Overnight News Digest
Welcome to the Overnight News Digest with a crew consisting of founder Magnifico, current leader Neon Vincent, regular editors jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999. Alumni editors include palantir, ek hornbeck, ScottyUrb, Interceptor7 and BentLiberal. The guest editor is annetteboardman.

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  • A Fatally Counterproductive National Identity.
    Parishioners pay their respects to the victims of an elementary school shooting while arriving for mass at St Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, Connecticut, December 16, 2012.  A young gunman slaughtered 20 small children and six teachers on December 14,201
    America is grieving, praying and discussing stronger gun laws after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday. But the latest horrifying massacre is unlikely to change anything. Gun ownership is an important, if misguided, element of the country's national identity.

    Nancy Lanza loved her yard -- and her weapons. "Guns were her hobby," Lanza's landscaper Dan Holmes told the Washington Post. "She told me she liked the single-mindedness of shooting."

    The 52-year-old was well-known in the community of Newtown, Connecticut. She was a regular at the local bar My Place and attended "ladies nights" to play dice with friends. But she only seldomly spoke of her quiet 20-year-old son, whom she often brought along to the shooting range. She owned three guns -- two pistols and a high-powered semi-automatic rifle made by Bushmaster, a military favorite.


The White House promised a comprehensive series of measures, including gun control legislation, on Monday to prevent a recurrence of mass shootings such as the "horrific" attack in Connecticut that left 20 children and six teachers dead.

The pledge came as the first cracks began to appear in the seemingly impregnable opposition to gun controls. Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama signalled that gun control would be a second term priority during a powerful speech on Sunday evening at a vigil for the victims in Newtown, at least two Democratic senators strongly identified with gun rights shifted position in favour of reform.

The killings in Connecticut appear to be bringing about a change in mood that was not evident after shooting sprees over the last decade. They include Virginia Tech in 2007, the attack on congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year and the Aurora cinema shootings in July this year.

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, at the daily briefing went further than Obama the night before in elaborating what kind of measures might be taken.

At the emotional vigil in Newtown, Obama appeared to abandon his reluctance to take on the gun lobby and delivered an impassioned speech in which he said change had to come.

In some of the most potent cultural images we have of cool cars, they are being driven by young men — Ron Howard cruising in American Graffiti, cousins Bo and Luke from The Dukes of Hazzard sliding over the hood of the General Lee, James Dean behind the wheel of his Porsche.

But these days some of the coolest things about our cars aren't there to dazzle the young. They're there to accommodate the aging. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, it's easy to see why.

Sharon Berlin, a research analyst with AAA, says research shows older drivers are more likely to wear seat belts. They're less likely to drink and drive. And, yes, they drive slower.

"In reality, what we know is that older drivers are actually among the safest drivers on the roads," Berlin says.

Berlin says driving is a function of ability, not necessarily a function of age. But with age come certain conditions that become more common.

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama and top Republican John Boehner met at the White House on Monday as hopes rose that Washington will be able to head off steep tax hikes and spending cuts that could push the economy into recession next year.

The 45-minute meeting is a further sign that talks to avert the "fiscal cliff" could be yielding progress after weeks of stalemate, and aides from both parties said they were optimistic that a deal could be reached in coming days.

"We're getting close," said one Democratic aide, who added however that a deal is not imminent.

Although both sides still had major differences, investors were cheered by signs of progress. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 0.95 percent at midday.

"The fiscal cliff is starting to get ironed out," said Frank Davis, director of sales and trading at LEK Securities.

California Highway Patrol division chief Jeff Talbott retired last year as the best-paid officer in the 12 most-populous U.S. states, collecting $483,581 in salary, pension and other compensation.
Talbott, 53, received $280,259 for accrued leave and vacation time and took a new job running the public-safety department at a private university in Southern California. He also began collecting an annual pension of $174,888 from the state.

Union-negotiated benefits, coupled with overtime that can exceed regular pay and lax enforcement of limits on accumulating unused vacation, allow some troopers to double their annual earnings and retire as young as age 50. The payments they get are unmatched by those elsewhere, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million employees of the 12 states. Some, like Talbott, go on to second careers.

The Hobbit film has set a record for December, taking $84.8m (£52.4m) in its opening weekend at the US box office.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey outperformed the $72.7m (£44.9m) US debut of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Peter Jackson's previous best opening in December 2003.

In second place was the animated family film Rise of the Guardians with $7.4m (£4.6m), according to studio estimates.

Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the US president made $7.2m (£4.4m).

The previous record for December was set by the sci-fi film, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, which pulled in $77.2m (£47.7m) when it debuted in 2007, although this figure has not been adjusted for inflation.

If you want to find out exactly how many guns are sold in the US each year, then the figures are not recorded.

However, if you want to know how many applications there are to buy guns each year, then the latest data from the FBI shows that 2012 looks like a bumper year for gun sales in America.

In the wake of the Newtown shooting in Connecticut, there is a renewed focus on gun control in the US. And, under US law, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used to check if someone can buy a gun from a federal registered dealer before they can walk out of the shop with it.


(Reuters) - Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa said that neither the forces of President Bashar al-Assad nor rebels seeking to overthrow him can win the war which is now being fought on the outskirts of Assad's powerbase in Damascus.

Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad's Alawite minority, has rarely been seen since the Syrian revolt erupted in March 2011 and is not part of the president's inner circle directing the fight against Sunni rebels.

But he is the most prominent figure to say in public that Assad will not win. He was speaking to Lebanon's al-Akhbar paper in an interview from Damascus, which is now hemmed in by rebel fighters to the south.

Assad's forces have used jets and artillery to try to dislodge the fighters from around Damascus but the violence has crept into the heart of the capital and activists said rebels overran three army stations in a new offensive in the central province of Hama on Monday.

(Reuters) - Afghanistan's Taliban movement claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kabul on Monday which targeted a U.S. contracting company and killed two Afghan civilians, underscoring security challenges ahead of a NATO pullout.

Hours earlier, a blast in eastern Afghanistan killed 10 Afghan girls, between nine and 11 years old, as they collected firewood.

The Taliban and its allies have staged high-profile attacks in Kabul over the past few years against Western targets, including embassies. Attacks on Western companies are rare.

"A suicide car bomber attacked an important American company which is involved in security," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

"The company was under our surveillance for a long time and today we succeeded."

After more than a decade of war against Western forces with superior firepower and technology, the Taliban remain a potent force capable of striking in the heart of Kabul.

(Reuters) - Global shares advanced on Monday, bolstered by signs of tentative progress on negotiations over the U.S. "fiscal cliff," while a win by Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party lifted the dollar to a 20-month high against the yen.

The biggest moves of the day came in the currency market following a landslide election victory for Japan's LDP on Sunday, which opened the way for a shift in economic strategy in an effort to lift the world's third-largest economy out of recession.

The triumph was seen as piling pressure on the Bank of Japan to ease further at its next policy meeting, which ends on Thursday, setting the stage for an even bigger fall in the yen. Looser monetary policy and more spending would be expected to weaken the currency, which would help make exports more profitable.

An investigation into the fire that killed more than 100 workers at a Bangladesh garment factory has found that it was an act of sabotage and that managers at the plant prevented victims from escaping.

Main Uddin Khandaker, who conducted the inquiry, told the AFP news agency on Monday that the owner of the factory, Delwar Hossain should face murder charges for "gross negligence and unpardonable crime".

"We have suggested legal action against him and nine of his mid-level managers who barred the workers from leaving the burning factory," he said.

The Tazreen factory fire was the most fatal Bangladesh has seen. The factory, located on the outskirts of Dhaka, was supplying clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs.

Khandaker said: "There was no possibility of the fire originating due to an electric short-circuit or any other reason," without suggesting who might have triggered the fire or why.

He said the fire in the middle of the factory warehouse in the ground floor was initially small when it broke out on the night of November 24.

"But there was no attempt to douse it. We suggested that the government set up a taskforce to find out the people responsible for this heinous act."

The owner told reporters after the blaze that he believed it was started deliberately but gave no details.

It's the end of the world – unless you're in the Chinese Communist party. Over the past few weeks, Chinese authorities have detained over 93 people across seven provinces for spreading rumours that the end is nigh, laying bare the party's obsession with social stability and maintaining its tight grip on power.

Many people in China believe in the so-called "Mayan apocalypse" – slated to take place on 21 December, the last day on the Mayan long count calendar – because it was the central premise of the disaster film 2012, a box office sensation in China when it was released three years ago.

A man who slashed 22 schoolchildren last week in Henan province was "psychologically affected" by doomsday rumours, wrote the state newswire Xinhua. Shoppers in Sichuan province have been panic buying candles, convinced that Friday will kick off three consecutive days of darkness.

Egypt's new public prosecutor, appointed by President Mohamed Morsi last month, has resigned from his post, judicial sources and the main state newspaper al-Ahram reports.

The resignation of Public Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah on Monday follows a furore among members of the judiciary who said Morsi's decision in November to sack the former public prosecutor and appoint Abdallah was an assault on the independence of the judiciary.

A judicial source also told the AFP news agency that Abdallah had "submitted his resignation under pressure from protesters", referring to magistrates who have been clamouring for his immediate departure.

Al-Ahram said Abdallah's resignation would be presented to the Supreme Judicial Council on Sunday.

In his resignation letter, which was published by state news agency MENA, Abdallah said he wished to "return to his work in the judicial system."

Hundreds of public prosecutors staged a sit-in outside Abdallah's office in Cairo on Monday, demanding he resign. They said the president's appointment of Abdallah was improper, and that the Supreme Judicial Council should have been the one to nominate him, in order to ensure a separation of powers.


What do Jesuit priests, gin and tonics, and ancient Chinese scrolls have in common? They all show up in our animated history of malaria.

It's a story of geopolitical struggles, traditional medicine, and above all, a war of escalation between scientists and a tiny parasite. Malaria has proved to be a wily foe: Every time we think we have it backed into a corner, it somehow escapes.

An old complaint about the safety of childhood vaccines is finding new life at the United Nations.

The U.N. Environment Program is considering a ban on thimerosal, a vaccine preservative that is widely used in developing countries. The program expects to make a decision sometime after a final meeting on the issue in January.

Thimerosal, which contains a form of mercury, was removed from most childhood vaccines in the U.S. and Europe more than a decade ago, amid public fear that it could cause autism. Several large studies later found no risk from the preservative and that removing it did nothing to change autism rates.

Now the proposal before the U.N. has public health officials once again trying to reassure people that thimerosal is safe. Three separate papers in the journal Pediatrics argue against an international ban.

(Reuters) - Apple Inc sold more than 2 million iPhone 5s in China in just three days after its launch there on Friday, its best ever smartphone launch in the country, but Apple shares fell on Monday after Citi downgraded the stock.

The highly anticipated release in China, Apple's second-biggest market, has not eased worries about stiffer competition in mobile devices that has driven a slide in the share price of the world's most valuable technology company.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said last week that Apple had started cutting orders to iPhone suppliers to balance excess inventory.

Sales of Amazon.com Inc's cheaper Kindle Fire tablets have also surged this year and rival Microsoft Corp recently forayed into the market with its Surface.

Apple shares have fallen on seven of the last 10 trading days, with several analysts cutting their price targets on the company's stock.

The shares were down 1.3 percent at $502.76 in early trading on the Nasdaq. The stock has shed nearly 13 percent of its value since the beginning of this month to Friday's close.

A British attempt to search for life in an ancient lake beneath the Antarctic ice-sheet has run into trouble.

The team has reported "a serious problem" with the main boiler used to heat the water that powers a drill.

Work was halted on Saturday in what could prove to be a major blow to the project to investigate sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth.

The aim is to use 90C water to blast a hole through the two-mile-thick ice-sheet to reach the lake waters below.

The research goal is to gather samples of water and sediment to search for signs of life and clues about the region's climatic history.

Prof Martin Siegert, chief scientist of the project, said: "The technical difficulties are something that are not unfamiliar in Antarctica - it's a hostile environment and very difficult to do things smoothly.

"The good news is that we found the fault relatively early on in our deployment system and so we have quite a lot of fuel that is left remaining. If we didn't have that of course we wouldn't be able to continue any further.

Massive UN climate summits have been held for years, but accomplished little. Believing there is almost no chance of securing a global deal on reducing emissions, experts now want to ditch the current system and try something new.

The feeling of déjà vu was difficult to ignore. Immediately following the recently ended climate conference in Doha, German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier insisted that the gathering had "opened the door to the future of international climate protection."

Using data from Chandra observations of 62 nearby galaxies and data from the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey, scientists have shown that 37 of the galaxies contain X-ray sources in their centers that are most likely powered by central supermassive black holes.

The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (red), and optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope (yellow). The inset shows the central region, which contains a bright X-ray source that is likely powered by material falling onto a supermassive black hole.

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