with small market good ones.”

Hostages killed as French sieges end; Hebdo suspects dead


(image: Fox News)

UPDATE, 1.30PM ET, JAN 9: At least four hostages and the gunman holding them were understood to have been killed when French police stormed a kosher supermarket in Vincennes, to the east of Paris.

In what appeared to be a co-ordinated operation, police also moved in at a print works in Dammartin-en-Goele north of the capital, where the two suspects in Wednesday’s attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine were apparently holding a single hostage.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether a third developing hostage situation, at a jewelry store in Montpellier, is in any way related to events in Paris.

Follow live updates via The Guardian here,  via Reuters here, via The BBC here, via Sky News here, or via Vice News here.

UPDATE, 11.30AM ET, JAN 9: French special forces stormed two locations where hostages were being held by gunmen wanted in connection with Wednesday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and in the shooting of a policewoman on Thursday.

Initial reports said that the two brothers suspected of carrying out the Hebdo attack were killed at a print works in Dammartin-en-Goele north of the capital, and, according to AFP, their single hostage had been freed.

At a supermarket in Vincennes, where reportedly five hostages were being held, explosions and gunfire were heard and the hostage-taker was said to have been killed. It is uncertain exactly how many hostages have been freed.

UPDATE, 9AM ET, JAN 9: Two people are reported to have been killed in an ongoing hostage situation at a kosher supermarket in Vincennes, in the east of Paris. Five people are understood to be held. The hostage-taker is said to be a suspect in the shooting of a policewoman in the capital on Thursday morning.

UPDATE, 7AM ET, JAN 9:  The two suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attacks are holding one person hostage at a print works in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goele north of Paris. Hundreds of French special forces have surrounded the area, and there has apparently been contact between police and the men, who are reported to have said they are “ready to die as martyrs.”

There are also reports of a shooting incident and a possible hostage situation developing Friday morning at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris.

Meanwhile, police said the shooting of a policewoman in the capital on Thursday morning was, in fact, linked to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Initially, officials had not immediately connected the two.


(image: Reuters)

Midnight ET, Thursday: The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark as part of France’s national day of mourning, but the country remains on edge tonight as the manhunt continues for two suspects in Wednesday’s Charlie Hebdo murders.

Thousands of armed police officers are involved in the search, which is now centered on a wooded area in the Piicardy region, an hour north of Paris. A number of people, thought to be associates of the two fugitive brothers, have been arrested.

Earlier, there were reports of attacks on mosques while a young policewoman was shot and killed and a colleague wounded south of the capital, although that incident was not immediately linked to the attack at the magazine office.

Charlie Hebdo itself, meanwhile, will publish a special edition next week, with a planned print run of 1m instead of its usual 30,000-60,000.  The edition is set to have financial backing from media groups in France and from the Digital Publishing Innovation Fund, paid for by Google. Another financial supporter, The Guardian, which has donated £100,000, also hosted a debate tonight to raise funds for the families of the victims.

On social media, the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag gained traction today, honoring Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim policeman shot on the sidewalk as the attackers made their escape.


* POLITICS * President Obama – who paid his respects at the French embassy in Washington this evening – is expected to expand on his plan to make the first two years of community college “free, if you’re willing to work for it” when he speaks in Knoxville, Tennessee on Friday.   

California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer announced – in rhyme – she wouldn’t run for re-election in 2016 which would shake up the state by prompting its first open Senate contest for more than 20 years. California GOP congressman Darrell Issa declined to say if he’d seek the seat, saying only “There’s been a vacancy for two decades.”

Staying with comedy, GOP congressional members will head for a retreat in Hershey PA next week, where they’ll be entertained by Jay Leno and former prime minister Tony Blair. Presumably not as a double-act. (Although after Conan O’Brien teamed up with former Labor secretary Robert Reich, anything’s possible.)

As Britain starts to gear up for voting in May, The Telegraph’s Cathy Newman has a piece on how political wives can survive general election hell.

* WORLD * Despite objections from the US, Amnesty International and other human rights groups, it was reported from Jeddah that Saudi Arabia began a series of public floggings of liberal blogger Raif Badawi. The co-founder of  a now-banned website, the Liberal Saudi Network, had been convicted of “cybercrime and insulting Islam.” (7am ET)

This June, there will be a “leap second” which could throw a spanner in the works of various computer systems. According to Wired, though, there’s a plan to get rid of it.

* MEDIA * Andy Carvin wrote about how Reported.ly covered the Charlie Hebdo story on just their third day of existence. It’s a compelling tale, with even some echoes of how CNN reported from Baghdad at the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

To follow up a point the other day about New York Times corrections, the paper has another good one, involving a whole new country. I’d still really  like to see how much additional traffic they’re generating.

* BUSINESS * Friday morning’s release of US employment data for December is expected to indicate that domestic job growth continued its recent positive trend, but total numbers of new jobs were expected to be less than November.

* CULTURE * Today would have been Elvis’s 80th birthday, the occasion marked by an auction of memorabilia at Graceland. including an acetate of his first-ever recording. Coincidentally, tomorrow would have been the 102nd birthday of former President Richard M Nixon.


(image: White House)

Today was also Kim Jong-Un’s birthday. As far as we know he wasn’t serenaded by an NBA star this year.

The 1954 “Black Beauty” guitar – the prototype for Gibson’s Les Paul range – will come up for auction on February 19 in New York.

* SPORTS * Boston was chosen by the US Olympic Committee as the US city to bid for the 2024 Olympics. The city was chosen ahead of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. But not everyone is happy.

In football, Cardiff City will hold a board meeting on Friday to consider returning to its original blue shirt color. The club’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, bought the club in 2010 and changed their colors to red two seasons later, arguing it would be “luckier”.