They’ve joined the battle. The U.S. has begun supporting Iraq’s effort to retake Tikrit in a bid to quash ISIS and “seize the initiative” from Iran, which has led much of the enterprise thus far. President Obama agreed to help Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi on the condition that Iranian militiamen stand aside to make way for a stronger Iraqi counterterrorism presence. It’s a “gamble,” a U.S. official admitted, but with Tikrit, Mosul and much of Iraq under threat, it’s one the Americans can’t bear to lose.
The Presidential Daily Brief
This all could have been avoided. French and German officials have agreed that one of the pilots of Germanwings flight 9525 deliberately crashed the plane after the other one left the cockpit. The flight recorder showed that one pilot left and then found himself locked out, banging on the door while 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz steered the plane into the ground. Now airlines including EasyJet and Air Canada say that to prevent such tragedies, they’ll require two crew members in cockpits at all times.
It all hinged on his army uniform. Illinois National Guard soldier Hasan Edmonds and his cousin Jonah were arrested yesterday and have been accused of a plan to kill U.S. soldiers and aid ISIS forces. Hasan was planning to go overseas and fight with ISIS while Jonas donned Hasan’s uniform and attacked a military training facility. Undercover FBI agents in contact with the pair before their arrest resported that Hasan talked about causing as much mayhem as possible. They could each be facing 15 years in prison.
They have to stay one step ahead. The Obama administration is poised to issue a five-year plan to fight potential antibiotic-resistant diseases, the first such plan ever created. Medical professionals have long worried that bacteria are evolving to fight our best pharmaceutical weapons, and the CDC say such superbugs kill more than 20,000 people every year. Not that drugs are always useless — two vaccines for ebola have been deemed safe after human trials, though their effectiveness has yet to be tested.
This is a test of loyalty. South Korea is a major U.S. ally, and the fact that it’s thrown in with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank could be seen as a betrayal, considering the U.S.’s stated opposition to the project. The White House worries that the AIIB will begin an economic power shift toward China and away from traditional Western financial capitals. Japan, another U.S. ally, has shied away from the project — but it has to decide if it wants to be a founding member before March 31st.
He wants it sooner rather than later. Though Iran has been working with a multinational panel of negotiators on a deal to lift sanctions in exchange for restrictions on the country’s nuclear program, hopes have dwindled that they’ll make a deal by the March 31 deadline. Iranian President Rouhani has stepped in to speed the process with a letter to President Obama and other leaders urging them to respect the deadline. Rouhani’s main priority is lifting international sanctions entirely, for which he’ll need cooperation from the U.N. and the U.S.
It’s reasonable to be jumpy. Saudi Arabia has entered the conflict in Yemen, launching airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who deposed President Hadi and have exiled him. He’s taking refuge in Riyadh. At risk is not just Yemen’s future, but the Bab el-Mandeb strait, which is seen as a bottleneck for oil supplies. Oil prices rose 6 percent in response, though they dipped back a bit by day’s end. Egypt says it’s also prepared to send troops in, potentially expanding and prolonging the conflict.
It had been a slow twister season, until last night. One person died, at least 20 suffered injuries, cars flipped on the highway, and schools across the area closed due to damage after multiple tornadoes skittered across the state, spawned by severe thunderstorms that crossed several states. Palm-sized hail hit too, with some at Tulsa’s airport forced to shelter in a basement. Today’s forecast is milder, as cleanup begins.
Jitters over the Middle East and stuttering economic data have shaken the market in what’s proving to be a volatile month. Already all but four trading days have seem swings of more than 100 points, and is down overall for the year. The Nasdaq too stumbled. News that durable good orders fell didn’t help. In Europe, the markets are getting hammered over concerns about Yemen’s troubles, not to mention the Greek crisis — none of which looks to resolve anytime soon
Maybe they should try crowdfunding. Greek authorities had hoped to reclaim $1.3 billion from the EU to cover costs. The funds were the remainder of $53 billion in bailout bonds from 2012 that Athens returned — in error, it says — to eurozone creditors last month. But the EU says they have no legal claim to the money. It’s crunch time now as Greece faces a potential cash drought on April 20 unless it can deliver a credible list of reforms and secure more bailout funds.
Bowe Bergdahl charged with desertion. (Washington Post)
Richard III recalled with honor at reburial service. (BBC)
Police brutality video prompts protests in Michigan. (Detroit News)
First suspect arrested in India nun rape case. (NDTV)
BBC takes keys from ‘Top Gear’ star Jeremy Clarkson. (BBC)
The problem solvers became the problem. The U.S. Department of Justice revealed in a report Thursday that Drug Enforcement Agents engaged in drug-fueled parties full of prostitutes provided by Colombian criminals. What’s more, none of the agents’ security clearances were reviewed, even after some of them were suspended. The report is a wide-ranging look into the misbehavior of various federal department agencies that originally began with analyses of misconduct of Secret Service agents. The report concludes with recommendations to improve reporting, particularly allegations of sexual misconduct.
Just one season left. Producers have announced that the wildly successful TV period drama — the most popular ever shown on PBS — that has followed a wealthy English family for five seasons will end with season six. The show was known for its examinations of the British class system in the early 20th century, and for briefly repopularizing pre-20s fashions. Downton fans may not be bereft for long, though — producer Gareth Neame says they’re contemplating a film spinoff.
You won’t forget this one. The U.S. military is using South African elephants to develop technology for improved bomb detection. Elephants have 2,000 scent detecting genes, more than any other animal including the dogs normally used in bomb detection. In preliminary testing, elephants have without exception found a small trace of TNT on a piece of paper stapled to the bottom of a bucket mixed amongst buckets with invoilable smells. Researchers insist they’ll never put elephants in the battlefield or use them to detect actual bombs.
Dolly Shivani Cherukuri aims to please. The little girl, who’ll be three next week, is the youngest Indian to score 200 points at distances of five and seven meters. Her father, Cherukuri Satyanarayana, runs an archery school and says he’s been molding her since she was in the womb. Dolly’s older siblings — one of whom was also an archery champion — died before she was born, and her dad hopes Dolly can carry on the family’s proud name in archery and represent India internationally in 2020.
They claim they didn’t. U.S. regulators faced tough questions after an internal document was leaked from an antitrust investigation that found Google’s search and advertising practices had been harming the tech industry. The Federal Trade Commission didn’t prosecute, but explained that the unleaked part of the company’s file made it clear that there was no legal reason to do so — and that the decision was unrelated to Google’s chumminess with the White House. The FTC does, however, plan to clamp down on future leaks.
Haven’t they seen Jurassic Park? Harvard researchers have inserted woolly mammoth genes into living cells taken from an Asian elephant, resulting in the mammoth genes’ first activity — albeit in a petri dish — in nearly 4,000 years. Next steps will see scientists trying to use artificial wombs to grow hybrid elephants that can withstand cold temperatures and be reintegrated into the wild. And eventually, they hope their work will pave a path to the woolly mammoth’s return from extinction.
He’s heading in a new direction. Malik, who begged off One Direction’s international tour last week to deal with his personal life, has announced via Facebook that he won’t be rejoining the band. Malik apologized to his fans, saying he wanted to be a “normal 22-year-old.” The remaining four members of the group — constructed by Simon Cowell after all five auditioned for his show The X Factor — will continue touring and are looking forward to recording their next album.
Dinner’s on him. The late North Carolina men’s basketball coach willed $200 to each of his former players to “enjoy a dinner out.” Smith, who coached a legion of legendary players including Michael Jordan, passed away in February at the age of 83. One estimate says the gesture cost about $36,000 in total, if accounting for the estimated 180 letterman players who were coached by Smith. Letters and accompanying checks were mailed to players in mid-March from Smith’s trust with the notation, “dinner out.”
Amazon is coming home. After gobbling up the retail economy, the giant from the Great Northwest is ready to take a bite out of Craigslist. A report leaked that Amazon will introduce a new marketplace of home services providers. However, unlike Craigslist, Amazon will reportedly check the background of providers and take a 15-20 percent cut of all purchases. While that fee may be a deal-breaker, the wide-ranging availability of the site could prove enticing to consumers. The service is expected to launch in four cities later this year.