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
Obama Highlights Common Ground With Pope Francis
When a White House speechwriter turned in a draft of a major speech on economic policy this month, President Obama sent it back with an unusual instruction: Add a reference to the pope.
The final version of the speech quoted directly from Pope Francis' recent letter to the faithful: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?" he said.
The citation marked a notable development in Obama's complex and sometimes confrontational relationship with the Roman Catholic Church: After several years of high-profile clashes with U.S. bishops, Obama is seizing the chance to highlight common ground with the bishop of Rome.
Quoting the pope isn't likely to yield direct electoral dividends for Obama's party — the once-vaunted "Catholic vote" largely disappeared long ago. But in a string of effusive praise, the president has made clear he sees the pope as a like-minded thinker and potentially useful ally in a crucial battle of ideas, particularly on the importance of shrinking the gulf between rich and poor, a subject Obama has pushed repeatedly but with limited success.
World From Berlin: Clemency 'A Master Stroke Of Secret Diplomacy'
By releasing Mikhail Khodorkovsky from prison, Russian President Vladimir Putin has eliminated a political burden that has dogged relations between Moscow and the West for years. German editorialists say it is a highly symbolic move ahead of the Olympics.
With his arrival in the German capital on Friday, former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was granted clemency by Russian President Vladimir Putin and released from prison in a dramatic turn of events, has become one of the biggest political stories of the year in Berlin.
Dozens of reporters from around the world turned out on Sunday for the first press conference to be given by the newly free man. Khodorkovsky spent a decade in prison after being convicted in two politically driven trials that created tremendous international pressure for Putin, who has been accused by governments from Washington to Berlin of violating human rights.
In Berlin, the former oligarch said he has no immediate plans to return to Russia, that he will not fight to regain his shares in the oil firm Yukos, which the government stripped from him, and that he will not become politically active.
In Harshest Move Yet, Egypt Declares Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Group
Egypt’s military-backed leaders on Wednesday designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, outlawing the country’s most successful political movement and vowing to treat anyone who belongs to it — or even takes part in its activities — as a terrorist.
The country’s leaders have been locked in conflict with the movement since July, when the military deposed Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and a former Brotherhood leader. The state’s security forces have killed hundreds of the movement’s supporters during protests against Mr. Morsi’s removal. Most of the Brotherhood’s leaders and thousands of its members have been imprisoned.
Analysts said the designation opened the door to the most severe crackdown on the movement in decades, requiring hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood members to abandon the group or face prison, and granting the military and the police new authority to violently suppress protests. The decision makes it a crime to promote the Brotherhood and could also outlaw hundreds of welfare and charitable organizations affiliated with the movement that help Egyptians who have little access to government services.
The move came a day after officials blamed the Brotherhood for a suicide bombing at a police headquarters north of Cairo that killed 16 people, though on Wednesday a separate group — Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which has derided the Brotherhood for its lack of militancy — claimed responsibility for that bombing.
Demand For Food Stamps Soars As Cuts Sink In And Shelves Empty
For Denise Acosta, it was being laid off for the first time. For Diana Martinez, it was the death of her mother, leaving her as the sole carer for her severely disabled younger brother. For Johnny Hill, it was having to take responsibility, a year away from retirement, for her two young granddaughters.
Each of these hard-working women from San Antonio, Texas, have fallen victim to circumstances that turned their lives upside down, robbing them of their full-time jobs, the paychecks they once enjoyed and, in Acosta's case, her home. Their stories vary, but they all belong to a growing group, America's working poor, for whom the journey from getting by to hunger can be brutally short.
Deep cuts to the US food stamps programme, designed to keep low-income Americans out of hunger in the aftermath of the economic recession, have forced increasing numbers of families such as theirs to rely on food banks and community organisations to stave off hunger.
An expansion of the programme, put in place when the recession was biting deepest, was allowed to expire in November, cutting benefits for an estimated 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%.
U.S. Embassy In Afghanistan Attacked; No Casualties Reported
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul came under attack on Christmas morning, and the Taliban later claimed responsibility, saying it had fired four rockets at the American compound.
U.S. officials said that two rounds of either mortar or rocket fire struck the embassy and that no Americans were hurt, the Associated Press reported.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to journalists that the assault "inflicted heavy casualties," but the group frequently exaggerates the scope of its attacks.
Mujahid claimed that four police officers were killed or wounded when they went to investigate the attack
Science and Technology
Robotics Challenge: Creating the Disaster Response of the Future
Seventeen rescue robots are competing in Florida this weekend, where their task is to clear away debris, break through walls and climb ladders -- a test run for their use in future disaster scenarios. But the humanoid figures are still a little shaky on their feet.
"Atlas" is attached to a hook, like a piece of meat, with his metal limbs dangling limply from his torso. Suddenly the 150-kilogram (330-pound) robot comes to life. The hydraulic system whines, an orange light starts blinking on the robot's head and a laser scanner shaped like a tin can rotates in its face. The knees begin to bend slowly, as Atlas cautiously places his two flat feet onto the ground.
But now the device begins to falter. Atlas completes three triple steps in slow motion until he reaches a ramp. Behind a Plexiglas wall, researchers watch as the robot scans the obstacle with its laser.
Finally, Atlas hazards to take one step up the incline, followed by a second and a third. But he makes his fourth step at a dangerously crooked angle, puts weight on the poorly placed foot and falls down. A safety cable cushions the robot's fall, and in the end Atlas is hanging from a hook once again.
China To Break Ground On Antarctic Base
After a weeklong, 522-kilometer traverse, a 28-strong team of Chinese scientists and engineers is due to arrive tomorrow in the heart of Princess Elizabeth Land in East Antarctica to start building China’s fourth Antarctic base.
The new base, called Taishan, will sit 2621 meters above sea level in “a part of Antarctica we know very little about,” says Robin Bell, a glaciologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. She and others are looking forward to using Taishan as a launch pad for probing the geological history of the Grove Mountains and the glaciology of the Amery Ice Shelf.
Taishan “will be open to research by any country,” says Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration here. A key asset of the new base will be a permanent runway that will allow researchers to cut travel time by 2 weeks to China’s Kunlun base atop Dome A, a premier inland perch for astronomy and for drilling into the ice sheet to gather climate data from the past 1.5 million years. Taishan’s main building is expected to be completed by early February, and the runway should open in about 2 years.
In the meantime, Chinese scientists this season will start surveying along the western coast of the Ross Sea for a place to build their third year-round station. China already has two year-round stations elsewhere on the Antarctic coast. The third would open up opportunities to study the Ross Ice Shelf, one of the continent’s biggest. Construction on what would be the nation’s fifth base could commence by the end of 2015, Qu says.
Society and Culture
American Sentenced to Prison in Dubai for Parody Documentary Video
An American citizen living in Dubai was sentenced to up to a year in prison by a court in the United Arab Emirates on Monday. Shezanne Cassim, an American citizen from Minnesota, and seven others, were found guilty of “defaming the UAE’s image abroad” in a parody documentary shot in the country, according to the National.
In the opening moments of the video titled "Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs” a disclaimer flashes reading: "The following events are fictional and no offence was intended to the people of Satwa or UAE."From CNN:Cassim moved to Dubai in 2006 to work from PricewaterhouseCoopers and posted the video online last year. In April, Cassim was arrested and, according to his family, has been in prison ever since. CNN reports that Cassim has been held in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi and his family says it was five months before Cassim even learned what crime he was being charged with. Cassim is the first to be charged under a 2012 cybercrime law that, the BBC reports, “provides a legal basis to prosecute people who use information technology to criticise senior officials, argue for political reform or organise unlicensed demonstrations.”
The video in question is a 19-minute short that pokes fun at a clique of Dubai teens who are influenced by hip-hop culture. In the 1990s, the label "Satwa G" was coined for a group of suburban teens who were known to talk tougher than they really were. The video depicts a look at a "combat school" in the suburb of Satwa, where these "gangsters" are trained. The training includes how to throw sandals at targets, using clothing accessories as whips, and how to call on the phone for backup.
How Do The Rich Live?
Sociologists research the lives and problems of the urban poor — but they haven’t so far investigated those of the super-rich, especially those wealthy property buyers who are changing the nature of life for everybody in London.
There are two stories about the property market in London. One is about the many thousands of households finding it hard to keep up with their rent or mortgage payments, or struggling to get a home of their own, with long waiting lists for social housing, bidding wars for rental properties and house prices that exclude very many from buying. The other is about six-bedroom houses that cost more than £100m. Both narratives are contested and often seem not to connect with each other; yet it is clear that changes in the city are linked to both.
The first narrative, of decline and stress, now predominates in discussions about what to do to improve London for its residents. Historically, sociologists have pursued methodological expedience and class biases to look down at the poor and how they cluster in urban areas. What are we to do about their presence? How are we to improve their lives, reintegrate them into social life, and develop urban economies, education and health systems capable of supporting them?
Are the rich as big a problem? Sociologists don’t say much about the impact of profound wealth on society in London and Britain. There aren’t many ethnographic, survey-based or qualitative investigations into the top 1% of the wealthy — the billionaires who now live in London, or the merely profoundly rich, Ultra-high Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) who have, beyond their homes, yachts and other assets, investible wealth of £20m or more. Social discussions of wealth, inequality and economic change are uninformed (or unimpeded) by any work from social researchers who have tried to construct robust research approaches to the investigation of the very wealthy, how they live in our towns and cities, what contributions they make and what impacts they have on the areas they inhabit
Well, that's different...
Edward Teller, the famous theoretical physicist known as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” for his work on the World War II-era Manhattan Project, died in 2003, but his daughter Rene told the Free Press of Kinston, N.C., in November that she had recently discovered two of her father’s precious mementoes at a thrift shop near Kinston during a road trip to visit relatives. “[Father’s] work was so demanding” she said, that he needed “recreational activities” and tried “the things you’d suspect,” like chess. However, the two mementoes were competition awards that Teller had won at tractor pulls. “[H]e’d show up at major tractor pulls” riding just a Cub Cadet mower, Rene said, and “leave the competition in the dust.” (Teller’s secret, she said, was using “nuclear fusion-based engines,” which sponsors ultimately had to ban.)
Bill Moyers and Company:
Michelle Alexander: Incarceration Nation