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June 12, 2014
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While America's political class obsesses over Eric Cantor's stunning defeat, a perhaps more predictable — if dramatically more serious — defeat is taking place on the foreign stage. In this case, it is the Iraqi army that appears to be getting walloped. From The Guardian:

"Iraq is facing its gravest test since the U.S.-led invasion more than a decade ago, after its army capitulated to Islamist insurgents who have seized four cities and pillaged military bases and banks, in a lightning campaign which seems poised to fuel a cross-border insurgency endangering the entire region.

... Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers — roughly 30,000 men — simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Isis extremists roamed freely on Wednesday through the streets of Mosul, openly surprised at the ease with which they took Iraq's second largest city after three days of sporadic fighting." [The Guardian]

For those wondering how the U.S. — after investing (wisely or not) so much in the region — could allow this to happen, the suggestion that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki secretly asked the U.S. to consider airstrikes against the militants will surely be a sticking point.

That, coupled with New Yorker writer Dexter Filkins' prior reporting that, when it came to whether or not the U.S. should have left a residual force behind in Iraq, "every single senior [Iraqi] political leader, no matter what party or what group, including Maliki, said to them privately, we want you to stay," seems to buttress the argument that Obama dropped the ball on winning the peace.

Some, of course, will blame George W. Bush for starting the whole mess. But for a president who once seemed poised to reverse the Democratic Party's anemic foreign policy image, the potential question over "Who lost Iraq" would be yet another serious indictment of the "Obama doctrine." Matt K. Lewis

9:19 p.m. ET
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Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking official in the Vatican responsible for the church's finances, is facing at least three sexual assault charges related to historic abuse allegations, Australian police said Thursday.

Pell's legal representatives in Melbourne were served the charges, and he will appear in court July 18. Police say there are "multiple complainants," but would not reveal the allegations; The Sydney Morning Herald reports he is being charged with at least one count of rape. Pell, 75, was made a cardinal in 2003, and served as Archbishop of Sydney and Archbishop of Melbourne. He is expected to return to Australia to face the charges, and when rumors of the allegations first surfaced, Pell told reporters he is innocent. Catherine Garcia

8:32 p.m. ET
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The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday it is enacting new enhanced security and screening measures for every commercial flight traveling to the United States.

Since March, passengers flying to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries have been barred from bringing electronic devices bigger than a cellphone into the cabin, and if the new security protocols are adopted by the affected airlines and airports, the ban will be lifted, The Washington Post reports. Due to safety concerns, the Department of Homeland Security did not give any details on the new measures.

"It is time we raise the global baseline of aviation security," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said. "We cannot play international whack-a-mole with each new threat." Catherine Garcia

7:27 p.m. ET

Republicans are trying to cast their health-care proposal in a positive light, saying that cuts to Medicaid actually do the opposite, slowing growth in order to preserve it, and everyone from White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to President Trump himself are getting involved.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said the GOP Senate bill would reduce Medicaid spending by $772 billion over 10 years, and by 2026, enrollment would drop by 16 percent among people under the age of 65. Over the weekend, Conway said Republicans "don't see" these as cuts, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said it would "codify and make permanent the Medicaid expansion" put in place by the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, former House Speaker and Trump ally Newt Gingrich said on Fox & Friends that "after all the news media talking about cutting Medicaid in the House Republican bill, I did some research. It actually goes up 20 percent over the next 10 years."

That's a touch misleading, PolitiFact says. The CBO report found that the House bill that passed in May would cut Medicaid spending by $834 billion over 10 years. His office didn't respond to PolitiFact's calls, but they concluded it is likely Gingrich was referring to the rate at which Medicaid will grow over the next decade, which will happen if the law passes or not. Medicaid spending will increase because health care costs are going up, and the CBO report found that under the House bill it limits the increase to 20 percent; if nothing changes, it will require a 60 percent increase.

One of Trump's major campaign promises was that "there will be no cuts" to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, which is likely why he tweeted this graph Wednesday evening:

None of these talking points are swaying David Kamin, a law professor at New York University and former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, who told The New York Times, "The question of whether it's an increase or a cut is really about how people experience health care and whether people will be covered. From my perspective, it would best be described as a cut." Catherine Garcia

5:43 p.m. ET
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The Los Angeles Clippers parted ways with their star point guard Chris Paul on Wednesday, agreeing to trade the 32-year-old to the Houston Rockets. Paul joined the Clippers in 2012 and led the beleaguered franchise to its six best seasons by win percentage, but the Clippers were never able to advance past the second round of the playoffs even with their star trio of Paul, forward Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan.

A nine-time All-Star who was named to the NBA's All-Defensive First Team for the sixth consecutive season this year, Paul will join MVP finalist James Harden in Houston's backcourt. Harden's transition to point guard last season was hailed as an awakening for the eighth-year man, but now he will presumably share with Paul the burden of running Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced, trigger-happy offense. Paul and Harden had apparently wanted to play together for some time, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reported.

In return for Paul, Houston is sending defensive guard Patrick Beverley, scorer Lou Williams, and second-year forward Sam Dekker — among others — to Los Angeles. Kimberly Alters

3:58 p.m. ET

Scientists have uncovered evidence that humans aren't the only species that can play musical instruments. After seven years of observing 18 male palm cockatoos in Australia's Cape York Peninsula, researchers realized that male cockatoos put on drumming performances to attract females.

The scientists found that the birds "produced regular, predictable rhythms, rather than random thumps," The New York Times reported. Different males had unique styles of drumming, with some tapping "more slowly on average and others more quickly," said lead author Robert Heinsohn. "Some would start with a faster flourish before settling into their steady rhythm," Heinsohn said.

So, how does a cockatoo drum? The New York Times painted a picture:

A palm cockatoo drumming performance starts with instrument fashioning — an opportunity to show off beak strength and cleverness (the birds are incredibly intelligent). Often, as a female is watching, a male will ostentatiously break a hefty stick off a tree and trim it to about the length of a pencil.

Holding the stick, or occasionally a hard seedpod, with his left foot (parrots are typically left-footed), the male taps a beat on his tree perch. Occasionally he mixes in a whistle or other sounds from an impressive repertoire of around 20 syllables. [The New York Times]

The drumming seems to be unique to palm cockatoos in Australia's Cape York Peninsula though, suggesting "the habit is cultural," the Times wrote. "Presumably some bright spark of a male stumbled across this behavior, females found it pleasing, and it took off in the population," Heinsohn said.

Catch a glimpse of a cockatoo drumming below. Becca Stanek

2:55 p.m. ET
Rob Kim/Getty Images for alice + olivia by Stacey Bendet

The next season of Comedy Central's Broad City doesn't come out until August, but in the meantime you can catch the show's star Abbi Jacobson hosting a new podcast, A Piece of Work. Jacobson is teaming up with WYNC Studios and the Museum of Modern Art for the podcast, which will be all about contemporary art.

Jacobson, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art and the author of two coloring books and a book of illustrations, will interview artists, museum curators, and celebrities like Questlove and RuPaul on the show. Each episode will explore different works of art through themes like minimalism, pop art, performance, and abstraction.

The 10-episode podcast premieres July 10. It will air twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. Becca Stanek

2:49 p.m. ET
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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is one of the moderate Republicans whose vote could make or break the Senate GOP's health-care bill. Judging by her comments Wednesday, though, she is still far, far away from becoming a "yes" vote.

"I have fundamental concerns with the bill and it would take a pretty major overhaul," Collins told reporters, adding that just "tinkering" with the current bill would not earn her approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his lieutenants are trying to find changes that will bring at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans in line, including channeling funds to Medicaid and opioid treatment to win over moderates on the fence like Collins or Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

As of the afternoon of June 28, The Washington Post reports 12 Republican senators stand opposed to the bill or have serious concerns about it. Jeva Lange

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