Score one for the Kurds. The fighters have pushed ISIS out of the battleground city of Kobane, which lies in a key strategic area on the Syria-Turkey border. The win is seen as a victory for the combined power of Western airstrikes and local ground fighters. Kurds celebrated across the Middle East, though the city paid a stiff price — it’s pretty much destroyed. Some want the remains turned into a museum. For now, the Kurds are focusing on turning ISIS back from the countryside.
The Presidential Daily Brief
They were on the hunt for foreigners. Terrorists stormed the seaside Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli today, attacking a once-safe zone for visiting business executives, international envoys and journalists. At least four guards and four foreigners, including American contractor David Berry and a French citizen, died before authorities gained control. A group affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility, underscoring the lethal rise of Islamic militants and the deteriorating security situation in a nation besieged by factional chaos. Since the country’s 2011 civil war, armed groups of all kinds have grown in power.
Will it default? The new Greek prime minister’s economic spokesman says the country’s debt is not sustainable. When the far-left Syriza Party won Sunday’s election, it ushered Alexis Tsipras to the helm on promises to halt austerity measures imposed by the $270 billion EU bailout. Tsipras wants to renegotiate and has threatened to leave the eurozone if he doesn’t get his way. But EU leaders have warned Greece to pay its debts or risk deepening the economic crisis, both at home and across Europe.
The City That Never Sleeps slept in this morning. The snow storm that hit New York wasn’t quite as historic as predicted, having shifted east — the bigger story is New England, where icy floods have swamped homes in Massachusetts. A travel ban was lifted by morning, and public transit resumed limited service. “We dodged a bullet,” the mayor says. Now comes the tricky part of getting all those thousands of canceled flights back up. And entertaining all the kids kept home from school.
It’s become nation non grata. Citing its precarious economic perch, yesterday Standard & Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating to below investment grade for the first time in a decade, driving the beleaguered ruble down even more against the dollar. The downgrade means Moscow faces further currency devaluation and possibly capital flight. Already battered by sinking oil prices and Western sanctions, Russia is getting a bear-sized dose of double trouble: recession and political instability.
How much does the White House cost? The successful siblings think close to $1 billion will do it. The Republican businessmen have pledged that amount to help GOP efforts in advance of the 2016 campaign, more than twice what the Republican Party spent last time around. As expected, GOP presidential hopefuls laud the move while Democrats accuse them of trying to buy the presidency — and vow to out-fundraise them. Let the battle begin.
A man won a private interview with the U.S. Secret Service yesterday after his quadcopter crashed on the president’s lawn. The remote-(un)controlled drone never posed a threat, and officials seem satisfied that there was nothing malicious about the incident. But it highlights a vulnerability that even the most secure locations face from the 15,000 recreational drones — easily equipped with cameras or explosives — that are sold in the U.S. every month. Politicians hope to land some new drone-control regulations swiftly.
Internet company also reports lower quarterly earnings and revenue. (WSJ) sub
Gunmen hit Tripoli hotel, several killed. (CSM)
Military officials say Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan. (NBC)
German leaders mark 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation. (DW)
Obama pushes for religious tolerance in India. (USA Today)
Facebook, Instagram go down briefly amid technical difficulties. (Telegraph)
Argentina dissolves intelligence agency following prosecutor’s death. (The Guardian)
Chinese industry suffers record fall in profits. (FT) sub
They’re calling a truce — sort of. In a stunning move, Mormon leaders have expressed support for laws protecting LGBT groups from housing and employment discrimination as long as the laws also protect religious freedom. The change doesn’t overturn church doctrine, which opposes gay marriage, but it does signal its increased efforts to be more respectful of gays and lesbians. The more inclusive approach could have a significant impact in Mormon strongholds of Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Arizona.
The queen of pop needs a better password. Hacking group Lizard Squad commandeered the 25-year-old star’s Twitter and Instagram profiles for 15 minutes yesterday, sending prank messages to her 71 million combined fans. The group, which has claimed responsibility for hacking the Sony Playstation Network and North Korea, threatened to release nude photos of Swift. But America’s sweetheart singer — who owns the fourth-largest account on all of Twitter — shook it off, tweeting: “Have fun photoshopping cause you got NOTHING.”
Could one shot save us all? To produce flu vaccines, medical experts must guess the dominant strains long before sniffle season. Sometimes the flu shot misses the mark — like this year, when it proved only 23 percent effective. Scientists are now within arm’s reach of creating a “universal vaccine” to fight all strains of influenza A with a single lifetime dose. But don’t toss those tissues just yet: it’s still at least five years away.
The hot babe is middle-aged. More than 50 years after her debut, Mattel’s biggest brand is sagging, dragging company sales down 6 percent in the crucial fourth quarter. The dismal showing prompted the toy giant to dump CEO Bryan Stockton, who failed to reinvigorate flagship brands Barbie and Fisher-Price against rivals’ huge successes linked to The Lego Movie and Disney’s Frozen. Long known for toys aimed at girls, Mattel can’t count on Ken to come to the rescue.
Hey, Sam: Don’t do me like that. British crooner Sam Smith quietly settled with the rock legend after Petty sued over striking similarities between Smith’s 2014 hit “Stay With Me” and Petty’s 1989 classic “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty and collaborator Jeff Lynne will share 25 percent of royalties, plus co-writing credit on the track nominated for top honors at the Feb. 8 Grammy Awards. Smith maintains the similarities are a “complete coincidence,” but he won’t be coming around here no more.
A Yeti’s on the loose in Beantown. As most of the East Coast hunkered down for a long winter’s night, an Abominable Snowman left tracks in the snow and all over social media. Boston’s driving ban has left the city’s roads empty — the perfect playground for a mythical Himalayan creature. The mystery man — who’s preaching snow safety and claiming to have closed schools — probably didn’t hail from Nepal. But his Twitter account did appear Monday, along with the first inches of snow.
He’s not backpedaling. The disgraced former seven-time Tour de France champion has spoken out for the first time since he admitted to doping. The BBC interview featured a regretful but defensive Armstrong saying he wouldn’t take performance enhancers today. But if it were 1995 — when “doping was completely pervasive” — he probably would. Armstrong said he still feels like he won the now-stripped Tour titles. And he thinks it’s time for the public to forgive him, even if racing officials are unlikely to ever forget.