As your faithful scribe, I welcome you all to another edition of Overnight News Digest.
I am most pleased to share this platform with jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, rfall, JLM9999 and side pocket. Additionally, I wish to recognize our alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb along with annetteboardman as our guest editor.
Neon Vincent is our editor-in-chief.
Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Tepco Formally Declares Surviving Fukushima No. 1 Reactors Defunct
Tokyo Electric Power Co. officially declared Wednesday that the two reactors that suffered no major damage at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in the 2011 disaster are defunct, meaning the nation will have only 48 operable commercial reactors.
“With this decision, all of the plant’s six reactors will be classified as defunct,” Tepco said in a press release following a meeting of its board. “It is extremely regrettable that we hugely betrayed the local people’s trust due to the accident and are deeply ashamed of ourselves.”
Reactors 5 and 6 will be classified as defunct on Jan. 31, but instead of dismantling them, Tepco may use them as experimental facilities to support the challenging task of scrapping the three reactors that experienced meltdowns and the other one crippled by a hydrogen explosion.
The public has been demanding that Tepco scrap both the Fukushima No. 1 and nearby Fukushima No. 2 plants. The utility has not made clear what it intends to do with the four-reactor Fukushima No. 2 complex, located about 12 km south of the crisis-ridden Fukushima No. 1 facility.
Britain To Start Issuing Plastic Money In 2016
Paper or plastic? No, not what kind of bag do you want your purchases in; it's what kind of money you’ll use to pay for them, at least in Britain.
The Bank of England announced Wednesday that, beginning in 2016, it will start issuing polymer banknotes -- in other words, plastic money -- in place of the paper kind. New five-pound bills put into circulation that year will not only feature a portrait of Winston Churchill but should be more resistant against wear and tear and unintended journeys through the washing machine.
The switch to plastic is expected to save money, in more ways than one. The polymer banknotes should last at least 2 1/2 times longer than paper ones, officials say. And that means printing costs will be less in the long run.
“Ensuring trust and confidence in money is at the heart of what central banks do,” Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, said in a statement. “Polymer notes are the next step in the evolution of banknote design to meet that objective. The quality of polymer notes is higher, they are more secure from counterfeiting and they can be produced at lower cost to the taxpayer and the environment.”
Before deciding to tinker with the banknotes, the central bank went on a listening tour in the fall, going across the country patiently explaining the benefits of plastic bills and collecting feedback. Bank officials said that nearly 13,000 people responded: 87% approved of polymer notes, 6% disapproved and 7% were neutral.
One skeptical man told the BBC that the prototype felt "a bit like Monopoly money."
Putin Gambles On Ukraine Bailout
President Vladimir Putin has taken a gamble with Russia's own fragile economy by bailing out Ukraine for the sake of keeping it in Moscow's orbit and out of the European Union's embrace.
But Russia has had to tap into a rainy-day fund to afford the bailout at a time when its own economy, driven by energy exports, is in trouble. And it is not clear what it gets in return bar influence over the second most populous ex-Soviet state, whose 46-million population is a third that of Russia but whose ailing economy is less than a tenth the size.
Ukraine's leaders also face risks. Although Ukraine's prime minister hailed as historic a deal which offers his indebted nation at least temporary economic respite, it could swell numbers at anti-government, pro-EU protests in the capital.
About 3,000 protesters were camped behind high barricades in a central Kiev square after opposition leaders called for mass rallies to bring down Yanukovich for "selling out" Ukraine's national interests and independence to its historic overlord Moscow - and spurning a free trade pact with the EU.
Drug Maker’s Donations to Co-Pay Charity Face Scrutiny
As drug prices have soared in recent years and insurers have increased co-payments, a new type of charity has blossomed to fill a vital niche — helping patients pay the steep out-of-pocket costs for their medicines.
But the largest of these co-payment assistance charities, the Chronic Disease Fund, is now in turmoil after questions have arisen about its relationship with a pharmaceutical company that is itself under investigation for marketing practices.
The practice is casting a spotlight on what has long been an open secret: The bulk of the contributions to these charities come from the pharmaceutical companies themselves. The foundations not only help hundreds of thousands of patients a year, they also raise drug company sales and profits.
After all, if a patient cannot afford out-of-pocket costs of $5,000 for a $100,000-a-year drug, the drug company gets nothing. But if the manufacturer pays the $5,000, the patient gets the drug and the company receives $95,000 from the patient’s insurance company or Medicare
Ex-JPMorgan Vice President James Hertz Avoids Prison In Bid Rig Case
US District Judge Kimba Wood in New York today declined to impose those punishments or to order probation, defence attorney Edward Gargiulo said in an emailed statement.
“If the government really wanted to change Wall Street, it would charge the Jamie Dimons, not the Jim Hertzs,” Gargiulo said by email, referring to the chairman of JPMorgan.
Hertz’s 2010 guilty plea came during the US government’s multiyear investigation of bid-rigging on investment contracts. JPMorgan, Bank of America, UBS, Wells Fargo and General Electric acknowledged that former employees engaged in illegal activity. The companies paid $US743 million in restitution and penalties.
Hertz and co-conspirators decided in advance whose financial institution-employer would be the winning bidder for certain investment agreements or other municipal finance contracts, the US Justice Department said in a statement issued after his guilty plea three years ago.
“Restitution is still to be determined,” [Wyn Hornbuckle, a Justice Department spokesman] said today in a phone interview. Hertz also must pay a $300 special assessment fee.
Science and Technology
Genome Of Neandertals Reveals Inbreeding
If you think Europe’s royal families had a limited gene pool after centuries of inbreeding, consider the Neandertals of Siberia. In a report on the most complete genome of a Neandertal ever sequenced, an international team of researchers has found that the parents of a Neandertal woman from Siberia were as closely related as half-siblings.
The genome also shows that at some point the Neandertals interbred with other human groups, including their cousins the Denisovans, and our own modern human ancestors. There are even signs of Denisovans interbreeding with a mysterious archaic species. In all, the study suggests very close encounters among the several kinds of hominins living in the past 125,000 years. The detailed genome of the extinct Neandertals—our closest relatives—also offers a new look at the genetic differences that set our species apart from all the others.
The Neandertal DNA came from a toe bone, which dates to as old as 50,000 years ago, found in 2010 at the bottom of Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. DNA from a finger bone from the cave revealed the identity of a new type of human in 2010—the Denisovans, who were close relatives of Neandertals. The cold cave preserved the DNA in both the Neandertal toe bone and Denisovan finger bone so well that a team led by Svante Pääbo, a paleogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was able to produce high-quality genomes, in which each position of DNA was sequenced on average 50 times over. Although the group published a draft sequence patched together from different Neandertals in Europe in 2010, it was of much lower quality and had many gaps.
By comparing this Siberian Neandertal’s genome directly with the genetic codes of the Denisovan, another Neandertal from the Caucasus and 25 modern humans, Pääbo and his colleagues could tell that this Siberian Neandertal was the product of inbreeding and that her ancestors also chose their mates from their extended family. This suggests that this Neandertal woman came from a small, isolated population, the team reports online today in Nature. Researchers have known for several years that Neandertals in Europe had far less genetic diversity than modern humans alive at the same time. But “it was surprising that they were half-sibs or something like that,” Pääbo says.
Seven Distinct African Crocodile Species, Not Just Three, Biologists Show
African crocodiles, long thought of as just three known species, are among the most iconic creatures on that continent. But recent University of Florida research now finds that there are at least seven distinct African crocodile species.
The UF team's latest discovery, led by then-doctoral candidate Matthew H. Shirley, is that what had been believed to be a single species of slender-snouted crocodile, is actually two.
The results emphasize how little is known about crocodile biogeography, or how species are distributed geographically over time, in Western and Central Africa, said Jim Austin, a co-author on the paper and Shirley's doctoral adviser at UF.
In the paper, Shirley and his team describe that West African populations of the slender-snouted crocodile do not share the same genetic or specific physical features as those populations in Central Africa -- and they estimate the two populations have been separated from each other geographically for at least 7 million years.
Society and Culture
Masked Army: Shadowy Jihadist Group Expands Rapidly in Syria
A murderous Islamist group called ISIS is obstructing Syrian rebels in their battle against President Bashar Assad's regime. The Free Syrian Army seems barely able to put up a fight in the face of their brutal tactics.
The sender was unidentified, but the young engineer knew who the email was from as soon as he opened the attachment. Beneath a picture of the brutally mutilated corpse of Muhannad Halaibna, a civil rights activist known throughout the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, was a single sentence: "Are you sad now about your friend?"
Mere hours later, the engineer and 20 other members of the Syrian opposition -- doctors, city council members and activists -- escaped from Raqqa into Turkey. They weren't fleeing Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, but a new and terrible power that has no face and goes by many names. The official name of this al-Qaida branch, which has broken away from Osama Bin Laden's successors, is the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS). "Daaisch" is the most common abbreviation of the group's name in Syria. "But we call them the Army of Masks," says Basil, the engineer who fled the country, "because their men rarely show their faces. They dress in black, with their faces covered."
[...] Anyone who opposes the ISIS fighters, or who is simply considered an unbeliever, disappears.
ISIS maintains four prisons for holding its hostages in this area alone. And Raqqa was only the beginning. In the last four months, the jihadist group, which was still essentially unknown in Syria at the start of this year, has seized control of several cities, as well as strategically important roads, oil fields and granaries.
Obama Names Billie Jean King As One Of Two Gay Sochi Olympic Delegates
Barack Obama is sending Russia a clear message about its treatment of gays and lesbians with his choices to represent the United States as delegates at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The tennis great Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the US delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies. For the first time since 2000 the US will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice-president to the games.
Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning "gay propaganda". Though the White House did not specifically address the Russian laws in making its announcement on Tuesday, spokesman Shin Inouye said the delegation "represents the diversity that is the United States" and that Obama "knows they will showcase to the world the best of America diversity, determination and teamwork".
The White House said Obama's schedule would not permit him to attend the games.
Well, that's different...
Insane Clown Posse’s biographer Nathan Rabin told the New York Times he’s a little disenchanted with the hard-core outlaw rock group. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope seem “incredibly defanged,” “two affable, middle-aged men in clown makeup.” Said Violent J, “I just want to come home, be with my kids, just kick back and watch TV.”
Bill Moyers and Company:
Cultural Historian: Richard Slotkin