Daily Briefing

Deep buzz for the content-deprived

Every weekday, while you get showered and dressed, we pluck these dewy- fresh, breaking stories from the info-clogged byways of the datasphere. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and stoke up on everything you need to know, or at least enough to fake it.

The Flu, Explained
Kiera Butler, Mother Jones | The Flu, Explained | January 14, 2013

This year's flu season is no joke: On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it had reached epidemic status. Although experts believe that the season may have peaked in most places, flu incidence is still thought to be very high. The media blitz about the flu seems to be an epidemic of its own—so I spoke to several experts to set the record straight on some of the most common flu questions...

Obama Versus Physics
Bill McKibben, The Huffington Post | Obama Versus Physics | January 9, 2013

Change usually happens very slowly, even once all the serious people have decided there’s a problem. That’s because, in a country as big as the United States, public opinion moves in slow currents.  Since change by definition requires going up against powerful established interests, it can take decades for those currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses.

Take, for instance, “the problem of our schools.” Don’t worry about whether there actually was a problem, or whether making every student devote her school years to filling out standardized tests would solve it. Just think about the timeline. In 1983, after some years of pundit throat clearing, the Carnegie Commission published “A Nation at Risk,” insisting that a “rising tide of mediocrity” threatened our schools. The nation’s biggest foundations and richest people slowly roused themselves to action, and for three decades we haltingly applied a series of fixes and reforms. We’ve had Race to the Top, and Teach for America, and charters, and vouchers, and… we’re still in the midst of “fixing” education, many generations of students later...

The 'Hell No' Caucus
Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen, Politico | The 'Hell No' Caucus | January 9, 2013

Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a veteran of two wars and with a pair of Harvard degrees, got a pleasant surprise last year that helped him win a very competitive Republican primary — and then a very easy general election. It was a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for, from a group he hardly knew — the Club for Growth.

Tucked inside that envelope and several to come were $300,000 in checks from Club members, enough to help lift the 35-year-old former Army captain from obscurity — and 47 percentage points down in his first internal poll — to the fourth floor of the Cannon House Office Building. The Republican’s district, the Arkansas 4th, is home to 33 rural counties — and a conservative America that the media and much of the Republican establishment are struggling to comprehend...

At Disney Parks, A Bracelet Meant To Build Loyalty (And Sales)
Brooks Barnes, The New York Times | At Disney Parks, A Bracelet Meant To Build Loyalty (And Sales) | January 9, 2013

Imagine Walt Disney World with no entry turnstiles. Cash? Passé: Visitors would wear rubber bracelets encoded with credit card information, snapping up corn dogs and Mickey Mouse ears with a tap of the wrist. Smartphone alerts would signal when it is time to ride Space Mountain without standing in line.

Fantasyland? Hardly. It happens starting this spring...

Bill Kristol's Big Plans Start With Chuck Hagel Nomination
Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico | Bill Kristol's Big Plans Start With Chuck Hagel Nomination | January 7, 2013

In the weeks since Election Day — as Mitt Romney faded into obscurity, John Boehner lost control of the House GOP and tea partiers turned on one another — Bill Kristol has been busy charting the future of the Republican Party.

Kristol was among the first conservatives to break with GOP orthodoxy on raising taxes, and he and his allies advanced their hawkish neoconservative foreign policy by pushing the controversy that sank Susan Rice’s potential nomination for secretary of state.

And Kristol is just getting started...

Secrets And Lies Of The Bailout
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone | Secrets And Lies Of The Bailout | January 7, 2013

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you'd think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we've been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?


It was all a lie -- one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people...

The Education Of John Boehner
Stephen Moore, The Wall Street Journal | The Education Of John Boehner | January 7, 2013

What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: "At one point several weeks ago," Mr. Boehner says, "the president said to me, 'We don't have a spending problem.' "

I am talking to Mr. Boehner in his office on the second floor of the Capitol, 72 hours after the historic House vote to take America off the so-called fiscal cliff by making permanent the Bush tax cuts on most Americans, but also to raise taxes on high earners. In the interim, Mr. Boehner had been elected to serve his second term as speaker of the House. Throughout our hourlong conversation, as is his custom, he takes long drags on one cigarette after another...

Should American Catholics Cheer For Old Notre Dame?
Michael Leahy, The Washington Post | Should American Catholics Cheer For Old Notre Dame? | January 6, 2013

As a boy in Southern California during the late 1960s, I watched Notre Dame football games with a neighbor, a middle-aged rabbi named Joseph Elsant. He was many things to me: a profound moral influence, a happy raconteur and a fellow football fan fascinated by the Fighting Irish. “Kickoff!” he would announce and settle back in his big chair. He would have relished the thought of Notre Dame’s presence in Monday night’s national championship game against Alabama...

George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year
Joel Lovell, The New York Times | George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You'll Read This Year | January 6, 2013

In a little sushi restaurant in Syracuse, George Saunders conceded that, sure, one reality was that he and I were a couple guys talking fiction and eating avocado salad and listening to Alanis Morissette coming from the speaker above our heads. Another was that we were walking corpses. We’d been on the subject of death for a while. A friend I loved very much died recently, and I was trying to describe the state I sometimes still found myself in — not quite of this world, but each day a little less removed — and how I knew it was a good thing, the re-entry, but I regretted it too, because it meant the dimming of a kind of awareness that doesn’t get lit up very much. I was having some trouble articulating it, but Saunders was right there, leaning in and encouraging. He has a bushy blond mustache and goatee going gray, and sometimes, when he’s listening intently, he can look a little stern, as if he just stepped out of a tent at Antietam. But then he starts talking and the eyebrows go up and it’s all Chicago vowels and twinkly Doug Henning eyes, and if you didn’t know that he was more or less universally regarded as a genius, you might peg him as the superfriendly host of a woodworking show on daytime public access...

Wilde Ride
Anthony Paletta, The Daily Beast | Wilde Ride | January 5, 2013

There is not a shred of proof that Oscar Wilde quipped, upon entering the United States, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” But, given his record of wit, newspaper publishers seem to have been quite happy to simply print the legend—and who could ever blame them?

It is oddly fitting that the most prominent relic of Wilde’s 1882 tour of the United States is possibly apocryphal, given that the actual substance of the tour seems, short of a few narrowly-missed meetings, the stuff of dime novels and historical fiction. Declaring His Genius: Oscar Wilde in North America, Roy Morris, Jr.’s delightful account of the tour, sets a visitor from one realm (Wilde) careening into one that seems impossibly separate (early Gilded Age America); not merely drinking elderberry wine with Walt Whitman in Camden, or holding chilly conversation with Henry James in Washington, but lecturing in Saint Josephs, Missouri, two weeks after the death of Jesse James, calling on an elderly Jefferson Davis at his Mississippi plantation, and falling prey to a con-man in New York’s Tenderloin...