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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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Al Jazeera America
 

As a powerful tornado bore down on their Illinois farmhouse, Curt Zehr's wife and adult son didn't have time to do anything but scramble down the stairs into their basement.

Uninjured, the pair looked out moments later to find the house gone and the sun out "right on top" of them, Zehr said. Their home, on the outskirts of Washington, Ill., was swept up and scattered over hundreds of yards by one of the dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, leaving at least six people dead and unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.

Early Monday, Washington Mayor Gary Manier estimated that from 250 to 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed in the storm and that it wasn't clear when residents would be allowed to return.

"Everybody's without power, but some people are without everything," Manier told reporters in the parking lot of a destroyed auto parts store and near a row of flattened homes.

"How people survived is beyond me," he said.

The powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

Illinois was the hardest struck with at least six people killed and dozens more injured

LA Times
 

Much of Washington Ill., was in ruins Monday, one of the worst hit areas ravaged by tornadoes that left a path of at least six dead and sizable destruction across several Midwest states.

Hundreds of thousands of people, most in Michigan, remained without electricity. Roads had flooded and were being slowly restored while thousands of people had sought shelter with relatives or in shelters after the wave of late-season storms, including more than 80 tornadoes, tore through parts of at least 12 states. Beginning Sunday morning, fierce winds and heavy rainfall hit Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

The worst was over by Monday morning and the fast-moving storm front quickly moved eastward out to the Atlantic Ocean, leaving destruction, death and at least 54 injuries in its wake.

NY Times
 

PEKIN, Ill. — On Monday morning, the day after tornadoes caused widespread destruction across parts of this state, Gary and Selena Cleer were looking for what was left.

The Cleers were in church on Sunday when a tornado swept through their town, a dozen miles south of Peoria, and took shelter with the congregation in a hallway. When they drove back to the home they had lived in for only 18 months, Mr. Cleer said, “we didn’t even recognize our house.” Much of the roof was gone, and the garage had been torn way, their battered car sitting amid rubble.

The severe storms that moved through the Midwest on Sunday leveled towns, killed at least six people in Illinois and injured dozens more, and caused power failures for hundreds of thousands of people.

Huffington Post
 

WASHINGTON, Ill. (AP) — As a powerful tornado bore down on their Illinois farmhouse, Curt Zehr's wife and adult son didn't have time to do anything but scramble down the stairs into their basement.

Uninjured, the pair looked out moments later to find the house gone and the sun out "right on top" of them, Zehr said. Their home, on the outskirts of Washington, Ill., was swept up and scattered over hundreds of yards by one of the dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, leaving at least six people dead and unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.

"They saw (the tornado) right there and got in the basement," said a stunned Zehr, pointing to the farm field near the rubble that had been his home.

US NEWS

NY Times
 

WASHINGTON — The pace of enrollment in health plans through the troubled federal insurance marketplace has nearly doubled since the end of October as software engineers have resolved some 200 of the more than 600 initial defects that had rendered the site all but unusable, according to people familiar with the repair effort.

As of mid-November, the number of enrollees, which the Obama administration defines as people who have selected a marketplace plan, was more than 50,000 — up from 27,000 in the entire month of October, but still a fraction of the number the administration once hoped for.

Bloomberg
 

The flaws plaguing the rollout of President Barack Obama’s health-insurance exchanges may matter the least to those the president needs the most.

If enrollment in the online marketplaces repeats the pattern set in the Massachusetts exchange that was the model for Obamacare, the young people vital to the plan’s financial stability are paying little attention to the federal website’s mishaps as they wait for the March 31 deadline to sign up.

When Massachusetts started its health-insurance exchange in 2007, younger and healthier people were the most likely to procrastinate until the final weeks to obtain coverage. By November of that year, the last month to sign up to avoid a penalty, the portion of enrollees age 35 or younger had more than doubled to 36 percent from February, one analysis showed.

Reuters
 

Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the U.S. Department of Defense's accounts.

Every month until she retired in 2011, she says, the day came when the Navy would start dumping numbers on the Cleveland, Ohio, office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon's main accounting agency. Using the data they received, Woodford and her fellow DFAS accountants there set about preparing monthly reports to square the Navy's books with the U.S. Treasury's - a balancing-the-checkbook maneuver required of all the military services and other Pentagon agencies.

And every month, they encountered the same problem. Numbers were missing. Numbers were clearly wrong. Numbers came with no explanation of how the money had been spent or which congressional appropriation it came from. "A lot of times there were issues of numbers being inaccurate," Woodford says. "We didn't have the detail … for a lot of it."

McClatchy DC
 

Looks like Obamacare was not such a big loser after all.

Republican businessman Vance McAllister Saturday won a special Louisiana election to a vacant congressional seat after campaigning on support for the Medicaid expansion spelled out in the new health care law.

Neil Riser, his opponent, had been the favorite of more conservative Republicans. McAllister is conservative, too, but campaigned on a platform of bringing a calmer tone to the fractured Capitol.

He also was aided by an endorsement from the popular star of the "Duck Dynasty" television series.

BBC
 

An Arizona lawmaker has become the first sitting member of Congress to complete an Ironman triathlon, organisers of the event say.

Kyrsten Sinema, 37, finished Sunday's race near Phoenix in 15 hours, 12 minutes and 34 seconds, comfortably under her target time of 16 hours.

The event comprises a 2.4-mile (3.8-km) swim, a 112-mile cycling ride and a marathon run.

The Democrat said she did not even know how to swim when she began to train.

The Guardian
 

Walmart said about 10 of more than six dozen Bangladesh garment factories failed safety checks in audits it commissioned.

The retailer hired Bureau Veritas to check some 200 factories it uses in Bangladesh after the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building killed more than 1,100 people and highlighted often grim conditions in the country's garment industry.

About 75 factories have been audited so far and Walmart said it will release results for other factories as the inspections are completed.

It said factories that failed audits have since made improvements.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, major European clothing retailers signed up to a system of factory inspections in conjunction with labor and activist groups.

North American retailers set up a separate alliance and established a fund that could be tapped for factory improvements.

Bangladesh emerged as a major supplier to global clothing brands because of wages that are among the lowest in the world.

The Guardian
 

The US Senate was holding its first ever hearing on the promises and dangers of virtual currencies such as Bitcoin on Monday.

The hearing before the homeland security and government affairs committee is entitled Beyond Silk Road: Potential Risks, Threats and Promises of Virtual Currencies. Silk Road was an online black market known as “Amazon for drugs” that used Bitcoin for transactions and was closed down by the FBI in October. Bitcoins can be traded anonymously and the trades are difficult to track.

In testimony released before the afternoon hearing, Mythili Raman, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department, said virtual currencies “offer legitimate financial services and have the potential to promote more efficient global commerce.”

"We have also seen, however, that certain aspects of virtual currencies appeal to criminals and present a host of new challenges to law enforcement," he said.

Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, will tell the hearing of his concerns about the anonymous nature of Bitcoin.

BBC
 

An improving economy, growing company profits and easy money from the US central bank have all helped support stock values.

The benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average was 50 points higher - or 0.32% - at 16,012.56.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq crept up 2.27 points - -0.06% - to 3988.24 points.

The S&P 500, which has risen for six weeks in a row, was also higher and is up 26% from the start of the year.

Boeing topped the gainers among the Dow components, rising 3% on news it booked $100bn in orders at this week's Dubai airshow.

WORLD NEWS

Reuters
 

President Bashar al-Assad's forces fired rocket and artillery barrages on a besieged mountain town near Lebanon on Monday in a push to capture the strategic area following advances against rebels in Damascus and in the north of Syria.

In a separate setback for the fighters, a prominent rebel leader died overnight in a Turkish hospital of wounds suffered in an air raid on Aleppo. Abdelqader Saleh, head of the Qatar-backed Sunni Islamist al-Tawhid Brigades, had been working on regrouping fighters in Aleppo before he was killed.

Heavy bombardments hit Qara, 80 km (50 miles) north of Damascus in the Qalamoun mountains, as rebels hid in the rocky terrain, refugees and opposition activists said. Located near the highway linking the capital to Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, the region has been used by rebels to cross from Lebanon.

Al Jazeera America
 

A Russian court granted bail on Monday to one of 30 people who are being held in pre-trial detention over a Sept. 18 Greenpeace protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

The court ruled that Yekaterina Zaspa, a Russian who served as a medic on the Greenpeace ship used in the protest but was not among activists who tried to scale Russia's first offshore oil rig, can be released on $61,300 bail.

A separate court in St. Petersburg denied bail to another arrestee in the case, Australian activist Colin Russell, granting a request from prosecutors to hold him in custody until Feb. 24.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Russell, 59, told the court, adding that he did not understand why he had been detained.

His lawyer asked the court to free him on bail of $61,500 or put him under house arrest in a St. Petersburg hotel. But the judge refused, saying if Russell was freed he could put pressure on the investigation or flee the country. He ordered him held until Feb. 24.

Al Jazeera America
 

At least 30 people were killed Monday in a gruesome accident at a railway crossing in Egypt when a train plowed into at least three vehicles, including a truck and a mini-bus, according to the country's Health Ministry.

Another 28 people were wounded in the crash. Kamal al-Dali, local police chief, told state television the mini-bus was carrying guests home from a wedding.

Ahmed al-Ansari, the emergency services chief, told the Associated Press that the identities of the dead were not immediately clear.

He said the injured mostly had fractures, crush injuries and lost body parts, with some in critical condition.

The head of the Egyptian Railway Authority, Hussein Zakaria, said the vehicles had ignored warning lights and chains blocking entry, and tried to drive through the crossing.

"The bus stormed the crossing, according to initial reports," he told state television. "The crossing was closed with chains, there were warning lights," he added.

 

The Guardian
 

The president of the Philippines has said the scale of suffering left by typhoon Haiyan has "tempted him to despair", as the UN expressed concern that remote areas had not been reached.

More than 3,900 people were killed by fierce gales and a massive storm surge, and officials estimate that 4 million have been displaced.

A growing number of residents have been able to leave the disaster zone, deliveries of aid have become more regular and in some places markets and petrol stations have reopened.

Speaking as he visited Palo, south of the worst-hit city of Tacloban, Benigno Aquino told reporters: "One is tempted to despair, but the minute I despair, then everybody, it cascades down and everybody gets hampered in their efforts."

Bernard Kerblat, the UN high commissioner for refugees representative for the Philippines, warned: "As of now, personally, I am not so sure that we've reached every single portion of the territory where people are in need of aid."

Spiegel Online
 

There is much consternation among investigators, politicians and academics about how to handle the trove of artworks found in Munich this month. Criticism by Jewish groups abroad is growing, but complex provenance questions could take years to resolve.

In September 2010, shortly after passing through the Bavarian town of Lindau, customs inspectors asked an elderly man named Cornelius Gurlitt for identification on an express train from Zürich to Munich. One of the officers remembered having seen him a few hours earlier, on the way to Switzerland. The inspectors suspected that he was a German citizen who had gone to Switzerland to withdraw money from his Swiss bank account. He claimed that he was not carrying any money, but when they performed a body search in the train toilet, the officials discovered €9,000 ($12,140).

They notified the public prosecutor's office in Augsburg, which has jurisdiction over Lindau. Gurlitt apparently told the customs inspectors he was an art dealer and gave them his Munich address. But when they checked the information later, it turned out that he wasn't even registered in Munich despite a national law in Germany that requires people to report their addresses with the local authorities. And when they searched for other identifying information relating to Gurlitt, such as bank accounts, social security, health insurance and tax records, they found nothing. Gurlitt didn't even have a bank debit card. These are all red flags in the world of customs and tax investigators.

BBC
 

The Afghan government has rejected a key proposal of a security agreement with the US, putting the entire deal in doubt days before Afghan tribal leaders gather in Kabul to consider the matter.

The government in Kabul is refusing to allow US forces to enter Afghan homes after combat operations end next year.

Negotiations are going on to produce a document acceptable to both sides, to present to Afghan elders on Thursday.

If there is no deal, Washington could pull out all its troops next year.

A spokesman for the Afghan president Hamid Karzai told the BBC's David Loyn in Kabul that there was no flexibility possible in the stand taken by his government over US forces entering Afghan homes and mosques.

He said President Karzai felt very strongly about this, and would not accept any agreement that would allow US forces to enter Afghan homes for what he called "the purpose of aggression".

President Karzai and other Afghan leaders have long maintained opposition to such US raids on Afghan homes.

SCIENCE, HEALTH AND TECHNOLOGY

Reuters
 

A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that a district court in California must review its decision to deny Apple Inc's request that the sale of some Samsung Electronics Co Ltd tablets and smartphones be banned because they infringe Apple patents.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said that the lower court abused its discretion in denying the injunction with respect to utility patents and asked it to reconsider.

NPR
 

Could the microbes that inhabit our guts help explain that old idea of "gut feelings?" There's growing evidence that gut bacteria really might influence our minds.

"I'm always by profession a skeptic," says Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But I do believe that our gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains."

Mayer thinks the bacteria in our digestive systems may help mold brain structure as we're growing up, and possibly influence our moods, behavior and feelings when we're adults. "It opens up a completely new way of looking at brain function and health and disease," he says.

So Mayer is working on just that, doing MRI scans to look at the brains of thousands of volunteers and then comparing brain structure to the types of bacteria in their guts. He thinks he already has the first clues of a connection, from an analysis of about 60 volunteers.

 

NPR
 
A few months ago, we introduced you to the wild world of dishwasher cooking. Poach salmon while cleaning dirty plates? No problem.

But some of you expressed concerns about having your sockeye sit so close to soapy water and the high energy cost of running a dishwasher.

Well, we've stumbled upon another wacky cooking method that may overcome these issues: using your coffee maker.

From steamed broccoli and couscous to scrambled eggs and poached salmon, the possibilities appear endless.

The chefs at Chowhound have brewed up entire breakfasts and lunches in the coffee maker. And the kitchen wizards at the blog Kaffekokarkokboken developed recipes for pumpkin soup, chutney, even cinnamon buns, all made in the humble appliance.

So why in the heck would anyone not living in a freshman dorm ever want to do this? Well, if you're a soldier deployed in a war zone, a coffee maker might be your only option for a home-cooked meal.

C/NET
 

A new NASA Mars probe began a 10-month voyage to the Red Planet Monday, blasting off on a $671 million mission to study the thin martian atmosphere in a bid to find out what triggered a dramatic case of climate change that turned a once-hospitable environment into a cold, presumably barren desert.

"Something clearly happened," said Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky. "Water was abundant on early Mars, the environment was something that was capable of supporting liquid water yet today we see a cold, dry planet that is not able to support water. What we want to do is to understand what are the reasons for that change in the climate."

Taking off just ahead of approaching clouds, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution -- MAVEN -- spacecraft, mounted inside a protective nose cone atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, blasted off on time from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:28 p.m. EST (GMT-5).

Generating 860,000 pounds of thrust, the first stage majestically boosted the rocket out of the dense lower atmosphere and fell away just over four minutes after liftoff. The rocket's hydrogen-fueled Centaur second stage then ignited for the first of two planned "burns," firing for nine-and-a-half minutes to complete the initial phase of ascent.

C/NET
 

Cassiopeia like you've never seen it.

You must click the link to see these amazing pictures, including Cassiopeia.

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