Deadlock in Greek bailout talks

Time is running out for an agreement between European finance ministers and the Greek government, after Greece rejected an extension of its existing bailout arrangements past the upcoming deadline of Feb 28. The collapse of talks in Brussels have further heightened concerns that Greece is heading for an exit (Grexit) from the single currency.

In an article in the New York Times, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis writes:

Our government is not asking our partners for a way out of repaying our debts. We are asking for a few months of financial stability that will allow us to embark upon the task of reforms that the broad Greek population can own and support, so we can bring back growth and end our inability to pay our dues.

With Varoufakis being a former academic specializing in game theory, the FT’s economics correspondent Ferdinando Giugliano looks at how that might apply to the current negotiations:

* WORLD * The ceasefire in Ukraine appears shaky at best, with some pro-Russian rebels openly ignoring the weekend’s truce. The EU and US are pressing for adherence to the deal, which requires both sides to pull back their heavy weapons. The former head of Britain’s MI6 told the BBC that the crisis was now part of a “much bigger and much more dangerous” conflict between Russia and the West.

Egypt said it had launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya in retaliation for the murders of 21 Egyptian Christians in a video released over the weekend. Amid the anger and fresh outrage, Mary Dejevsky at The Guardian says Islamic State’s “real power should not be exaggerated” while Graeme Wood has a fascinating, thoughtful piece at The Atlantic on What ISIS really wants.

A huge crowd turned out in Copenhagen for a vigil remembering the victims of the weekend’s terror attack. Two men were arrested, accused of aiding the gunman who killed two people and was later shot dead by police.

itvcopenhagen (image: ITV News)

There was a strong earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan, with a tsunami advisory issued after a 6.9 magnitude shock.

With much of the US east coast still in the grip of another winter storm, some cities could see record-low temperatures, as cold weather sweeps through the south and mid-Atlantic, with federal offices in the nation’s capital closed on Tuesday.

* BUSINESS *  Labor Secretary Tom Perez will meet on Tuesday with both sides in the dispute at the 29 west coast ports, as a line grows of ships backed up offshore.

The CEO of Transocean is stepping down. Steven Newman took over in 2010 just before the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

After the FAA issued proposed rules governing small commercial drones, Amazon said it “remained committed” to using the equipment as part of its proposed “Prime Air” delivery service.

* POLITICS * “There will be times where I will say things that will make you shake your head,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told a crowd in New Hampshire, as his approval rating in his home state slipped to a record low.

Nigel Farage, leader of Britain’s UKIP, is to appear alongside Sarah Palin and the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre at next week’s CPAC conference in Washington.

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop gave an interview to BuzzFeed and conducted it entirely in emoji.

* SPORTS * The Uefa Champions League returns on Tuesday with the first games in the last 16 knockout stage. As Joshua Robinson writes at the Wall Street Journal, the tournament has become something of a vicious cycle, with Europe’s “blueblood” clubs keeping a tight rein on the riches it provides:

The consistency among the superclubs drives the wedge further between the elite and the rest. Winning the tournament last year was worth $65.6 million to Real Madrid in prize money, according to UEFA, while the runner-up picked up $57 million.

Journalist Alison Gordon, who became the first female beat writer in Major League Baseball when she covered the Toronto Blue Jays for the Toronto Star in 1979, died over the weekend aged 72.

* CULTURE * The Verge has the “best and the worst” of SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special, while the after-party seemed to be something else as well. Among TV viewers, the SNL show easily beat out the NBA’s All-Star Game.

Three killings over the weekend brought New York City’s stretch without a reported murder to an end at a record twelve days.

It’s the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden Monday and Tuesday. In this New York Times quiz, try and match the dogs to their owners…

Finally, Monday was Presidents’ Day and, as every year, there was plenty of discussion on ranking the occupants of the highest office. The Washington Post says the day is “a patriotic excuse for retail discounts and an irresistible occasion to engage in armchair analysis of the nation’s presidents.” The Post reports on the opinions of 162 members of the American Political Science Association, finding “Lincoln #1, Obama #18, Kennedy most over-rated.”

Of course, all of the Presidents have run a tough race in their own way.


Heavy fighting ahead of Ukraine ceasefire

yahoo:ap(image: AP/Yahoo)

There has been intense fighting in Ukraine as the sides get in some last licks ahead of the planned ceasefire. The Guardian reported the Ukrainian military saying 11 soldiers had been killed and 40 wounded in the past 24 hours, while there were also reports of numerous civilians being killed.

The agreement, reached in Minsk on Thursday, is set to come into effect at midnight local time on Saturday; but violent clashes have continued around the contested territory, prompting the US to criticize Russia, while the EU and the G7 warned late on Friday of fresh sanctions if the deal is not implemented:

We urge all sides to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Package and to carry out its measures without delay, starting with a ceasefire on the 15th of February. All parties should refrain from actions in the coming days that would hinder the start of the ceasefire. The G7 stands ready to adopt appropriate measures against those who violate the “Minsk package” and therefore intensify the costs for them, in particular against those who do not observe the agreed comprehensive ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons.

* WORLD * ISIS militants were reported to be in control of the Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi and threatening a nearby airbase – apparently a complex the size of Boulder, Colorado – where some 400 US service personnel, who have been training Iraqi forces, are stationed. One attack on the base has reportedly already been repulsed.

In Argentina, a federal prosecutor on Friday asked a judge to charge the country’s President Cristina Kirchner and others over an alleged cover-up of a 1994 bombing.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei sent a secret letter to President Obama related to the ongoing nuclear talks.

New England is braced for another severe storm this weekend, with blizzard and winter storm warnings in place for much of the region. Boston’s MBTA announced it was suspending all services for Sunday and would make a decision about Monday subsequently. The storm comes as Boston and the surrounding region is already struggling to clear unprecedented amounts of snowfall.

snowfall        (Weather Channel)

* POLITICS *  Oregon’s Governor John Kitzhaber is to resign amid continuing questions concerning his fiancee’s role as a consultant, and announced he would step down next Wednesday. Kitzhaber, a long-serving Democrat, insisted he had broken no laws, and said: “Nonetheless, I understand that I have become a liability to the very institutions and policies to which I have dedicated my career and, indeed, my entire adult life.” Oregon’s Secretary of State Kate Brown is in line to replace him, which would make her the nation’s first openly bisexual Governor.

President Obama went to Palo Alto for a summit on cybersecurity and consumer protection, urging private companies to be more open about sharing cyber-threat information. The CEO of Apple was there, but the bosses of Yahoo! Google and Facebook were not. During his trip, the President sat down with Re/code‘s Kara Swisher for a conversation about a range of tech-focused topics.

Pennysylvania’s newly-elected Governor, Tom Wolf, imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in the state, a campaign promise which could lead to a legal challenge from prosecutors. According to Reuters, there are currently 186 inmates in Pennsylvania sentenced to be executed, while Pennsylvania has executed three inmates since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

* BUSINESS * Engineering giant Rolls-Royce reported its first fall in revenues for a decade, warning on profits and announcing 2,600 job losses.

On Friday, Brent crude closed above $60/barrel for the first time in 2015.

* MEDIA * Tributes, tales and and tears flowed for David Carr, the New York Times media writer who died on Thursday night at the age of 58. Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan curates the wake.

The Daily Mirror printed its first open apology to the victims of phone hacking. “It was unlawful and should never have happened and fell far below the standards our readers expect and deserve,” the paper wrote.

The BBC interviewed a labrador called Bounce, who’s apparently able to sense your mood through facial recognition. But it was the brilliantly minimalist caption that sent this particular piece of fluff viral:bounce  (image BBC)

* SPORTS * The ICC Cricket World Cup is under way in Australia, with one of the opening games being England against the hosts in Melbourne. Sunday’s match between India and Pakistan could be the most-watched in the history of the sport. Follow live coverage of the tournament at The Guardian here; ESPN Cricinfo here; the BBC here.

It’s the NBA All-Star Weekend in New York City. Here’s ESPN’s Fan Guide. The marketing folks at Gatorade have decided to revive their famous “Be Like Mike” spot for the brand’s 50th anniversary.

* CULTURE * Talking of anniversaries, there’s a pretty special one coming up on Sunday – Saturday Night Live‘s 40th birthday celebration sees a live three-and-a-half hour gala with a remarkable cast of characters and guests.

Here’s SNL’s 13 best fake ads as chosen by real ad execs.

Of course, there’ll be plenty of comedy before that, since Saturday is Valentine’s Day. Ana Swanson at the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has everything you ever wanted to know about love, in 25 maps and charts.

In Britain, staff at hardware store B&Q may or may not have been told to read Fifty Shades of Grey in anticipation of a spike in demand for bondage gear after the movie opens this weekend. Of course it’s possible they may heave meant this instead:



FBI probes Chapel Hill murders

bbcchapelhill(image: AP/BBC)

Soon after the three young muslim victims of Tuesday’s shooting in Chapel Hill were laid to rest, the FBI announced it had opened a preliminary inquiry – not a full field investigation, and parallel to the local investigation – “to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case.” The Washington Post, meanwhile, looks at why hate crimes are so hard to prove.

While a motive in the killings is still officially unclear, the Christian Science Monitor reports that  the incident comes at a tense time for America’s seven-million-strong Muslim population.

With the murders generating a wide social media reaction and making headlines overseas, Turkish President Erdogan, on a visit to Mexico, criticized President Obama for his silence on the deaths.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you. As politicians, we are responsible for everything that happens in our countries and we have to show our positions.”

* WORLD * In what the Washington Post called “an unusually frank speech,” FBI Director James Comey addressed the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities, saying some “hard truths” about racial bias had to be acknowledged, and even quoting the Avenue Q song ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.

“At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups. One reason we cannot forget our law enforcement legacy is that the people we serve cannot forget it either. So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on.”

Watch video of the full speech at the FBI site here

A federal judge instructed local officials in Mobile County, Alabama to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a ruling that could provide clarity for all of the state’s 67 counties, more than half of which had resisted issuing the documents this week.

* POLITICS * President Obama signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.

Ashton Carter was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate as the new Defense Secretary.

The Democrats chose cheesesteaks over kale, picking Philadelphia over Brooklyn or Columbus to host its convention next year. Mayor Michael Nutter said Philly “is virtually a completely different city” from when it hosted the RNC in 2000, while Buzz Bissinger has some do’s and don’ts for delegates.


The last time the Democrats gathered in the City of Brotherly Love was in 1948, coincidentally also two years after losing control of both houses of congress. But the subsequent presidential election turned out ok for them… 

Finally, in case you slept through most of Thursday, the current incumbent of the White House made a video with BuzzFeed, featuring a selfie stick, to promote Inevitably, he took some flak from the usual sources, but the video racked up more than 2.5 million views in its first couple of hours.

* MEDIA *  The New York Times’ venerable media columnist David Carr died on Thursday night aged 58. His paper said he had collapsed in the newsroom, soon after hosting a Timestalks discussion with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and, via video, Edward Snowden.

Times executive editor Dean Baquet made the announcement to staff:

News of Carr’s passing was met with widespread shock and grief on social media, with a torrent of tributes from his many colleagues, friends and admirers.

The Times put together some of his best quotes here and the paper’s archive has a collection of his articles here, while his obituary – and this beautiful photograph by Chester Higgins Jr – adorned Friday’s front page. Above the fold.

davidcarr“I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve, but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon”

Hints of ceasefire after Ukraine talks

There were conflicting reports early on Thursday that the leaders of Russia and Ukraine were about to sign a joint document on a possible ceasefire in Ukraine after lengthy talks in Minsk, also including the leaders of France and Germany.

Russia's President Putin, Ukraine's President Poroshenko, Germany's Chancellor Merkel and France's President Hollande walk during peace talks in Minsk(image: Reuters)

As yet, no details of the contents of the document have been made public.

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko had warned earlier that the conflict was close to spiraling out of control if a ceasefire cannot be reached.

Meanwhile,  the IMF said it was “very close” to finalizing a economic bailout agreement for Ukraine. The IMF’s managing director Christine Lagarde  is set to give further details at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday morning. The Ukrainian central bank said it would also hold a briefing in Kiev.

* WORLD * A large, sombre crowd gathered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a candlelight vigil to mourn three young Muslims who were shot to death on Tuesday night at an apartment complex near the UNC campus. A 46-year-old man surrendered to authorities and has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Uncertainty remains, however, over a motive for the killings.


Despite “constructive” late-night talks in Brussels, there was no agreement between Eurozone officials and the Greek government over the country’s bailout arrangements. Talks will resume on Monday, with Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis “hopeful” on the conclusion of a “healing deal.”

Opposition politicians in South Africa have threatened to disrupt President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation speech on Thursday over questions about the use of taxpayer money in the renovation of Zuma’s private residence.

A court in Seoul found a former Korean Air executive guilty in South Korea‘s infamous “nut rage” case. Heather Cho faces a jail sentence for “obstructing aviation safety.”

* POLITICS * President Obama asked Congress for a three-year authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS and its “associated forces”, but ruling out “sustained large-scale ground combat” such as the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Josh Rogin at Bloomberg View writes:

The president has crafted the bill so it can engender bipartisan support on Capitol Hill while still preserving an enormous amount of flexibility on the battlefield without micromanagement from Congress, one senior Republican Senate aide said. More Republicans are likely to support an AUMF now that the president has requested it formally, the aide added, warning that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and other hawks will still object to the ground-force limitations.

With what could be months of hearings on the legislation to begin soon, John Cassidy at the New Yorker writes why the politics of the debate “aren’t entirely clear-cut.” Some in the President’s own party attacked “broad and vague” language in what they called a “carte blanche” expansion of military authority,” while Republican House Speaker John Boehner said: “I’m not sure the strategy that has been outlined will accomplish the mission the President says he wants to accomplish.”

President Obama will on Thursday sign the long-awaited Veteran Suicide Prevention bill  – known as the Clay Hunt bill. The president will be introduced by one of Clay Hunt’s close military friends.

The House passed the Keystone XL pipeline bill on Wednesday, setting up a showdown with President Obama, who has indicated he would veto it.

Jeb Bush’s campaign staff is trying to clean up the effects of its email dump this week, which made public the personal information of constituents who had contacted him, or as Gizmodo put it, Jeb Bush Just Basically Doxxed Thousands of Floridians.

While apparently not wanting to talk foreign policy while overseas, Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker also chose to “punt” on the question of evolution Wednesday.

In ‘not really getting it,’ someone at the DSCC thought it might be a good idea to try to fundraise off Jon Stewart’s announcement that he was leaving The Daily Show. Fox News, meanwhile, used Brian Williams’ suspension to attack Hillary Clinton, and so it goes.

Which brings us to…

* MEDIA *  As the NBC Nightly News began the process of scrubbing Brian Williams’ presence, David Carr at the New York Times writes about the similarities between Williams and Jon Stewart – “real news that became too fake; fake news that became too real.”

Still, it was not enough for him [Williams] to be the No. 1 anchor of the No. 1 news program in America. Perhaps he sensed that he was king of an entropic kingdom imprisoned by incontinence and cholesterol ads. As the ever more manic news cycle whirred around his evening newscast, it would be hard not to feel a little beside the point.

Meanwhile, John Oliver might think twice before taking aim at another Ecuadorean clown…

Two Al Jazeera journalists who were jailed in Egypt last year along with the recently-released Peter Greste will appear in a Cairo court for a retrial on Thursday.

Netflix briefly “released” season three of House of Cardssuccessfully getting everyone to talk about it, before pulling it, tweeting:

This is a nicely constructed piece by Reeves Wiedeman in Popular Mechanics on How The New York Times Works.

Finally, longtime 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon died on Wednesday night following a car accident in New York City. Simon, a veteran war correspondent, was 73.


‘Tenderly cradled in freefall’

The family of Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old American aid worker kidnapped in Syria and held captive by the so-called Islamic State since August 2013, said Tuesday that they had received evidence that she had died.

Reaction was widespread, and emotional.

The White House confirmed the news, but was unable to say definitively how or when her death had occurred. IS had claimed that she was killed during a Jordanian airstrike in the aftermath of the murder of their pilot, Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh.

Mark Thompson writes at Time:

While some intelligence sources expressed skepticism she was killed by a Jordanian bomb, it makes little difference. Mueller was there because people were dying, and she wanted to help. “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal,” she told her hometown paper in Prescott, Ariz., before she was captured. “It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”

President Obama, in a previously scheduled interview with BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, said that telling hostages’ families that the US won’t pay ransom is “as tough as anything I do.” He also said US forces had tried and failed to rescue Mueller and other hostages last summer. The President said:

She was an outstanding young woman and a great spirit — and I think that spirit will live on. The more people learn about her, the more they appreciate what she stood for — and how it stands in contrast with the barbaric organization that held her captive.

The Christian Science Monitor writes how the tragedy of her death highlights the collapse of Western aid to Syria and how she was caught in the country’s “transition from a civil conflict to a more complex battlefield.”

letterBBC(image: Mueller Family/BBC) In a heartbreaking letter to her family from captivity in November 2014, Kayla wrote:

I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful.

Kayla Mueller(Kayla Mueller at a Darfur protest at Northern Arizona University in April 2009   image: Casey Myrick/The Lumberjack/KTLA)

* WORLD * Congress could get the text of the White House’s proposed authorization for the use of military force against ISIS as early as Wednesday. NBC reports that Jordan has moved “thousands” of troops to its border with Iraq while the UAE has resumed airstrikes against ISIS.

In an interview with the BBC World ServiceSyrian President Assad said that while there was no “direct cooperation,” his government was receiving information about the fight against ISIS from the US-led coalition. He also denied that his armed forces were using barrel bombs against rebel areas. The Guardian said the interview portrayed “a man of utter cynicism and terrifying self-confidence.”

The US ordered the closure of its embassy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa amid a worsening security situation, and it was reported that the Ambassador and remaining staff would leave by Wednesday evening. The British embassy was also closed until further notice and its staff withdrawn.

Violence in Ukraine has intensified ahead of the four-way peace summit in Minsk on Wednesday. The White House said President Obama had called Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to “seize the opportunity to reach a peaceful resolution” to the crisis.

The Greek government won a confidence vote in parliament late on Tuesday and will meet with Eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Wednesday with a plan for restructuring its bailout terms ahead of the Feb 28 deadline. Meanwhile, the German government rejected Greece’s request for World War Two reparations, calling the claim “baseless”.

Record-setting levels of snowfall have pounded Boston and New England, prompting logistical challenges in clearing streets and a debate over whether snow should be dumped into local rivers. And of course there’s another storm system heading for the region on Thursday.

* MEDIA * Jon Stewart said he would leave The Daily Show later this year after hosting for 16 years. Comedy Central said in a statement:

Through his unique voice and vision, The Daily Show has become a cultural touchstone for millions of fans and an unparalleled platform for political comedy that will endure for years to come.

The news came out during the show’s evening taping, so the home viewers knew ahead of the folks in the studio audience as Stewart made his emotional on-air announcement, before closing with the classic ‘monkey washing a cat’ clip as the Moment of Zen.

NBC News anchor Brian Williams was suspended by the network for six months without pay as debate continues over his embellishment of an incident in Iraq in 2003. Gabriel Sherman at New York magazine guesses Williams “probably wishes he’d gotten the Tonight Show job he wanted.”

jonbrian(image: Comedy Central/New York Daily News) In what the kids might call an uber-meta media conflation, here’s Jon on Brian, and the hypocrisy of the rest of the media. “Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq War,” he said.

Newsweek‘s Twitter account was hacked on Tuesday morning, apparently by someone claiming to be affiliated with Islamic State. The same group reportedly also hacked the web site of International Business Times, which is also owned by Newsweek’s parent company.

Regret The Error writer Craig Silverman launched his new report Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content on Tuesday night at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. You can watch the session here (for some reason, video starts at 28:36):

* POLITICS * The Federal Election Commission will hold a public hearing on Wednesday to discuss potential rule making in the McCutcheon vs FEC case, governing limits on campaign contributions.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign hasn’t officially started yet, but already there’s infighting.

Jeb Bush’s chief technology officer resigned on Tuesday in the wake of what the Bush PAC Right To Rise described as “regrettable and insensitive comments.”

* SPORTS * The English Premier League sold broadcast rights to its games for a record £5.136bn, a staggering 71% increase over the previous contract. Sky and BT will end up paying around £10.19m per game to show a single Premier League match.

Politicians said a bigger slice of the windfall should now be put back into the game’s grassroots and go towards reducing ticket prices, but as Quartz concludes, “Perhaps more likely is that the funds will be used to fuel further inflation in transfer fees and player salaries, as the arms race for talent continues.”

* CULTURE * Finally, Australia has been invited to take part in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the 60th anniversary of the competition. The Guardian has reaction as the country woke up to the “spingliest spangliest news of all”.

Joy amid legal chaos in Alabama

There’s a cloud of legal uncertainty hanging over Alabama, despite the US Supreme Court’s denial of the state’s plea to delay same-sex marriages. The decision cleared the way for gay couples in Alabama to seek marriage licenses, after a federal judge there had in January struck down a state law declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. 

alabamaShante Wolfe and Tori Sisson, the first same-sex couple to file their marriage license in Montgomery on Monday (image: CNN/AP)

The day eventually saw more than 40 couples tie the knot in Huntsville alone. But it wasn’t a joyous occasion in every part of the state. Alabama’s chief justice Roy Moore had said that probate justices – who issue marriage licenses – were not bound by the federal judge’s ruling, and on Monday evening less than a quarter of county probate judges were reported to be complying.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is due to rule on same-sex marriage by June, with arguments beginning in April.

* WORLD * The White House is close to sending legislation to Congress formally authorizing war against the Islamic State. CBS News reports the text for authorization will be ready by the end of the week.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was determined to go ahead with his address to Congress on March 3, although there were reports that officials are considering “amending the format” of the controversial speech.

New England is being hit by another winter onslaught, with about two feet of snow falling in the region on Monday. Public transport in Boston will be severely curtailed on Tuesday, as residents and city workers struggle to clear the equivalent of 90 football stadiums full of snow.

_CPE0733.JPG(image: Boston Herald)

* POLITICS * has an interview/film/briefing book featuring President Obama, compellingly constructed from wide-ranging conversations last month with Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias.

With Jeb Bush set to launch a new campaign website on Tuesday, it’s probably not the best moment for his new Chief Technology Officer to be caught up in a storm over old, offensive tweets.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the latest potential GOP hopeful to head to London, on a “trade mission” for his state. He’ll also be delivering a speech on global business on Wednesday and, tomorrow, attending a business roundtable co-hosted by the FT.

* MEDIA * Today in “stories you thought were Jetsons episodes,” the HuffPo has a piece on How To Stop Your Smart TV From Eavesdropping On You.

Congratulations to all the nominees in the 2015 Press Awards.

Felix Salmon’s ‘Advice to Young Journalists’ prompted quite the debate among media Twitter, including this response from Ezra Klein. Hitting the nail on the head about how the death of journalism is really “a kind of disruptive change,” Ezra restates this basic truth:

In particular, your editor will often want something “new.” That is to say, they will want something that they, a highly educated hyper-consumer of news products, hasn’t seen before. But your readers don’t necessarily want the stories your editors haven’t read. They want the stories that explain their world to them. Those stories are often absurdly basic, and they might feel like repeats of past stories: What’s in this bill? Why do we care about inflation? What does the Fed do?

Give the reader something useful; something that rewards the investment of their precious time. That’s what it’s all about.

Reminds me of a story a friend of mine tells about the time his bosses at a venerable news weekly brought in consultants to help them understand “what readers want”. After several rounds of expensive, well, consulting; my friend summed up the findings. “So, what you’re saying we need to produce,” he said, “are more good stories and fewer bad ones.”

* SPORTS * The Premier League is to announce on Tuesday a record £4.4bn TV rights deal, making it the second most valuable league in world sport, behind the NFL.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich became the ninth NBA coach to register 1,000 wins, after the Spurs beat the Pacers. He is only the second coach to reach the milestone with one franchise.

Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, died aged 98. ESPN said Sabol “revolutionized sports broadcasting and reimagined pro football from an up-and-coming league to must-watch theater.”

* BUSINESS * Qualcomm was hit with a record $975m fine by Chinese authorities over patent licensing practices. It is the largest fine in Chinese corporate history.

Chinese inflation fell to a five-year low in January, with the consumer price index rising 0.8% year-on-year, down from 1.5% in December.

Finally, for their item Monday night about the demise of RadioShack, researchers at the Chris Hayes show found this gem of an old commercial with a long-obsolete idea of what counts as “affordable”:



Ukraine diplomatic moves take on new urgency

UPDATE 2PM ET, MON: President Obama said he had not made a decision on sending arms to the Ukraine government, and would not until at least after this week’s scheduled meeting between European leaders and Russian President Putin in Minsk. At a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President also weighed in on Iran nuclear talks and relations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

obamamerkel(image: MSNBC)

MIDNIGHT SUN: It will be a crucial week for peace efforts in Ukraine, as a flurry of diplomatic activity sees European leaders emerge from the weekend’s security conference in Munich with a planned meeting on Wednesday in Belarus between Germany’s Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande of France, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko.

President Hollande called this round of diplomacy “one of the last chances” to avoid a wider war in the region.

Chancellor Merkel, meanwhile, is in Washington to meet President Obama on Monday amid a growing clamor among some in the US  for direct military support to the Ukrainian government, a step the European leaders oppose.

Ukrainian servicemen ride on a tank near Artemivsk (image: Reuters)

* WORLD * At least 40 people were reported killed in clashes between fans and police at a football stadium in Cairo. Egyptian authorities subsequently suspended the country’s football league matches indefinitely, even though the game, between Zamalek and ENPPI, went ahead.

An apparent suicide bombing in Baghdad killed 13 civilians at a security checkpoint, the latest in a series of violent attacks in the city, which this weekend lifted a decade-old nightly curfew.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will make his first state visit to the US later this year.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a challenge to his leadership of the Liberal Party, describing the process as a “near-death” experience and vowing that “good government starts today.” Speculation will likely continue over his position, however, given the strength of opposition in the vote.

In a speech to the Greek parliament on Sunday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his government would not seek to extend the nation’s bailout, and would implement its anti-austerity campaign pledges. Greece’s creditors – Eurozone finance ministers – will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss immediate next steps. Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan at the weekend predicted a Greek exit from the Euro.

Meanwhile, The Economist looks at the rise of Podemos, Spain’s equivalent to Greece’s Syriza party.

* POLITICS * In a controversial 11th-hour decision, as Alabama prepared to become the first southern state to recognize same-sex marriage, local judges were ordered by the state’s chief justice to ignore federal directives to issue marriage licenses. The move was immediately criticized by LGBT rights groups and could set up a showdown with federal courts.

Being unable to enact new gun control laws will be the “signal failure” of Attorney General Eric Holder’s time in office. Holder told MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry that “The gun lobby simply won, you know?”.

New York’s Working Families Party threw its support behind Sen Elizabeth Warren and formally urged her to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

With a potentially large field on the GOP side, it’s a boom time for experienced campaign staffers.

* MEDIA * Fallout continues from NBC anchor Brian Williams’ “misremembering” and his subsequent decision to step aside for “several days.” Ken Auletta writes:

..While the spotlight is on Williams’s transgressions, a word about the complicity of NBC and the other networks’ marketing machines. The networks have a stake in promoting their anchors as God-like figures. By showing them in war zones, with Obama or Putin, buffeted by hurricanes, and comforting victims, they are telling viewers that their anchors are truth-tellers who have been everywhere and seen everything and have experience you can trust.

On Sunday, Williams cancelled an appearance on David Letterman’s show set for this Thursday. Mike Allen at Politico writes that it is “a sign of deepening trouble.” David Carr at the NYT meanwhile, says “The perceptions of the weak, confused apology, and suspending himself for as long as he chooses, are not good for Mr. Williams or his employer. A full-throated, unmodulated apology is the only thing that will satisfy a public who placed their trust in him.”

Adnan Syed, the subject of the hugely successful true-crime podcast Serialwas granted the right to appeal his 2000 conviction.

Al Arab Television, based in Bahrain and owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, went off the air a day after it went live, after featuring an interview with a local opposition leader in its first broadcast. The station blamed “technical and administrative reasons.”

* BUSINESS * The Guardian is part of a group of media outlets including Le Monde, the BBC and CBS 60 Minutes, which on Monday published a series of leaked documents which they say show how HSBC, the world’s second-largest bank, “helped wealthy customers conceal billions of dollars of assets. It is being called the “biggest leak in banking history.”


(image: The Guardian/TomorrowsPapersToday) There will be more details in a Panorama special on Monday night, and the BBC’s live blog on the story is here.

India is set to post latest quarterly growth numbers – expected to be “robust” – on Monday, amid uncertainty over recent changes to how economic data is presented.

New York’s Baccarat became the most-highly valued hotel property in the US after a Chinese insurer agreed to buy it for more than $2m a room.

* CULTURE * It was the Baftas on Sunday night – Eddie Redmayne took home the best actor award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Meanwhile, another Brit, singer Sam Smith, scored big at the Grammys.

At the annual MusiCares charity benefit on Friday, Person of the Year honoree Bob Dylan gave a remarkable career-spanning speech. The 30-minute speech, which subsequently went viral, acknowledged those figures who had helped him along the way and, pointedly, some of the people who hadn’t. It’s well worth a read, and begins:

I’m glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn’t get here by themselves. It’s been a long road and it’s taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been on the hard ground.


* SPORTS * Ivory Coast won the African Cup of Nations final on Sunday, defeating Ghana in 9-8 in a penalty shoot-out, after a goalless draw. Reserve keeper Boubacar Barry scored the winning spot-kick to give Ivory Coast their first championship for 23 years, after having lost twice in the past nine.

What may be the only authenticated autographed photograph of baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson will be auctioned in New York on Feb 21.

Dean Smith, North Carolina’s iconic basketball coach, who retired with a remarkable record of achievement, including the most wins in Division I history, died Saturday night aged 83. There have been many tributes across the game, including from his greatest player, Michael Jordan, who called Smith “My mentor, my teacher, my second father.”

Here, Smith’s pastor talks about the coach’s work to bring about social change and in  integrating his team.

(YouTube/ACC Digital Network)


European leaders to press Putin on Ukraine

new push for peace in Ukraine moves to Moscow on Friday when France’s President Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin for discussions “on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who in response to a question at the joint press conference, said:

We are not fighting so-called rebels or guerrillas. We are fighting with the Russian regular army. It is crystal clear that (the) Russian military is on the ground.  If people cannot see, I can give them my glasses


Yatsenyuk offers his glasses – (image: Pool/CNN)

With the situation on the ground worsening, diplomatic efforts are moving into a crucial phase, with Chancellor Merkel heading to Washington next week as US officials continue to keep all options open, including direct military assistance to Kiev.

Meanwhile, a 2008 Pentagon study apparently indicated that President Putin suffers from Aspergers syndrome, USA Today reported.

* WORLD * House Speaker John Boehner expects the White House to send Congress a new Authorization for Military Force against Islamic State in the next few days. On Thursday, Jordan carried out airstrikes against the Syrian town of Raqaa – the de facto capital of IS.

Testimony by convicted Al Qaeda member Zacharias Moussaoui has renewed pressure for the publication of part of the 9/11 Commission’s  conclusions that have remained classified – the so-called 28 Pages.

As the Greek parliament convened for the first time since election victory for the anti-austerity party Syriza, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it was time for Greece and Europe to both “turn the page” and insisted his party would not back down from their election pledge to renegotiate the country’s bailout. Earlier, however, the Greek and German finance ministers had clashed over next steps.

Far-right “anti-Islamisation” group Pegida, which has built up a public following in Germany recently, is planning to hold its first rally in the UK. the gathering is planned for Newcastle on February 28.

The US is hoping Cuba will restore diplomatic ties and allow it to open an embassy in Havana before April, Reuters reports.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott faces a challenge to his leadership from within his Liberal Party and has said he is determined to defeat the motion, to be heard next Tuesday. The Age argues how Abbott’s errors cost him the support of his colleagues.

Pope Francis will become the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress, when he speaks to lawmakers during his appearance in Washington on September 24, part of his first papal visit to the US. Earlier, the Pontiff had apparently said spanking one’s kids was ok, “if their dignity is kept.”

* POLITICS * Potentially, there are now apparently 21 realistic Republican candidates according to UVa’s resident guru Larry Sabato, whose latest ranking shuffles the pack to reveal a new top tier.

Amid the early jostling, though, Gov Chis Christie can’t seem to catch a break this week. After revelations about his lavish travel arrangements and some mis-steps over the vaccination issue, now the International Business Times reports that his administration is the “target of a new federal criminal probe”.

* BUSINESS *  According to a new report by McKinsey, global debt has risen by $57trillion just since the financial crisis. The Upshot explains why that’s scary. The Economist says the world isn’t kicking the habit, but there are structural hurdles:

The key to bringing down a high debt ratio is rapid economic growth, which the developed world has struggled to bring about. Keynesians would say that this failure reflects an excessive focus on public-sector austerity, but demography is also a constraint, and a lasting one: workforces in many developed countries are stagnant or shrinking.

Eighty million customers of health insurer Anthem had their personal data compromised in a massive security breach, the company said. Here’s what to do right now, if you’re one of them; via Bloomberg.

* MEDIA * Amy Pascal stepped down as co-chairman of Sony Pictures in the wake of the massive cyberattack three months ago, which left the company and top employees exposed both commercially and personally.

NBC’s #1-rated evening anchor Brian Williams’ on-air apology hasn’t put his “misremembering” issue to rest. Rem Rieder at USA Today calls the situation an “unmitigated disaster.” On CNN, Brian Stelter looks at the timeline of how Williams’ story has changed.

After Fox News decided to air the video of the brutal murder of the Jordanian pilot, the network’s own media critic Howard Kurtz said he disagreed with the decision.

At GQ, Michael Wolff looks at the race to succeed Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and handicaps those in the running for what he calls the “poisoned chalice”.

* SPORT * The second semi-final in the African Cup of Nations was reduced to “chaos” and “a war zone”, as fans fought with police and each other. Play was suspended for 30 minutes while police used a helicopter to try to control the crowd. In the end, Ghana defeated Equatorial Guinea 3-0 and will play Ivory Coast in Sunday’s final.

Thursday was Cristiano Ronaldo’s thirtieth birthday. Love him or loathe him, you can always let him demolish your self-esteem by calculating how long it would take him to make your salary.. (hint – not long at all, really).

This year’s Six Nations rugby tournament kicks off on Friday when England travel to Cardiff to play Wales. Defending champions Ireland start their campaign on Saturday in Rome against Italy, and the whole thing wraps up with – hopefully – a nailbiting final day on March 21st.

ireland selfie

Now that’s a selfie – image: ITV

Greece faces Eurozone showdown

The European Central Bank turned up the heat on the newly-elected Greek government, which is seeking to ease the terms of its €240bn bailout. After a meeting between Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and ECB President Mario Draghi, the ECB said that as of next week, it would no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral for loans to its banks.

Here’s what the ECB did and why, via Marketwatch.

Varoufakis (pictured) is to meet German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Thursday, with Germany set to take a strong line on Greece’s obligations.

Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis answers journlist's questions at restaurant in Frankfurt  (image: Reuters)

* WORLD * As Jordan’s King Abdullah vowed a “relentless war” against Islamic State amid widespread anger and grief at the brutal murder of Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, it emerged that the UAE had withdrawn from coalition air strikes against IS after the capture of the Jordanian pilot, according to US officials.

The US military is moving more assets into Iraq to battle IS, while British MPs will on Thursday urge a stepping up of the country’s “strikingly modest” role in the coalition effort.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk in Kiev on Thursday, to discuss the worsening crisis.

Rescuers have been searching for 12 people unaccounted for after the TransAsia Airways crash in Taiwan.  Thirty-one people have been confirmed killed in the accident, while 15 were pulled from the wreckage.

As if Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner didn’t have enough problems, she has apparently kicked up a diplomatic storm on Twitter during a visit to China.

Another leader having a rough time thanks to social media is Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, who inspired the #YaSeQueNoAplauden hashtag after an off-the-cuff remark about not being applauded at a press conference.

* POLITICS * Jeb Bush picked Detroit to deliver a speech ostensibly kicking off his 2016 campaign for the GOP presidential nomination and touting his ‘Right to Rise’ economic vision – also the name of his PAC.

Lawmakers in California moved to introduce legislation that would abolish parents’ ‘personal beliefs’ exemption to the requirement for children to be vaccinated before entering schools. The Los Angeles Times reports that Gov Jerry Brown “appears open” to restricting vaccine waivers.

Illinois congressman Aaron Schock said he would personally pay for the renovations and redesign of his ‘Downton Abbey’-themed office – as revealed the other day by the Washington Post‘s Ben Terris – after a watchdog group said the makeover may have violated House ethics rules on gifts.

schockABC(image: ABC News)

* MEDIA * In an op-ed in Wired, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler expands on his proposed new rules “to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.” He writes:

..I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.

My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams acknowledged that he had falsely claimed to have been on a helicopter that was shot down by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003.

Meanwhile, The Wrap reports on an “impending shakeup” at MSNBC, but  says that a “bright spot” for the network has been its digital division and the launch of its video channel shift.

Ricardo Bilton writes at Digiday on how some leading publishers are starting to use Snapchat.

* BUSINESS * RadioShack appears very close to a deal with its creditors and others that could see it enter bankruptcy by Thursday, Bloomberg reports.

Wednesday marked one year since Satya Nadella took over as CEO at Microsoft. CNBC’s Josh Lipton looks at the boss’s ups and downs over that period.


Jordan retaliates after murder of captured pilot

Jordan vowed revenge following the gruesome murder of its captured pilot, Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh, purportedly by members of Islamic State.

Early on Wednesday local time, Jordanian state TV reported the execution of two convicted terrorists, including Sajida al-Rishawi, the jailed Iraqi would-be suicide bomber whose release had been demanded by IS in recent days as part of a non-existent hostage exchange.

jordanCNN (image: Jordan State TV/CNN)

As anger swept his country, Jordan’s King Abdullah met with President Obama in Washington before cutting his trip short to return home. In a statement, the King said:

Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with the family of the martyr hero Moaz, with our people and our armed forces in this tragedy. At these difficult times it is every Jordanian’s duty to stand together in the face of crises and ordeals, which will only make us stronger.

Earlier, the US State Department had announced an expansion of its funding to Jordan over the next three years, in part to help combat IS. The developments came as Congress was told of the latest global threat assessment by the Pentagon’s top intelligence official.

* WORLD * At least seven people were killed on Tuesday night when a Metro-North commuter train hit a car on the tracks in suburban Westchester County, north of New York City.

At least eight people were killed in Taiwan when a TransAsia Airways plane crash-landed in a river. There were some dramatic dashcam images.

(Eduardo Woo/YouTube/Channel NewsAsia Singapore)

Speculation is growing that a nuclear agreement between Iran and the West may be getting closer.

The mystery surrounding the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman deepened after investigators said he had drafted an affidavit seeking the arrest of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

After an historic vote in the House of Commons, Britain will become the first country to legalize IVF treatments using biological material from three different people.

Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis meets the ECB President Mario Draghi on Wednesday in Frankfurt. Here are answers to five crucial questions about the complicated relationship between the indebted nation and the financial institution.

* POLITICS * The House of Representatives once again voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Greg Sargent at the Washington Post explains why this time may be more than simply symbolic. Meanwhile, the legislation is headed for a crucial airing in the Supreme Court on March 4.

* MEDIA * Twitter is working on a new homepage aimed at visitors who don’t have their own account. The company’s fourth-quarter earnings call is set for Thursday afternoon.

Joseph Lichterman has an interesting piece at the Nieman Lab on how BuzzFeed grew its Latino audience – with content.

Variety reports on an agreement between Newsweek and Aspire Entertainment to develop magazine stories for TV and movie content.

* BUSINESS * The highest-grossing animated film of all time, Frozen,  helped Disney to strong revenue gains in its first quarter of 2015. (Meanwhile, here’s a first look at the new Frozen short, via HuffPo)

Snack foods company Smucker is to buy Big Heart Pet Brands, maker of Meow Mix and Milk-Bones, for more than $3bn, Reuters reports.

Outbrain, the Israeli sponsored content company, is headed for a much-anticipated IPO, says Bloomberg.

* CULTURE * Harper Lee, the 88-year-old author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is to publish a second novel this summer. The long-lost manuscript of Go Set A Watchman – a sequel to the Pulitzer prize-winning Mockingbirdwas apparently discovered by the author’s lawyer. The Guardian described news of the publication as a literary “bolt from the blue.”

Wednesday is the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks, and the Library of Congress will unveil thousands of documents, including notes, manuscripts and photographs, from her personal collection.

Finally, February 3rd 1959 was the “day the music died.” Poynter looks at how the news was delivered.