As extremist Sunni militants continued their rampage through Iraq this week, the Shiite government appealed to the U.S. to launch air strikes. Some in the U.S. want to offer Iraqis support, but the grim reality is that there are only bad options. While ISIS is wreaking havoc in Iraq, in Syria it has the same goal as Western powers: to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And although Iran has committed to shielding Baghdad, it supports the regime in Damascus. Obama is sending 300 military advisers to Iraq, but the U.S. is clearly wary of making a greater commitment.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Everyone deserves a second chance. And Republican incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran gets his on Tuesday, in a runoff with Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in Mississippi for the GOP Senate nomination. Neither man won enough votes in the first round to claim victory in a battle reflecting conservative ideological splits nationwide. In this case, it’s between a GOP fixture known for funneling millions of federal dollars into state programs and a hotheaded young Tea Partier. Even celebrities have been jumping into the ring — NFL legend Brett Favre describes Cochran as a “proven and respected leader” in a new ad.
In America’s most violent cities, no idea is too crazy. Case in point: Richmond, Calif. pays its most dangerous residents to stay out of trouble. Four times a year Richmond’s “Office of Neighborhood Safety” identifies the 50 people most likely to shoot or be shot. They are then invited to join a program designed to turn their lives around, which includes a monthly stipend of $300 to $1,000. It’s too early to objectively assess the program’s efficacy, but in 2013 Richmond had its lowest number of homicides in 33 years.
When Courtland Kelley broke ranks in 2003 to expose safety flaws in GM’s safety practices, he hoped his actions might change the firm’s culture of silence. But management’s maltreatment of the whistle-blower was cited in a recent report as a reason why other employees had not also raised concerns. The report described the “GM nod,” whereby staff would agree to make changes and then fail to implement them. Eleven years and at least 13 deaths later, hopefully the automaker is now more receptive to employee feedback.
Abu Khattala, loner, political prisoner and the alleged leader of the attack in Benghazi that killed the American ambassador, is now firmly in U.S. custody. Prior to his arrest, Khattala roamed freely in the suburbs of Benghazi, a popular man among youths and Islamists for his unwavering opposition to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. At one time the leader of his own militant outfit, Khattala was captured by U.S. Special Forces last weekend and will hopefully provide some closure after one of postwar Libya’s most infamous acts of violence.
Ukraine’s president declares week-long unilateral ceasefire. (BBC)
Dow, S&P 500 end at record highs. (Reuters)
UN reports that half of Syrians urgently require aid. (Al Jazeera)
West African Ebola outbreak is ‘out of control.’ (USA Today)
White House launches bee-saving task force. (The Guardian)
A new book by Vaclav Smil — Bill Gates’ favorite author — explores the role of physical materials in modern life. In ”Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization,” historian Smil offers answers to the big questions of the future by looking at past trends. He argues that the most important man-made material is concrete, which allows the establishment of powerful urban centers. In the last three years, China has used more concrete than the U.S. has used in the past century — quite literally laying the foundations for its superpower status.
Does your religious group oppose critical thinking or drive a wedge between you and your family? If you answered yes, then you may be in a cult. Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), devised a list of seven signs to distinguish religions from cults, although some believe IHOP itself belongs in the latter category. Writer Boze Herrington has described how his campus prayer group — heavily influenced by IHOP teachings — descended into dangerous religious zealotry, culminating in the suspicious death of one of its young members.
Jeff Bezos makes no secret of the fact that he wants Amazon to run our lives, and he’s going about it the right way. On Wednesday, the CEO launched the Fire Phone, a five-inch, streamlined operating system with a string of innovative features, including images that appear almost 3-D and the ability to scroll by tilting your device. Most significantly, the Fire Phone can recognize bar codes, books, DVDs and other products, and immediately direct you to Amazon’s purchase page. Let the impulse-buyer beware.
In one of the world’s most genetically homogeneous countries, an ambitious program aims to catalog the entire nation’s DNA. With little immigration and a 1,100-year-old genealogical record, assessing the genetic makeup of Iceland’s 320,000 citizens may allow scientists to isolate faulty genes responsible for diseases like Alzheimer’s. While a third of Icelanders have already donated samples, an opposition campaign is gaining traction, raising questions over whether the social endeavor to advance medicine should trump individuals’ right to privacy.
They have been described as the greatest team in soccer’s history, but the Spanish reigning champions will be catching an early flight home after suffering embarrassing defeats in their first two World Cup games. It’s an ignominious end for the team that’s dominated international soccer for six years with an innovative fast-passing style of play known as tiki-taka. Pundits will undoubtedly spend years untangling exactly what went wrong, but many argue that the team’s core players have simply aged and didn’t have the necessary energy to pull off their own tactics.