Crisis in Iraq
August 7, 2014
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam today, The New York Times reports. If that sounds familiar, that's because on Sunday there were also reports that ISIS had seized this incredibly strategic asset from forces loyal to Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq. We'll see if the Kurds can take it back this time, too.

So, why is this dam so critical? It not only generates about 30 percent of Iraq's electricity, it can also be turned into a terrifying weapon. Here's a refresher from our partner Foreign Policy:

[S]cientists say the destruction or failure of the Mosul Dam could unleash up to 50 million gallons of water per second on Mosul, covering more than half of Iraq's second-largest city under 25 meters of water within hours and deluging Baghdad under four meters of water inside of three days. So there's that. It's also a staggeringly easy piece of infrastructure to compromise, thanks to an unstable, water-soluble foundation that needs constant reinforcement to preserve its structural integrity. That shoddy craftsmanship earned it the title of "most dangerous dam in the world," in a 2006 assessment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [Foreign Policy]

If it's true that ISIS has taken the dam this time, then the Corps of Engineers' assessment will have double resonance indeed. Nico Lauricella

Streaming wars
11:58 a.m. ET

Well it's about time — on Wednesday Hulu finally launched its long-awaited alternative subscription plan, which will offer customers a way to stream the service's programs without commercial interruptions, making it more competitive with other streaming rivals Netflix and Amazon. Until now, even Hulu's paid subscribers had to endure multiple commercial breaks, which could not be skipped, while they used the service.

Before you rush over to upgrade your subscription to the ad-free version — priced at $12 a month, up from $8 — you should know the plan has one little caveat: It will still contain ads. What? Yes, the commercial-free package will still run ads on some programs, Variety reports, including popular titles like Scandal, New Girl, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a handful of others.

Hulu's CEO Mike Hopkins explained that the exceptions are a result of studio rights held on certain series. "They have other commitments that they couldn’t free them up for a complete commercial-free offering," he said.

The good news is that remaining advertisements will be confined to pre- and post-roll slots, so you can at least sob through old Grey's Anatomy episodes without any pesky interruptions. Stephanie Talmadge

1000 words
10:58 a.m. ET

Europe is in the middle of a colossal migration crisis, as over 350,000 refugees from the Middle East and Africa make the difficult journey across the Mediterranean in search of a better life. While parts of Eastern Europe have fought to close their borders and train stations, many migrants remain in limbo, waiting for their tickets to Germany or Austria, where they've been greeted by thousands of welcoming volunteers and human rights supporters. Even the police have stood by as new trains roll daily into stations in Munich and Vienna — not even checking passengers' papers.

But for those who haven't yet reached the end of the line, Europe's train stations have become just another stepping stone in the path toward an uncertain future. Below, a selection of sobering photos of the crisis. Jeva Lange

baltimore uprising
10:44 a.m. ET

The first public hearing for the six Baltimore police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray was held this morning to determine whether the case should be dismissed, whether the officers should be tried together, and whether State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby will stay on the case.

Outside the Circuit Courthouse, protesters have assembled, chanting "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" and "No justice, no peace!"

The assembly has been peaceful, and so far only one protester has been arrested after allegedly attempting to block traffic. Live updates on the hearing and protests are available from the Baltimore Sun here. Bonnie Kristian

Easing the blow
10:43 a.m. ET

The new movie Concussion apparently doesn't live up to its tagline: "Nothing hits harder than the truth."

The Will Smith–starring movie set out to highlight the unsettling issues surrounding the NFL's concussion problem. But emails uncovered by hackers reveal that Sony ultimately opted to pull its punches, lest the NFL get too upset, a report from The New York Times, based on those hacked emails, reveals.

One email said "'unflattering moments for the NFL' were deleted or changed." In another email, a Sony lawyer says that "most of the bite" was taken out of the movie "for legal reasons with the NFL and it was not a balance issue." Other messages detailed marketing tactics, including positioning the film and Smith "as not anti-football" and specifying that Smith "isn't planning to be a spokesman for what football should or shouldn't be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge." Another executive wrote: "We'll develop messaging with the help of NFL consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet's nest."

While the NFL is more popular and more profitable than ever, the league has also been grappling with a major concussion problem for years. The NFL has already agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to several thousand retired players who sued the league for allegedly covering up the potentially lethal dangers of a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to football's repetitive head trauma. In Concussion, which comes out in December, Will Smith's character discovers that very disease. Watch the trailer below. Becca Stanek

This just in
10:37 a.m. ET
Mandal Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has become the crucial 34th senator to pledge to support the nuclear deal with Iran, ensuring that President Obama will have enough votes to uphold his veto in the event that a Republican-backed resolution against the deal lands on his desk later this month. The deal between Iran, the U.S., and five other world powers relieves sanctions on Iran in exchange for the nation limiting its nuclear program. Obama's sights may now be set on securing 41 votes — the amount required to filibuster the resolution in the Senate to avoid a veto altogether. Jeva Lange

survey says
10:11 a.m. ET

Poll results released by YouGov this morning find that Americans are almost evenly split on the question of whether prostitution should be illegal, with 44 percent supporting legalization and 46 percent opposing it. Respondents' opinions varied significantly by party affiliation, with Democrats more likely than Republicans or independents to back legal prostitution:


Asked whether prostitution is immoral, however, Americans are much less divided: Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say it is wrong to hire a prostitute. Currently, all forms of prostitution are illegal in every state except Nevada, where some rural counties allow brothels (but not street solicitation). Prostitution is not regulated at the federal level. Bonnie Kristian

nice tries
9:12 a.m. ET

Ohio governor and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich pushed the limits of social media advertising Wednesday, unveiling the first ever location-specific Snapchat campaign ad. It's got a rather porky theme:

The ad is a geofilter — a location-specific "sticker" that users can put on their photos — and Kasich's ad is also the first of its kind to be offered only during a specific time of day (in this case, the morning hours, to go along with the bacon theme).

"Budget pork isn't our taste but who doesn't love bacon and, of course, who doesn't love Snapchat?" Scott Milburn, a Kasich campaign spokesman, told Time. "You've got to have some fun with it all, right?"

Snapchat users in the early primary state of New Hampshire will have access to the bacon from 6 a.m. to noon on Wednesday. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads