What’s In The News

Week in Review

As fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to seize territory, the group has quietly built an effective management structure of mostly middle-aged Iraqis overseeing departments of finance, arms, local governance, military operations and recruitment.
At the top of the organization is the self-declared leader of all Muslims, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a radical chief executive officer  who handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.
He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.
They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.
The training and field experience of its leadership, outlined by an Iraqi who has seen documents seized by the Iraqi military, as well as by American intelligence officials, helps explain its battlefield successes:
Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army.
But President Barack Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the U.S. military into Syria, said confronting the “Islamic State” (ISIS) would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.
In blunt terms, the President said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like this. “They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” President Obama said, alluding to the group's announcement that it had killed American journalist James Foley.
The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages in Syria. The President said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.
The heightened threat from ISIS comes at a time of instability elsewhere in the world that has challenged Obama's desire to keep the U.S. out of military conflicts.
Russia has escalated its threatening moves in Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops.
Despite the increased tensions, Obama ruled out any military options in Ukraine and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

Gov. Jay Nixon nominated a former St. Louis police chief to become the state’s top law enforcement official – and the only African American in his cabinet – in the wake of racially charged unrest in nearby Ferguson.
The nomination of Daniel Isom II to become the director of the state’s Department of Public Safety came the same day that a police command center in Ferguson was dismantled and the National Guard completed its withdrawal.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and the county police will remain in charge of policing the city of 21,000 that became the site of violent clashes between the police and protesters after Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed, two and a half weeks ago.
If Dr. Isom is confirmed by the State Senate, he will oversee the Highway Patrol, the National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security, Emergency Management and other agencies operating in the state.
He would replace Jerry Lee, who is retiring. “Dr. Isom has experience and training in law enforcement that are almost unmatched, including as a top-level manager and as a front-line officer in one of the state’s largest police forces,” Mr. Nixon said in a statement.
The governor has faced harsh criticism from blacks for his response to the shooting and the street violence. Critics said he was late to intervene as the police retaliated against protesters with tear gas and an array of military gear that was widely denounced as provocative. He was also criticized for imposing a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for two nights and calling in the National Guard.
“Over the years, I don’t think any of the white political leadership has been very sensitive to the African-American community,” said State Representative Tommie Pierson, a Democrat who represents St. Louis and is black.
“Unfortunately, it takes something like this to draw attention to that fact,” he added, referring to the unrest in Ferguson. “This draws attention to that and makes them do just what Governor Nixon is doing.” But Mr. Pierson said that Dr. Isom was well qualified for the job.
When President Obama summoned his closest advisers to the Oval Office a year ago this week to tell them he was holding off on a missile strike against Syria, one of his arguments was that if he acted without Congress, he might not get congressional backing for military intervention the next time he needed it.
“He can’t make these decisions divorced from the American public and from Congress,” a senior aide said at the time. “Who knows what we’re going to face in the next three and a half years in the Middle East?”
Now, Mr. Obama knows what he is facing – rampaging Sunni militants who beheaded an American and have declared an Islamic caliphate across a swath of Iraq and Syria. But as the president considers airstrikes in Syria against the group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, seeking a congressional imprimatur remains a politically tricky undertaking.
“For the White House, the bottom line is tailoring legal authority to match the policy objectives it shares with Congress and our allies,” said Harold H. Koh, a professor of international law at Yale. “The problem is those policy objectives vary from place to place.”
Mr. Koh, who as the State Department’s legal adviser in 2011 defended the White House decision to bypass Congress before the bombing campaign in Libya, said the case for military action against ISIS in Iraq was fairly straightforward. In addition to the threat the militants pose to Americans, they could destroy Iraq’s effort to form a viable government, which is a major diplomatic priority of the United States.
In Syria, the United States has called for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, yet targeting ISIS there could help Mr. Assad since he is also at war with the group. The White House has said little publicly about its plans. It justifies the airstrikes Mr. Obama has already ordered in Iraq under his “constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as commander in chief.”
Bypassing Congress would be difficult to justify, given the fervent case Mr. Obama made for consulting lawmakers last September.
After laying out the moral and legal reasons for striking Mr. Assad, who American officials say gassed his own people, Mr. Obama said, “I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”
Images of the American journalist James Foley with a hooded ISIS fighter holding a knife to his throat have brought home the threat to the United States in a way that images of Syrians gasping from sarin gas attacks, however harrowing, did not.
Can a sports team ever have too much talent? The actions of the National Football League, Premier League and National Basketball Association teams could reasonably lead a person to assume that the answer is no.
But a new study of hundreds of games in several professional sports leagues suggests that, in fact, talent does have a tipping point, beyond which too many great players become detrimental to a team’s success, a finding with broad implications for coaches at all levels of play, as well as fans and athletes.
For the new study, which  was published this month in Psychological, researchers with the Instead business school in Fontainebleau, France; Columbia University in New York City; and other institutions first set out to determine just how important most of us consider talent to be.
They gave 35 casual soccer fans the opportunity to assemble a national-caliber team, choosing from imaginary players ranked as good or great. After choosing their starting 11 players, the volunteers were asked to rate how they thought their team would perform in a tournament.
The volunteers choosing the highest number of top rated players, for their squads, often filling all 11 positions with greats subsequently rated their chances of winning a tournament higher than did people who had sprinkled in a few merely good players.
The results show, the authors write that “people believe that more top talent increases a team’s performance, “and” that the effect of talent would never turn negative
But is that belief justified? To find out, the researchers next turned to real-world data about pro sports, beginning with numbers from FIFA, the international soccer governing body, in part because the study’s lead author, Roderick Swaab, a professor of organizational behavior, is also a soccer fan.
To broaden and solidify their findings, the researchers repeated the experiment as closely as possible with data from the N.B.A. and Major League Baseball.
The results were most notable for how they differed among sports. In soccer and basketball, the researchers found, adding superstars was productive – up to a point. But once a team consisted of more than about two-thirds superstars, its performance would begin to suffer, with fewer wins than would be expected, given the caliber of its talent.
But in baseball, the data showed, team performance did not decline, no matter how many stars were clustered on a roster. Cumulatively, the findings suggest that in sports requiring teamwork and coordination, you can have too much talent.
Basketball and soccer require player interdependence, communication and ego sublimation, which are not skills at which all stars excel, Dr. Swaab said. Baseball, on the other hand, is essentially “an individual sport” in a team setting, he said, allowing multiple superstars to coexist successfully on a roster.
The message, Dr. Swaab said, is to bear in mind that interpersonal dynamics should be considered alongside athletes’ abilities when building a sports team. Coaches might want to “invest more in training to formalize roles, ranks and responsibilities” among their players, so superstars understand that they, too, must pass as well as receive the ball.
EBOLA: “It’s frightening that a single event could catalyze a whole outbreak, but that’s what it looks like happened,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a renowned virus hunter at Columbia University, who called the study “a really nice piece of work.”
The scientists not only found that all 78 had virus traceable to funeral guests, but showed that the West African Ebola strain was quite different from the strain circulating thousands of miles away in central Africa, and that the two probably diverged as far back as 2004.
“No one knows where it’s been during that time,” said Dr. Pardis C. Sabeti, a Harvard geneticist and study co-author.
It might, she added, have circulated in some combination of bats, apes or other forest animals, “or it could have been circulating in humans for ten years with little or no notice.”
That information is important, experts said, because all the diagnostic tests now in use, as well as experimental drugs and vaccines under consideration, are based on the central African strain and might not work well on this new outbreak. For example, a diagnostic test in use now might not give a clear positive if a victim had a low viral load early in an infection.
The study also found that the 78 victims had two variants of the West African strain. The healer may have been infected with two variants from two of her patients, said Stephen K. Gire, another co-author from Dr. Sabeti’s lab. Or someone else at the funeral could have been infectious.
The work had a sobering footnote: Before it could be published, five of its co-authors had died of Ebola. They included Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading hemorrhagic fever expert, and four other staff members at the Kenema hospital.
By midsummer, so many hospital staff and patients had died that it was considered a death trap and partly vacated. Since that note was written, Dr. Sabeti said, a sixth co-author, also at the hospital, died of a stroke.
Dozens of people attended the healer’s funeral, said Robert F. Garry Jr., a Tulane University hemorrhagic fever expert whose teams searched for attendees and persuaded 40 of them to give samples. Fourteen — all women — were infected, Dr. Sabeti said, although the DNA in two samples was too degraded to sequence.
Because the hospital is still overwhelmed and now overseen by the World Health Organization, Dr. Sabeti said, she has received no samples since June. To help researchers working on drugs or vaccines, she has been posting sequences as soon as she has them, rather than waiting until academic journals publish her papers.
“It doesn’t take a village to fight this,” she said. “It takes a planet.”


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