The Overnight News Digest is an ongoing evening series dedicated to chronicling the day's news that the editor de la nuit finds of import or interest. Everyone is welcome to add their own news items in the comments. Tonight, I am featuring news from around the world.
- NYT - Boehner Cancels Tax Vote in Face of G.O.P. Revolt
Speaker John A. Boehner’s effort to pass fallback legislation to avert a fiscal crisis in less than two weeks collapsed Thursday night in an embarrassing defeat after conservative Republicans refused to support legislation that would allow taxes to rise on the most affluent households in the country.
House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a vote on the bill after they failed to rally enough votes for passage in an emergency meeting about 8 p.m. Within minutes, dejected Republicans filed out of the basement meeting room and declared there would be no votes to avert the “fiscal cliff” until after Christmas. With his “Plan B” all but dead, the speaker was left with the choice to find a new Republican way forward or to try to get a broad deficit reduction deal with President Obama that could win passage with Republican and Democratic votes.
- NYT - Kerry Suggests Military Role in Diplomats’ Security
Senator John Kerry said Thursday that the United States needed to re-examine how the military might play a greater role in protecting diplomats in dangerous regions in the wake of the attack on the mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 that led to the death of four Americans…
“It’s something we really need to pay attention to and think about in terms of deployment and preparedness,” he said.
Pentagon officials have reacted cautiously to the idea of assuming any new commitments without additional financing from Congress at a time when the size of the armed forces is shrinking, with the end of operations in Iraq and the winding down of the mission in Afghanistan. But foreshadowing possible tensions with the Pentagon, Mr. Kerry pointed out that the United State last year spent about $650 billion on the military, about 10 times the country’s budget for international affairs.
- Global Post - Study: Squeezing breasts can prevent cancer — yes, really
According to a new study, squeezing breasts can prevent cancer. Yes, really.
More specifically, the, ahem, fresh research from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that mechanical force can stop the rapid growth of cancer cells as well as guide them back to a normal, healthy growth pattern.The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco. In the studies, researchers grew malignant breast epithelial cells in a flexible silicone chamber. They would squeeze the silicone when the cells reached a new stage, and found that the compression aided in stopping the growth…
- NYT - Leniency Denied, UBS Unit Admits Guilt in Rate Case
UBS on Wednesday became the first big global bank in more than two decades to have a subsidiary plead guilty to fraud.
UBS, the Swiss bank, scrambled until the last minute to avoid that fate… But the government did not budge…On Wednesday, UBS announced it would plead guilty to one count of felony wire fraud as part of a broader settlement. With federal prosecutors, British, Swiss and American regulators secured about $1.5 billion in fines, more than triple the only other rate-rigging case, against Barclays. The Justice Department also filed criminal charges against two former UBS traders.
- Bloomberg - Czech Coalition at Risk After Minister Fired, Peake Says
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas’s governing coalition risks collapsing after his deputy Karolina Peake was fired as defense minister eight days into the job, she said today.
“This is the factual end of the government,” Peake said in comments broadcast on state-run Czech Television. Her LIDEM party’s five lawmakers provide vital support to the government in the 200-seat parliament, where Necas is struggling to muster a ruling majority.Peake, 37, removed a group of top officials from the Defense Ministry last week after taking office, even though she had publicly pledged not to make any major personnel changes.
- Reuters - Norway seeks to slow deforestation as climate "first aid"
Norway, which has led developed nations by investing billions of dollars to slow tropical deforestation, announced plans on Wednesday to step up its efforts as part of "first aid" to slow climate change.Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, whose country is rich thanks to offshore oil and gas, said new measures to slow global warming were needed now because a new U.N.-led climate deal is due to be agreed only in 2015 and enter into force from 2020."In the meantime we must give the climate first aid," he told a news conference. "The government will step up its efforts to slow deforestation and work to cut emissions that give the greatest climate effect in the shortest time," he said. Stoltenberg did not, however, announce fresh investments or targets.
- LAT - Putin further distances Russia from Syria's Assad
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday that change was needed in Damascus, further distancing Moscow from Syrian President Bashar Assad in another sign that Assad's support may be fraying even among his few remaining allies.
Putin made the comments as a United Nations panel concluded that Syria's raging conflict had become "overtly sectarian" and was drawing foreign fighters after almost two years of violence and tens of thousands of deaths.Putin said Russia would not back Assad, long a close ally, "at any price," and he used some of the Kremlin's strongest language to date indicating that Russia recognized that Assad's days were numbered.
- Guardian - EU fishing quotas defy scientific advice, say conservationists
Fishing fleets will be allowed to extract more fish from European waters than scientists advise is safe next year, after two days and nights of negotiations in Brussels on the EU's fishing quotas. But there may be fewer discards, if predictions by fisheries ministers are correct.
Nearly half of the quotas set were in excess of the best scientific advice, according to the sea conservation organisation Oceana. Greenpeace said the agreement allowed for more fish to be caught than was sustainable, pointing to scientific concerns about overfishing of stocks around Ireland, including in the Irish Sea, north-west of Scotland and in the wider Atlantic waters west of Ireland.
- Spiegel - How the Grimms Cast a Spell on the World
Once upon a time, two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to gather folk stories for posterity. Little did they know that the collection of tales they published would become one of the most widely read works in history, capturing the popular imagination around the world for generations.
Two hundred years ago today, on December 20, 1812, the Grimm brothers published the first edition of their "Kinder- und Hausmärchen," or "Children's and Household Tales," now commonly known as "Grimms' Fairy Tales." Aside from the Luther Bible, it is the considered to be the most widely distributed literary work of German origin, with translations in more than 160 languages. Not only were the Grimms pioneers in the scientific documentation of folklore, they also provided a seemingly endless source of inspiration for writers, artists and filmmakers."The fairy tale genre is fascinating because it's all around us all the time," says prominent fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes. "We imbibe it without even knowing we're doing it. It's in film, opera, ballet, in our daily lives, in publicity -- we refer to fairy tales as a reference point in our lives. We even try to lead our lives like fairy tales."
- BBC - UN backs Mali intervention force to oust rebels
The UN Security Council has authorised an African-led military force to try to oust Islamists from northern Mali. The council unanimously voted to give the force an initial one-year mandate.
The resolution also sets "benchmarks" for Mali, including political reconciliation and improved training for the military. Armed groups, some linked to al-Qaeda, took control of northern Mali after a military coup in March and established a harsh form of Islamic law.The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) says it has 3,300 troops ready to go to Mali - although an operation is not expected to begin before September 2013.
- Reuters - Kenyan separatists fail in court bid to block elections on coast
A Kenyan court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed by separatists to suspend national elections in the country's coastal region and instead hold a referendum on independence.
Hundreds of supporters of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) left the High Court building in Kenya's biggest port in disappointment after the ruling, escorted by riot police.The MRC has threatened to disrupt voting in national elections next March if their demand for secession of the Indian Ocean coastal strip, which includes Kenya's popular tourist beaches, is not met by authorities in Nairobi.
- NYT - Syria Unleashes Cluster Bombs on Town, Punishing Civilians
The plane came in from the southeast late in the afternoon, releasing its weapons in a single pass. Within seconds, scores of finned bomblets struck and exploded on the homes and narrow streets of this small Syrian town.
After the screams and the desperate gathering of the victims, the staff at the local Freedom Hospital counted 4 dead and 23 wounded. All were civilians, doctors and residents said.Many forms of violence and hardship have befallen Syria’s people as the country’s civil war has escalated this year. But the Syrian government’s attack here on Dec. 12 pointed to one of the war’s irrefutable patterns: the deliberate targeting of civilians by President Bashar al-Assad’s military, in this case with a weapon that is impossible to use precisely.
- Business Week - Iraq's Oil Surge Could Threaten the Saudis
Iraq’s increased production, combined with the oil shale bonanza in the U.S. and higher output in Libya and Nigeria, is testing Saudi Arabia’s position as the swing producer—the country with enough spare capacity to tap in times of shortage and rich enough to withhold when the market is flooded. Iraq’s current daily production doesn’t yet threaten that role. But with Iraq publicly setting an optimal target of more than 6 million barrels a day, the Saudis may eventually find it hard to rein in their neighbor. “Saudi Arabia’s dilemma is that while it’s the key OPEC player willing to cut back oil production to sustain prices at desired levels, it’s also accommodating Iraq’s rising output and market share,” says Julius Walker, global energy markets strategist at UBS Securities (UBS) in New York. “Ultimately, there will need to be an agreement between the two as to how to balance these ambitions.”
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi needs to keep oil prices high enough to fund his country’s $600 billion social spending plans—accelerated by the Arab Spring—without incurring the wrath of consumers worldwide. Iraq, now the second-biggest supplier in OPEC, has a different priority: to rebuild its industry after decades of war.
- LAT - Members of Afghanistan's warring sides gather in France
Members of Afghanistan’s warring sides gathered near Paris on Thursday to begin informal talks about the country’s future as U.S. and NATO forces pull out.
It was the first time that senior figures in the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami insurgent groups met with Afghan government officials and members of the former Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban for years.
Organizers of the two-day gathering, which is being hosted by a French think tank, hope it will generate helpful discussions, but have said there will not be negotiations for a peace deal.International efforts to draw the Taliban and other government opponents to the bargaining table are intensifying amid fears that the country could slide into civil war after the departure of most foreign troops by the end of 2014. U.S. and Afghan officials have been negotiating conditions for the presence of American forces to train, advise and assist government forces after combat troops withdraw.
- Guardian - David Cameron confirms British withdrawal from Afghanistan starting in April
David Cameron has confirmed that British troops will begin to return home from Afghanistan in their thousands next April as ministers urged the Taliban to engage in peace talks and accept that "reconciliation is not surrender".
Shortly after making the announcement, Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, conceded that the withdrawal of Nato forces would lead to "messy compromises", and that in all likelihood, "some parts of Afghanistan will not be under central government control"."It is not a perfect democracy and it never will be," he said.
- AP - Polio workers get police protection in Pakistan
Under police guard, thousands of health workers pressed on with a polio immunisation program Thursday after nine were killed elsewhere in Pakistan by suspected militants who oppose the vaccination campaign. Immunisations were halted in some parts of Pakistan and the UN suspended its field participation everywhere until better security was arranged for its workers…
Militants have accused health workers of acting as spies for the US, alleging the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile. Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s troubled northwest tribal region also said earlier this year that vaccinations can’t go forward until the US stops drone strikes in the country.Insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country’s northwest.
- Times of India - Punjab among safest in the country, says Sukhbir Badal
Cornered by the opposition over deteriorating law and order situation in Punjab, the SAD-BJP government has portrayed the state as "among the safest in the country."
Marking the end of debate in Vidhan Sabha on law and order, mooted by himself, deputy chief minister-cum-home minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday cited figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, claiming, "Punjab is the safest state in the country with negative crime rate during the last five years."Arguing that a government's performance should be adjudged by the action taken, Sukhbir defended the state government in the case pertaining to ASI Ravinderpal's murder while saving his daughter's honour, saying, "All the accused were arrested within seven hours, the prime accused, who was an Akali leader, was dismissed from party and those who recommended his name too were dismissed and the SHO of the police station was also dismissed for dereliction of duty."
- China Daily - Li builds case for urbanization
Urbanization will be the main driver of economic growth for the future, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday. Growth will be more focused, with the onus on quality and efficiency, not just speed, Li said.
"Economic growth must be real," he said at a meeting discussing reform.Growth will have to ensure more job opportunities, higher incomes, better performances by enterprises and more effective use of energy and resources, he said. Domestic demand, especially from unprecedented urbanization, will overtake exports to become the main driver of the economy, Li said.
- SMH - Japan props up floundering whale business: Greenpeace
The dire state of Japan's whaling industry has been highlighted in a Greenpeace analysis showing the whalers sell so little whale meat they are almost wholly dependent on taxpayer help.
The industry has been able to reach deep into government subsidy schemes to prop up its fortunes and set up the key factory ship Nisshin Maru to run for another decade, the analysis says. And with the return to power of the Liberal Democratic Party leader, Shinzo Abe, as next prime minister of Japan, observers see a strengthened pro-whaling lobby in Tokyo.Already about a month from departing for its Antarctic season, Nisshin Maru returned to port in Innoshima on Thursday after four hours at sea, Greenpeace said
- SMH - Coal industry in last-minute push against renewable energy goal
Coal miners have launched a last-minute lobbying bid against the extension of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), releasing a study challenging the policy’s effectiveness.
The independent Climate Change Authority is due to reveal its final recommendations on the RET review at 10am AEDT this morning, in a decision likely to be closely watched by the electricity industry.
The authority’s draft report in October backed the retention of the current settings even though renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are on course to exceed the goal of 20 per cent of total generation by 2020, arguing changes to the policy would create uncertainty for investors in the sector.The Australian Coal Association (ACA), a lobby group representing coal miners, said an assessment prepared by the Centre for International Economics found the RET failed five key measures of policy effectiveness.
- MercoPress - Chavez January 10 inauguration could be delayed, suggests top Bolivarian official
For the first time a government official in Venezuela has raised the possibility that Hugo Chavez's January 10 inauguration could be delayed as the president struggles to recover from his latest cancer surgery in Cuba.
Comments by National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello suggest government officials may postpone the inauguration to accommodate Chavez's recovery.Any delay would outrage the opposition, which has insisted for months that Chavez officially hand over power while he convalesces in Cuba. The constitution says he should be sworn-in again on January 10, but there are conflicting interpretations over what would happen if he is not.
- LAHT - Colombia Probes Alleged Drug Ring Inside Army
Colombia’s Defense Ministry has launched an investigation into drug trafficking by the military after seven soldiers – including a major – were arrested with a total of more than 100 kilos of marijuana in their possession.
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and armed forces commander Gen. Alejandro Navas made the announcement after six soldiers were caught transporting 25 kilos of pot on a Hercules plane and Maj. Edisson Javier Garcia was arrested with 79 kilos in a vehicle.
- MercoPress - Brazil to investigate corruption allegations involving Lula da Silva
Brazil’s Attorney General said the country’s judiciary will investigate allegations that former President Lula da Silva took part in the cash-for-votes scheme that toppled several of his closest aides.
Last month, the Supreme Court handed down lengthy prison terms to several top Lula da Silva aides for their role in the so-called “mensalao” scandal, or the “big monthly payments” paid to lawmakers to vote with the government between 2003 and 2005.
- Guardian - Chinese mining firm to raze Peruvian peak for 35 years of mineral wealth
They call the mountain Toromocho, which means "bull without horns". But to its new, Chinese owners, the name is irrelevant: the rugged peak is packed with copper, silver and molybdenum, an element used in alloys. It could be worth as much as $50bn (£30bn). Toromocho must go.
And so must the people living there. The nearby ramshackle town of Morococha is home to 5,000 people. With adobe and brick houses, intermittent electricity and no running or safe water, theirs is no life of ease; the town's got to go, too.
- LAT - 23 die in attempted Mexican prison break
A riot and foiled prison break late Tuesday in the drug gang-infested state of Durango left at least 23 people dead, including 14 inmates and nine guards, after prisoners attacked their captors with rocks and then firearms.
The state-run prison in the central Mexican city of Gomez Palacio made headlines in the summer of 2010 when the warden at the time was jailed after inmates were allowed to borrow guns from guards. Those inmates also were allowed to leave the prison at night and committed killings while they were out, federal authorities alleged at the time.On Wednesday, Jesus Rosso, Durango’s public security secretary, said investigators were looking into how the inmates managed to get ahold of the weapons they allegedly used to kill a number of prison guards in Tuesday's incident.
- Canadian Press - Demise of one-cent coin to cost taxpayers a pretty penny
The demise of Canada’s one-cent coin next year will cost taxpayers a pretty penny.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the impending withdrawal of the penny in last March’s budget, saying the government would save $11-million a year in production costs. That’s because production of each one-cent coin had cost the Royal Canadian Mint about 1.6 cents.But a new analysis of costs shows that redeeming the mountain of circulating pennies beginning Feb. 4 will cost taxpayers about $7.3-million a year.