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The Overnight News Digest is an ongoing evening series dedicated to chronicling the day's news that the editor de la nuit finds of import or interest. I'm not sure what happened to tonight's OND, so here's a fill-in edition. Everyone is welcome to add their own news items in the comments.

USA


  • Mother Jones - Newt the Destroyer
    Newt Gingrich has finally reached his destiny: destroyer of the GOP.

    In a bitter and spiteful concession speech last night in Iowa—Kanye West could do no worse—the former House speaker, who finished fourth, signaled a shift in his mission. He would no longer be running to obtain the Republican presidential nomination; he would be campaigning to obliterate Mitt Romney. He would be Sherman; the former Massachusetts governor would be Georgia.

    If Gingrich does pursue this march—and there are two debates this weekend in New Hampshire in which Gingrich can be a suicide bomber—Gingrich will be reaching the peak of his 30-year career as a Republican demolition man. And now his target will be the candidate the GOP establishment believes possesses the best chance of unseating President Barack Obama.
  • Politico - Team Obama: No 'enthusiasm' for Mitt
    Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa caucus win was propelled by record Democratic turnout — and his campaign was taking solace Tuesday night in a far lower level of GOP enthusiasm this time that led to a near deadlock between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

    Romney and his backers spent millions in combined campaign and PAC ad spending, but the Massachusetts governor scored only about a quarter of the caucus vote, giving Team Obama a first chance to analyze a possible opponent’s weaknesses in the first live-fire political drill of the 2012 campaign.

    The total number of votes among Iowa Republicans was expected to be about 120,000 — roughly half of the 239,000 Iowans who turned out to back Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats last time…

    Romney “started the race with a quarter. Ended with a quarter. Four years later, he didn’t add any votes, despite a vigorous commitment of time and money down the stretch. All after taking a victory lap over the weekend,” said Obama senior campaign strategist David Axelrod.
  • LAT - Navajo Nation confronts HIV and AIDS
    Infections are rising within the tribe at a time when they are holding steady or declining in other groups across the country. Poor education is partly to blame, with some tribal members learning about HIV and AIDS only upon diagnosis…

    In sheer numbers, the amount of infections is small among the 173,600 people who live in the Navajo Nation. The Indian Medical Center and its clinics scattered across the reservation log about 35 new cases a year. But that's about three times the number recorded a decade ago.

    Signs of trouble emerged in 2001, when about half a dozen patients trickled into the Indian Medical Center with severe fevers, rashes and headaches.
  • NYT - After 40-Year Battle, Train May Roll for Oahu
    From the farmlands here on the western side of Oahu, the hotels of Honolulu and the bluffs of Diamond Head can be seen rising 20 miles in the distance. This is rural Hawaii: waves and coastline on one side, lush mountains on the other and barely a building or vehicle in sight.

    But sometime this spring, a $5.3 billion project is scheduled to rise from the Kapolei farmlands that offers powerful evidence of how much this island, a symbol of Pacific tranquillity, is changing. A 40-year battle to build a mass transit line appears to be nearing its end. Barring a court intervention, construction is to begin in March on a 20-mile rail line that will be elevated 40 feet in the air, barreling over farmland, commercial districts and parts of downtown Honolulu, and stretching from here to Waikiki.

    The two-track line —a 30-foot-wide span, with 21 elevated stations — is designed to accommodate an increasing crush of commuters and tourists while encouraging new growth and development, particularly on this undeveloped part of the island. The Honolulu rail project, scheduled for completion in 2018, seems certain to change sharply the nature of much of the south side of the island, as well as downtown Honolulu.
  • Miami Herald - Secret Guantánamo cell block cost nearly $700,000
    A once-secret Guantánamo cellblock now used to punish captives was built in November 2007 for $690,000 from a crude, then 5-year-old temporary prison camp design.

    Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese confirmed the existence of the block earlier this month, and released a photo of one steel-walled cell after detainee defenders called conditions inhumane.

    It’s called Camp Five-Echo, and “serves as a disciplinary block for those non-compliant detainees in Camps 5 and 6,” Reese said in an email Friday that for the first time revealed the cost of the 4-year-old prison camps construction project.

Europe


  • NewScientist - Stephen Hawking at 70: Exclusive interview
    Stephen Hawking is one of the world's greatest physicists, famous for his work on black holes. His condition means that he can now only communicate by twitching his cheek (see "The man who saves Stephen Hawking's voice"). His responses to the questions are followed by our own elaboration of the concepts he describes…

    What do you think most about during the day?

    Women. They are a complete mystery.
  • Reuters - EU agrees to embargo on Iranian oil
    European governments have agreed in principle to ban imports of Iranian oil, EU diplomats said Wednesday, dealing a blow to Tehran that crowns new Western sanctions months before an Iranian election.

    The prospective embargo by the European Union, along with tough U.S. financial measures signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve, form a concerted Western campaign to hold back Iran’s nuclear program…

    Diplomats said EU envoys held talks on Iran in the last days of December, and that any objections to an oil embargo had been dropped - notably from crisis-hit Greece which gets a third of its oil from Iran, relying on Tehran’s lenient financing. Spain and Italy are also big buyers.
  • FT - Editorial: Democracy under threat in Budapest
    Months before his death in December, Václav Havel, former Czech president and leader of his country’s anti-communist revolution, signed a petition decrying the destruction of democracy in Hungary. His warning, which echoed those of others, including this newspaper, went unheeded. A country at Europe’s geographical heart has suffered what amounts to a constitutional coup.

    Hungary’s new constitution, which took effect on January 1, combined with a flurry of “basic” laws rushed through at the end of 2011, has all but removed checks and balances to the power of Hungary’s government and ruling party. Meanwhile, the electoral rules have been changed in a way that could keep the party responsible, prime minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, in power for years to come.

    The legislative changes give the government sweeping influence over the media, the judiciary, the central bank and audit and budget watchdogs. In several cases, it will wield power via committees stuffed with Fidesz appointees, their heads installed for nine years and replaceable only by a two-thirds parliamentary vote. In the legal sphere, a close friend of Mr Orban has power to appoint judges. The constitutional court’s powers have been curtailed.

Africa


  • WaPo - Egypt’s Islamists could soon challenge generals
    The dominant showing by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt’s first post-revolution elections puts the country on a collision course, analysts say, with emboldened Islamists and the entrenched military set to vie for power.

    The Brotherhood, which was the leading opposition force under now-deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, has emerged as the country’s most viable political power. While votes are still being counted in the last of three stages of elections for parliament’s lower house, the Brotherhood expects to take more than 40 percent of seats and could claim an outright majority on Jan. 23, when the new parliament is scheduled to convene.

  • BBC - Nigeria fuel subsidy: Unions announce indefinite strike
    Nigeria's main trade unions have announced an indefinite strike and mass demonstrations from Monday unless the removal of a fuel subsidy is reversed.

    The withdrawal has led petrol prices to more than double since Monday, prompting anger countrywide. "We have the total backing of all Nigerian workers on this strike and mass protest," the Nigeria Labour Congress's Chris Uyot told the BBC.

    Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, but imports refined petrol.

Middle East


  • AP - Syrian activists claim Assad’s regime is misleading Arab League observers
    Activists accused the Syrian regime Wednesday of misleading Arab League observers by taking them to areas loyal to the government, changing street signs to confuse them and sending regime supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.

    The monthlong observer mission, which started Dec. 27, offers a rare outside glimpse into a country where a government crackdown on a 9-month-old uprising has killed more than 5,000 people. But there are fears Assad loyalists have corrupted the observer process beyond repair.

  • RIA Novosti - Hamas condemns Palestine-Israeli peace talks
    Palestinian radical movement, Hamas criticized on Wednesday a recent Palestine-Israeli peace talks in Jordan, calling it “a strike on Hamas-Fatah rapprochement”…

    The first in 16 months round of Palestine-Israeli direct peace talks was held on Tuesday in Jordan’s capital of Amman. The Palestinian delegation, headed by the Fatah member Saeb Erekat, submitted to Israel a list of proposals on border and security issues. Israel pledged to respond the proposals at the further joint meetings.

    Hamas official however spoke out against the meeting, calling it “a strike on Hamas-Fatah rapprochement” and “a waste of time.”

South Asia


  • WaPo - Taliban publicly expresses interest in talks with U.S.
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed off Wedneday on the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar so that the militant group can hold talks with the United States.

    Karzai expressed hope in a statement that peace talks between the dueling sides would “eliminate the foreigner’s excuses” to use Afghanistan as battlefield against terrorist groups. “Dialogue is the only way to achieve peace and get rid of war and the violence imposed upon suffering Afghan people,” the statement said…

    The Taliban on Tuesday for the first time publicly expressed interest in negotiating with Washington, outlining a vision for talks with U.S. officials in Qatar that conspicuously excluded a role for the Afghan government.
  • Times of India - US State Department acknowledges 'goof up' in its India maps
    As US State Department on Thursday posted a new map of India reflecting its long standing official position on the country's geographical boundaries, its spokesman acknowledged of having made a " goof up" in this regard, which had resulted in a strong objection from New Delhi.

    "We made a goof and we fixed it and we're now back in compliance with our own cartographical policy," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily news conference as she announced the posting of the new and corrected maps of India on the website of the State Department and its travel related sites.

    The previous controversial maps, which showed parts of Jammu and Kashmir as part of Pakistan, was removed by the State Department in November after India's strong objection.

Asia


  • Foreign Policy - The End of the Chinese Dream
    In today's China, the abilities to buy and sell real estate and to win government contracts are among the greatest drivers of wealth, and it's those who are already wealthy and well-connected who have access to these opportunities… And those at the top increasingly act above the law. "Privilege begets money, and money begets privilege."

    This, of course, runs counter to the optimistic, popular fairy tale of China over the past 30 years, duly promoted by the ruling Communist Party, that a rising tide and roaring economy inevitably lifts all boats; that the future will be better, materially, than the past; that hard work will get you ahead; and that education is the great leveler. Call it the Chinese dream…

    Or, as my friend, the struggling reporter, put it: "People no longer believe you can win by working hard and honestly in China."
  • Guardian - Chinese airlines refuse to pay EU carbon tax
    China's four leading airlines have thrown down the gauntlet to the European Union by saying they will refuse to pay carbon charges levied under Europe's emissions trading scheme.

    The defiant message — which could lead to a ban from European airports — marks an escalation of resistance to the scheme, which came into effect this week and is also fiercely opposed by the United States.

    Despite the growing threat of a trade war, Europe sees the cap-and-trade system for aviation emissions as a crucial tool for reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Oceana


  • SMH - Call to send patrol ship to intervene with whalers
    The incursion of the Japanese whalers' security ship deep into Australian waters has drawn renewed calls for federal government intervention in the conflict.

    The controversial Shonan Maru 2 was last night steaming off the Western Australian coast, shadowing the Sea Shepherd ships Steve Irwin and the increasingly damaged scout vessel Brigitte Bardot.

    The opposition spokesman for the environment, Greg Hunt, said last night both parties to the conflict were pushing the boundaries of international law. "These actions further highlight the responsibility Australia has to dispatch a vessel to the region to have a so-called cop-on the beat," he said.
  • Fairfax NZ - Airline pilot startled by flying shark
    Just when you thought it was safe to re-enter Christchurch airspace this summer – shark!

    The pilot of a passenger jet, thought to be an Air New Zealand flight, was on his descent to Christchurch International Airport on Boxing Day when he radioed ground control with an unlikely sighting – a shark flying at several thousand feet.

    The fish out of water was identified as a remote-controlled, helium-filled shark that has topped must-have present lists this Christmas.

Americas


  • LAHT - Appeals Court Rules Against Chevron in Ecuador
    An appeals court in the northeastern Ecuadorian province of Sucumbios has upheld last year’s multi-billion-dollar judgment against U.S. oil supermajor Chevron Corp. in an Amazon pollution case dating back decades.

    On Tuesday, the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios ratified a Feb. 14, 2011, ruling that had ordered the San Ramon, California-based oil company to pay $8.2 billion in environmental remediation costs, as well as an additional penalty equivalent to 10 percent of that total to cover plaintiff damages.

    It also upheld the lower court’s decision ordering the company to pay nearly $9 billion if it refuses to apologize to local communities for pollution caused by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001.

    A spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Front, which supports the class-action lawsuit, said this latest ruling confirms Texaco’s “culpability” for environmental damage between 1964 and 1990.
  • CS Monitor - Brazil uses soccer to bring down the murder rate
    With 16 million guns circulating in Brazil and nearly 100 citizens killed each day by firearms, lawmakers here are hoping there is one national passion that will induce gun owners to lay down arms: soccer.

    Draft legislation in Brazil’s congress would give discounted 2014 World Cup Brazil tickets to those who voluntarily turn in their weapons. Brazil currently has the highest number of annual murders.

  • MercoPress - Cristina Fernandez undergoes full thyroidectomy with “no complications”
    Argentine President Cristina Fernandez thyroid cancer surgery was completed with “no inconveniences or complications”, said the official medical release signed by the intervening specialists, adding that a full thyroidectomy was practiced.

    Presidential spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro made the official announcement a little over two hours after the Head of State came out of the operating theatre on Wednesday close to mid day.

    Scoccimarro added that the President was “awake” and will remain in hospital for the next 72 hours. The next official medical report will be issued tomorrow (Thursday) at noon.
  • AP - Prison fight in northern Mexico leaves 31 inmates dead; 13 injured
    A fight among inmates armed with makeshift knives, clubs and stones left 31 people dead in a prison in a drug-plagued state in northern Mexico, authorities said.

    Another 13 prisoners were wounded in the brawl in the penitentiary in the Gulf Coast city of Altamira, Tamaulipas state’s Public Safety Department said in a statement…

    Local media said the fight was between members of the rival Gulf and Zetas drug cartels but authorities wouldn’t confirm the reports. Tamaulipas state has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the two former allies.
  • Globe and Mail - Son of alleged terrorist faces deportation
    The son of an alleged terrorist faces deportation over convictions for dangerous crimes – including using a sawed-off shotgun to rob prostitutes.

    Federal officials have deemed Al-Munzir Es-Sayyid, 22, too dangerous to be allowed to stay in Canada. His father is Mahmoud Es-Sayyid Jaballah, an alleged extremist whom the federal government has been trying to kick out for more than a decade.

    In the mid-1990s, the Egyptian family sought asylum in Canada, but became notorious after the government jailed Mr. Jaballah and accused him of links to terrorism. Twelve years later, he remains before the courts, fighting allegations he helped al-Qaeda publicize its claim of responsibility for bombings that killed more than 200 people at U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Antarctica


  • Guardian - Pale octopus, hairy-chested yeti crab and other new species found
    A world of previously unseen creatures has been found thriving next to boiling vents of water, several miles under the surface of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Hundreds of hairy-chested yeti crabs, a mysterious-looking pale octopus and colonies of limpets, snails and barnacles were found by British scientists at a hydrothermal vent located in the ocean's East Scotia Ridge…

    The first-known yeti crab, Kiwa hirsuta, was described living near a hydrothermal vent in the south pacific in 2005 and, since then, several species have been discovered in different parts of the undersea world. Around other hydrothermal vents, however, these creatures tend occur in lower numbers; and the new species found in the ESR are not only more numerous but also visually distinct.

    "Hirsuta has long hairs on its limbs and its claws, whereas our yeti crabs have extremely hairy chests. One of the nicknames of the crabs which developed during the cruise was the Hasselhoff crabs because they had these dense mats of [hair] on their undersides, the equivalents of their chests."

Originally posted to Overnight News Digest on Wed Jan 04, 2012 at 09:58 PM PST.

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