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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest with a crew consisting of founder Magnifico, current leader Neon Vincent, regular editors side pocket, maggiejean, wader, Man Oh Man, rfall, and JML9999. Alumni editors include (but not limited to) palantir, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, ek hornbeck, ScottyUrb, Interceptor7, BentLiberal, Oke and jlms qkw. The guest editor is annetteboardman.

Please feel free to share your articles and stories in the comments.

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NPR
 

A federal judge in Washington says the National Security Agency's program for bulk phone record collection violates Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy.

The ruling (pdf), however, has been stayed pending a likely appeal.

Judge Richard Leon says the sweeping NSA collection of U.S. phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

The judge says the Smith v. Maryland Supreme Court ruling the Obama administration has used to underpin that program involved only a short period of collection, not the years-long approach the NSA has been taking based on advances in technology.

In sometimes blistering language, Leon, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, says times have changed since 1979, when Maryland was decided. Leon says advances in technology and people's use of cell phones mean that old case no longer holds.

In the Maryland case, the Supreme Court found that dialing a number was akin to calling an operator and asking to be connected to someone. When you hand that information to a third party, the court found, a person loses their expectation of privacy. Police, therefore, did not need a warrant to obtain "pen register" data from phone companies. The Obama administration has argued that the metadata — things like number dialed, time and duration of call — it collects in bulk is likewise exempted from Fourth Amendment protection.

NPR
 

Looks like Edward Snowden won't get amnesty after all.

"Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces felony charges here in the United States," Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said, according to USA Today. "He should be returned to the U.S. as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections."

Snowden is the former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked classified information on the scale and scope of the agency's surveillance activities. Speculation that he would get amnesty if he returns the documents were sparked Sunday by comments from Rick Ledgett, the man in charge of the Snowden task force at the NSA. He told CBS' 60 Minutes:

The Guardian
 

The National Security Agency is telling its story like never before. Never mind whether that story is, well, true.

On Sunday night, CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a remarkable piece that provided NSA officials, from director Keith Alexander to junior analysts, with a long, televised forum to push back against criticism of the powerful spy agency. It’s an opening salvo in an unprecedented push from the agency to win public confidence at a time when both White House reviews and pending legislation would restrict the NSA’s powers.

But mixed in among the dramatic footage of Alexander receiving threat briefings and junior analysts solving Rubik’s cubes in 90 seconds were a number of dubious claims: from the extent of surveillance to collecting on Google and Yahoo data centers to an online “kill-switch” for the global financial system developed by China.

Reporter John Miller, a former official with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and an ex-FBI spokesman, allowed these claims to go unchallenged. The Guardian, not so much. Here’s our take:

BBC
 

A US judge has ruled the National Security Agency's mass collection of telephone data unconstitutional.

Federal District Judge Richard Leon said the electronic spy agency's practice was an "arbitrary invasion".

The agency's collection of "metadata" including telephone numbers and times and dates of calls was brought to light by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The White House dismissed the suggestion Mr Snowden receive amnesty if he stopped leaking documents.

In his ruling in a Washington DC federal court on Monday, Mr Leon called the NSA's surveillance program "indiscriminate" and an "almost Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States".

USA Today
 

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Monday that the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program that collects millions of Americans' telephone records may be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ruled in a lawsuit brought by conservative activist Larry Klayman that the legal challenge to the massive surveillance program -- disclosed in full earlier this year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — would likely succeed.

Leon, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, issued a preliminary injunction against the program but suspended the order to allow an appeal by the Justice Department, which said it was reviewing the decision.

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US NEWS

Miami Herald (via McClatchy)
 

The United States sent two long-ago cleared Guantánamo detainees to Saudi Arabia over the weekend, the latest move in renewed efforts to empty the prison camps that President Barack Obama ordered closed in 2009.

The Pentagon identified the two men as Saad Muhammed Husayn Qahtani, 34, and Hamood Abdulla Hamood, 48. Neither had ever been charged with a crime, and both returned as Saudi nationals.

The transfer reduced the prison camps population to 160 as the White House presses forward with two death-penalty proceedings on the base. Five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terror attacks are due back at the Guantánamo war court Tuesday.

Washington Post
 

Fifty prominent Catholic educators — including deans and department heads of Catholic universities — have signed a letter protesting Catholic University of America’s recent acceptance of a $1 million grant from a foundation affiliated with the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers, saying the gift sends “a confusing message” that the brothers’ “anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing” of a school created by U.S. bishops.

The letter, which was made public Monday but delivered last week to Catholic University of America President John Garvey and Dean Andrew Abela, says the Koch brothers’ activism against unions and climate change science, among others, are in “stark contrast” to the church’s “traditional social justice teachings.” The brothers have given hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative and tea party groups particularly focused on energy policy and health care, among other things.

Al Jazeera America
 

83-year-old Sister Megan Rice continues her anti-nuclear activism in jail, pleads for a Catholic Church 'of the streets'

OCILLA, Ga. — Sister Megan Rice presses the palm of her hand against the glass in greeting, her blue eyes welcoming her visitor in a cell opposite hers. Lamps illuminate her oval face framed by cropped hair like a white halo. Her uniform — a green-striped jumpsuit, sneakers and a gray blanket that covers her slender shoulders — is not the norm for a Roman Catholic nun, but she sees her presence in Georgia's Irwin County Detention Center as answering her Christian calling.

The 83-year-old Rice has chosen to spend the final chapter of her life behind bars.

She faces a possible 30-year prison sentence on charges of interfering with national security and damaging federal property, resulting from an act of civil disobedience she committed in July last year.

Exhausted after hiking through the woods adjacent to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., that once provided the enriched uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, Rice, along with Michael Walli and Gregory Boertje-Obed splashed blood against the walls, put up banners and beat hammers "into plowshares" — a biblical reference to Isaiah 2:4, "They shall beat swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks."

The Guardian
 

A crucial decision that keeps Detroit in bankruptcy court and puts pensions at risk can immediately be appealed to a higher court, a judge said Monday.

But Judge Steven Rhodes said he still needs a day or two to think about whether he'll recommend that a federal appeals court put the case on a fast track.

At issue is Rhodes' 3 December opinion that changed the tone of Detroit's bankruptcy case. He found the city eligible to remake itself under Chapter 9, saying it was impossible for officials to genuinely negotiate before the July filing. He also declared that pensions aren't immune to cuts in a final plan, contrary to the Michigan constitution.

Attorney Lisa Fenning said pension funds aren't trying to stop the bankruptcy process and will continue to negotiate with the city as it tries to come up with a broad plan to restructure $18bn in long-term debt.

She said the best "middle ground" for her clients at the appeals court would be a decision that protects pensions but doesn't kill the overall case.

Sharon Levine, an attorney for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said an immediate appeal is important because the union is concerned that Rhodes' decision could be applied in other states where governments are struggling.

New York Times
 

GREELEY, Colo. — When Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County explains in speeches why he is not enforcing the state’s new gun laws, he holds up two 30-round magazines. One, he says, he had before July 1, when the law banning the possession, sale or transfer of the large-capacity magazines went into effect. The other, he “maybe” obtained afterward.

He shuffles the magazines, which look identical, and then challenges the audience to tell the difference.

“How is a deputy or an officer supposed to know which is which?” he asks.

Colorado’s package of gun laws, enacted this year after mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., has been hailed as a victory by advocates of gun control. But if Sheriff Cooke and a majority of the other county sheriffs in Colorado offer any indication, the new laws — which mandate background checks for private gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds — may prove nearly irrelevant across much of the state’s rural regions.

New York Times
 

An association of American professors with almost 5,000 members has voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities, the group announced Monday, making it the largest academic group in the United States to back a growing movement to isolate Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

The group, the American Studies Association, said that its members approved the boycott resolution by a 2-to-1 margin in online balloting that concluded Sunday night, with about a quarter of the members voting.

“The resolution is in solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom, and it aspires to enlarge that freedom for all, including Palestinians,” the American Studies Association said in a statement released Monday.

WORLD NEWS

The Guardian
 

The UN has launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian aid after exhausting funds raised to help Syria this year, and said nearly three-quarters of the country's population will need help in 2014.

It estimates that close to half of Syria's population has been displaced, while the World Food Programme says a similar number need "urgent, life-saving food assistance".

The former British foreign secretary David Miliband, now president of the International Rescue Committee, said large parts of the Syrian population were threatened by starvation.

The UN aims to raise a total of $6.5bn (£4bn) for Syria alone, 63% more than the $4bn target it set during its last appeal in June, which was only 60% funded.

More than 2.3 million refugees have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Kurdish north of Iraq, where many have struggled to find shelter, heating and food.

Reuters
 

Suicide bombers and gunmen killed scores of people in Iraq on Monday in attacks mostly targeting Shi'ite Muslim pilgrims and official buildings ahead of a major Shi'ite ritual next week.

Al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim militants have intensified attacks on the security forces, civilians and anyone seen as supporting the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad, tipping Iraq back into its deadliest levels of violence in five years.

The first major attack of the day came in Baiji, 180 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, when four men wearing explosive belts took over a police station after detonating a car bomb outside, police sources said.

Reuters
 

Russia signaled on Monday it was about to agree a loan deal with Ukraine to help its indebted neighbor stave off economic chaos and keep it in its former Soviet master's orbit.

In snowbound Kiev, the opposition went ahead with plans for another big rally for Tuesday against what they see as moves by President Viktor Yanukovich to sell out national interests to Russia after he backed away from a landmark deal with the European Union that would have shifted their country westwards.

An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested a credit would be agreed at talks with Yanukovich in Moscow on Tuesday, and Ukraine's energy minister said a deal was also very probable on lower prices for Russian gas.

Yanukovich has turned to Moscow for money after spurning the chance of joining a free trade pact with the EU, despite the risk of protests against him swelling. He also visited China this month as he sought the best deal for his country.

DW
 

The clashes broke out in a barracks close to the city center shortly before midnight and spread across the city, diplomats and witnesses said, adding that heavy machine guns and mortars were heard.

Salva Kiir blamed troops loyal to his arch-rival and former vice president, Riek Machar, for starting the attempted coup. Machar was sacked from the government in July.
"Your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba. The attackers fled and your forces are pursuing them. I promise you justice will prevail," Kiir told the people of South Sudan in a speech.

"I will not allow or tolerate such incidents once again in our new nation. I strongly condemn these criminal actions in the strongest terms possible," said Kiir, who was dressed in military uniform rather than his trademark suit and cowboy hat.

He said an overnight curfew would be imposed from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, and would remain in force until further notice.

DW
 

Merkel was joined by her new Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democrats and the head of the sister party to her Christian Democrats, Horst Seehofer of the CSU, at the signing of the coalition deal on Monday in Berlin.

Although the parties had previously agreed in principle to working together as a coalition, it still needed the formal backing from all three parties. This was secured when the SPD approved the coalition over the weekend after asking its 470,000-member base to vote on the deal.

On Monday, Merkel took the stage first to say a few words about the agreement and invoked Germany's first chancellor, CDU politician Konrad Adenauer.

"If two people always have the same opinion, then neither one is good for much," she said, referring to the long negotiations with the SPD.

Gabriel took the stage next, and cracked a joke right off the bat that was indicative of the friendly and familiar mood at the signing ceremony – a contrast to some of the tough talk that came during the weeks-long coalition talks.

Al Jazeera America
 

Israeli, Lebanese and United Nations military officers will meet on Monday in an attempt to defuse tension after cross-border shootings left an Israeli soldier dead and two Lebanese soldiers wounded.

Israeli troops shot two Lebanese soldiers early Monday, hours after a Lebanese army sniper killed an Israeli soldier, Shlomi Cohen, 31, as he drove along the volatile border near Rosh Hanikra late at night, the Israeli military said. Israel had no immediate details on the condition of the shot Lebanese soldiers.

The shootings raised the possibility of renewed fighting in the area, which has remained mostly quiet since a monthlong war in the summer of 2006, though an Israeli defense official said Israel had no interest in further escalation.

Lebanon's National News Agency (NAA) confirmed the shooting by a member of the Lebanese army, but it was not clear why the sniper opened fire. In the past, the Lebanese military opened fire after saying Israeli soldiers had tried to infiltrate the country.

Lebanese security officials did not immediately comment on the killing. Hezbollah, the Shia militia group that waged the war seven years ago, did not appear to be involved in the incident.

THE ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, HEALTH AND TECHNOLOGY

Spiegel Online
 

New York City and New Bern, North Carolina both face the same projected rise in sea levels, but while one is preparing for the worst, the other is doing nothing on principle. A glimpse into America's contradictory climate change planning.

When Veronica White and Tom Thompson stand on the coastline of their respective cities, 680 kilometers (423 miles) apart, they gaze out at the same ocean, but see different things.

White, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, believes "we have to prepare the entire coastline for disasters, including storms and rising floodwaters." Thompson, a former city planner in New Bern, North Carolina -- an eight-hour drive to the south -- argues the opposite. "All this panic about the climate always amazes me, but people like to believe horror stories," he says.

 

Bloomberg News
 

A former BP Plc (BP/) engineer deliberately destroyed evidence sought by the U.S. for a probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico well explosion and oil spill, a federal prosecutor said at the end of a trial in New Orleans.

Prosecutors charged the engineer, Kurt Mix, with two counts of obstruction of justice last year, alleging he deleted from his mobile phone text messages and voice mails related to BP’s effort to estimate the size of the spill. Mix was a senior engineer involved in leading efforts to cap the Macondo well as crude gushed into the gulf.

“Kurt Mix knew exactly what was on that text message string when he deleted it on Oct. 4 and 5 and intended to obstruct this grand jury investigation,” Leo Tsao, a federal prosecutor, told the jury today. “The defendant acted with corrupt intent when he deleted text messages.”

The blowout of BP’s deep-water Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010 killed 11 people and set off the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to resolve the federal criminal probe of its role in the spill.

The London-based company pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts including 11 for felony manslaughter, one misdemeanor under the Clean Water Act, one misdemeanor under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and one felony count of obstruction of Congress for misrepresenting the size of the spill.

Bloomberg News
 

The flood of North American crude oil is set to become a deluge as Mexico dismantles a 75-year-old barrier to foreign investment in its oil fields.

Plagued by almost a decade of slumping output that has degraded Mexico’s take from a $100-a-barrel oil market, President Enrique Pena Nieto is seeking an end to the state monopoly over one of the biggest crude resources in the Western Hemisphere. The doubling in Mexican oil output that Citigroup Inc. said may result from inviting international explorers to drill would be equivalent to adding another Nigeria to world supply, or about 2.5 million barrels a day.

That boom would augment a supply surge from U.S. and Canadian wells that Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) predicts will vault North American production ahead of every OPEC member except Saudi Arabia within two years. With U.S. refineries already choking on more oil than they can process, producers from Exxon to ConocoPhillips are clamoring for repeal of the export restrictions that have outlawed most overseas sales of American crude for four decades.

The Guardian
 

It is a story that flummoxed investigators – how a highly paid climate-change expert at the Environmental Protection Agency managed to defraud the government of nearly $1m, by pretending for a decade to be an undercover CIA agent.

John Beale, 65, is to undergo sentencing in a DC federal court on Wednesday, after pleading guilty to defrauding the government of $900,000 in salary and other benefits. Beale, who used his ruse to disappear for months at a time, has agreed to pay some $1.3m in restitution. He faces up to three years in jail.

The scandal could rebound against the current administrator of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, and her efforts to carry out President Barack Obama's climate-change agenda. Last week, an official investigation found that she knew of the fraud for more than a year. Other officials who worked with Beale at the agency are under investigation and in a report last week, the EPA inspector general said senior agency officials had “enabled” Beale by failing to challenge any of his stories or expense claims amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

How to do things right: a keyboard long-press on the x key in Android's SwiftKey keyboard will reveal a bunch of currency symbols. If only Windows, Chrome OS, and iOS adopted a similar approach.
(Credit: screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)
C/NET
 
For CNET's Stephen Shankland, 'tis the season to be a grinch about problems that sully his daily use of phones, PCs, and other devices -- especially those that can be fixed.

I know it's the season of thankfulness and giving, but it's time to complain.
I enjoy technology, and I appreciate how difficult it is to write all that software and design all that hardware. I use it every day, usually for many hours, and it has improved my life in countless ways. But when there are shortcomings I encounter over and over, my irritation skyrockets.

The thing is, many of these problems can be fixed. The computing industry is fixing big problems with USB ports and cables. I no longer have trouble getting iOS 7's control panel to show with a swipe up from the bottom of my iPad's screen. My ISP just upgraded my network at no charge to me so that my online backups take minutes or hours, instead of hours or days. Specks of dust on my SLR's image sensor were really irritating on my last camera but now hardly ever bug me. Improvements give me heart.

But for now, here's why my glass isn't always half full. I hope that some of these will be fixed in 2014.

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