All Right Now

Farewell to Free’s Andy Fraser, the bass player behind the bass line beloved of bar bands the world over. Gone too soon at 62.



The Note is taking a break from regular publication for a couple of weeks while I’m going to be out of the country and working on other projects.

Thanks for reading so far, and stay tuned.

Netanyahu strengthened by late Likud surge

With most results counted in Israel’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears in the best position to form a new government, which would give him a fourth term in office. Raw vote totals showed his Likud party with about 23 per cent of the votes, against the main opposition group Zionist Union with 19 per cent.

This would give Likud at least 29 seats against around 24 for Zionist Union.

israelbbc(image: AFP/BBC – Likud supporters celebrate)

The outcome, if confirmed, represents a dramatic shift from the virtual dead heat indicated by exit polls, and Netanyahu declared an early triumph, USA Today reports.

“Against all odds: a great victory for the Likud, a major victory for the national camp led by the Likud, a major victory for the people of Israel,” he tweeted in Hebrew.

Zionist Union’s leader Isaac Herzog – who had been ahead in opinion polls as election day approached – did not concede. The close result will now prompt efforts to build a governing coalition and could result in a national unity government.

Haaretz writes:

President Reuven Rivlin has already called for a national unity government in which both Likud and Zionist Union will serve. Netanyahu repeatedly ruled out such a coalition throughout the campaign, but that was before the election. He knows what awaits him in Washington and Brussels and at the United Nations – Herzog and Tzipi Livni as ministers in his government could serve as useful flak-jackets.

Final, confirmed results are expected on Wednesday. Turnout was about 72 per cent.


* WORLD * The Secret Service (more of which later) said the White House had received a letter this week which had tested positive for Cyanide, The Intercept reported.

The envelope listed a return address for a man who the alert says has a record with the Secret Service dating back to 1995, which includes sending a package covered in urine and feces.

That person has sent multiple packages over the years, the most recent was received on June 12, 2012, which contained mini alcoholic beverages.

The Pentagon said an unmanned drone had been lost over Syria, whose government claimed it had been shot down. That claim is “being investigated” the Pentagon said. If confirmed, it would be the first time Syrian forces had attacked a US aircraft since coalition strikes against ISIS began last September.

A severe geomagnetic storm has caused dramatic light shows in both the northern and southern hemispheres. In the US, locations further south than usual – like Michigan – were able to see vivid auroras.

(YouTube/Ian Griffin)

Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in public for the first time in 10 days when he met the Kyrgyz President in St. Petersburg, putting an end to the recent torrent of memes of varying quality.

Following Tony Blair’s resignation from his role as a Mideast peace envoy for the “Quartet powers”, Murtaza Hussain writes at The Intercept how the former British Prime Minister is “terrible at promoting human rights, great at enriching himself.”

..although he failed to broker peace, Blair did manage during his time as special envoy to transform himself into a well-paid and outspoken apologist for some of the most brutal autocracies in the world.


* POLITICS * In a remarkable political rise and fall story, Illinois Republican Congressman Aaron Schock resigned abruptly amid an ethics investigation and new questions about allegedly false mileage reimbursements.

In a statement, the 33-year-old Men’s Health cover model Schock said he was stepping down “with a heavy heart… But the constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself.”

John Kass at the Chicago Tribune said the resignation “should come as no surprise” and suggested that maybe the Congressman should have kept his shirt on.

[Schock’s predecessor] The Republican Ray LaHood, who served for years as the congressman from Peoria before serving as U.S. transportation secretary, didn’t display his abs that way. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Ray LaHood’s abs. I wouldn’t think of asking to see LaHood’s abs. And I don’t think any voters in that district wondered about them either.

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testified before Congress on Tuesday about the recent incident where agents allegedly drove into a White House barrier following a party. He said there was “an element” within the service that may have a drinking problem.

Oh, and he also asked for $8m to build a fake White House to provide a more effective training environment.


* BUSINESS * Wednesday sees key economic events both sides of the Atlantic. The Federal Reserve may “hint” at an interest rate rise for the first time in almost a decade. Watch for the word “patient” in Chair Janet Yellen’s remarks. If we don’t hear it, the Fed could raise its benchmark within a few months.

In the UK, Chancellor George Osborne delivers what could be his final Budget.

You can follow The Guardian‘s live-blog here.

budget(image: BBC) And live coverage and analysis from the BBC here.


* MEDIA * A study by the American Press Institute on millennials’ news consumption shows the extent of the demand for news content on social media – with Facebook leading the way – but perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhat less enthusiasm for paying for it.


* SPORTS * San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, one of the game’s leading rookies, announced he was retiring because of concerns over possible brain injuries, he told ESPN’s Outside The Lines. The news prompted reaction from many other players, as the significance for the game at the professional, college and junior levels becomes the subject of debate.

Thomas Boswell writes at the Washington Post about the “cascading progression, a toppling of dominoes” and how football’s future is under scrutiny.

Change often arrives at a modest speed that allows us to analyze, adapt, accept and usually embrace our inevitable future. But sometimes, even in sports, the shift is so fast and violent that we hardly grasp its arrival before a radically different reality suddenly has become our new norm.

That’s where football sits now, its billions in wealth built on decades of human wreckage.

In England’s Premier League, Sunderland appointed former Dutch national team coach Dick Advocaat to replace the sacked Gus Poyet for the rest of the season. Advocaat, who has not previously coached in England, has nine games to secure Sunderland’s top-flight status. They currently sit one point above the relegation zone.


* CULTURE *  As the “Jinx” murder case continues to play itself out in New Orleans, Los Angeles and now Houston, Jim Romenesko draws attention to this remarkable correction.



Israel votes in cliffhanger election

EPA:NBC(image: EPA/NBC News)

Polls close at 10pm (4pm ET) on Tuesday in Israel’s general election, with uncertainty over the result and final polls showing neither major political side expected to win more than a quarter of the votes and thus have no clear mandate without assembling a coalition.

Center-left challenger Isaac Herzog – son of former President Chaim Herzog – who leads the Labor Party and the Zionist Union alliance, which had a small lead in the final opinion polls, promised he would bring change and be a “Prime Minister for everyone.” But Al Jazeera says the election could “weaken, but not oust [Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Paul Waldman at the Washington Post wonders if there is a change of leadership, “will US Republicans still be ‘pro-Israel’?”

Given the rapturous reception he got from GOP members when he came at John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress, Netanyahu could become the 2016 Republican nominee for president in a landslide, if it were possible….

But tomorrow, Republicans could learn that by the standard they’ve been using, most Israelis are insufficiently pro-Israel. And then what? What if a Labor-led government moves toward a two-state solution, or a curtailing of Jewish settlement in the West Bank? And what if those changes are enthusiastically supported by President Obama and Hillary Clinton?

In a late bid to shore up support with his base, Netanyahu said he will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected. But observers believe it will be domestic and economic questions that are likely to sway voters.

Reuters writes:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s march towards becoming the longest-serving leader of Israel could be halted on Tuesday in an election that has exposed public fatigue with his stress on national security rather than socio-economic problems.

Zionist Union’s Tzipi Livni – a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party – said on Monday that she would be willing to give up rotation of the premiership with Herzog, an agreement the two made months ago when forming the center-left group. Some analysts think the votes of as-yet undecided women could be key.

Ben Sales writes at The Times of Israel that the election is set to see a higher turnout than in recent years, which could benefit Herzog and the Zionist Union.

Since 2001, voter turnout in Israel has hovered around 65 percent, and the right wing or its offshoots has won every election. But this year, according to Israeli Channel 2, around 80 percent of Israel’s nearly 6 million voters plan to cast ballots.

That rise in turnout could be good news for the left. The last two times Labor has won the election, in 1992 and 1999, voter turnout was about 77 and 78 percent, respectively.

* Here are some possible outcome scenarios after the vote.

* Here is a live-blog from Haaretz.

* Here is a live-blog from The Jerusalem Post.

(Initial exit polls will be published at 4pm ET, and first actual results an hour later)

Finally, here’s John Oliver from earlier this month:

(HBO/Berto Majden)

Clock ticking on Iran talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Switzerland where he is due to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Monday, in the latest crucial round of talks about Iran’s nuclear capability. The meeting was originally due to take place on Sunday, but was delayed after earlier consultations between the two sides.

Later on Monday Zarif is set to travel to Brussels to meet with British, French, German and EU ministers before returning to Switzerland.

Sec Kerry said at the weekend that he was hopeful  an interim agreement might be reached “in the next days” but had also warned that “important gaps” remain, while the aim “is not just to get any deal. It is to get the right deal.”

Any potential deal obviously has ramifications for the entire region. A senior member of the Saudi royal family warned that the outcome could prompt a nuclear arms race. “If Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that,” Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Maysam Behravesh writes in the Tehran Times on “How Netanyahu saved the Iran nuclear talks.”

The irony of [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu’s spoiler speech lies in the fact that it is helping narrow rather than widen the gaps between the negotiating parties, by turning him into a catalyst for both the Obama administration and the Iranian leadership to reach an agreement. This does not mean, however, that a deal is at hand or can be taken for granted.

There is a nominal US congressional deadline of March 24 before possible movement on sanctions, while Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei is to give a closely-watchd New Year’s address on March 21.


* WORLD * With Monday marking the last full day of campaigning ahead of elections in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to his supporters to “stop a left-wing government from coming to power.” The final round of opinion polls on Friday showed a narrow lead in projected seats for the center-left Zionist Union over Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Aid has begun arriving in the South Pacific islands of Vanuatu, where its president said a tropical cyclone over the weekend had “wiped out development.” The situation on some of the outlying islands is still unknown. More aid is expected to arrive on Monday when commercial flights are set to resume.

vanuatuNBC(image: NBC News)

The government of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is to present a package of anti- corruption measures “within days” after more than a million people took to the streets complaining about declining public service and calling for political reform, Bloomberg reports.


* POLITICS * Sen Rand Paul used a trip to SXSW to praise Snapchat and again attack Hillary Clinton over her private emails. Talking about how candidates had to use whatever technological means was at their disposal to reach younger voters, Paul said: “You’ve got to talk to the Texas Tribune and that girl in the bathtub,” he said, referring to the YouTube star GloZell Green, who before her January interview with President Obama was best known for bathing in milk and cereal, the AP reported.

Ben Brody at Bloomberg writes about how Carly Fiorina is going after Hillary “in a way others can’t.”

Mrs Clinton herself, meanwhile, looks to be on the verge of bringing her potential campaign headquarters to New York – specifically, the MetroTech section of Brooklyn Heights. New York Magazine calls it “Mayor de Blasio’s consolation prize for losing the DNC convention to Philly.”

In British politics, meanwhile, as general election preparations gather pace, Cambridge University’s Department of Politics and International Studies has launched a new podcast, appropriately enough called “Election”.



* MEDIA * At SXSWI, one of the noisemakers is streaming video app Meerkat. The Drum‘s Natan Edelsburg talks to the company’s Head of Community Ryan Cooling and finds that the service is already looking to the future after the surprise success of its launch earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Tim Nudd at AdWeek writes that “Tinder users at SXSW are falling for this woman, but she’s not what she appears.”

The FT’s Andrew Hill had a weekend magazine profile of Sir Martin Sorrell as the head of WPP turns 70.

The advertising magnate is a voluble, engaging but elusive subject. Sitting at the boardroom table in WPP’s London mews headquarters, he deftly diverts more personal lines of questioning into a dead end of well-polished stories.



* BUSINESS * As Greece prepares for a debt deadline, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the Athens government has things “mostly under control” and told German TV the country would repay its debts “while still managing to cover civic needs, social security and a public workforce.”

Dolce & Gabbana appear to have something of a social media brand nightmare and a Twitter “boycott” campaign on their hands after raising the ire of Elton John and other celebrities in a row over the designers’ stance on IVF treatments. In a statement on Sunday, Stefano Dolce said: “I was talking about my personal view, without judging other people’s choices and decisions.”


* SPORTS * The bracket is set for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, which gets under way on Tuesday and culminates on April 6 in Indianapolis. The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore writes that “it’s Kentucky and the Field, and the Field s the underdog.”


* CULTURE * HBO’s six-part documentary show The Jinx – The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst reached a dramatic conclusion on Sunday night. New York magazine’s The Vulture writes:

The series finale, entitled “What The Hell Did I Do?,” had a lot to live up to. On Sunday, hours before the episode aired, news broke that Durst had been arrested in New Orleans on charges of first-degree murder in the death of his once best friend, Susan Berman. By the end of this tense, revealing, and unbelievable hour, there was no question why.


Wham bam, no thank you Pam

CyclonePamjpg(image: Unicef)

The UN and other global relief agencies are gearing up to put emergency response measures into place as the giant category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam started to rip through the island chain of Vanuatu in the South Pacific over the next 24-36 hours. Unicef says immediate “forecasts are for damaging gale force winds – up to 185 mph – very heavy rainfall and flooding. 260,000 people are at risk.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

“The immediate concern is for a very high death toll but also an enormous amount of destruction and devastation,” Sune Gudnitz, head of the Pacific office at UNOCHA, the UN’s emergency relief arm, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from nearby Fiji, which is also bracing for the impact.”

CNN reports that Tropical Cyclone Pam is the strongest storm to make landfall since the devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013. It is expected to pass east of New Zealand on Sunday and into Monday and could bring heavy rainfall and power cuts to North Island, including Auckland.

NASA(image: NASA)


* WORLD * The battle for Tikrit is continuing, with Iraqi forces expecting to push ISIS militants out of the city “within a few days,” an Iraqi security official told NBC News.

The US is considering whether to remove Cuba from the list of nations considered to be state sponsors of terrorism, ahead of a new round of talks next week aimed at moving towards a normalizing of diplomatic relations.

Nick Miroff at The Washington Post writes how Cuba’s revolution “is circling back.”

Cuba today is a place where many young people idolize the United States and display little patience for the state-run economic model that has left much of their country in ruins. There is no stigma anymore toward entrepreneurship or private business. Real estate agents in Havana’s newly liberalized housing market signal high quality with the phrase “construción capitalista,” meaning a property that was built in the pre-Revolutionary period, when people cared about aesthetics and workmanship.


* BUSINESS * There’s a fascinating new report out from Inside Higher Education, based on a Gallup survey, that indicates only 39 per cent of (US) college presidents are “confident” their institutions are financially sustainable over the next decade.

“We’ve really reached a turning point,” says Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell and head of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. “The growing debt crisis and decline in family incomes after the recession has made people very cost-conscious, and institutions aren’t going to be able to increase tuition as rapidly in the future.”

Is there an algorithm that tells employers who on their staff is most likely to leave? Some big corporates are giving it some thought.


* MEDIA * Sony Pictures Television is apparently in “advanced talks” to sell reruns of Seinfeld to an online video service, the Wall Street Journal reports.



nycfc(image: New York Times/ Andrew Das)

New York City FC is set to play its first MLS home game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on Sunday. The club is hopeful the pitch will happily accommodate both sports, but one Yankee player isn’t so sure, even if Yankees officials say that concerts do far more damage to the playing surface.

Meanwhile, Brian Straus at Sports Illustrated reports that Minnesota United, who currently play in the NASL, are set to be one of the upcoming MLS expansion franchises.


* CULTURE * A few days after reports of “mysterious signals” from an “Earth-like planet” new research shows that “some habitable exoplanets could experience wildly unpredictable climates.” And now, might there be water beneath the crust of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede?

Finally, Saturday is Pi Day – 3.14 – and no-one’s probably more anxious about it than students waiting to see whether they’ve made it into MIT.

But this year is HUGE for those who love pi, which officially goes by the mathematical, Greek-letter symbol of π. The 2015 calendar brings a special gift to π lovers: The “15″ in 2015 continues out pi’s decimal string in the constant number that is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Every circle.

(Mind = blown.)


(MIT bloggers)

Iran sanctions talk prompts row over UN role

Reuters reports that world powers are talking about a UN resolution to lift sanctions on Iran “if a nuclear agreement is struck with Tehran, a step that could make it harder for the US Congress to undo a deal.”

The idea of UN involvement led to predictable outrage from Republicans, who warned President Obama against bypassing Congress. But the National Security Council told BuzzFeed that the US has no intention of using the UN to lock in any deal.

The United States will not be “converting U.S. political commitments under a deal with Iran into legally binding obligations through a UN Security Council resolution,” Bernadette Meehan, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News.

Iran and the six powers – Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States – are set to resume negotiations next week in Switzerland with the aim of completing the framework of a deal by the end of the month.

Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross told the Times of Israel that the world powers needed to co-ordinate in advance of a deal precisely how they would respond to any potential violations,

Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei – who has final say over any eventual deal – accused the six powers of “trickery” and also said this week’s letter to his country’s leaders by GOP Senators was “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.


* WORLD * Meanwhile, Iran’s influence in Iraq is strengthening as it continues to play a key role in helping Shiite Militias and Iraqi forces re-take the town of Tikrit from ISIS. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero writes:

The forces that appeared Thursday to have cornered the last Islamic State fighters in central Tikrit are dominated by Iranian military advisers. The Iraqi Shiite militias are all Iranian trained. And the offensive itself is being directed on the ground by Iran’s most influential general, Qassem Suleimani, who’s been a thorn in American efforts to pacify Iraq since the early days of the U.S. occupation of this country.

As the assault on Tikrit continues, however, reports are emerging of atrocities carried out by Iraqi forces. The Times reports:

General Martin Dempsey, the top US military officer, said  he had no doubt the pro-government forces would take Tikrit but voiced fears about what would happen after, echoing widespread concerns about sectarian reprisals against Sunni civilians in retaliation for Islamic State atrocities.

(image: Reuters video)
As polls ahead of Tuesday’s election in Israel indicate support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continuing to slipThe Economist endorsed his opponent, Yitzhak Herzog. It writes:
In this newspaper’s view [Netanyahu] has been a bad deal for Israel. It is better off without him. His challenger, Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog is not charismatic. But he is level-headed and has a credible security and economic team. He wants talks with the Palestinians and to heal ties with Mr Obama. He deserves a chance to prove himself.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is “absolutely” healthy, apparently. Adam Taylor writes in the Washington Post: “Getting worked up by an absence of a few days may seem silly, but these things happen in authoritarian regimes: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un disappeared for weeks last year, intriguing the world. In that case, Kim later reappeared with no real explanation and continued going about his business as usual (don’t be surprised if that happens in Russia, too).”


And it’s not just Putin, it seems. The aforementioned Supreme Leader has also been subject to health rumors since 2009, according to Quartz.

In case you missed it, Mother Jones wrote recently on how one of the first decisions by new US Defense Secretary Ash Carter was to ban Powerpoint decks in briefings. Could this be why?


The Large Hadron Collider, one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements and source of many a schoolboy mis-spelling, is preparing to go back on-line after a two-year upgrade, with physicists’ sights set on discovering more about “dark matter.”


* POLITICS * Loretta Lynch’s nomination as Attorney General is set to come before the Senate next week, but Politico reports that her confirmation is not the sure thing it once was.

Bloomberg profiles the “billionaire roofer’ whose cash is backing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Hilllary gets a visit from tech support.


 * MEDIA * BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, a division of BuzzFeed, said its videos have accumulated one billion monthly views, six months after its formal launch; meanwhile Vox Media said it is to launch Vox Entertainment in order to expand its video capabilities.

Interesting essay by Priya Kumar at MediaShift’s Idea Lab about using data storytelling to engage audiences.

Many tenets of good data storytelling mirror the traditional conventions of journalism. Verify facts and check assumptions. Provide enough context so the reader understands the story, but don’t bury the message. “Do the reporting and show the reader exactly what they should be getting out of your piece,” Kennedy Elliott, a Washington Post interactive journalist, said at the Tapestry data storytelling conference.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger recounts his brush with the law – and an angry jogger – on Hampstead Heath.

Dr Nancy Snyderman, the NBC medical correspondent who “violated a self-imposed quarantine” while covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, is leaving the network.


* BUSINESS * House prices in the UK appear to be cooling, with prices in the most expensive parts of London rising by – just – an annual 9.5 percent in January, the slowest increase since September 2013. Bloomberg reports uncertainty over the upcoming general election in May is a factor:

Prices in London’s most expensive boroughs are being hit by changes to stamp duty announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in December. Under the revamp, buyers of homes costing more than 937,500 pounds pay more tax. Peter Williams, chairman of Acadata, said a “mansion tax” on the most expensive homes, promised by the opposition Labour Party if it wins an election in May, could intensify the slowdown.

Michael T Klare writes at The Nation on the “real reason for the collapse of the oil price.”

The production-maximizing strategy crafted by [big oil] CEOs rested on three fundamental assumptions: that, year after year, demand would keep climbing; that such rising demand would ensure prices high enough to justify costly investments in unconventional oil; and that concern over climate change would in no significant way alter the equation. Today, none of these assumptions holds true.

Yes, it’s an ad. But still…


* SPORTS * Uefa will apparently not rescind the red card shown to PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Wednesdays’ Champions League tie against Chelsea.


* CULTURE * Beloved fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett passed away aged 66.



Party crashers

The Washington Post reported that two senior Secret Service agents are under investigation after an incident last week where a government car was allegedly driven into security barriers at the White House

Last week’s incident is the first major misstep to take place since the management shake-up that began last October, when Julia Pierson abruptly resigned as director in the weeks after a man was able to jump the White House fence and race through much of the mansion’s main floor.

CNN reported that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz said his initial understanding is that the two agents were “partying in Georgetown” when they responded to an incident at the White House.

“Drinking on the job isn’t good at McDonald’s and it certainly isn’t good if you work for the Secret Service,” he said.

secretWH(image NBC NewsIn December last year, an independent review of the Secret Service found the agency needed a “culture change.”)


* POLITICS * The Associated Press filed a legal suit against the State Department “to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.” The action comes after several Freedom of Information requests “went unfulfilled,” the news organization said.

“State’s failure to ensure that Secretary Clinton’s governmental emails were retained and preserved by the agency, and its failure timely to seek out and search those emails in response to AP’s requests, indicate at the very least that State has not engaged in the diligent, good-faith search that FOIA requires,” says AP’s legal filing.

Meanwhile, after the prospective Presidential candidate’s less-than-convincing press conference, Clinton’s advisers are planning to move on by “changing the subject line,” according to Gabriel DeBenedetti at Politico.

Clinton’s camp believes her performance — which did nothing to assuage the political press corps or her Republican critics — succeeded in accomplishing several crucial goals. First, as one Hillaryland veteran told POLITICO, “it got her out there. Regular people could see how passionately she feels about her personal privacy and most people can empathize.”

Just as important, Clinton’s team hopes her public explanation transforms the storyline from the dangerous “what’s Hillary hiding?” to a more defensible — and numbingly complex — set of conversations among media reporters and lawyers about what public officials can and can’t do with their own emails. Despite warnings from Democrats around the country that the issue is still raging, Clinton allies figure that inside-baseball conversations like this don’t resonate with everyday voters, and especially not with undecided voters in swing states.

Meanwhile, potential GOP candidate Jeb Bush on Wednesday severed his final corporate ties, selling his stakes in a consulting business and an investment group. The former Florida Governor is headed to New Hampshire this weekend.


* WORLD * Scientists in China are warning that a new strain of influenza has the potential to become a pandemic virus, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“H7N9 viruses should be considered as a major candidate to emerge as a pandemic strain in humans,” they wrote in a study published Wednesday by the journal Nature.

The virus developed in birds before spreading to humans. Like the H5N1 bird flu and the H1N1 swine flu, it contains a combination of genes that are new to people.

The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri stepped down, becoming the sixth city official to resign or be fired following the scathing Justice Department report showing institutional racial bias. The St Louis Post Dispatch reported that Thomas Jackson will leave office on March 19. 

In the wake of the racist chanting by fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma, Amanda Paulson at the Christian Science Monitor looks at the challenges facing colleges in reforming such a culture.

On a related note, there’s a really interesting piece by Jamil Smith in The New Republic about the race beat at the New York Times and other papers. 


* BUSINESS * The annual report by the New York State Comptroller showed that Wall Street bonuses averaged $172,860 last year, an increase of 2 per cent on 2013 and the highest payout since 2007.

Sarah Kollmorgen at The New Republic writes that “the amount of cash is in fact so massive it could go a long way in the United States. It could, for instance, double the annual earnings of every full-time minimum wage worker in America, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, which simultaneously released a report of its own.”

Also at TNR, Reuben Thomas Fineghan writes about Robert Putnam’s new book “Our Kids” and finds that that “income, not culture, is what divides America now.”

Our Kids begins with a journey to Putnam’s home town of Port Clinton, Ohio, where he graduated from high school in the class of ‘59. This town is the origin of the book’s title: Port Clinton townsfolk called all the community’s children “our kids.”

The research team found that most of Putnam’s classmates, whether born rich or poor, went on to enjoy better lives than their parents. If we set the influence of race aside, social class was only a modest influence on the lives of Putnam’s generation.

Four big banks struggled to pass the Federal Reserve’s “stress tests,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Privacy advocates have expressed concerns about Mattel’s new wi-fi-connected “Hello Barbie” doll, which has been described as “eavesdropping” and “creepy”, the Washington Post writes.

To revive the sinking sales of its flagship brand, Mattel is bringing Barbie to life with voice-recognition software that will allow the doll to “listen” to children speak and give chatty responses. It will learn over time, remembering your dog’s name and adjusting to new topics.


* MEDIA * A new poll shows that Tina Fey is the favorite to replace Jon Stewart as host of the The Daily Show.

South African journalist Vuyo Mvoko found himself being mugged on camera during a stand-up piece in Johannesburg.

(SABC Digital News)


* SPORTS * With selection sunday for this year’s March Madness coming up this weekend and games set to begin next Tuesday, financial data released by the NCAA showed the association had total revenues of nearly $1bn in 2014.

Will Ferrell is planning – some may say threatening – to play in every position for different teams in five Spring Training baseball games on Thursday, as part of an upcoming HBO special. ESPN reports:

In 2010, he pitched — sort of — for Houston’s Triple-A club, the Round Rock Express, in a game against Nashville. Wearing a mustache in the guise of “Rojo Johnson,” a temperamental Venezuelan player, he threw one pitch behind a batter and was ejected. He ripped off the mustache as he left the field.

In the opening game, he’ll catch for the Chicago Cubs, who luckily started a one-game Cactus League win streak on Wednesday. Here’s the roster:




Still more questions than answers

voapr(image: Twitter – RamonCTaylor via VOABuzz)

After a speech to the UN where she was introduced as a “future president,” Hillary Clinton addressed the issue of her personal email use while she was Secretary of State in what was effectively the opening press conference of her 2016 Presidential campaign.

“I have no doubt we have done exactly what we should have done,” she said. The New York Times reports that “she asked voters to trust that she was disclosing more of them than she needed to — and even to credit her with an unusual degree of transparency.”

As you’d imagine, her words were closely watched and finely dissected. If she thought her appearance would douse the flames of a simmering row, it appears she miscalculated, leaving more questions than answers over her role, and seemingly guaranteeing that the story will continue to have legs at least until the announcement of her expected candidacy.

Dan Balz writes at the Washington Post:

Tuesday’s news conference offered a hint of what the future could be like — and it looked a lot like the past, with a controversy building until there was no other choice but to speak publicly about it and a media crush that no other candidate would attract. Some politicians faced with a similar problem have stood at a microphone until reporters exhausted all their questions. Clinton chose to cut off the questioning after only about 20 minutes.

Frank Bruni writes at the New York Times:

No more minced words. No more split hairs. No more donations to the Clinton Foundation that have a whiff of hypocrisy and suggest conflicts of interest.

She’s going to have a primary, all right, but it will be a contest against her own worst impulses, default defensiveness and prickly sense of insult when pressed for explanations. From what I saw Tuesday, victory is uncertain.

But with more, surely, to come, Mrs Clinton can at least take succor from the fact that there seems to one group of citizens she has already won over – viewers of Ed Schultz’s MSNBC show who prefer to push “A”…


* POLITICS * Before diving into the issue of her emails, Secretary Clinton spoke about the Iran letter by 47 GOP Senators, calling it “out of step with the best traditions of American leadership,” and saying that the Senators were either “trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to commander-in-chief in middle of high stakes international diplomacy.”

Not deterred by Tuesday’s New York Daily News front page, two non-Senators were keen to put their names to the letter – Louisiana Gov Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov Rick Perry.

Jon Stewart, meanwhile, went after both parties for hypocrisy.

“No matter how evil our president or our Congress believes Iran to be, they would each rather deal with the ayatollah than each other.”


* BUSINESS * Duke Energy said it would pay $146million – described as an “off the charts,” number for such a settlement – to settle a lawsuit related to its 2012 buyout of Progress Energy. Separately, environmental agency officials in North Carolina said they were fining Duke $25million over polluted groundwater from coal ash pits.

Do lower oil prices mean that OPEC’s days are numbered?


* WORLD * Ireland accidentally legalised ecstasy, crystal meth and ketamine and – apparently – separately, may or may not have outlawed heterosexual marriage.

[Emergency legislation] will be rushed through but comes with a provision that states it can only take effect on the day after its signature, placing Ireland in a very grey area with regards to the legality of drugs including ecstasy, ketamine and magic mushrooms until midnight on Thursday.


* MEDIA * The owners of the Orange County Register resigned from executive duties at the paper. Aaron Kushner, the OCR said, “gained national attention in 2012 for his ideas on how to revive the Register and the entire newspaper industry. He espoused an unrelenting focus on a better print product while others saw the future online.”

What happens when your “local” news is coming from another state? Philip Napoli at Nieman Lab explains a New Jersey research study.

Verizon Fios dropped The Weather Channel – replacing it with AccuWeather – while the channel said “active conversations regarding a contract renewal” were ongoing.

Reuters reported that Univision has hired Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank to lead its IPO.


* CULTURE * A jury found that 2013’s biggest hit song, “Blurred Lines” was too similar to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 track “Got to Give It Up”, and awarded Gaye’s family $7.3million in damages.

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson promo’d Zoolander 2 at the Valentino show at Paris Fashion Week.

‘The world is not the United States’

An open letter signed by 47 Republican Senators “to the Leaders of the Islamic republic of Iran” helped to harden partisan attitudes over world powers’ negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

tapper:cotton (image: CNN/Mediaite)

Freshman Senator Tom Cotton and his colleagues – including potential GOP Presidential candidates Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – “warned that any nuclear deal with President Barack Obama could last only as long as he remains in office.”

The Detroit Free Press wrote that the letter “disgraces America” and said:

At minimum, signing such a letter should disqualify each man [Sens Paul, Rubio and Cruz] from holding the high office they seek to degrade.

At worst? Well, it’s unlikely that, as some have suggested, this letter rises to the level of treason or violates the Logan Act, which bars unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign powers. But it certainly betrays a deep misunderstanding of our governmental structure, and a profound and dismaying disrespect for the office of the presidency, as well as its incumbent occupant.

Sen Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said the letter “is the kind of pettiness that diminishes us as a country.” But not every Republican Senator signed up, and some thought the move ill-advised.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg was “in two minds” about the “botched” letter.

The senators’ “open letter” would have been appropriate if it had taken a different form — say, as a less provocatively worded op-ed that laid out the legal limitations of such executive agreements as part of an argument for an alternative approach.

Instead, their approach simply illustrates their lack of an alternative plan (other than a full-scale invasion of Iran, which follows from the logic of their position but which most opponents of Obama’s strategy aren’t willing to support flat out).


Vice President Joe Biden “went ballistic” calling the letter an unprecedented intervention in foreign policy and “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.” He said:

“If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones.”

But, after Sen Cotton’s somewhat patronizing “translation” Tweet, maybe the only response that was ultimately necessary came from Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif:

The next round of nuclear talks is set to take place in Switzerland beginning on March 15.


* WORLD * Venezuela recalled its highest-ranking diplomat in Washington as tensions escalated between the countries, after the US declared the country a national security threat and ordered sanctions against senior officials from the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Ukraine’s President said pro-Russian forces in the East of the country had withdrawn “significant” numbers of heavy weapons.

In a bizarre effort to convince creditors to extend its bailout payments, Greek ministers warned that the country would unleash a “wave of millions of economic migrants” and jihadists on Europe” unless the Eurozone gave it what it wanted.

Meanwhile, there is a widening gulf between Turkey and the west when it comes to addressing the jihadi threat and the movement of potential foreign fighters, the New York Times reports.


* POLITICS * With Hillary Clinton staffing up in Iowa ahead of a possible campaign announcement next month, the row over her personal email rumbles on, with reports that she will address the issue at a press conference in New York “in the next few days.”

At least we won’t have to go through this if Lindsey Graham runs for President.

In Wisconsin, another potential Presidential candidate, GOP Governor Scott Walker – whom Conservative activists think has the best chance of beating Secretary Clinton – signed into law so-called right-to-work legislation, banning the requirement for private-sector workers to pay union fees.


* MEDIA * Iconic tech blog GigaOm is closing down, Kara Swisher at Re/code reports. Founder Om Malik made this statement:

Every founder starts on a path — hopeful and optimistic, full of desire to build something that helps change the world for the better, reshape an industry and hopefully become independent, both metaphorically and financially. Business, much like life, is not a movie and not everyone gets to have a story book ending.

Three months after asking “What’s the BuzzFeed?”, British Prime Minister David Cameron will be interviewed next Monday in a livestream on the site’s Facebook page.

Did the New York Times intentionally crop former President George W Bush out of its front page photo from Selma at the weekend? Its Public Editor says no.

A new Quinnipiac University study looks at the trustworthiness of TV news networks – and the results are probably as polarized as you’d expect.

Lebanese news anchor Rima Karaki was a trending topic on Monday for this clip of how she dealt with a troublesome guest.


* BUSINESS * The long-awaited Apple Watch was unveiled and will go on sale next month. Wired writes that “the point of the watch is actions not apps.” Time explains why “nobody has any idea if the Apple Watch will win.”

HBO, meanwhile, announced that its standalone streaming service HBO Now would launch exclusively with Apple on April 1st.

Elsewhere, with Nokia shifting its production to Vietnam, Peter Ford at the Christian Science Monitor wonders how indicative this is of a bigger trend, and whether China’s “golden age” of foreign investment may be over.


* SPORTS * The Los Angeles Times reports that after “investing five years and at least $50 million in an attempt to return the NFL to Los Angeles, AEG is abandoning plans for a downtown stadium.”

This year’s NFL off-season is different from previous ones. Kevin Clark at the Wall Street Journal explains why.

A mixture of factors—the NFL’s salary spending floor, creative number-crunching and a few free agents who foresaw the economics of the game changing—have brought about a new type of NFL off-season. And it is totally crazy.

Simply put, coaches and general managers who have successfully built teams in the past by ignoring free agency will have to adjust in a big way.


Tuesday is the opening of the Cheltenham Festival. To say it’s much-anticipated is an understatement. Greg Wood at The Guardian says there’s “no major sporting event in the British calendar with an anticipation-to-action ratio quite as low as that of the Cheltenham Festival.”

racingpost(image: Racing Post / Tomorrow’s Papers Today)


* CULTURE * Analysts say Disney’s new “Avengers” movie “could have the biggest feature-film debut of all time when it is released on May 1,” Bloomberg reports.

Finally, Sam Simon, Emmy-winning co-creator of The Simpsons, died aged 59. As well as what became the longest-running scripted prime-time series, Simon also worked on the classic comedy shows “Taxi” and “Cheers” in his 20s. In recent years he had turned his life to philanthropy. Simpsons’ show runner Al Jean tweeted: 



Solar plane soars on round-the-world bid

A five-month trip around the world using a solar-powered aircraft – the first flight of its kind – got under way early on Monday when the Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi. The first leg of the journey – to Oman – is expected to take about 12 hours.


The plane, which is 72 meters wide – wider than the wingspan of a jumbo jet – and carries 17,000 solar cells in its wings, is piloted by Swiss adventurers Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.

Zachary Shahan at Clean Technica has a video explaining the origins of the project.

Follow the plane’s progress at the Solar Impulse web site and watch live video from inside the cockpit here:


* WORLD * One of five men arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has apparently confessed, according to a Moscow judge. The others are in custody, while a sixth suspect was said by state-run TV to have blown himself up after a standoff with police in the Chechen capital, Grozny.

RUSSIA  NEMTSOV KILLING COURT(image: Reuters/Sky News Australia)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that anti-US sentiment in Russia currently “is even worse than it was in the Soviet Union.”

As commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Selma march continued, Attorney General Eric Holder told crowds that access to voting was “under siege” following recent state laws and a 2013 United States Supreme Court decision that weakened the Voting Rights Act. Holder said:

“Equality is still the prize. Still, even now, it is clear that we have more work to do; that beloved community is not yet formed; that our society is not yet at a just peace.”

Attention was also focused this weekend on Holder’s potential successor, Loretta Lynch, whose confirmation process is now the longest in recent history. Her confirmation vote by the full Senate could come as early as this week.

A day after Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group pledged allegiance to ISIS, military sources in neighboring Chad and Niger said a ground and air offensive against Boko Haram was under way in northern Nigeria.

This weekend saw the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370, with an interim report on the incident showing that the battery for an underwater locator beacon had expired more than a year before the plane vanished, possibly compromising search efforts.


* POLITICS * Amid a critical thumbs up for Kate McKinnon’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton on SNL, the debate continues over the former Secretary of State’s personal email. Ron Fournier at National Journal writes that the emails “may be a key to addressing ‘pay-to-play” whispers at Clinton Foundation.” The piece prompted this response from former Democratic Chairman Howard Dean:

Republican Presidential hopefuls gathered in Iowa at the weekend for an Agriculture Summit. Politico has ten takeaways.

Democratic Rep Donna Edwards – the first Black woman to serve in Congress from Maryland – is apparently set to announce on Tuesday that she will seek the Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Barbara Mikulski. Rep Chris Van Hollen has already received the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.


* MEDIA * Interesting piece in Press Gazette on the first ten years of Guido Fawkes and plans for its next stage after Britain’s May general election.

Asked if he has run any stories that were legally sound, but may have gone “too far” in other ways, [Paul] Staines says: “I feel if we haven’t taken it too far at least once a month we’re not doing the right thing. Some things maybe we’d have done differently if we’d thought about it again.”



Clever sub-deck on this front from The Sun following the weekend’s tragic story from Britain’s prestigious dog show.

With the Boston marathon bombing trial resuming on Monday, Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin looks at how the Boston Globe is covering it.


* BUSINESS * Monday is launch day for the Apple Watch. Here’s three reasons why it could be a game-changer. There could also be announcements about other products. The event begins at 1pm ET; here’s a preview and rumor checklist via Mashable, and here’s where you can livestream it, via Wired.

In the wake of it’s poor performance in last week’s Federal Reserve “stress tests” investors are worried that Goldman Sachs could be barred by regulators from buying back its own stock or increasing dividends, the New York Times reports.

The Washington Post reports how utilities are waging a campaign against rooftop solar panels.

Industry officials say they support their customers’ right to generate electricity on their own property, but they say rooftop solar’s new popularity is creating a serious cost imbalance. While homeowners with solar panels usually see dramatic reductions in their electric bills, they still rely on the grid for electricity at night and on cloudy days. The utility collects less revenue, even though the infrastructure costs — from expensive power plants to transmission lines and maintenance crews — remain the same.


Upcoming auctions for some rare US coins are set to push sales for the sector even higher than the record $536million last year, when a dozen coins sold for more than $1million.


* SPORTS * A focus of the opening weekend of the MLS season was the meeting of two new franchises – Orlando City and New York City FC, who played to a 1-1 draw in front of 62,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl in Florida. They were skippered by their international marquee players – Kaka and David Villa respectively.


Christine Brennan at USA Today says the NFL will “hold an educational session on domestic violence and sexual assault for all prospective players at its upcoming draft and will expand background checks on players with issues of violence in their past.”

With the University of Kentucky mens basketball team closing out an unbeaten regular season schedule, Five Thirty Eight crunched the numbers on the probability of running the board to this year’s NCAA championship.


* CULTURE * Sunday was International Womens’ Day and the Not There campaign in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation and its No Ceilings report, helped create awareness for gender inequality. In New York, women’s images vanished from adverts and social media.

The Vatican received a ransom demand from a former employee seeking £72,000 for the return of a stolen letter by Michelangelo.

If Joni Mitchell was looking for a tenure track position in the philosophy department, Jedidiah Anderson at McSweeney’s has her application letter:

“I am prepared to teach core graduate and undergraduate courses on Plato, Existentialism, and Urban Development. I find that the use of case studies in my Urban Development class is particularly effective; one of central importance in my class is the study of the gentrification of the town of Paradise, in which the expansion of parking, due to the construction of three small buildings — a pink hotel, a boutique store, and an entertainment venue, resulted in a snowballing effect that resulted in deforestation in the region, the commodification of remaining forests as a tourist attraction, the proliferation of DDT in local crops, and a sharp increase in crime. (In the interest of personal transparency, I must admit that my interest in this particular case stems from the abduction of my father from this town by a group of bandits that used a large yellow taxi to conceal their intent from their victims.)”