For those who have everything: The absolutely foolproof alarm clock
Stop letting your alarm clock cause you to lose sleep. The Lexon Flip ($50) does away with a lot of buttons and their attendant middle-of-the-night worries. You simply flip the clock over to turn the alarm on, then flip it again to shut the alarm off. Only when the alarm is set can you see your wake-up time displayed in the corner of the LCD screen. Should you need further peace of mind, you can always consult the top of the clock, where "big, obvious letters" spell out the word "on."
Harry Reid released from hospital after eye surgery
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was released from George Washington University Hospital on Monday afternoon after a successful surgery.
The surgery, which took more than three hours, repaired broken bones in Reid's face from an exercise injury. The injury caused blindness in Reid's right eye.
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, told Politico that doctors are "optimistic" Reid will regain sight in his eye, but "there is no definitive verdict yet."
Reid will work from his Washington home for the rest of the week.
U.S. prisoner exonerations are at a record high
The National Registry of Exonerations has announced that 125 U.S. prisoners were exonerated in 2014 for crimes they didn't commit. The number marks the highest level of exonerated prisoners since the U.S. began recording them in 1989.
2014 marked the first time the total number of U.S. exonerations was above 100 in a single year. In 2013, there were 91 exonerations of U.S. prisoners.
The report notes that last year's number may be higher thanks to the spread of "conviction integrity units," which include experts dedicated to exonerating innocent prisoners. The U.S. now has 15 of these units, six of which were created in 2014. The report also notes that 47 of the 125 prisoners pled guilty to crimes they didn't commit.
Masked gunmen kill 3 guards, take hostages at Libyan luxury hotel
Masked gunmen stormed Tripoli's luxury Corinthia Hotel on Tuesday, killing at least three security guards and taking hostages, Libyan security officials tell The Associated Press. The hotel is popular with foreigners, and Libya's prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, sometimes lives there (though he wasn't there at the time of the attack). A hotel employee tells AP that Italian, Turkish, and British guests are staying at the hotel, but most guests were gone when the five masked gunmen arrived and started open-firing. They also set off a car bomb in the hotel parking lot, sending black smoke into the air.
— Times of Malta (@TheTimesofMalta) January 27, 2015
The gunmen and security forces are currently engaged in a standoff. There's no word yet on who the hostages are.
CBO projects that ObamaCare will cost 20 percent less than expected
On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest update on the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. The report is mostly good news for supporters of the law. Over the next 10 years, the law will cost the federal government 20 percent less than the last projections, the CBO said, and by the end of President Obama's second term, 24 million fewer Americans will lack health insurance, adding to the 12 million drop in the uninsured so far. That would leave only 8 percent of eligible Americans without insurance by the end of 2016.
Those projection assume that the law will remain essentially the same over the next decade, an expectation that could be upset by the Supreme Court, for instance. The CBO attributed the lower-than-expected costs to "many factors," but primarily "the slowdown in the growth of health care costs" and — to the chagrin of ObamaCare supporters — the Supreme Court–enabled decision by about half the states to forego a federally financed expansion of Medicaid. The projected costs could fall even lower this year, the report said, if premiums drop again, as seems probable.
Watch a moving, drone's-eye tour of Auschwitz, 70 years after liberation
Steven Spielberg will be among the boldface names attending Tuesday's memorial service marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. In a speech in Krakow on Monday night to some of the 300 Holocaust survivors also in Poland for the commemoration, Spielberg said that one important way to fight resurgent anti-Semitism is by "preserving places like Auschwitz so people can always see for themselves how hateful ideologies can become tangible acts of murder."
Assuming you didn't make it to Auschwitz for the service yourself, the BBC has a cinematic visual tour of the concentration camp and its pure-death-camp cousin, Birkenau (or Auschwitz II), that wouldn't look out of place in a Spielberg film, complete with aerial shots (from a drone) and soaring, melancholy soundtrack. The tour shows the railroad tracks that brought a million people to their deaths between 1940 and 1945, the converted Polish army barracks of Auschwitz and ruins of Birkenau's wooden bunkhouses, a courtyard where the Nazis frequently executed prisoners, and the cruel, mocking inscription above the death camp's welcome gate: "Work sets you free." —Peter Weber
Jon Stewart mirthfully critiques the GOP hopefuls who spoke in Iowa last weekend
"A lot of Republicans who will never be president met in Iowa this weekend," Jon Stewart said on Monday night's Daily Show, and luckily for him, they gave some entertaining speeches. In his arch look at what he called the "Fox News correspondent auditions," Stewart critiqued the addresses by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and finally — or so it seemed — Donald Trump.
"That's it," said Stewart. "It can't get more entertaining, and less electable, that Trump." So of course he spent the next few minutes focusing on Sarah Palin's speech, which, thanks to a TelePrompTer malfunction, bordered on incoherent. If you stick through to the end, Stewart has one not-unkind idea for how Palin can use her talents. —Peter Weber
Kurds declare victory over ISIS in Kobani
The Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters drove Islamic State to the edge of Kobani over the weekend, and late Monday they declared victory in the 131-day battle for the strategically and symbolically important Syrian town. "The city of Kobani is fully liberated," Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union said on Twitter, and Kurds in Kobani and across the border in Turkey celebrated.
— Barham Salih (@BarhamSalih) January 26, 2015
Fully liberated may be a bit of an overstatement, though. The entire town is under YPG and peshmerga control, Kobani Kurdish leader Anwar Muslim tells the BBC, but YPG fighters are conducting a "final clean-up" on the eastern edge of town, and the situation is "a little tense."
The Kurds' apparent victory in Kobani is being seen as evidence that the U.S.-led airstrikes can help defeat ISIS, at least if there is a ground force that can capitalize on the strikes. U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it "congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts." The fight against ISIS "is far from over," CENTCOM noted, but ISIS's "failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives."
That ISIS lost this round is important, but the Islamist would-be caliphate is doing well in other parts of Syria and Iraq, and has even started to expand into Afghanistan. As CNN notes below, ISIS reacted to its loss by calling for attacks against the West. —Peter Weber
Yeti braves blizzard to lurk around Boston
Boston residents, this news is bigger than the snowstorm: There's a yeti on the loose, and it has internet access.
— bostonmagazine.com (@BostonMagazine) January 27, 2015
Yes, someone wearing an abominable snowman outfit is wandering the cold streets and tweeting about it, using the handle @BostonYeti2015. So far, he's posted rather creepy pictures on deserted highways, sidewalks, and roads around town, and who knows where he's headed next. Your move, @NYCBigfoot212.
Report: The DEA is spying on millions of U.S. cars
Since 2008, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been secretly compiling a Justice Department database of millions of U.S. license plates and tracking the associated cars through a network of license plate readers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday night, citing "current and former officials and government documents." The program started as a means to seize drugs and other contraband near the U.S.-Mexico border — a part of the program the DEA had previously acknowledged — but it has expanded nationwide. How does it work? The Journal explains:
The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction, and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program. [Wall Street Journal]
As of 2011, the DEA had 100 such cameras around the country, but the agency also uses state-operated license-plate readers — and lets some state and local law enforcement agencies tap the database, run from the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center in Texas. The formerly secret program "raises significant privacy concerns," says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government's asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern." Read more about the surveillance program at The Wall Street Journal.
Lance Armstrong says he would 'probably' cheat again
Lance Armstrong admitted that although it was a "bad decision" for him to start doping, he would likely do it all over again.
"My answer is not a popular one," he told the BBC. "If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn't do it again, because I don't think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I'd probably do it again." Armstrong continued to reiterate that everyone else was doing it, saying, "When I made the decision, when my team made that decision, when the whole peloton made that decision, it was a bad decision and an imperfect time. But it happened." He also added that his high profile allowed his charity to go from "raising no money to raising $500 million, serving three million people. Do we want to take it away? I don't think anybody says 'yes.'"
In August 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from the sport of cycling. Since then, he said his life has "slowed from 100 mph to 10," and he would like it to go up to "50, 55." Armstrong also said he thinks the world is ready for his comeback, and he's ready to start the next chapter in his life. "Of course I want to be out of timeout," he said. "What kid doesn’t?"