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WH Takes Credit For Increased Oil And Gas Production
The Obama administration is taking credit for the increase in U.S. oil and gas production, even though it's happened in spite of the president's policies. In an exchange on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace challenged White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough when McDonough boasted of increased oil production. McDonough was making the point that it's time to enact policies beneficial to middle class families, now that the economic crisis is over: "It's decades now that wages have stagnated, for hard-working middle-class families. (Obama's) saying enough is enough, we're out of the crisis of the last several years. Unemployment is down under 5.6 percent. More oil produced in this country than in any time in the last several decades. CNS News
VOA VIEW: Oil and gas production would be higher if were not for Obama policies.

Christie Launches PAC In Significant Step Toward White House Run
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has taken a major step toward a run for president in 2016, forming a political action committee that will allow him to raise money for a possible White House bid. The creation of the committee, called Leadership Matters for America, was confirmed to Fox News by a Christie adviser. The paperwork was filed Friday before his address over the weekend to the Iowa Freedom Summit, a conservative gathering in Des Moines. The committee, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, also allows Christie to begin to hire staffers, build the foundations of a campaign operation and travel across the country as he weighs a final decision on a run. He plans to make such trips starting in February, Fox News has learned. Fox News

Secret Service: Crashed Drone Used Recreationally
The person operating the drone that crashed on the White House grounds called the U.S. Secret Service Monday morning to "self-report" their involvement in the incident. The individual was interviewed by Secret Service agents and has been fully cooperative, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in a statement Monday afternoon. The Secret Service locked down the White House shortly after 3 a.m. after an officer on the south grounds of the White House spotted the drone, described as a two-foot wide "quad copter," flying above the White House grounds before crashing on the southeast side of the complex. The officer saw the drone flying at a very low altitude. "Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device," Leary said. CNN


Gov't To Overhaul Medicare Payments To Doctors, Hospitals
Medicare will change the way it pays hospitals and doctors to reward quality over volume, the Obama administration said Monday, in a shift that officials hope will be a catalyst for the nation's $3 trillion health care system. "It is in our common interest to build a health care system that delivers better care, spends health care dollars more wisely and results in healthier people," said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. The shift won immediate support from insurers and the American Hospital Association. The professional group representing primary care doctors also said it's "on board." But American Medical Association president Robert Wah stopped short of an endorsement, telling reporters his group is encouraged but wants specifics. ABC

How Obama’s $3 Trillion Health-Care Overhaul Would Work
The Obama administration has announced plans to accelerate a shift in how the U.S. pays its $2.9 trillion annual health-care bill. Officials at Medicare, which covers one in six Americans, want to stop paying doctors and hospitals by the number of tests and treatments they do. Instead, the government wants to link payments to how well providers take care of patients, not just how much care they provide. This transition is already under way. Millions of Americans are now covered in experimental programs created by the Affordable Care Act designed to reduce unnecessary care and incentivize doctors to focus on quality, not quantity. The administration wants to vastly expand such programs to include half of all Medicare payments by the end of 2018. Bloomberg

Sen. Feinstein: 'I Think Our Intelligence...In Many Of These Countries Is Weak'
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the former chair of the Senate intelligence committee, says she agrees with Republican Sen. John McCain that the U.S. needs Special Operations forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria: "Let me tell you where I come down on it," Feinstein told CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer. "I think our intelligence with respect to what's going to happen in many of these countries is weak. Whether it's because we do not have adequate human intelligence or not, I don't know. CNS News

Judge Puts Alabama Same-Sex Marriages On Hold After Striking Down Ban
Same-sex couples in Alabama will have to put their wedding plans on hold after a federal judge issued a two-week stay on her ruling that struck down the state's laws banning gay marriages, including those performed legally in other states. U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade said in an order issued Sunday night that she would give the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals until Feb. 9 to decide whether gay marriages should continue to be delayed in the state. "As long as a stay is in place, same-sex couples and their families remain in a state of limbo with respect to adoption, child care and custody, medical decisions, employment and health benefits, future tax implications, inheritance and many other rights associated with marriage," Granade wrote. Reuters

Federal Budget Shows Short-Term Rebound, Long-Term Deficits
The economy will rebound strongly over the next two years, then settle into a more normal economic cycle that will see steady but slow growth, albeit significantly less than the U.S. saw in the 1980s and 1990s, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday. The strong short-term growth will help keep federal deficits level through 2018, but the budget will turn south again soon afterward, and will be over the $1 trillion mark within a decade, the budget analysts said in their latest budget and economic outlook, which will govern Congress’s decisions for the next year. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Figures lie, and liars figure.

How Nursing Homes Collect Debts: Seizing Guardianship
For some families, the golden years are turning nightmarish, thanks to a state law that some nursing homes are using to try to gain guardianship -- and financial control -- of their older patients. It's not an outcome that many people are aware of, according toa report from The New York Times and researchers at Hunter College. In a study of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over 10 years, the study found that more than 12 percent were for nursing homes seeking guardianship of patients. In some cases, the motive was apparently to gain control of the patient's assets to pay bills. CBS

Obama: US Must Balance Human Rights, Security With Saudis
President Barack Obama defended the U.S. government's willingness to cooperate closely with Saudi Arabia on national security despite deep concerns over human rights abuses, as he led a high-level U.S. delegation to the kingdom Tuesday to pay respects following the death of King Abdullah. Saudi Arabia's status as one of Washington's most important Arab allies has at times appeared to trump U.S. concerns about the terrorist funding that flows from the kingdom and about human rights abuses. But Obama said he has found it most effective to apply steady pressure over human rights "even as we are getting business done that needs to get done."
"Sometimes we need to balance our need to speak to them about human rights issues with immediate concerns we have in terms of counterterrorism or dealing with regional stability," Obama said in a CNN interview that aired in advance of Obama's arrival in Riyadh. Houston Chronicle

Kraft Wants Apology From NFL If Investigation Clears Patriots
New England chairman and chief operating officer Robert Kraft made an sweeping statement about his concerns about the deflation of football investigation after the Patriots arrived here for Super Bowl XLIX. He threw his full support behind New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady and expects an apology from the league if the investigation “is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs.” Atlanta Journal

Documents Show N.S.A.’s Moves On Surveillance Before Congress’s Approval
A federal judge ruled in 2007 that the U.S.A. Patriot Act empowered the National Security Agency to collect foreigners’ emails and phone calls from domestic networks without prior judicial approval, newly declassified documents show. The documents — two rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — fill in a chapter in the history of the N.S.A.’s warrantless surveillance program. They show the agency’s secret moves in the months before Congress authorized the spying by enacting the Protect America Act in August 2007. The disclosure also brought into public view a previously unknown example of how the surveillance court, which hears arguments only from the government before issuing secret rulings, sometimes accepts novel interpretations of the law to bless government requests for spying powers. NY Times


Hillary Clinton Has Been M.I.A. Lately -- And Here’s Why
At a time when many potential 2016 presidential contenders appear to be starting the ignition of their campaigns, Hillary Clinton has pressed the brake pedal. Or so it seems. Clinton’s calendar, which was jam-packed throughout most of last year with paid speeches, award ceremonies, fundraisers, book tour stops, campaign appearances and official Clinton Foundation business, is now virtually empty. Over the past six weeks, the likely Democratic presidential candidate has made just two public appearances -– both on the same day, and both in Canada. She doesn’t have another event scheduled until late next month. ABC

S&P 500 Advances On Greek Vote As Energy Shares Rally
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose, following its first weekly advance this year, as gains in energy companies overshadowed a drop in technology shares as investors considered possible fallout from Greek elections. The S&P 500 (SPX) added 0.3 percent to 2,057.09 at 4 p.m. in New York, extending gains in the final 30 minutes of trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 6.10 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,678.70. The Nasdaq 100 Index slipped 0.1 percent, while the Russell 2000 Index of small caps rallied 1 percent. In New York, officials told residents to stay at home as a blizzard forecasters call “life-threatening” may dump as much as two feet of snow from New York to Boston. Exchanges plan to remain open in the U.S., with the New York Stock Exchange’s owner Intercontinental Exchange Inc. saying it’ll be business as usual. Bloomberg

US High Court Vacates Ruling On Long Hair In Alabama Prisons
Native American inmates in Alabama prisons have won a round in their legal battle to wear long hair. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had upheld the Alabama prison system's policy against long hair. The Supreme Court told the 11th Circuit court to reconsider the case in light of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling last week that said a Muslim prison inmate in Arkansas can grow a short beard for religious reasons. Native American inmates say long hair is part of their religious practices. The Alabama Department of Corrections argues that long hair poses security, discipline and hygiene risks and makes it easier for an inmate to change his appearance after an escape. Las Vegas Sun

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Ex-CIA Officer Convicted Of Leaking Secrets To NY Times Reporter
A former CIA officer was convicted Monday of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter. Jurors convicted 47-year-old Jeffrey Sterling, of O'Fallon, Missouri, of all nine counts he faced in federal court. On the third day of deliberations, the jurors had told the judge that they could not reach a unanimous verdict. But they delivered guilty verdicts later in the afternoon after the judge urged them to keep talking. At issue in the two-week trial: Who told journalist James Risen about the secret mission, one that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified was one of the government's most closely held secrets as well as one of its best chances to thwart Iran's nuclear-weapons ambitions? CBS

FBI Investigating Online Threats That Affected 3 Flights
The FBI says it is trying to determine who made online threats involving three commercial airline flights, causing the evacuation of two and the diversion of another.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Monday that agents were investigating whether the threats came from the same person or from copycats. Law enforcement determined the public was not at risk. Such threats are not rare. Eimiller said federal officials take them seriously and suspects can be prosecuted. Passengers were taken from two planes that landed Sunday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In addition, a Delta Air Lines flight was diverted to Dallas from its Los Angeles-Orlando, Florida, route. The flights into Seattle originated in Long Beach, California, and Phoenix, and were operated by JetBlue and SkyWest. Las Vegas Sun

Obama's India Trip: A Parade, Pageantry And $4B In Aid
After watching India's Republic Day parade, President Obama told business leaders he plans to build stronger trade ties with the country. Obama, the first U.S. president to attend the parade marking the day India's new constitution took effect in 1950, sat with his wife, Michelle, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi behind bullet-proof glass. At a meeting with Indian and U.S. business leaders, Obama spoke of the two countries' trade relationship. He said he hopes to increase both imports and exports, which total about $100 billion a year, 20 percent of the bilateral trade between the United States and China. "We are moving in the right direction....That said, we also know that the US-India relationship is defined by so much untapped potential," Obama said. UPI


Memo To Work Martyrs: Long Hours Make You Less Productive
Nearly half of U.S. workers say they routinely put in more than 50 hours on the job each week, often without overtime pay. But employers should probably start politely declining the "free" gift, new research suggests. So-called "work martyrs" give hundreds of hours in free labor to their employers every year, encouraged by always-on gadgets, work through nights, weekends, and vacations. Trading sleep or fun for unpaid work is obviously a bad deal for employees, but there's a growing body of evidence that even apparently "free" labor might not be a good deal for employers, either. Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University. MSNBC

State To Get $48M From Feds To Help House Homeless
Washington will receive $48.2?million in federal money to house and serve homeless residents. The announcement by U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro on Monday mostly renews grants to 217 projects throughout the state aimed at sheltering adults and children or preventing them from ending up sleeping on sidewalks, in underpasses or on all-night buses in the first place. The grants include $510,000 for Seattle anti-poverty group Solid Ground’s JourneyHome Rapid Rehousing program, which helps homeless families with children throughout King County, and $123,000 for Friends of Youth’s New Ground Bothell, which provides transitional housing for homeless young mothers or pregnant women. In all, HUD awarded $1.8?billion to 8,400 homeless projects around the nation. In 2010, the Obama administration started a strategic plan to end homelessness. Since then, the rate of homelessness has fallen from its recession-driven peak. Seattle Times

Lawmakers Concerned About New Mexico's Unbalanced Books
New Mexico's checkbook is out of balance by an estimated $100 million, leaving lawmakers to question top finance officials about their efforts to reconcile the books and protect the state's borrowing power. Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford told members of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that the estimate is his agency's best guess, but the difference between the state's check register and what it actually has had in the bank during the last several years could actually amount to more than $460 million. Clifford's agency has been working with other state departments to make adjustments and to improve the accuracy of the general ledger, but some lawmakers voiced concerns that it could take another two years to solve the problem. Tampa Tribune

Feds’ Unemployment Benefits Made Job Recession Worse
If you pay people not to work, they won’t work — and cutting off their payments sends them scurrying back into the job market, according to new research by three academics who looked at the federal government’s extended unemployment benefit program and concluded that it actually deepened, rather than helped, the jobs recession. Once the benefits ended at the end of 2013, the jobs picture began to rebound, trouncing even some of the rosier predictions for the year, the academics said in a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper released this month. Washington Times
VOA VIEW: Government interference always makes matters worse.

S&P Downgrades Russia's Credit Rating To Junk Status
Standard & Poor's downgraded Russia's sovereign credit rating to junk status amid a steady decline in the country's economy. The hits keep on coming for Russia's economy. Oil's dramatic decline, and sanctions by the United States and other European countries have put the country on a steady march toward a possible recession.
The Russian ruble has reached an all-time low, losing more than 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in 2014. After Monday's credit ranking news, the ruble fell another five percent to 68.57 against the dollar as of 5 p.m. Monday. Now with it's new BB+ or below investment grade status from Standard & Poor's, Russia will have a harder time borrowing money, and if it does, it'll cost the country more. The credit rating agency expects inflation to rise above 10 percent in Russia in 2015. UPI

110M STD Cases In U.S.; Under-25 Most At Risk
Obviously you shouldn't have unprotected casual sex, but it you do, you might want to avoid the Deep South. Especially if you're between the ages of 15 and 24. According to new 2013 figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sexually transmitted diseases, eight of the 11 states with the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases were in the Southeast. (The CDC did not release new statistics for HIV/AIDS.) California ranked 22, with 549 cases per 100,000 residents. In the United States, 20 million cases of new sexually transmitted infections occur every year from just eight viruses and bacteria, according to the CDC. What's worse is that, because many people don't realize they're infected, the number of existing infections in the U.S. at any given time is much greater -- about 110 million, the CDC estimates. SF Gate

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Northeast Corridor Braces For 'Potentially Historic' Snowstorm
Much of the Northeast was going into shutdown mode Monday ahead of a blizzard of "historic proportions," with thousands of flight cancellations, a statewide travel ban in Connecticut and road crews and utilities braced for a long night of work heading into Tuesday, when the storm could reach full strength. The blizzard is expected to dump as much as 3 feet of snow along a 250-mile stretch from northern New Jersey up to southern Maine, affecting as many as 50 million people and potentially crippling New York City and Boston. Snowfall was expected as far south as Washington. The warning issued by the National Weather Service also indicated winds of up to 75 miles per hour and widespread coastal flooding was possible, starting Monday and extending throughout Tuesday. Fox News

U.S. Top Court Rules For Employer In Retiree Benefits Fight
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sided with a company that amended a collective bargaining agreement to force retirees to pay toward healthcare costs, throwing out a lower-court ruling that favored the former employees who objected to the change. On a unanimous vote, the nine-member court handed a win to M&G Polymers USA, a subsidiary of Italy-based chemical company Mossi & Ghisolfi International, by sending the case back for further proceedings in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Allyson Ho, the company's lawyer, said the Supreme Court's ruling "sends a strong message that restores a level playing field in benefits litigation nationwide." Reuters

In Iowa, Huckabee Woos The Party Faithful
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, everybody's favorite Bible-quoting, bass-guitar-playing Republican presidential candidate, is back on the trail, seven years after he won this state's caucuses. On Sunday night, he arrived at the Walnut Creek Church next to I-235 in the suburbs of Des Moines to sign copies of his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, for about 50 fans. "Back when he ran in 2007-2008, the question was, who is Mike Huckabee," said Pastor Terry Amman, welcoming him with a slightly deflated cardinal-and-gold Iowa State University souvenir football. "That's all changed - he needs no introduction." Philadelphia Inquirer

Social Media Sites Suffer Widespread Outages
Facebook suffered a widespread outage lasting roughly 40 minutes on Tuesday affecting users in the United States, Asia, the U.K. and Australia. The social media giant’s Instagram service was also briefly inaccessible. A South Korea public relations company that represents Facebook said the company was “working to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.” It did not explain what caused the outage. Facebook has about 1.25 billion users and Instagram has some 300 million. News of the Facebook outage set rival social network Twitter alight. It comes ahead of Facebook reporting its quarterly earnings on Wednesday. NY Post

Fidel Castro Writes Statement On Shift In Cuba-US Relations
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro ended his long silence over his country’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with the United States, writing that he backs the negotiations even though he distrusts politics in Washington. The comments were the first by the 88-year-old revolutionary leader on the talks with the U.S. since the historic Dec. 17 declaration that the countries would move to restore ties broken more than a half century ago. “I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” he wrote in a letter to a student federation read at the University of Havana. It also appeared in Communist Party newspaper Granma. Washington Post
VOA VIEW: Castro beat Obama, not the US.

Extra Funding Sought To Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
The Obama administration wants to double the amount of federal funding dedicated to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a mounting problem that causes an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually in the United States. President Obama will ask Congress for the $1.2 billion as part of his annual budget request, scheduled to be unveiled next week, White House officials said. The funding would be used to speed development of antibiotics and diagnostic tools, improve surveillance for “superbugs,” and better prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant microbes in hospitals and other health-care settings. Washington Post

India Nuke Deals Still Thorny For US Despite 'Breakthrough'
India and America's declaration of a breakthrough in contentious nuclear energy cooperation has been met with a lukewarm response from industry and analysts. Few expect the potentially lucrative Indian market to suddenly become less complicated for U.S. nuclear companies. President Barack Obama's three-day visit to New Delhi raised hopes for concrete plans to tackle India's fossil fuel dependency and to resolve a four-year standoff over liability that prevented U.S. and Japanese nuclear energy development on Indian soil. Instead, there were vague commitments and public displays of chumminess between Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. San Diego Union

Federal Government Failing To Protect Children
The federal government's failure to enforce the nation's child protection laws is a "national disgrace" that leaves abused children vulnerable to future harm, according to a three-year study by two child advocacy groups. The 110-page report released Tuesday identified some of the same failures reported in December by The Associated Press after an eight-month investigation into hundreds of children who died of abuse or neglect in plain view of child protection authorities. "Our laws are weak. We don't invest in solutions. Federal laws aren't enforced. And courts are turning their backs. This creates a trifecta of inertia and neglect," said Amy Harfield, policy director at the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which wrote the report with the nonprofit group First Star. Charlotte Observer

The Drone Debate Hits Close To Home For White House
The drone-control debate has hit uncomfortably close to home for the White House, thanks to an apparently hapless operator who sent his quadcopter crashing inside the presidential compound. Questions persist about why the night-owl drone operator would be flying it within range of the White House at 3 a.m. but the Secret Service's early investigation suggested he meant no harm. Even so, the crash inside the compound Monday pointed to the risk of increasingly commonplace drones penetrating the presidential security bubble, with more dangerous intent. And it highlighted the challenge of setting controls on this expanding frontier. Kansas City Star

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Iran Nuclear Debate Takes Partisan Shape, As Democrats Resist
Democrats on Capitol Hill have introduced a plan that would endorse international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program while vowing to sanction Iran if the effort fails. The resolution, introduced by ten Democratic senators, is non-binding and does not formally codify new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, in the event of a breakdown in the talks or a violation of negotiating terms. That makes all the difference, according to Obama administration officials, who say a bill that "triggers" new sanctions would be interpreted by Iran and the international community as a subterfuge in the diplomatic effort. Jerusalem Post

US Halted Israeli Arms Transfer To Nigeria
The United States suspended the resale of US-made military helicopters by Israel to the Nigerian government for its fight against Boko Haram last summer, according to Abuja. The transfer of such aircraft requires a review to determine its “consistency with US policy interests,” Obama administration officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Reviews of this kind take place in the case of “any requests for one country to transfer US-origin defense items to another country,” said Ned Price, White House Assistant Press Secretary and Director for Strategic Communications. According to a report initially published in a local Nigerian daily, ThisDay, Nigerian government officials believe a large sale was halted because of “unfounded allegations of human rights violations by our troops,” one such official is quoted saying. The Nigerian official is not named in the report. Jerusalem Post

Syrian Kurds 'Drive Islamic State Out Of Kobane'
Kurdish forces have driven Islamic State (IS) militants from Kobane, officials say, ending a four-month battle for the northern Syrian town. Fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) were said to have entered outlying areas in the east of the town after the jihadists retreated. However, the US said it was not yet prepared to declare the battle over. Kobane was seen as a major test of the US-led coalition's strategy to combat IS in Syria with air strikes. Tens of thousands of people fled over the nearby border with Turkey after IS launched an offensive in September, capturing about 300 nearby villages before entering the predominantly Kurdish town itself. BBC

Dementia Linked' To Common Over-The-Counter Drugs
A study has linked commonly used medicines, including over-the-counter treatments for conditions such as insomnia and hay-fever, to dementia. All of the types of medication in question are drugs that have an "anticholinergic" effect. Experts say people should not panic or stop taking their medicines. In the US study, in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, higher doses and prolonged use were linked to higher dementia risk in elderly people. All medicines can have side-effects and anticholinergic-type drugs that block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine are no exception. We would encourage doctors and pharmacists to be aware of this potential link and would advise anyone concerned about this to speak to their GP before stopping any medication”. Patient information leaflets accompanying such drugs warn of the possibility of reduced attention span and memory problems as well as a dry mouth. BBC

WikiLeaks Threatens Legal Action Against Google And US After Email Revelations
WikiLeaks is fighting back in an escalating war with both Google and the US government, threatening legal action the day after demanding answers for the tech giant’s wholesale handover of its staffers’ Gmail contents to US law enforcement. The targets of the investigation were not notified until two and a half years after secret search warrants were issued and served by the FBI, legal representatives for WikiLeaks said in a press conference on Monday. “We’re looking at legal action not only with Google but to those who actually turned in the order,” said Baltasar Garzón, the head of Julian Assange’s legal defence team. Calling the order illegal and arbitrary, Garzón said insisted “any information that would be used from the taking of documents [this way] will be considered as biased, illegal and will cancel the whole proceedings.” Guardian

Climate Change Responsible For Super-Charging Winter Storms, Scientists Say
Winters may be getting shorter, but watch out when it does snow: climate change is super-charging storms like the blizzard engulfing the American north-east, scientists said on Monday. The heavier storms of recent years – snowfalls that shut down cities and brought heavy flooding to coastal areas of New England – carried the imprints of climate change, as researchers get better at detecting the fingerprints of global warming – even from snow. It was too soon to pin the current storm to climate change, but a trend line was emerging, the scientists said. “The snow season is getting shorter,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “But the interesting thing is you can end up with heavier snows in part because of climate change.” Guardian

Bashar Al-Assad Accuses Israel Of 'Supporting' Syrian Islamist Groups
President Bashar al-Assad on Monday accused Israel of acting as "al-Qaeda's air force" for its attacks on regime and Hizbollah positions in Syria. Mr Assad repeated previous Syrian allegations that Israel was supporting rebel activity in the country – including by Jabhat al-Nusra, the militant group loyal to al-Qaeda. "They are supporting the rebels in Syria. It's very clear," he told Foreign Affairs magazine. "Because whenever we make advances in some place, they make an attack in order to undermine the army. "That's why some in Syria joke: 'How can you say that al-Qaeda doesn't have an air force? They have the Israeli air force'." In the interview, Mr Assad repeated his now familiar claim that the opposition are "puppets" of outside powers. Telegraph

UN Rights Chief Says World ‘Haunted’ By Suffering Endured By Millions During Holocaust
Ahead of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, taking place tomorrow, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement to mark the “forever solemn day” when the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp was liberated. Seventy years since the camp was liberated on 27 January 1945, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he bowed “both personally and as a representative of the United Nations” to every woman, man and child who was forced to endure terrible suffering at the hands of the Nazis. UN News

Libya: Latest Round Of UN-Mediated Peace Talks Kick-Off In Geneva
Libyan parties have gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, today for a new round of United Nations-facilitated talks aimed at resolving the North African nation's political crisis. The latest gathering, hosted by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), is a follow-up to a meeting held in the Swiss city last week, when stakeholders expressed commitment to a united and democratic Libya governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights. This time around the participants will discuss the items that were agreed on last week. On Wednesday, another meeting will bring together municipal and local council representatives from cities and towns across Libya to discuss confidence-building measures. In a statement issued over the weekend, UNSMIL appealed to all Libyan stakeholders and invited participants to approach these talks 'in a spirit of openness and reconciliation that is guided by the higher national interest of the Libyan people.' UN News

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