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 editors are Doctor RJ and annetteboardman.
Please feel free to share your articles and stories in the comments.
Jamie Shea likes to reference knowledgeable people. In the context of the NATO enlargement process, he quotes Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who said: "All great truths begin as blasphemies."
Ten years ago on March 29, 2004, NATO underwent the biggest enlargement in its history. Seven new member states in Eastern Europe joined the most powerful military alliance on the planet, some of them former members of the communist Warsaw pact.
"People said if you enlarge NATO, it will become dysfunctional. Of course the argument was it will potentially antagonize Russia," Shea told DW. He has been with NATO for more than 30 years and currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges.
Al Jazeera America
Russia has pulled out a motorised infantry battalion from a region near Ukraine's eastern border, the Russian defence ministry said.
Monday's announcement pointed out that the battalion was heading back to its permanent base in Russia's Samara region after completing trainings, but did not make clear whether other Russian troops near the border would pull back.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin told Germany's Angela Merkel in a phone call on Monday that he had ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian army from the region, Merkel's spokesman said in a statement.
The move came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said - after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday - that progress on resolving the crisis over Ukraine depended on a troop pullback from the border.
Earlier on Monday Ukraine's defence ministry said there has been a gradual withdrawal of Russian troops from its border.
In last Monday's meeting of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leaders in Berlin, the Angela Merkel spoke extensively about war and peace, including a detailed look at the Ukraine crisis. The chancellor also focused on her telephone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as the role played by US President Barack Obama. When she then turned her attention to NATO, many expected a mild rebuke for Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
With her comments published in SPIEGEL a week ago, in which she urged NATO to show a greater presence on the alliance's external borders, von der Leyen dominated the German news cycle that weekend. Many interpreted her demand as a rhetorical escalation in the ongoing standoff with Russia and there was plenty of criticism, including from Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
Russia flaunted its grip on Crimea on Monday, with the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, flying in to the newly annexed territory for a cabinet meeting, cementing the sense of resignation in Kiev and the west that the seizure of the territory is irreversible.
At the same time, Russian forces appeared to be pulling back from the border with eastern Ukraine. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, said in a phone conversation with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that he had ordered a "partial withdrawal" from the border, according to Berlin.
The developments came after a four-hour meeting on Sunday between the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in which both sides put their visions for resolving the Ukraine crisis on the table. After the meeting in Pairs, Lavrov said Ukraine should introduce federalisation of power.
"Both sides had very concrete positions, and it was perhaps the first time over the past few months that things were called by their real names," said a source in the Russian delegation, who did not elaborate further on whether this left the sides closer or further away from an agreement.
Recovery teams struggling through thick mud up to their armpits and heavy downpours at the site of a devastating landslide in Washington state are facing yet another challenge - an unseen and potentially dangerous stew of toxic contaminants.
Sewage, propane, household solvents and other chemicals lie beneath the surface of the gray mud and rubble that engulfed hundreds of acres of a rural community on March 22 and left dozens of people dead or missing, authorities said.
The official death toll rose to 24 on Monday - up from 21 a day earlier, nine days after a rain-soaked hillside collapsed above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, northeast of Seattle. The dead included a 4-month-old infant and two older children, ages 5 and 6.
Authorities said the number of people still listed as missing had been cut to 22 from 30. It was not immediately clear if that number was lowered through the identification of bodies. Of the 24 dead, 18 have been identified by medical examiners.
Security industry pioneer RSA adopted not just one but two encryption tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, greatly increasing the spy agency's ability to eavesdrop on some Internet communications, according to a team of academic researchers.
Reuters reported in December that the NSA had paid RSA $10 million to make a now-discredited cryptography system the default in software used by a wide range of Internet and computer security programs. The system, called Dual Elliptic Curve, was a random number generator, but it had a deliberate flaw - or "back door" - that allowed the NSA to crack the encryption.
A group of professors from Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois and elsewhere now say they have discovered that a second NSA tool exacerbated the RSA software's vulnerability.
Al Jazeera America
Robert Einhorn, a former senior U.S. official who is well regarded by Barack Obama’s administration and retains close ties to its top nuclear negotiator, has proposed parameters for a long-term nuclear agreement with Iran that would allow it to continue enriching uranium at low levels and would ask Congress to preauthorize military action if Iran violates the accord.
Einhorn’s proposal — unveiled Monday at the Brookings Institution, where he is a senior fellow — seeks to marry Iran’s limited need for nuclear fuel to the scope of its nuclear infrastructure and provide confidence that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.
In publishing his ideas, Einhorn — who left the Obama administration less than a year ago and retains close ties to chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman and other administration officials — illustrates that the fate of a long-term nuclear agreement with Iran rests not just on the negotiators meeting in Vienna but also on how political elites in the United States and Iran approach the compromises required to reach an accord. U.S. officials have compared the process of broadening the current six-month interim agreement to solving a Rubik’s Cube, in which changing one part affects all others.
Al Jazeera America
The first yearly sign-up period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) closes Monday, and early returns suggest that the Obama administration may reach its initial goal of 7 million people registered despite a website that struggled to cope in the early stages after launch.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that 6 million people had already enrolled in the program commonly known as “Obamacare” and about 1 million people a day continue to visit Healthcare.gov. Meanwhile, the White House said Monday afternoon that enrollment numbers would be "substantially larger than 6 million."
Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Zack Cooper, an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Public Health, sat down with Al Jazeera America’s Jonathan Betz to discuss the rollout’s recovery and several outstanding policy issues surrounding the new health law on the regular Sunday night segment The Week Ahead.
“There was testimony before Congress as late as November and December that the administration hadn’t even built the systems for allowing people to pay for their insurance plans on Healthcare.gov, so to get to where they are today from where they were before is great,” Roy said, while pointing to long-term concerns — including cost and impact — facing the program.
The last day of sign-ups for health insurance on the HealthCare.gov website is turning out to have a lot in common with the first: lots of computer problems.
But there are some big differences, too. Back in October the not-ready-for-prime-time website was only able to enroll six people on its first day.
Today's issues included an outage lasting several hours during the early hours of Monday morning. By midday on the East Coast, new enrollments had stalled, apparently caused by a deluge of visitors to the site.
There were 1.2 million visitors through noon, and more than 109,000 concurrent visitors at the biggest peak of the day up to that point, according to Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters.
Because that peak traffic is more than the 100,000 users the site is built to handle at any one time, people have been fed into a queuing system that asks them to leave their email address and be invited back later to complete their enrollment.
Monday is the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or at least to begin the process. We already know that nationwide more than 6 million people have enrolled.
But each state has its own insurance market and its own experience with the law. In New Hampshire, polls show that the law is quite unpopular.
"The sense among people is it hasn't helped them," says Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, "and that if anything comes out of it, it's actually going to make their health care costs go up."
Yet enrollments in the state have greatly exceeded expectations.
When Lisa Kerrigan, 25, heard people talking about the Affordable Care Act, it was never anything good.
Tom Sullivan never thought much about guns or gun control — until his son was killed in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting. The gunman wielded a rifle with a 100-round magazine.
Sullivan is convinced that if Colorado's ban on high-capacity magazines had been in effect, his son Alex may have had a chance.
"It was one second, and the next second he was dead," Sullivan says. "That was because of the high-capacity magazines."
After the Aurora shooting, Sullivan turned to activism. He successfully lobbied for stricter background checks for all private gun sales and for a ban on magazines holding more than 15 rounds. The measures were instantly controversial.
"The problem is, who is the government to tell a citizen how many rounds they need to defend themselves?" says Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, Colo.
Cooke, along with a group of rural sheriffs, is suing the state to overturn the laws that Sullivan worked so hard on. The sheriffs argue that, among other things, the laws violate the Second Amendment.
A U.S. congressional probe is focusing on why General Motors Co employees repeatedly approved substandard ignition switches linked to at least 13 fatalities, as the automaker on Monday announced another major recall, this time related to power steering issues.
On the eve of a high-profile hearing before a House of Representatives panel, GM said it is recalling more than 1.5 million additional vehicles globally. That brings its total recalls so far this year to more than 6 million.
The Detroit-based automaker says it is taking an aggressive stance on safety issues, after coming under intense criticism for waiting more than a decade to recall millions of cars with potentially faulty ignition switches.
The U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval on Monday to legislation to avert a pay cut for doctors who participate in the Medicare insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
By a vote of 64-35, the Democratic-led Senate sent the measure, approved last week by the Republican-led House of Representatives, to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The bill would give doctors a one-year reprieve from a 24 percent cut set to kick in this week under the Medicare payment formula, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR.
It marked the 17th time Congress had agreed to a temporary "doc fix" rather than agreeing to a permanent bipartisan replacement of the 1997 funding formula.
The payments affect doctors treating patients under Medicare, which pays for healthcare for nearly 51 million people in the United States who are 65 and older or disabled.
The last words from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian airliner were a standard "Good night Malaysian three seven zero", Malaysian authorities said, changing their account of the critical last communication from a more casual "All right, good night."
The correction almost four weeks after Flight MH370 vanished was made as Malaysian authorities face heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information.
Painstaking analysis of radar data and limited satellite information has focused the search on a vast, inhospitable swathe of the southern Indian Ocean west of the Australian city of Perth, but has so far failed to spot any sign of it.
"Good night Malaysian three seven zero" would be a more formal, standard sign-off from the cockpit of the Boeing 777, which was just leaving Malaysia-controlled air space on its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
French President Francois Hollande chose centrist Interior Minister Manuel Valls as his new prime minister on Monday, a coalition source said, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault who quit after the ruling Socialists were trounced in local elections.
The 51-year-old Valls has been compared with "New Labour" former British premier Tony Blair both for his pro-business ideas and his dashing style. He is a bogeyman to the Socialist left, having proposed changing the party's name and criticised the flagship 35-hour work week it pioneered over a decade ago.
The choice of Valls, the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrant parents, suggested Hollande is set to amplify an EU-mandated shift towards pro-market economic reforms and public spending cuts rather than turn back as left-wingers demanded.
As a result of the planned strike by pilots' union Cockpit, about 3,800 flights would be cancelled on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Lufthansa airline announced Monday.
During the three-day work stoppage, only about 500 Lufthansa short- and long-haul flights would take place, the airline said in a statement, adding that an estimated 425,000 passengers would be affected.
Last week, the union called the strike following a vote among pilots of Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and the company's budget airline Germanwings which found a majority of workers in favor of industrial action. The labor dispute centers on a demand for higher wages, with Cockpit pilots' union claiming Lufthansa had failed to come up with a negotiable offer during two years of pay negotiations.
Al Jazeera America
An aid organisation has described the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea as an "unprecedented epidemic" with a "worrisome" geographical spread.
Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said on Monday that the Zaire strain of Ebola virus was the most aggressive and deadly, killing more than nine out of 10 patients.
"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country: Gueckedou, Macenta Kissidougou, Nzerekore, and now Conakry," said Mariano Lugli, who is coordinating MSF's project in the Guinean capital of Conakry.
"MSF has intervened in almost all reported Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but they were much more geographically contained and involved more remote locations. This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic," said Lugli.
To date, Guinean health authorities have recorded 122 suspected patients and 78 deaths. Other cases, suspected or diagnosed, have been found in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Al Jazeera America
Friends and family members of victims of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen are launching a national drone victims’ organization Tuesday to support affected communities and lobby for a change in Yemeni government policy regarding the covert program.
The National Organization for Drone Victims (NODV), with the assistance of UK-based legal charity Reprieve, will conduct investigations of drone strikes and highlight the civilian impact of the U.S.’ controversial drone program in Yemen.
Baraa Shiban, the project coordinator for Reprieve, told Al Jazeera that the constant presence of drones in Yemen is devastating communities. “We are talking almost 50 percent of the country — ten provinces in total — who suffer from the constant hovering of drones.”
Shiban said that NODV will assist affected communities in the aftermath of drone strikes by focusing on the economic impact of the loss of families’ primary bread-winners, psychological trauma and physical injuries.
NODV is the brainchild of Mohammad al-Qawli, an adviser to the Ministry of Education who lost his brother, an elementary school teacher, in a 2013 drone strike.
The country's government had argued that hunting whales was part of a research program, but the International Court of Justice ruled Monday that Japan hasn't generated enough scientific research to justify killing hundreds of whales. Critics said the hunts were instead a way to justify commercial hunting.
Under the whaling program, Japan had set annual "lethal sample size" limits of 50 per species for fin whales and humpback whales, in addition to approximately 850 Antarctic minke whales. But the court said the research program had generated only two peer-reviewed papers that together refer to nine whales.
"In light of the fact that [Japan's program] has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited," the court wrote in its judgment.
By a 12-4 vote, the court based in The Hague decided Japan must "revoke any extant authorization, permit or license granted in relation to" its whaling program, "and refrain from granting any further permits" related to it.
THE ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, HEALTH AND TECHNOLOGY
ANGANGUEO, MEXICO — On a high mountain slope in central Mexico, a patch of fir trees looks dusted in orange and black. In fact, millions of monarch butterflies cloak the trees. The forest murmurs with the whir of their flapping wings.
Every year, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies _ each so light that 50 together weigh barely an ounce _ find their way on what may be the world’s longest insect migration, traveling the length of North America to pass the winter in central Mexico.
Yet the great monarch migration is in peril, a victim of rampant herbicide use in faraway corn and soybean fields, extreme weather, a tiny microbial pathogen and deforestation. Monarch butterfly populations are plummeting. The dense colonies of butterflies on central Mexican peaks were far smaller this year than ever before.
WASHINGTON — Motorola executives don’t talk much about their efforts to win friends in high places, but a trail of public records provides the outlines of the company’s attempts to cultivate loyalty and befriend key government decision makers.
The firm has recruited law enforcement and national intelligence chiefs to its corporate board.
Its foundations donated or pledged to donate more than $26 million over the six years ending Dec. 31, 2011, to nonprofits formed by law enforcement and firefighting interests, a McClatchy analysis found.
It has contributed nearly $2 million over the last decade to the Republican and Democratic governors associations, which in turn helped foot the re-election costs of governors whose administrations awarded Motorola big contracts.
When the German author Johann Gottfried Seume took his famous "Stroll to Syracuse," as he entitled his book about his nine-month walk to Sicily in 1802, he made sure to visit a number of local libraries along the way. At the time, it was often impossible to check out books. If you wanted to read them, you had to be mobile.
Today, the situation has come full circle. If a student in Freiburg wants to read the hard-copy version of a book from the university library in Basel, he or she can simply order it via an interlibrary loan. But if only an electronic version is available, interlibrary loans are generally not an option. The student has no choice but to climb into a train and head to Switzerland to read the book on a university computer.
Remember the fat-free boom that swept the country in the 1990s? Yes, we know from the Salt readers who took our informal survey that lots of you tried to follow it. And gave up.
"I definitely remember eating fat–free cookies, fat–free pudding, fat-free cheese, which was awful," Elizabeth Stafford, an attorney from North Carolina, told us in the survey.
Back then, she avoided all kinds of foods with fat: cheese, eggs, meat, even nuts and avocados. Most of the experts were recommending a low-fat diet to prevent heart disease.
And, as a result, her diet was full of sugar (lots of fat-free, sugary yogurt) and carbohydrates, like bagels.
"Fat was really the villain," says Walter Willett, who is chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. And, by default, people "had to load up on carbohydrates."
But, by the mid-1990s, Willett says, there were already signs that the high-carb, low-fat approach might not lead to fewer heart attacks and strokes. He had a long-term study underway that was aimed at evaluating the effects of diet and lifestyle on health.
The World Science Fiction Convention is a gathering of fans ranging from sci-fi movie buffs to gamers to comics aficionados – but at its heart, WorldCon is for lovers of literature, and it hosts the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of sci-fi and fantasy.
During the ceremony one award is given that's not a Hugo: the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The Campbell celebrates potential: nominees are often young, just starting out in the field (though not always). And it serves as a kind of signpost for fans, pointing the way to the next great read.
It used to be difficult to find all of the fiction by eligible writers; now it's (almost) all in one place. Author M. David Blake took on the arduous task of compiling the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, a free collection of short stories and novel excerpts by 111 authors eligible for the Campbell Award. The ebook is over 860,000 words long — longer than George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords and A Dance With Dragons put together, according to the introduction. That's a ton of fiction to read.
And I did it.
Flooding in Pakistan in 2010, the kind of extreme weather events which the IPCC says is the result of climate change. Photograph: Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images
A United Nations report raised the threat of climate change to a whole new level on Monday, warning of sweeping consequences to life and livelihood.
The report from the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that climate change was already having effects in real time – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters.
And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.
Monday's report was the most sobering so far from the UN climate panel and, scientists said, the most definitive. The report – a three year joint effort by more than 300 scientists – grew to 2,600 pages and 32 volumes.
The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report, and the findings make an increasingly detailed picture of how climate change – in tandem with existing fault lines such as poverty and inequality – poses a much more direct threat to life and livelihood.
This month's roundup of the best space-related imagery in the known universe includes a supernova, a cluster of stars kidnapped from a neighbouring galaxy by the Milky Way, an eggy nebula and carbon dioxide frost on Mars
Ed. note: It's worth clicking the link to see amazing pictures.