The Final Frontier

The universe is saying goodbye to Leonard Nimoy.


Congress averted a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security by passing a one-week funding extension, which the President signed shortly before the midnight deadline.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Friday’s initial rejection of even a three-week temporary funding measure “was exactly what Speaker John Boehner had promised would not happen with a Congress completely under GOP control.”

Chris Cillizza at The Fix explains why Congressional Republicans are their own worst enemies.

From the collapse of the “Plan B” proposal to avoid the fiscal cliff to the Farm Bill failure to Friday’s vote, the story is always the same: Boehner proposes legislation to prevent Republicans from taking the lion’s share of blame in whatever the latest moment of brinkmanship is between Congress and the White House. Conservatives refuse to sign on. Republicans are eventually forced to accept something that is less advantageous for their side than the Boehner proposal. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Meanwhile, as CPAC wraps up, The Guardian‘s Jeb Lund writes that the message is simple: You’re in terrible danger.

“But that doesn’t mean you’re in terrible danger right now. Right now, there are seminars. About the danger.”


* WORLD * Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, a leading critic of war in Ukraine, was shot dead near the Kremlin late on Friday. The killing came after Nemtsov had appealed for support for a march on Sunday in Moscow against the war. His lawyer told the BBC that he had been receiving death threats on social media.

The Washington Post calls the murder “another dark sign for Russia.” Joshua Yaffa in the New Yorker looks at why Nemtsov was assassinated.

Leonid Bershidsky, who first met the Former Deputy Prime Minister in 1992, writes at Bloomberg on the Russia that died with Nemtsov.

“I seriously doubt that Nemtsov’s death will invigorate the anti-Putin protest movement. It is too weak to present a threat. Convincing others of the regime’s criminality is a weapon that’s too heavy for Russian liberals to heft these days. Still, I cannot help but wonder now what my country would have been like had [Boris] Yeltsin made a different choice back in 1999.”

In a piece in Thursday’s Financial Times, Nemtsov was quoted thus: “Three years ago, we were an opposition. Now we are no more than dissidents. The task is to organise a real opposition again.”

A Kremlin spokesperson said President Putin is “taking personal control of the investigation into Nemtsov’s murder.” 

Meanwhile, the former head of MI6 told the BBC that Russia “poses a state-to-state threat” and urged “increased dialogue” – as well as increased defense spending.

Diplomats from the US and Cuba made progress in their latest round of talks on normalizing relations, but are still “at odds” over whether Cuba should be taken off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

* CULTURE * If you lost contact with your childhood best friend, how would you go about finding him? And would you be prepared for what you discovered? Tampa Bay Times writer Andrew Meacham documents his search in Finding Fletcher. (h/t @mudlarklives).

Finally, we weren’t aware that VP Joe Biden was a fan of Dermot Morgan.

Who isn’t, though?


House weighs three-week DHS reprieve

As clocks at the Department of Homeland Security click closer to a  shutdown, the Republican-controlled House and Senate seemed no closer to  resolving their differences. With the Senate set to pass a “clean” funding bill on Friday morning, House Speaker John Boehner initially would not say whether he would back a bill that did not also defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

It was reported late on Thursday that the House was preparing to vote on a bill to extend funding for the Department for three weeks in order to avert a shutdown. But the National Journal reports that passing such a partial solution won’t be easy.

John Hudson at Foreign Policy writes on why the case against a shutdown ‘isn’t a slam dunk.’

To be sure, this week’s standoff stems from Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, but the fact that so many Republicans do not view the department as sacrosanct is making Secretary Johnson’s life dramatically harder. Skepticism about the department also highlights the continued debate over Bush’s legacy as his younger brother Jeb considers a presidential run. The creation of DHS was one of Bush’s signature accomplishments, but it has come under fire from libertarian-leaning Republicans in the House and Senate.

And Nick Gillespie at The Daily Beast writes ‘Lets Just Kill Homeland Security’

Such hijinks may well be smart—or dumb—politics, but they distract from a far more important and serious question: Why do we even have a Department of Homeland Security in the first place?

Talking of Jeb Bush, the former Florida Governor is due to address CPAC on Friday afternoon, seeking, via a Q&A with Fox host Sean Hannity, to dispel the view of some that he is a “squishy RINO”.

Some attendees aren’t prepared to even give him that chance, with an unknown number of activists preparing to walk out, presumably taking their tricorn hats and Gadsden flags with them.

The Fix’s Chris Cillizza has a memo for Scott Walker: “Islamic State does not equal Wisconsin protestors.” (Walker later, er, walked it back).

* WORLD * The ISIS terrorist known as “Jihadi John” was identified by several media outlets as a Kuwaiti-born Londoner. The Washington Post, which first reported the identification, looks at his background.

The Economist writes:

If the claims are true, Mr Emwazi would boast many of the attributes thought to characterise Westerners—including perhaps 600 Britons—who have gone to fight with IS. Few seem to be desperately poor nor do they necessarily demonstrate a failure to integrate into the societies around them.

FBI Director James Comey had said last year that US officials knew who the man in the ISIS videos was, but did not at the time give details.

Islamic State, meanwhile, released a video showing the destruction of ancient artifacts at the National Museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul. World heritage body Unesco said the attack “is far more than a cultural tragedy. This is also a security issue as it fuels sectarianism, violent extremism and conflict in Iraq.”


(image: AP/New York Observer)

A judge in Argentina dismissed the case originally brought by deceased prosecutor Alberto Nisman against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for allegedly whitewashing Iran’s role in a 1994 Buenos Aires bombing.

The German parliament is set to vote on Friday on whether to authorize the extension of Greece’s bailout loan. There were riots in Athens on Thursday night ahead of the vote – the first such demonstrations since the left-wing Syriza party came to power – as some leftists see the agreement as a backdown.

* BUSINESS * Apple will hold an event in San Francisco on March 9 where it will announce details of the Apple Watch, Bloomberg reported.

Investor Irving Kahn, renowned for making money shorting stocks during the 1929 crash, died, aged 109. Marketwatch writes:

Up to the end, Kahn served as chairman of Kahn Brothers Group Inc., which was founded in 1978 and has about $1 billion under management. Kahn reportedly still went to his midtown Manhattan office three times a week, taking a short taxi ride from his Upper East Side apartment.

* MEDIA * The FCC approved rules on Net Neutrality, but the WSJ predicts an ongoing battle, with telecom and cable industries expected to challenge the 3-2 ruling. Robert McMillan writes at Wired on ‘How Google’s Silence Helped Net Neutrality Win’. The Christian Science Monitor wonders how much John Oliver had to do with Thursday’s decision (see yesterday’s Overnight Note).

Data from Britain’s National Readership Survey showed that the Daily Mail is the “most-read newspaper brand in the UK” counting both print and online audiences. The Sun remains the most-read title in print only.

After offices across the US apparently came to a standstill for an hour to watch this on Thursday – and Tweeted endlessly about it, even  shamelessly pushing various  brands – it might be time to remind people of the truth about these elegant, yet easily-disoriented creatures.


* CULTURE * Kanye West did a wide-ranging and apparently emotional interview with BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, then issued a brilliantly minimalist apology.

Ashley Clarke at The Guardian writes:

When questioned about his recent Beck-baiting conduct at the Grammys, West was unrepentant, and constructed an elaborate clock-based metaphor as his defence: “A broke clock is right twice a day, and the Grammys are so twice a day. What do you do those other times? If you had an assistant that could only give you the right time twice a day, at a certain point you’d want to fire that assistant. The Grammys are not the pinnacle, they’re an assistant. Us, as musicians, we’re the pinnacle. They’re an assistant, and they need to know what time it is.”


Net Neutrality set for key vote

The federal government is poised to define how it regulates Internet access, with the long-awaited FCC vote on Net Neutrality set for Thursday.  The Hill reports on some “11th-hour drama” regarding potential rule changes, but the proposals announced last month – treating broadband providers like public utilities – are expected to pass.

The Wall Street Journal, however, reports that “industry jostling” means the FCC’s vote “won’t end the debate.”

What is net neutrality and what does it mean to me? USA Today

* Who will net neutrality rules cover?Forbes

* What you need to know FreePress

Or, of course, if you need a primer, there’s this from last year. Out of date a bit, but still hilarious…


* POLITICS * Speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference – CPAC – get under way on Thursday. Newsweek says for Conservatives, it’s “Burning Man meets the Super Bowl.” A gaggle of potential Republican presidential candidates will use the opportunity to appeal to the younger, libertarian-skewed gathering.

Two prominent GOP-ers who’ve chosen to skip CPAC are John Boehner and Mitch McConnell – the apparently distant leaders of the House and Senate respectively – as uncertainty over the immediate future of the Department of Homeland Security bounces between the chambers; McConnell attempting to break the impasse only for Boehner to pull his best Marshawn Lynch impression, waiting for the senate to act.

(YouTube/Associated Press)

An important vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected on Thursday afternoon, which would advance the confirmation of the proposed new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch Her nomination is apparently still in the balance, despite a big endorsement from police chiefs. Politico writes:

“Conservatives are urging the Senate to reject her. Earlier this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) penned an op-ed in POLITICO demanding that his party do everything possible to reject Lynch’s bid for attorney general. And more than 50 House lawmakers called on senators who sit on the Judiciary Committee to oppose her nomination, alleging in a letter this week that Lynch has “demonstrated an unwillingness to depart from the politicization of justice we have seen from Eric Holder.”

In potential Democratic presidential politics, The Washington Post reports that the Clinton Foundation “accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, including one donation that violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration.”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Foundation would reconsider its policy on overseas donations if Secretary Clinton was to run for President.

* WORLD * Three men living in Brooklyn were arrested in connection with plotting to aid ISIS. One of the men, an Uzbek national, had reportedly spoken about terror attacks, including assassinating President Obama. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the threat of lone wolf attacks inside the US was “real”. Meanwhile FBI Director James Comey said in a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General that extremists “exist in all 50 states.”

The relationship between the White House and Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu is growing increasingly tense ahead of next week’s address to Congress. National Security adviser Susan Rice warned that Netanyahu’s visit was “destructive to the fabric of the relationship”. She told PBS: “We want the relationship between the United States and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable… regardless of which party may be in charge in either country.”

* BUSINESS * Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers that a single, “cyber-armageddon”-type attack on US infrastructure is “less likely than a succession of costly computer attacks.” So we’ve got that going for us.

* CULTURE * Madonna took a tumble at the Brit Awards, apparently breaking only the Internet. Time looks at five other times she has “bounced back,” while the Material Girl also just happens to be the cover story in this week’s Rolling Stone.

* MEDIA * A compelling long read by aviation writer Jeff Wise in the current issue of New York magazine looks at his theories on the disappearance of MH370 and his appearances on CNN as part of their on-air “expert pool” during the network’s wall-to-wall coverage of the missing airliner.

There was no intro course on how to be a cable-news expert. The Town Car would show up to take me to the studio, I’d sign in with reception, a guest-greeter would take me to makeup, I’d hang out in the greenroom, the sound guy would rig me with a mike and an earpiece, a producer would lead me onto the set, I’d plug in and sit in the seat, a producer would tell me what camera to look at during the introduction, we’d come back from break, the anchor would read the introduction to the story and then ask me a question or maybe two, I’d answer, then we’d go to break, I would unplug, wipe off my makeup, and take the car 43 blocks back uptown. Then a couple of hours later, I’d do it again. I was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking.

and later:

..the story ended the way most news stories do: We just stopped talking about it.

Seriously – have a read of this fascinating piece. It’s well worth your time.

Also in aviation-related news, three Al Jazeera journalists were reportedly arrested on suspicion of flying a drone over Paris tourist attractions.

* SPORTS * As football continues to digest Fifa’s decision to switch the timing of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the BBC‘s Dan Roan writing that the controversy “could tear the game apart.”

In short, expect the rifts and divisions that already blight football to be widened like never before, perhaps beyond repair, as the fall-out from Fifa’s scandal-ridden and bungled bidding process continues.

Finally, two coaches of whom much is expected in their coming seasons with new teams held their first team meetings, in Arizona and Ann Arbor.

ESPN reports that “Pitcher Jason Hammel heard the speech for the first time in six years, as he played for [Joe] Maddon in Tampa Bay from 2006 to 2008. He says it hasn’t changed.”

Meanwhile, according to Jim Harbaugh: “It’s like your birthday or New Year’s or Thanksgiving,” he added. “It’s like Christmas. It’s like a family reunion. It’s all of those things, all rolled in one. It’s happening. It’s like the first day of school — you lay your clothes out the night before, pack your lunchbox tight and you head to school.”


Votes could end Homeland Security brinkmanship

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell(Republican leaders are at odds as a DHS shutdown looms. Image: AP/Politico)

With funding for the Department of Homeland Security set to run out on Friday, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is proposing a way out of the logjam, offering a vote on funding the department, separated from a second vote on stopping President Obama’s  executive actions on immigration. The end result could see a short-term funding fix, but Democrats are pushing for a guarantee that the House would also accept the proposal. The House GOP leadership will meet on Wednesday to discuss next steps.

What Happens Now?

* WORLD * In the so-called “American Sniper” trial in Texas late on Tuesday, Eddie Ray Routh was found guilty of murder in the deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Routh was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Justice Department said that George Zimmerman would not face civil rights charges for his role in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Attorney General Eric Holder said a “comprehensive examination” determined that there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution. But he added that Martin’s “premature death necessitates that we continue the dialogue and be unafraid of confronting the issues and tensions his passing brought to the surface.”

Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate committee that the US expects to know “soon” if Iran is willing to agree to an “acceptable and verifiable plan” to restrict its nuclear program. The deadline for the current negotiations is end of March and Kerry is expected to leave this weekend to hold further talks with Iran. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to meet separately from his controversial address to Congress on March 3. Chris McGreal writes at The Guardian:

Opinion polls in Israel show the public divided on the address to Congress with widespread suspicion that Netanyahu is using it for electoral advantage. The Labour party leader, Isaac Herzog – campaigning in coalition with other opposition parties under the Zionist Union banner – has called Netanyahu’s speech a “strategic mistake”, and accused the prime minister of using it for his own “political interest”.

Eurozone finance ministers approved a set of reform proposals by Greece to secure a four-month extension of the country’s bailout.

Prime Minister David Cameron said British troops would be deployed to Ukraine “in the next few weeks” in a training capacity. Cameron also warned of “deeply damaging” consequences for Europe if the EU did not stand up to Vladimir Putin.

* POLITICS * Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a run-off election after failing to secure 50 per cent of the vote on Tuesday. Emanuel and second-placed challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia will run-off on April 7.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he won’t seek Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat.

President Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline bill. It was just his third veto and his first on a substantial piece of legislation.The Washington Post says it won’t be his last.

* BUSINESS * Variety reported that Tom Rothman is to be the new chairman of Sony’s motion picture group, replacing Amy Pascal, who was ousted following the cyber attack apparently launched by North Korea at the end of last year. Sony also said that Michael Lynton’s contract as CEO and chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment was being extended.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony to the Senate banking committee was upbeat on the economy and signaled interest rate increases later in the year.

The FTSE hit an all-time high for the first time since 1999. The FT’s John Authers explains why that’s not necessarily a big deal.

* MEDIA * Despite Fox host Bill O’Reilly saying “I want to stop this now,” the squabble over the accuracy of his reporting during the Falklands conflict shows no sign of abating. The Washington Post has a summary of the issues so far. James Poniewozik at Time writes:

“..if O’Reilly is not likely to suffer Brian Williams’ fate, it has less to do with the difference in their stories and more to do with the fact that O’Reilly is not Brian Williams: he’s an entirely different kind of journalist. His audience has a different relationship with him, based not on veracity but loyalty, not information but identification.”

And talking of Brian Williams, ratings for the NBC Nightly News rose last week under Lester Holt’s anchoring, topping 10 million viewers.

ESPN suspended Keith Olbermann after the host was involved in a Twitter exchange regarding Penn State, for which he later apologized. Olbermann will not host his show for the rest of the week.

* CULTURE * Tuesday night saw the finale of Parks and Recreation on NBC. The show was given a nice send-off on Twitter, while Asawin Suebsaeng at The Daily Beast writes on how Ron Swanson became the unlikely libertarian hero of the Obama era.

* SPORTS * Fifa has recommended that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be played in November and December, with the possibility of the final being held in the few days immediately before Christmas. The Guardian‘s Owen Gibson has the when, why and what.

The Daily Star has no doubt whose interests are being served.

starFIFA(image: Daily Star/Tomorrow’s Papers Today)

Separately, Ira Boudway at Bloomberg reports that the value of shirt sponsorship for Europe’s elite clubs has soared to $778million, and  the team breakdown emphasizes a growing divide between the top and lower clubs in each European league.

Finally, talking of money in sports, the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch apparently filed a formal trademark request for the phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”


Yellen set for Senate testimony

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will give the first leg of her semi-annual testimony to the Senate Banking Committee starting at 10am on Tuesday. Marketwatch says Yellen’s testimony “may surprise investors by keeping alive the idea of a June rate hike, which would be seen as a tilt toward the hawkish side.”

Bloomberg says the testimony comes as the Fed is “facing its gravest political threat since the drafters of the Dodd-Frank act tried to strip it of its supervisory powers,” while Reuters reports that local bankers “are joining the fight against a congressional proposal to audit the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy decisions.”

* POLITICS * The clock continues to tick towards a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, after the Senate failed to pass a funding bill on Monday night because it was tied to repeal of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The Washington Post reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set up votes ahead of Friday’s deadline on separate legislation on immigration.

President Obama could veto the Keystone XL pipeline legislation as early as Tuesday, with “no drama or fanfare,” according to the White House.

A New Jersey judge ordered Gov Chris Christie to reverse cuts he made to the state’s public pension system. The ruling  – which the Christie administration will likely appeal – came ahead of the announcement of New Jersey’s 2016 budget on Tuesday. MSNBC‘s Steve Kornacki wraps up Christie’s recent “dreadful headlines” and how a string of bad news could turn dangerous for the Governor’s potential run for the presidency.

* WORLD * The Guardian has a scoop based on leaked Mossad documents showing that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2012 claims on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb was “contradicted by his own secret service.”

netanyahu(image: The Guardian/Tomorrow’s Papers Today)

The story comes as the US and Iran were reported to be making “progress” in talks towards a nuclear deal; while the rhetoric continues ahead of Netanyahu’s planned speech to the US Congress next week, controversially timed around upcoming Israeli elections.

A New York court, meanwhile, ruled that the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization were liable for supporting six terrorist attacks in Israel more than a decade ago.

Greece will send a list of proposed reforms to its EU creditors on Tuesday morning, after it missed Monday’s deadline. The reforms are a condition for extending Greece’s financial lifeline and will be examined by the Eurozone creditors on Tuesday afternoon.

Here, the FT‘s Ralph Atkins and Alastair Wilson of Moody’s discuss the debt outlook for the Eurozone as a whole in the wake of what’s been happening with Greece

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a TV interview that he thought war with Ukraine was “unlikely.” On the ground, though, what is left of the tenuous ceasefire was further diminished when Ukraine’s military said it could not withdraw its heavy weapons while its troops were under attack.

* MEDIA * The back and forth continues in the case of Fox host Bill O’Reilly and allegations of exaggeration in his war reporting. Jeremy Stahl writes at Slate on why O’Reilly “will survive accusations of war reporting puffery when Brian Williams didn’t.”

* BUSINESS * Existing home sales in the US fell to a nine-month low in January, according to data released Monday. New home sales numbers are released later this week. Bloomberg writes:

While rising property values boost homeowner wealth and spending power, too-rapid increases are outstripping wage gains, representing a hurdle for young or first-time buyers. Nonetheless, strengthening employment, historically low mortgage rates, more expensive rents and easier financing will probably sustain demand and give sales a boost this year over last.

* CULTURE * As you’d expect, there was plenty of reaction to Sunday night’s Oscars show. The audience for the ABC telecast was down by more than 6million viewers on last year, Forbes reports, indicating a “growing gap between moviegoers and Academy,” says the NYT.

The New York Times editorial board has had enough of this winter. Bryanna Cappadona at Boston Magazine thanks them for the “poetic snow-congested melodrama.”

* SPORTS * The Uefa Champions League resumes on Tuesday with Barcelona traveling to Manchester City in the last 16 first leg as Luis Suarez returns to England.

In Italian domestic football, meanwhile, the financial outlook for Serie A’s bottom team Parma isn’t pretty.

In the other kind of “football” coverage of the Scouting Combines have been racking up huge TV audiences for the NFL Network, driven by a growing legion of Fantasy team managers.

It’s 42 days until Baseball Opening Day, with a taste on Monday of how the A-Rod story might unfold over the coming weeks. One of the most sought-after young players, 19-year-old Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada looks set to sign for the Boston Red Sox in the next few days. But his path to the show might be set for a different turn, as the Pawtucket Red Sox have been sold and could be moving to Providence.

With news that new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred may be looking at cutting the number of games in the regular season, Brian Costa writes at the WSJ about how to save players from fatigue, reporting that less than 9% of position players last year played in more than 150 games, the lowest such percentage ever.

So, as full squads report to spring training in Florida and Arizona this week, teams aren’t worried so much about hitters being ready for Opening Day. They’re worried about keeping them fresh for the stretch run, and they’re exploring myriad new ways to boost their endurance.

Finally, Sunday was the 35th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice and the members of the USA team reunited – at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid – over the weekend.

One of the things that has become blurred in the relatively short time – but certainly an era in other ways – since that remarkable victory was that the US television broadcast – from a US Olympics – was on tape delay. The game was shown live on Canadian TV, and in the Soviet Union, but was held for prime time by ABC, after the network had tried unsuccessfully to shift the time of the face-off. As Sports Illustrated‘s Joe Posnanski wrote at the 30th anniversary:

Funny, a lot of people still think they saw the game live. But I know that one of my strongest memories — confirmed by the tape — was of [Jim] McKay saying that it was tape delay and that if even one person did not know the outcome, well, he wasn’t going to be the one to break the news. I have seen polls through the years that suggested most of the people who watched the game on television did not know the outcome. I know that my father and I did not. That shows you how long ago 1980 was in terms of technology. There’s no way you could keep that a secret now.


Birdman soars at Oscars

Birdman took home the Oscars for best picture and best director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Eddie Redmayne won best actor for his portrayal of Prof Stephen Hawking and Julianne Moore was honored for her performance in Still Alice.

One of the night’s show-stopping moments was the performance of the winning song – Glory, from the movie Selma, by John Legend and Common, and their powerful acceptance speech.

* Full coverage from the Los Angeles Times is here.

* From Variety here.

* From Entertainment Weekly here.

* WORLD * Greece is set to present its list of reform proposals to its group of international creditors on Monday. If the plans are approved, the four-month loan extension agreed on Friday will proceed. If they are rejected, however, any deal could be dead.

As the ceasefire in Ukraine remains tenuous, but reinforced by a weekend prisoner swap, a bomb blast at a rally in the country’s second city, Kharkiv, killed two people including a police officer.

The Department of Homeland Security appeared to back away on Sunday night from an earlier warning by Secretary Jeh Johnson that anyone planning to visit the Mall of America in Minnesota should be “particularly careful” following an apparent threat to the location by Somalia-based terror group Al-Shabaab. Regardless of the actual extent of this particular threat, funding for the Department will be the subject of debate in the midst of a Congressional dispute over immigration.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott outlined proposed measures to strengthen his  government’s counter-terrorism efforts. “We will never sacrifice our freedoms in order to defend them, but we will not let our enemies exploit our decency either,” he said.

* BUSINESS * Honda said its president Takanobu Ito would step down in June. Bloomberg reported that “The carmaker’s worst quality issues in decades have derailed plans to introduce new models, led Ito to take a pay cut and triggered the projection of Honda’s first profit drop in three years.”

Valeant Pharmaceuticals agreed to buy Salix for about $10bn.

* POLITICS * Two former British Foreign Secretaries have denied wrongdoing after alleged “cash for access” revelations in a Channel 4 documentary which airs on Monday night, part of a joint investigation with the Telegraph.

The US Congress returns this week with no real clarity over the immediate way forward on an approach to countering Islamic State. President Obama is also expected this week to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill.

* MEDIA * Digital natives “prefer reading in print,” according to the Washington Post. Michael Rosenwald looks at college reading habits, and writes:

Textbook makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally.

* SPORTS * Joey Logano won his first Daytona 500 race, becoming the second-youngest winner in the race’s history. ESPN said the race ended with a “somewhat anticlimactic finish” after a backstretch crash on the final lap.



Greek deal hangs on reforms

Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis waits for the start of an extraordinary euro zone Finance Ministers meeting to discuss Athens' plans to reverse austerity measures agreed as part of its bailout in Brussels (image: Reuters)

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, says he will be “working night and day” over the weekend to devise a list of reform measures his government is prepared to enact, the price for a deal extending the country’s financial rescue package by four months. The agreement will only be ratified if Eurozone officials approve the proposed reforms.

Reuters‘ John Lloyd writes on “why the patch might not stick” while Paul Krugman blogs at the New York Times that the situation remains far from precise:

So we’re in a weird place: this looks like a defeat for Greece, but since nothing substantive was resolved, it’s only a defeat if the Greeks accept it as one; which means that nothing at all is clearly resolved. And that’s arguably a good outcome — time for Greece to get its act together.

* WORLD * A huge fire at one of Dubai’s tallest residential buildings led to the evacuation of hundreds of people, with remarkably no injuries or deaths being immediately reported. Dramatic images of the blaze – ironically at the Torch Tower skyscraper in the marina district – were widely captured on social media.

The second-in-command of Nato’s military forces in Europe warned of a possible “blitzkrieg” attack by Russia on an eastern European member state.

Three east London schoolgirls are thought to be trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Police have appealed for them to return home, saying they will be in “grave danger.”

* BUSINESS * Dockworkers unions and shipping companies reached a tentative deal on a new labor contract, which will avert a port shutdown and – following approval by union members –  ease port congestion that had been building at the west coast’s container hubs.

* POLITICS * In the wake of comments by one former politician, Rudy Giuliani, about President Obama, the Washington Post editorial writers believe the whole incident may end up being more damaging for a current GOP hopeful, Scott Walker, whose “spineless silence” should  end up “disqualifying him as a serious contender.”

* MEDIA * The fall-out from Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne’s resignation continues, with media Twitter responding to an anonymous story on its front page which BuzzFeed’s Jim Waterson says “has been condemned by journalists inside and outside the paper.”

Elsewhere, Ann Friedman writes at the Columbia Journalism Review on “Why serious journalism can coexist with audience-pleasing content.”

“Given how quick we are to cry “clickbait!” these days, the legacies must assure their audience that they are not sacrificing standards when they try to play the digital game and—god forbid—get some social-media traffic.”

* SPORTS * One of the most anticipated bouts in boxing history – and what might well be the sport’s most lucrative – will happen on May 2 after welterweights Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr agreed to fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Sunday sees the opening of the new NASCAR season with the Daytona 500;  and it’s Jeff Gordon’s final Daytona, as his farewell circuit gets under way. One driver who won’t be behind the wheel this weekend is Kurt Busch, who has been suspended indefinitely.

* CULTURE * Iconic jazz venue New York’s Village Vanguard opened 80 years ago this  Sunday. In its early days, the club also hosted poetry readings.


Another anniversary – The Sound Of Music premiered on March 2 1965. The upcoming issue of Vanity Fair has a nice piece by Alex Witchel on Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and their relationship with the movie, while Time a couple of weeks back had this piece “Revisiting the Real Von Trapps.”

Sunday, of course, sees this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the 87th. Here’s some reading:

* Preview and predictions from CBS News

* Six things you don’t know about the Oscars’ envelope CNN

* “I’ll Take Insanely Hard Oscar Trivia For 400, Alex”NPR

* Which film deserves to win best picture?Variety

Oscar acceptance speech study: Steven Spielberg gets thanked more than God Entertainment Weekly

And finally,

* Oscar-nominated animators weigh in on ‘Lego Movie’ snub – Yahoo/AP

‘Superbug’ outbreak linked to scopes

A “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles which has been suspected in the deaths of two patients and the infection of five others, has been linked to contaminated scopes. The Los Angeles Times reports that the FDA had known about potential problems with the type of scope linked to the outbreak, and also has a superbug Q&A on “what it is, how it spreads, what you can do.”

While some 170 people may also have been exposed, local health officials said the outbreak “is not a threat to public health,” yet the Food and Drug Administration said the problem may not be limited to UCLA, since other cases may not have been reported.

* WORLD * Eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels on Friday to try to find a deal over next steps on Greece’s debt obligation. On Thursday, Germany rejected Greece’s request for a six-month extension to its assistance package – rather than a renewal of the bailout deal, which imposed austerity conditions.

Britain and Europe are “sleepwalking” into the Ukraine crisis, a report on Friday by British MPs says, as the shaky ceasefire in the region continues to falter.

A UN mediator said rival parties in Yemen had agreed on a “transitional council” to govern the country, Reuters reports.

A polar vortex with a blast of arctic air is set to bring record low temperatures to the US east coast on Friday, even stretching as far south as Miami.mapcold(image: The Weather Channel)

Cops in Kentucky, meanwhile, have had enough of winter, issuing an arrest warrant for Queen Elsa from ‘Frozen‘.

* POLITICS * The Washington Post reports on signs that New Jersey Gov Chris Christie may be the victim of Jeb Bush’s highly effective outreach to big GOP donors. Previously considered a Christie booster, former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani was at a dinner on Wednesday night in Manhattan with Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker, where Giuliani famously questioned whether President Obama “loves America”;  remarks on which he doubled down the next day.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.  He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me.”

The Post’s Alexandra Petri has a handy guide to just how much politicians should actually love America; so, in the wise words of Michael Stanley, come on let the provin’ begin…

* BUSINESS * BP lost its legal attempt to reduce the maximum fine it could face over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Guardian reports that Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, is to end its lucrative relationship with the American Petroleum Institute after more than a decade.

Wal-Mart said it would introduce a $10-an-hour minimum wage by next year, spending more than $1bn to give its workers a pay hike, and invest more in staff training.

Apple wants to start producing electric cars as soon as 2020, according to Bloomberg.

“The timeframe — automakers typically spend five to seven years developing a car — underscores the project’s aggressive goals and could set the stage for a battle for customers with Tesla Motors Inc. and General Motors Co., both of which are targeting a 2017 release of an electric vehicle that can go more than 200 miles on a single charge and cost less than $40,000.”

* CULTURE * To mark next year’s 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, President Obama announced on Thursday that, beginning this fall, all fourth-graders and their families will get free admission to national parks and other federal lands for a year. The President also designated three new national parks: in Colorado and Hawaii, as well as the first in Chicago.

pullman(Image: Pullman Historic District, Chicago)

Finally, The New York Times published a remarkable essay by Oliver Sacks, written after the professor of neurology discovered he had terminal cancer. It is a humbling, beautiful, yet matter-of-fact account.

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.”




‘We are not at war with Islam’

obama(image: NBC News)

President Obama told the White House summit on extremism that “We are not at war with Islam; we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

He said that groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL are “desperate for legitimacy.”

“They try to portray themselves as religious leaders, holy warriors in defense of Islam. We must never accept the premise that they put forth because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.”

He also said that military action alone would not be enough to combat extremism. In an op-ed previewing his speech in the Los Angeles Times, the President had written:

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL promote a twisted interpretation of religion that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims. The world must continue to lift up the voices of Muslim clerics and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of Islam. We can echo the testimonies of former extremists who know how terrorists betray Islam. We can help Muslim entrepreneurs and youths work with the private sector to develop social media tools to counter extremist narratives on the Internet.

The White House is planning to work closely with tech groups to counter extremist groups’ activity on social media, Politico reports.

Representatives of more than 60 countries have traveled to Washington for the summit and while there are varying opinions on its effectiveness, the focus is on presenting a united front. President Obama will address them again at the State Department on Thursday.

One mayor from Belgium told the BBC that while the problem is global, local actions are essential, while the Christian Science Monitor looks at how muslims and non-muslims alike in Europe are trying to counter the appeal of radical Islam.

Such clear engagement is uncommon in Europe, where moderate Muslim leaders are often uncomfortable dealing with the terrorist fringe acting in the name of their religion. They complain that they are unfairly blamed for the outrages committed by people over whom they have no control.

* WORLD * Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko called for UN peacekeepers to enforce the faltering ceasefire after Ukrainian troops were forced to withdraw from the strategic city of Debaltseve. The retreat, according to Ukrainian troops quoted in the Wall Street Journal, was “chaotic, bloody and came much too late.”

The European Central Bank reportedly agreed to extend the emergency funding available to Greek banks with a €3.3bn increase in Emergency Liquidity Assistance. The US increased the pressure on Athens, saying a “constructive deal needed to be reached soon.” Meanwhile on Wednesday, Greek MPs voted to elect pro-European conservative Prokopis Pavlopoulos as the country’s new president.

In Argentina, thousands of people marched to mark one month since the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

Thursday is the Lunar New Year, with more than a billion people kicking off 15 days of festivities.

sheepHKThe year of the sheep/ram/goat arrives in Hong Kong (image: Reuters/The Guardian)

* POLITICS * Maintaining he is his “own man,” Jeb Bush used a high-profile speech on foreign policy to attempt to distance himself from his father’s – and particularly – his brother’s administrations. By many accounts it had the opposite effect, and indicated the difficulty he could have during the campaign, particularly since he has chosen to surround himself with many of the same foreign policy advisers.

Dana Milbank writes at the Washington Post:

Bush leads in the early GOP 2016 polls because his name is Bush, but that name could bring about his downfall, as well, because his brother’s tenure is remembered for misery in Iraq and economic collapse. Try though he did to differentiate himself from George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, John Ellis Bush’s delivery gave him away.

With one of Bush’s GOP foreign policy rivals, Rand Paul expected to announce his candidacy on April 7, according to the New York Times, a poll on Wednesday shows him running close to expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the swing states of Virginia and Colorado.

The Washington Post looks at donors to the Clinton Foundation and the overlap with support for Clinton’s nascent Presidential campaign, finding:

Nearly half of the major donors who are backing Ready for Hillary, a group promoting her 2016 presidential bid, as well as nearly half of the bundlers from her 2008 campaign, have given at least $10,000 to the foundation, either on their own or through foundations or companies they run.

The Wall Street Journal meanwhile, reports that the Clinton Foundation “defended its practice of accepting donations from overseas governments, amid concerns from some ethics experts that such contributions are inappropriate at a time when Hillary Clinton s preparing to run for president.”

* BUSINESS * France’s national assembly is set to hold a vote of confidence on Thursday after the ruling Socialists used a decree to push through economic reforms. The government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls is expected to survive but its cohesion may be in jeopardy.

Swiss prosecutors raided the Geneva HQ of HSBC in connection with an investigation into ‘aggravated money-laundering’. The move comes in the wake of revelations on how the bank’s Swiss unit handled accounts for tax evaders and criminals.

Here, the FT’s Jonathan Guthrie and Martin Arnold discuss Wednesday’s raid and HSBC’s recent difficulties, as well as the role of bank regulators in the run-up to the UK general election.

And here’s the cover of this week’s Private Eye:

privateeye:tax(image: Private Eye/TomorrowsPapersToday)

Elsewhere, the focus of the investigation into the recent breach of client data at Morgan Stanley has shifted, the Wall Street Journal reports.

* SPORTS * Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke was named as captain of the European team for next year’s Ryder Cup to be held in the US. Clarke won the tournament four times as a player and was a non-playing vice-captain for Europe’s victories in 2010 and 2012.

Major League Soccer’s 20th season, set to start on March 6th, remains threatened by a labor dispute, with players saying they’re prepared to go on strike. Adam Vaccaro writes that:

..the impasse between the two sides is hefty. MLS has practically paved the crossroads it stands at all on its own by celebrating its success and championing its future. It attributes much of that success to cost-saving measures from its infancy. Players, who see all the recent growth and all the new money, think it’s time for a change to some of those measures.

UK police are helping their French counterparts investigate the incident in the Paris Metro Tuesday involving Chelsea “fans”. CNN said the incident was a “stark reminder to bosses of the world’s most popular sport about the need for constant vigilance in the fight against racism.”

Three words: Pitchers and Catchers.

* CULTURE * Finally, Miss P, the winner of Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club show, celebrated with steak at Sardi’s restaurant in New York City before guesting on Keith Olbermann’s show on ESPN.

(YouTube/Keith Olbermann)


White House summit targets extremism

President Obama will on Wednesday address a White House summit on “countering violent extremism.” The BBC says that a goal of the summit is to “instil a sense of urgency to counter the threat posed by home-grown terrorism and the radicalisation and recruitment of Americans, especially disaffected young people.” The administration is also “revamping its efforts to counter IS’s propaganda machine.”

As Real Clear Politics says, as the conference gets underway, “the hatreds it seeks to eradicate are on full display.” There were reports Tuesday that ISIS militants had burned to death 45 Iraqis in Anbar province. The BBC quoted the local police chief in the town of al-Baghdadi, saying who the people were and why they were killed was not clear.

CBS reports that 85 per cent of Anbar is under ISIS control, and that Iraq’s ambassador to the UN has asked the Security Council to look at allegations that the militant group is using  organ harvesting to finance its operations.

In the conflict in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US is to “provide pickup trucks equipped with machine guns and radios for calling in US airstrikes” to “some moderate Syrian rebels.” 

Meanwhile, Ashton Carter was sworn in on Tuesday as President Obama’s fourth Secretary of Defense, taking over from Chuck Hagel.

* WORLD * Greece is understood to be preparing to seek a six month extension of its Eurozone loan agreement on Wednesday, ahead of a Friday deadline. The Guardian reports that “negotiations are ongoing” and that the Greek government said it “won’t accept ultimatums.”

Despite the weekend’s ceasefire, the situation in parts of Ukraine appears to be worsening, with gains by pro-Russian separatists near the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve near Donetsk.

It’s China‘s biggest travel period of the year as millions of people are heading home for the lunar new year, the year of the sheep/goat/ram, on Thursday. This interactive heat map via Baidu logs journeys out of the country’s biggest cities.

As Boston marks its snowiest month on record, Mayor Marty Walsh wants residents to stop jumping out of windows into snowdrifts. BuzzFeed has 24 Pictures That Perfectly Capture How Insane The Snow In New England Is, while this guy has an entirely understandable approach to the city’s parking crisis.

* POLITICS * President Obama said he is determined to appeal the Texas court ruling that put a hold on implementation of his executive action on immigration. Meanwhile, as the Washington Post writes, “funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out at the end of this month, and Congress has been considering legislation that would effectively rescind Obama’s actions as a condition for extending more money to the department.”

In better news for the White House – for now – it announced that some 11.4 million Americans had signed up for private health insurance through Obamacare during the enrollment period. But the Supreme Court is set to rule on March 4 on the legality of an element of the Affordable Care Act.

* MEDIA * Warren Buffett bought a stake in Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox at the end of last year, according to a quarterly SEC filing released on Tuesday.

Peter Oborne, the Telegraph‘s chief political commentator, said he had resigned from the paper over its coverage of HSBC as well as its broader relationship between editorial and its advertisers. He writes:

A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.

A funeral mass was held in Manhattan for New York Times writer David Carr. In the homily, Rev James Martin said:

“..all of us have been addicted in our own ways to different things. If it’s not alcohol, it may be status. If it’s not drugs, it may be power. If it’s not crack, it may be money. But we are also, all of us, beloved children of God, loved by God in spite of our failings — maybe loved even more for them, much as a parent loves a child more intensely when he or she is in trouble.”

* SPORTS * As the Uefa Champions League returned, Chelsea fans visiting Paris for their club’s match at PSG were caught on video abusing a black passenger on the Metro. The club subsequently condemned the behavior. Meanwhile former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi said that he had been “misunderstood” in comments he made about foreign players.

In baseball, Yankee third-baseman Alex Rodriguez issued a handwritten apology note addressed “To the fans”.

arod(image: AP/Washington Post)

Meanwhile, Tuesday was the first reporting day for Spring Training, with the first workouts set for tomorrow and the first games at the beginning of next month. Without an international trip this year, the season proper begins on April 5 with the Cubs-Cardinals, with Opening Day the following day.

* CULTURE * Tuesday was Mardi Gras – all the coverage you’ll ever need is at

When Warren Zevon wrote that “Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland’s Thompson gun and bought it,” he maybe didn’t have in mind that her shih tzu would one day win the prize as top toy dog at the Westminster Kennel Club show. Go figure.

In the show’s overall competition, a beagle called Miss P took the top honors.

Finally, Krispy Kreme apologized for an unfortunately initialed promotion at a store in Hull, northern England.