TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 18

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

U.S. Links North Korea to Hack

American officials have determined the government of North Korea is connected to the hack that left Sony Entertainment Pictures reeling and eventually prompted it to pull The Interview, a movie critical of the country’s leader

Understanding the Sony Hack

Everything to know about the massive hack against Sony that prompted it to nix The Interview

U.S., Cuba Make Nice

The U.S. and Cuba will work to normalize diplomatic relations for the first time in half-century, after the release of an American prisoner

Everything We Know as Serial’s Season One Ends

As the 12th installment of Serial downloads on countless phones Thursday morning, a common question will reverberate through curious minds: Did he do it? Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee on that January day back in 1999?

Elton John to Wed Longtime Partner David Furnish

The pair entered a civil partnership in 2005, but in recent weeks, rumors have run rampant about impending nuptials. Various outlets have reported that a private, intimate ceremony will take place at their Windsor estate on Dec. 21

NOAA Arctic Report Card Short on Good News

This year’s Arctic Report Card, a NOAA-led work by 63 authors, reports a continuation of Arctic warming: Alaska is seeing temperature anomalies more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the January average and temperatures are rising in region’s seas

Most of the World Is Living Longer

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study published Wednesday. Medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement

Scientists Spot Drugs That Could Treat Ebola

Scientists have identified 53 existing drugs that could be effective in fighting Ebola, according to newly published research that came from screening drug compounds already available to see if they can treat the deadly disease

Peshawar Death Toll at 148 as Full Horror Emerges

With the death toll from Peshawar school massacre rising to 148 — at least 132 of them children — residents of this strife-torn Pakistani city, and survivors, are struggling to come to terms with Tuesday’s horror, in which Taliban gunman attacked an army-run school

NYC Rapper Bobby Shmurda Arrested

Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda was arrested in New York City on Wednesday, in connection with an investigation into street violence and drug trafficking in the city’s outer borough. Shmurda, whose real name is Ackquille Pollard, was taken into custody by investigators

Chicago Judge Rejects $75 Million NCAA Settlement

A Chicago judge on Wednesday rejected a $75 million settlement with the NCAA on player concussions, saying the funds allocated as part of the deal would potentially fall short and urging both parties to resume negotiations

Executions in the United States at 20 Year Low

Amidst a nationwide mediation on the future of the death penalty in the U.S., the nation reached a 20-year low in carried-out executions in 2014, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report

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TIME Cuba

Fidel Loses the Race to the Grave

Castro Leads Massive Anti-U.S. Demo
Fidel Castro delivering a speech in Havana on May 14, 2004 Jorge Rey—Getty Images

It's fitting that the thaw was brokered by a president who wasn't alive when Castro came to power

The world now has the answer to a question as old as the New World Order: Which would die first? Fidel Castro? Or the chokehold his angry critics maintained on U.S. foreign policy since El Comandante came to power in Cuba 55 years ago? It was entirely fitting that the answer was delivered by an American president whose own age is 53. As he noted in his historic address from the White House on Wednesday, Barak Obama was born two years after Castro’s Communist guerrillas swept into Havana. Like the children and grandchildren of the Cubans who fled to Miami after the Communists arrived, the events Obama actually lived through were the ones that steadily reduced the island from a marquee venue of the Cold War — the thrust stage from which, in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, armageddon was nearly launched — to whatever the place qualifies as today: basically a scenic relic of Marxism, with beaches and cigars.

Other stout lobbies remain as present as their animating issue: The NRA likely will be around as long as gun owners are, and the Israel lobby as long as the state. But the U.S. government’s determined, and solitary isolation of Cuba was, as Obama alluded, a victim of generational change. The collapse of the Soviet Union, so thrillingly dramatic, was followed by the more gradual senescence of those who had invested most in opposing its most famous client state.

Time waits for no man, not even Fidel. El Commandante, now 88, is still around, and as recently as 2010 was still capable of stirring the pot. He opened the Havana Aquarium and commanded a dolphin show for a visiting U.S. journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg, whom Fidel then told, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more.” The regime that Fidel once made a model of resistance to U.S. dominance is now run by his 83-year-old kid brother. It was Raul Castro who spoke from Havana at the same moment Obama made his historic address at noon Wednesday, the two speeches pre-arranged by the leaders’ staffs to begin at the same hour, signaling both sides’ commitment to a new era of cooperation.

But the Cuban side appeared to be locked in that other era: Raul Castro was seated between dark paneling and a massive desk. The framed snapshots at his elbows were in black and white — the kind of vintage photographs that adorn the Hotel Nacional at the edge of the magnificent ruin that is Havana’s Old City. The glossies in the hotel are there for the tourists, images of the like of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack making themselves at home in a version of Havana glamour familiar to Americans who — forbidden by the travel restrictions Obama says will be pushed away — last saw the city in The Godfather Part II, or any other movie set in Cuba before Castro took over.

The reality just outside the hotel’s doors is far more compelling, from the ardent struggles of human rights activists and artists, to the joyously sensual quality of street life in what may well be the sexiest capital city in the world. Americans who dared to visit — it wasn’t hard, routing through Canada or Cancun — returned with enthusiastic reports of a poor but intensely vibrant society. Its economy may be a shambles now, but the island’s physical features alone, including 2,300 miles of Caribbean coastline not an hour from the U.S., all but assure development, especially by American retirees. Which would be fitting as well, since they would be old enough to appreciate just how time can change things.

TIME diplomacy

The Vatican Helped Seal U.S.-Cuba Deal

Hosted secret talks between the two nations

The Vatican played a key role in securing the release of an American contractor held in Cuba for five years and in setting the stage for a cooling of relations between the two countries, officials said Wednesday.

Pope Francis encouraged the neighbors, who have not had diplomatic relations since the rise of Fidel Castro in 1961, to negotiate a deal, and even hosted secret talks at the Vatican between the two nations, Obama Administration officials said. Canada hosted many of the negotiations, until the final meeting at the Vatican.

The deal to release Alan Gross was finalized in a call between President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, but Obama noted that the Vatican was instrumental in brokering the make-up.

“Pope Francis personally issued an appeal in a letter that he sent to President Obama and to President Raul Castro calling on them to resolve the case of Alan Gross and the cases of the three Cubans who have been imprisoned here in the United States, and also encouraging the united states and cuba to pursue a closer relationship,” an official said, calling the papal letter “very rare. … The Vatican then hosted the U.S. and Cuban delegations where we were able to review the commitments that we are making today.”

MORE: What to know about Alan Gross

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller / Washington

TIME White House

Obama Recalls Trouble Getting a Cab Before He Was President

Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Presiden Obama at the White House Dec. 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

The First Couple opens up about racism

Before they lived behind the White House gates, Barack and Michelle Obama dealt with the day-to-day racism experienced by black families across America, the First Couple told People in an exclusive new interview.

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” Michelle Obama said. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”

“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” President Obama said. “It’s one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It’s another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.”

Read more at People

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: From California’s Pineapple Express to Another Shutdown Drama

Watch this week's #KnowRightNow to catch up on all the latest stories

The House passed a $1.1 trillion spending package late Thursday to ensure that the government will avoid another damaging shutdown. “This compromise proposal merits bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and hopefully will arrive on the President’s desk in the next few days, and if it does, he will sign it,” stated White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

A tropical storm called the Pineapple Express pummeled the Pacific Northwest on Thursday. In drought-stricken California, flooding and mudslides prompted rare school closures in the north of the state. Powerful winds knocked out power to more than 150,000 homes in Washington.

Gas prices hit a 4-year low this week, with the average price of gas in the United States sinking to $2.72 per gallon. That’s the lowest gas prices have been since November 2010. Prices are dropping due to higher North American oil production and less demand. New Mexico has the lowest gas prices at $2.38 per gallon, and San Francisco has the highest gas prices at $3.04 per gallon.

And lastly, on Wednesday, TIME Magazine chose the Ebola fighters as 2014’s Person of the Year. “They risked and persisted, sacrificed, and saved,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs wrote.

TIME

U.S. Adds 321,000 Jobs, the Most in Nearly 3 Years

A now hiring sign is posted in window of an O' Reilly auto parts store on Nov. 7, 2014 in San Rafael, Calif.
A now hiring sign is posted in window of an O' Reilly auto parts store on Nov. 7, 2014 in San Rafael, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Job gains have averaged 241,000 a month this year

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. employers added 321,000 jobs in November, the biggest burst of hiring in nearly three years and the latest sign that the United States is outperforming other economies throughout the developed world.

The Labor Department also said Friday that 44,000 more jobs were added in September and October combined than the government had previously estimated. Job gains have averaged 241,000 a month this year, putting 2014 on track to be the strongest year for hiring since 1999.

The unemployment rate remained at a six-year low of 5.8 percent last month.

The robust job gains come after the economy expanded from April through September at its fastest pace in 11 years. The additional jobs should help boost growth in coming months.

Still, the healthy hiring levels have yet to boost most Americans’ paychecks significantly.

The improving U.S. job market contrasts with weakness elsewhere around the globe. Growth among the 18 European nations in the euro alliance is barely positive, and the eurozone’s unemployment rate is 11.5 percent. Japan is in recession.

China’s growth has slowed as it seeks to rein in excessive lending tied to real estate development. Other large developing countries, including Russia and Brazil, are also straining to grow.

Most economists say the United States will likely continue to strengthen despite the sluggishness overseas. The U.S. economy is much less dependent on exports than are Germany, China and Japan. U.S. growth is fueled more by its large domestic market and free-spending consumers, who account for about 70 percent of the economy.

That trend helps support the steady U.S. job growth. Most of the industries that have enjoyed the strongest job gains depend on the U.S. market rather than on overseas demand. Retailers, restaurants and hotels, and education and health care, for example, have been among the most consistent sources of healthy hiring since the recession officially ended in 2009.

Manufacturing, which is more exposed to overseas ups and downs, has added jobs for most of the recovery but in smaller numbers. That is a likely reason why pay growth has been tepid since the recession ended. Companies and industries that are more exposed to international competition typically pay higher salaries.

Temporary hiring for the winter holidays may be providing a boost, though it isn’t clear how much occurred last month and how much in December. Shipping companies have announced ambitious plans: UPS has said it expects to add up to 95,000 seasonal workers, up from 85,000 last year. FedEx plans to hire 50,000, up from 40,000.

The National Retail Federation estimates that seasonal retail hiring could grow about 4 percent to as high as 800,000.

Most recent figures on the economy have been encouraging. Americans are buying more cars, which will likely keep factories busy in coming months. Auto sales last month rose to their second-fastest pace this year. Car sales are on track to rise 6 percent this year from 2013.

And a survey by the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, showed that services firms expanded at nearly the fastest pace in eight years last month. Retailers, hotels, construction firms and other service companies added jobs, the survey found, though more slowly than in October.

The ISM’s separate survey of manufacturing firms showed that factories are expanding at a brisk pace. New orders and order backlogs rose, pointing to steady growth in coming months.

There have been some signs of moderating growth. Consumer spending rose only modestly in October. And businesses ordered fewer big-ticket manufactured goods that month, excluding the volatile aircraft category. That indicates that companies are holding back on investment.

As a result, most economists have forecast that the economy will slow in the final three months of the year to an annual pace of 2.5 percent. That would be down from a 4.3 percent pace from April to September, the fastest six-month pace since 2003.

TIME

HealthCare.gov Average Premiums Going Up in 2015

Premiums for the most popular type of plan will go up an average of 5 percent

(WASHINGTON) — Many HealthCare.gov customers will face higher costs next year, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday in a report that shows average premiums rising modestly.

However, officials said millions of consumers who are currently enrolled can mitigate the financial consequences if they are willing to shop around for another plan in a marketplace that’s becoming more competitive.

Premiums for the most popular type of plan will go up an average of 5 percent in the 35 states where the federal government is running the health insurance exchanges, said a report from the Health and Human Services Department.

However, the administration says about two-thirds of current customers can still find coverage comparable to what they have now for $100 a month or less if they shop around. That estimate takes into account the tax credits that most consumers are entitled to, which cover about three-fourths of the cost of premiums on average.

Double-digit premium increases were common for people buying their own insurance before the passage of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The modest average increases the administration reported Thursday mask bigger price swings from state to state, and even within regions of a state. Some are still seeing double-digit hikes. But others are seeing decreases. And most are somewhere in the middle.

On the whole, administration officials say the market is more stable.

“In today’s marketplace, (insurers) are competing for business,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said in a statement. “Returning customers may find an even better deal if they shop and save.”

The report said about 90 percent of customers will have a choice of three or more insurers this year, with each company usually offering a range of plans. That’s a notable improvement from last year, when 74 percent of customers had similar options.

The most popular coverage is known as the lowest cost silver plan and will go up 5 percent next year.

Another key plan, the second-lowest cost silver, will go up an average of 2 percent.

Obama’s health care law offers subsidized private health insurance to those who don’t have coverage on the job. Online markets called exchanges provide different options in each state.

TIME Immigration

17 States Are Suing President Obama Over Immigration Actions

President Barack Obama speaks during The White House Tribal Nations Conference, December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC.
President Barack Obama speaks during The White House Tribal Nations Conference, December 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The lawsuit says Obama violated the Constitution with his recent executive actions

17 states are suing President Barack Obama over his recent executive actions on immigration, which shields from deportation up to 5 million people who are in the country illegally.

The lawsuit claims that Obama violated the ‘Take Care Clause’ of the U.S. Constitution that limits presidential power, that the federal government violated rule-making procedures, and that the order will “exacerbate the humanitarian crisis along the southern border.”

The lawsuit is led by Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott, who said in a statement that Obama’s executive action “tramples” the Constitution. Abbott is scheduled to meet with Obama in the White House tomorrow with other newly-elected governors.

The states involved in the lawsuit are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The House has also introduced a bill to restrict Obama’s power on immigration, but in a statement released today the White House said the bill “would have devastating consequences” and that Obama would likely veto it if it passes.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagine your school library as a makerspace.

By Susan Bearden in EdSurge

2. New materials could radically change air conditioning.

By The Economist

3. Ambassadorships are too important to hand out to political donors.

By Justine Drennan in Foreign Policy

4. There’s a better way: Using data and evidence — not politics — to make policy.

By Margery Turner at the Urban Institute

5. The tax-code works for the rich. Low-income households need reforms that make deductions into credits and stimulate savings.

By Lewis Brown Jr. and Heather McCulloch in PolicyLink

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: December 4

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

This week Lev Grossman, the author of this week’s cover story about Mark Zuckerberg, “Half The World Is Not Enough,” will answer questions from TIME subscribers at 1 p.m. on Friday. You should read the story here.

Grossman, among many other things, is also the author of the Magician trilogy, a fantasy series, and the 2010 Person of the Year profile of Zuckerberg.

To ask Lev a question, please write them in the comments below or via Twitter using the #AskTime hashtag. His responses will only be available to subscribers, but it’s easy, cheap and worth it to subscribe. Just click here. You get one year for $40, including the print issues delivered to your home.

No Charges for Chokehold Cop

Wednesday’s announcement that a grand jury declined to indict a New York cop in the death of a man, by apparent chokehold, prompted protests around the city overnight and Attorney General Eric Holder to announce the opening of a federal civil-rights inquiry

Behind the Hack on Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures is the victim of an ongoing cyberattack, whose timing has led to increasing speculation that North Korea may have orchestrated it

3 Cosby Accusers Step Forward

L.A. attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing the accusers, demanded Cosby place $100 million in a fund for his alleged victims

House Passes Bill to Help Disabled Save for Living Expenses

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill on Wednesday that will help the disabled pay for a host of expenses — including education, housing, transportation and health — by cutting Medicare payments for penis pumps

Gun Battle Leaves 19 Dead in Chechen Capital

Militants attacked a checkpoint early Thursday in the capital of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, leaving at least ten police officers and nine gunmen dead. The violence erupted hours before Vladimir Putin began his annual state of the nation address

David Beckham ‘Confident’ of Miami Soccer Team

David Beckham remains confident that he can bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Miami, despite the rejection of two proposed waterfront stadium venues by local government. “Miami is still David’s No. 1 choice, and it will happen,” said a spokesman

U.S. General Optimistic on Liberia’s Battle With Ebola

General David M. Rodriguez, the U.S. military commander for Africa, says he might be able to scale back operations in Liberia by next month. He said U.S. troops deployed there might be moved if progress reports continue to encourage optimism

Al Qaeda Threatens to Execute U.S. Hostage

Militants in Yemen have released a video threatening to execute Luke Somers, a 33-year old photojournalist and interpreter, in three days if its demands to the U.S. government are not met, according to a company that monitors terrorist groups

Jonah Hill In Talks To Star In Arms and the Dudes

Jonah Hill is in talks to star in Hangover producer Todd Phillips’ next project, a film about two arms dealers who travel to Afghanistan to execute a $300 million contract but find themselves extremely unprepared for the situation

Toyota Recalls Cars in Japan, China for Air Bags

Toyota is recalling 185,000 vehicles in Japan and 5,000 in China for possibly defective air bags supplied by Takata, the Japanese manufacturer at the center of an unfolding safety scandal. Some 14 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide over Takata air bags

Obama Issues Warning Over Xi Jinping’s Growing Power

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday gave a stern assessment of what he called Chinese President Xi Jinping’s quick consolidation of power, expressing worries about the nation’s dubious human-rights record and insistent nationalism

AC/DC Drummer Phil Rudd Scuffles With Witness

Troubled AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd was detained by police on Thursday after getting into a scuffle with a witness in his pending court case but was released again on bail without facing further charges. Government prosecutors have argued that Rudd’s behavior has been erratic

 

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