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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 editor is annetteboardman.

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Reuters

President Barack Obama declared himself frustrated on Monday with the malfunctioning website that is central to his signature healthcare law and vowed to take steps to fix it.

Scrambling to get ahead of a burgeoning political uproar over implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Obama took to the White House Rose Garden to insist the law is bigger than just a website and that eventually the bugs in the software will get worked out.

Online insurance exchanges were launched on October 1 under the 2010 law, often called "Obamacare," to offer health insurance plans to millions of uninsured Americans.

But people trying to shop for health insurance at healthcare.gov have been frustrated by error messages, long waits and system failures, with many failing to make it through the system despite repeated tries.

The president acknowledged the depth of the problem.

"There's no sugarcoating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am," Obama said.

 

NPR
 

The website that's meant to allow Americans to shop and sign up for new medical plans under the Affordable Care Act isn't working as well as it should, President Obama says. But he promised that the problems will be fixed — and he said the Affordable Care Act is bringing many benefits that aren't tied to those problems.

"Nobody is madder than me that the website isn't working as it should — which means that it's going to get fixed," Obama told a crowd at an outdoor address at the White House.

Since it went into effect at the start of October, the new system's HealthCare.gov website has been the subject of numerous complaints, as many users reported problems creating an account or logging in. Others say they got confusing error messages.

Acknowledging the problems Monday, the president said, "There's no sugarcoating it: The website has been too slow" and people have had trouble navigating it.

The problems were "aggravated" by the high level of traffic to the website, Obama said.

The Guardian
 

Barack Obama admitted that technical problems had overshadowed his historic reforms to the US healthcare system, acknowledging on Monday that the gateway website "stank" and was a gift to political opponents.

With his flagship domestic policy achievement in serious danger of being eclipsed by the three-week IT disaster, the president tried to shore up support for the wider effort to provide affordable healthcare for millions of uninsured Americans by stressing alternative ways to access so-called insurance marketplaces.

But in the most candid admission yet that website glitches were preventing many from signing up, Obama confirmed that a team of outside experts had been brought in over recent days to try to tackle the problem.

"There's no sugar-coating it," Obama said in a speech in the White House Rose Garden. "No one is madder than me that this is not working, which means it is going to get fixed."

The White House has refused to say how many of the nearly 20 million people to visit the main federal website had succeeded in registering with the new insurance exchange. But Obama revealed that officials would be individually contacting all those who abandoned their application over the coming weeks to help them complete the process.

Al Jazeera America
 

President Barack Obama said Monday there was "no excuse" for the cascade of computer problems that have marred the rollout of key elements in his health care law but declared he was confident the administration would be able to fix the issues.

"There's no sugarcoating it," he said. "The website has been too slow, people have gotten stuck during the application process, and I think it's fair to say that nobody has been more frustrated by that than I am.”

The president said his administration was doing "everything we can possibly do" to get the federally run websites up and running. And he guaranteed that everyone who wants to get insurance through the new health care exchanges would be able to as the six-month enrollment period continues.

Obama made his comments during an event in the White House Rose Garden that had the feeling of a health care pep rally, with guests applauding as he ticked through what the White House sees as the main benefits of the law.

US NEWS

NY Times
 

More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, N.M. She spilled the coffee, was burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million dollars. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers and even political pundits. But cleverness may have come at the expense of context, as this Retro Report video illustrates. And below, a consumer affairs reporter for The Times reflects on how the world has changed since the lawsuit.

It was pretty much a pre-Starbucks world.

Back in February 1992, when Stella Liebeck ordered the 8-ounce cup of McDonald’s coffee that would famously spill and turn her, briefly, into a court-made millionaire — until the amount, the video reports, was lowered to about $500,000 — we were not the coffee culture we would become.

The Guardian
 

Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the US Senate committee charged with holding the intelligence establishment to account, declared on Monday that the National Security Agency's mass collection of phone records is "not surveillance" and should be maintained as an essential tool to combat terrorism.

Feinstein made the case for retaining the program, which routinely collects and stores the phone records millions of Americans, in an op-ed for USA Today, in which she wrote that the NSA's work had been "effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the US and our allies".

Feinstein, a Democrat from California, is introducing legislation that would make superficial alterations to the NSA and the secret courts that are supposed to provide judicial oversight.

But her bill stops short of making any substantial changes to the way the agency conducts its work, despite the string of revelations based on disclosures by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

NPR
 

Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in the U.S. has plummeted by half. The sheep industry has actually been declining since the late 1940s, when it hit its peak.

The sharp drop in production has left ranchers to wonder, "When are we going to hit the bottom?"

Some sheep are raised for their wool, others primarily for food. Consumption of both products — lamb meat and wool — have been declining in the U.S.

If you look at the tags on clothes in your closet, chances are quite a few pieces will be blended with synthetic fibers: nylon, rayon and polyester. As these human-made fibers have become more prevalent and inexpensive, people are wearing less and less wool.

The same goes for lamb. In the early 1960s, the average person in the U.S. ate about 4.5 pounds of lamb a year. That has dropped to less than 1 pound in 2011.

At the same time as the American sheep industry's decline, Australian and New Zealand wool and lamb imports are way up, squeezing into niche markets that America's sheep producers are having a hard time filling.

Reuters
 

A 12-year-old student armed with a handgun shot and killed a math teacher and critically wounded two classmates before killing himself at his Nevada middle school on Monday shortly before classes were due to begin, police said.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene at the school in the northwestern Nevada town of Sparks, located just east of Reno, after the gunfire erupted in an outdoor area as students were arriving for the school day.

"A kid started getting mad and he pulled out a gun and shoots my friend, one of my friends at least," a seventh-grade student identified as Andrew told local KOLO-TV. "And then he walked up to a teacher and says back up, the teacher started backing up and he pulled the trigger."

"The teacher was just lying there and he was limp, he didn't know what to do, he was just in a lot of pain," he told KOLO.

"And me and five other friends went to him and said come on we've got to get him to safety. We picked him up, carried him a little bit far and we left him because our vice principal came along and said go, go, go get to safety, get to safety. So we left the teacher there and we went to safety," Andrew said.

LA Times
 

On the heels of pressure from state politicians and a newspaper expose, a special prosecutor in Missouri has been appointed to investigate the alleged 2012 rape of a 14-year-old girl in the small town of Maryville.

Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor in Jackson County, in the Kansas City area, has been asked by a judge to reexamine the case, which was dropped by the county prosecutor in Maryville even though the girl had identified a 17-year-old high school football player as her attacker.

At a Monday news conference, Baker said her office would “thoroughly review” the case “without fear or favor.”

“I can assure you politics, connections … will not play a role in [reviewing] this case,” said Baker, a Democrat, who was appointed after insinuations that Nodaway County Prosecutor Robert Rice had dropped the case for political reasons. One suspect’s grandfather was a prominent local politician -- a Republican, like Rice.

Baker, who handles one of Missouri's busiest and most intense prosecutor's offices -- and who was appointed by the only Democratic judge in rural Nodaway County -- added that her special victims unit would handle the case.

WORLD NEWS

Reuters
 

A female suicide bomber attacked a bus in southern Russia on Monday, authorities said, killing at least six people in the deadliest such blast outside the volatile North Caucasus region in nearly three years.

The bombing in Volgograd was likely to raise fears of further attacks by Islamist militants as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, not far from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

The attack, which investigators blamed on a 30-year-old woman from Dagestan, the North Caucasus province at the center of an insurgency, also wounded 32 people, of whom eight were in critical condition, the federal Investigative Committee said.

State television showed footage, taken from a camera mounted on a driver's dashboard, of an explosion ripping through the bus as it travelled along a tree-lined road, sending shards of metal and glass flying.

Passengers scrambled out of doors and windows after the bus had stopped.

Reuters
 

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday will seek to dim the optimism after nuclear talks with Iran, cautioning that Tehran is strengthening its strategic regional position by calling the shots in Syria as President Bashar al-Assad's puppet master.

In talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome on Wednesday, Netanyahu is expected to argue against easing Western sanctions on Iran, which hinted at recent Geneva talks it was willing to scale back its nuclear program.

Netanyahu has long warned the West, in a message it has largely embraced, of the danger Iran would pose to the Jewish state, the Middle East and the West if it obtained nuclear arms through the program which Iran says aims to generate power.

The right-wing prime minister will gauge just how far the United States is ready to consider any let up on sanctions imposed on Iran at the meeting with Kerry.

Reinforcing his warning of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu has added another twist to his argument, noting that Iran is behind Assad and supplies Shi'ite Muslim fighters for the civil war against Sunni rebels.

Saudi Arabia, another key U.S. ally in the Middle East, is also deeply worried about any sign of a deal between Washington and the kingdom's arch-rival, Iran.

The Guardian
 

Gunmen shot dead at least four Egyptians outside a Coptic Christian church on the edge of Cairo on Sunday evening as worshippers left the building after a wedding, state media reported. Two adults and two girls aged eight and 12 were killed, and at least 12 others injured, after the gunmen sprayed bullets seemingly at random.

The perpetrators, and their motives, are unknown as they left the area quickly on motorcycles, according to witnesses. But there are strong concerns that the shootings mark the latest sectarian attack on Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up around 10% of Egypt's population of 85 million.

Copts were scapegoated by some Islamist hardliners for the July overthrow of ex-president Mohamed Morsi – over 40 churches were attacked following the brutal army-led clearance of two pro-Morsi protest camps in August. State officials have done little to prevent the attacks, or bring their instigators to justice, although Egypt's prime minister called Sunday's attack a "callous and criminal act" and pledged to prosecute those responsible.

The Guardian
 

Choking smog paralysed a north-eastern Chinese city on Monday as visibility fell to under 10 metres in places and pollution readings soared to 40 times the recommended daily level.

All highways across Heilongjiang province were shut, while its capital Harbin - home to 11 million people - closed an airport and all primary and middle schools, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Meteorological authorities in Jilin and Liaoning provinces also issued a red alert for thick smog or fog.

In Harbin, the worst-hit city, measurements of PM2.5 - the smallest particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres - reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre in places, according to the official China News Service, surpassing the peak of 900 that shocked Beijing residents in January's "airpocalypse".

It is not clear if equipment is able to register levels over 1,000. The World Health Organisation's recommended level for daily exposure is just 25.

Officials blamed the first day of winter heating in the city - leading to increased coal burning - low winds and the burning of crop stubble as well as vehicle emissions. Others said a sudden temperature change and humidity might have contributed.

Spiegel Online
 

Angela Merkel's domestic policy in her third term will likely be confined to higher spending. But she has grand plans for Europe. SPIEGEL has learned she wants Brussels to have far more power over national budgets. It's a risky move that EU partners and the Social Democrats are likely to oppose.

In the end, the atmosphere became downright festive in the Berlin Hall of the Parliamentary Society, a building next to the Reichstag. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) had met there three times in the last three weeks to sound out whether they could form a coalition government. The decision was still up in the air.

BBC
 

A Roma couple have been formally charged in Greece with abducting a young blonde girl, and they have been placed in detention pending a trial.

The girl, named Maria, was found during a raid on a Roma camp in central Greece last week.

DNA tests showed that she was not related to the couple, who insist they were given her legitimately.

Maria is being cared for by a charity in Athens, which has received more than 8,000 calls after an appeal.

The Roma couple appeared before judges on Monday to answer charges of abducting a minor and holding false papers.

The 39-year-old man and 40-year-old woman were identified by Greek police as Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou.

SCIENCE, HEALTH AND TECHNOLOGY

Bloomberg
 

Apple Inc. is upgrading its iPad lineup to fend off a growing list of competitors, which are introducing their own tablets at lower prices with snazzier features.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will debut a high-definition iPad mini and a thinner iPad at a San Francisco event tomorrow, people with knowledge of the plans have said.

Facing two straight quarters of declining profit and a stock that’s down by more than a quarter from a September 2012 record, Apple is facing a similar challenge with the iPad as it has with the iPhone, battling lower-cost rivals and proving that incremental changes to existing products are enough to draw customers. The iPad is Apple’s second-best selling gadget after the iPhone and the new models will be critical as the company seeks to reignite growth.

“Tablets are a maturing market,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in San Francisco. “It will be difficult for Apple to move the needle on new tablet sales, as the strongest growth is coming from emerging markets where customers are more price sensitive.”

 

The Guardian
 

A US scientist has discovered an internal body clock based on DNA that measures the biological age of our tissues and organs.

The clock shows that while many healthy tissues age at the same rate as the body as a whole, some of them age much faster or slower. The age of diseased organs varied hugely, with some many tens of years "older" than healthy tissue in the same person, according to the clock.

Researchers say that unravelling the mechanisms behind the clock will help them understand the ageing process and hopefully lead to drugs and other interventions that slow it down.

Therapies that counteract natural ageing are attracting huge interest from scientists because they target the single most important risk factor for scores of incurable diseases that strike in old age.

"Ultimately, it would be very exciting to develop therapy interventions to reset the clock and hopefully keep us young," said Steve Horvath, professor of genetics and biostatistics at the University of California in Los Angeles

c/net
 

Nintendo on Monday pulled the plug on the original Wii, a modest end to the best-selling console of the current generation. The company hinted at the move earlier this month, and it has officially followed through with a simple posting of the words "seisan shuuryou," or "production ended," on its Japanese Web site.

The Wii, the first video game console to make motion control mainstream, was considered an underdog when it first hit store shelves in 2006. It didn't sport high-definition graphics -- an exclusion that made it the butt of many Sony and Microsoft fanboy jokes -- and skepticism was the order of the day for its apparent indifference to the hard-core gaming community and for its eagerness to rope in fitness junkies and families. But it went on to both outsell the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with more than 100 million units sold worldwide.

Al Jazeera America
 

A train carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas derailed and caught fire in Western Canada Saturday, raising more questions about rail safety that became a major issue after a runaway oil train derailed in a Quebec town in July, triggering deadly explosions.

Saturday's accident just outside the settlement of Gainford, Alberta caused no injuries, and emergency services said they were opting to let the fire burn itself out rather than approach the blaze.

The 134-car mixed freight train, operated by Canadian National Railway (CN), was on route to Vancouver, on the Pacific Coast, from Alberta's capital, Edmonton, at the time of the accident.

CN Chief Operating Officer Jim Vena said 13 of the train’s cars had derailed. Three of the derailed cars, which were carrying flammable liquid petroleum gas, caught fire. Others carrying crude oil had not leaked or caught fire, he said.

"CN will clean this up, remediate any damage," Vena told an evening news conference, noting that both the track and the train had been inspected in the last few days. It was too early to say what caused the accident, he said.

Rail safety has become a central issue in Canada since the July disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in the center of the lakeside town, killing 47 people.

ScienceBlog

With winter around the corner some homeowners may be thinking about plugging all the leaks in their home to make them less drafty. Imagine if every homeowner in the country did that—how much energy could be saved?

Using physics-based modeling of the U.S. housing stock, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) found in a new study that upgrading airtightness to a uniform level could achieve as much as $33 billion in annual energy savings.

“Currently people who weatherize can get their homes about 20 to 30 percent tighter. But they’re not sealing all the cracks. There’s still quite a bit left on the table, and those extra leaks and cracks could potentially save a lot of energy,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Jennifer Logue, lead author of the study, “Energy impacts of envelope tightening and mechanical ventilation for the U.S. residential sector,” which was recently published online in the journal Energy and Buildings. Her co-authors were Berkeley Lab scientists Max Sherman, Iain Walker and Brett Singer.

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