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March 7, 2014

Someone's gotta do it.

Here's a video interviewing some of the 400,000 brave souls eager to take a one-way trip to Mars. While some candidates are depressed and lonely on Earth, seeing little or no purpose for their continued existence here, others would be leaving behind wives, boyfriends, and children in the pursuit of doing something good and noble — becoming part of the first group of humans to colonize the red planet.

Personally, while I think it's awesome to be alive at the dawn of the era where humanity is beginning to try to colonize the universe, I sure as anything don't want to spend three years in an enclosed metal tube, drifting away from the tiny planet where everyone I have ever known exists, to colonize from scratch a dusty, empty rock. So I'm pretty thankful that there are people out there ballsy or gutsy or stupid or brave enough to do it, instead. John Aziz

History Lesson
4:17 a.m. ET

There's a growing bipartisan push to reform America's "War on Drugs" and the harsh prison sentences that came with it. When proponents of criminal justice reform want to highlight the problems with the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, they often focus on people caught selling marijuana. But Retro Report points out that the War on Drugs — declared by President Richard Nixon and given its punitive jail terms by New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) — was spurred by a less socially acceptable drug, heroin.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, heroin addiction and the accompanying rash of thefts was widely seen as a problem of inner-city black and Latino men, and the short version of the 14-minute Retro Report video might go something like this: Now that a new spike in heroin addictions is recognized as primarily afflicting young white people in the suburbs, lawmakers are focusing more on treatment and less on locking the problem away. The video is much more nuanced, of course: We learn that Nixon's plan initially called for treating addicts, for example, and that Hollywood played a big role in drumming up fear of heroin users and burying Washington, D.C.'s successful methadone treatment experiment. People learn from past mistakes.

If you watch the video, you'll meet John Dunne, an original sponsor of Rockefeller's harsh drug laws who has since become a leading critic; Kurt Schmoke, the former Baltimore mayor who introduced needle exchanges; and Rebecca Hogamier, an official at the Washington County, Maryland, health department who started a program to treat jailed heroin users with a drug called Vivitrol. You won't really hear from anyone who thinks the War on Drugs has succeeded, but you'll probably get a better understanding of how the U.S. got here, and why this new heroin epidemic may be handled more humanely. Peter Weber

Climate change
2:37 a.m. ET

You may have heard that China is the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the gas blamed for much of the human contribution to climate change. India is not far behind. If you are not in China or India and this makes you feel a bit smug, The Economist wants you to get a better grasp of the situation, especially if you live in the U.S. or Europe. The first issue is that China and India have much larger populations than the U.S. and Europe — so per capita carbon consumption is still much higher in the West — but that's only the tip of the (melting) iceberg.

In a series of charts, The Economist explains why understanding these issues matters, and why world leaders are feeling the urgency to act as they gather in Paris this week to try and forge a new global climate change pact. If India and China reach the European level of carbon consumption, "the Earth is in trouble," The Economist says. "If they get anywhere near the American level, the planet is toast." Watch the show video below. Peter Weber

2:15 a.m. ET

More than 30 college students headed back to school after Thanksgiving weekend were injured Sunday night when the charter bus they were on overturned on a Virginia highway.

In a statement, Virginia State Police said there were 50 passengers and the driver on board the bus when the crash took place, and 33 were taken to area hospitals; one person had life-threatening injuries, ABC News reports. The students were picked up at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and were headed to the first stop at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; the passengers were all returning to the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Radford University.

Police say the bus driver "lost control" on a highway ramp, and has been charged with reckless driving. Investigators are gathering evidence from the scene, and the bus operator, Abbott Trailways, says it is "working with police to determine what happened." Catherine Garcia

1:42 a.m. ET

It's official: Nothing in this world — not even a glittery hair tie — is safe.

Audree Kopp of Louisville, Kentucky, never thought twice about leaving a hair band around her wrist. About two weeks ago, Kopp noticed she had a bump on the back of her wrist, and when it didn't go away, she went to the doctor, who prescribed antibiotics. That didn't help, and finally, as the bump grew and became redder, Kopp went to the hospital. There, she found out she needed to have emergency surgery. "Thank God I caught it in time, or I could have had sepsis," she told WLKY.

Dr. Amit Gupta says Kopp's abscess was most likely caused by bacteria from the hair tie that got under her skin through pores and hair follicles. "Be careful, you can't put all these hair ties around the wrist, particularly because it can cause problems with the skin, it can cause infection," Gupta said. Kopp, who at first believed she had been bitten by a spider, ended up with three different types of infections, and she's vowed to never again wear a hair tie around her wrist. "It could have been a whole different ballgame," Kopp told WLKY. "Once it gets into your bloodstream, people have been known to go into a coma, your body shuts down. It could have been way worse." Catherine Garcia

Fatal errors
1:36 a.m. ET

A homeowner in Huron, California, knew something was wrong when he heard the screaming, he told Fresno County law enforcement. The unidentified homeowner called 911 on Saturday afternoon after lighting a fire in his fireplace, then quickly tried to put out the fire once he figured out the screaming was coming from the fireplace and smoke started pouring into the house. Sheriff's deputies and firefighters had to break open the chimney to get the suspected robber out, but he was dead by the time they reached him.

Fresno County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tony Botti said Sunday night that the coroner has identified the man in the chimney as Cody Caldwell, 19, and his cause of death was smoke inhalation and burns. Lt. Brandon Pursell of the county sheriff's office said that investigators believe that Caldwell tried to break into the house late on Friday night, then spent hours trapped in the chimney.

Europe's Migration Crisis
12:50 a.m. ET

In Brussels on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and European leaders struck a deal in which the European Union will pay Turkey up to 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to help reduce the flow of migrants to Europe. The EU says the money is intended to raise the quality of life for the 2.2. million Syrians currently in Turkey, providing them an incentive to stay, and it will be paid out as Turkey meets certain benchmarks. Most of the 720,000 migrants who have entered Europe through Greece this year from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere came through Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Turkey also negotiated a new round of talks on joining the 28-member union, and visa-free travel to and within the EU by October 2016 if Ankara meets certain conditions. "Today is a historic day in our accession process to the EU," Davutoglu said at the beginning of the talks. "I am grateful to all European leaders for this new beginning." European Union leaders said the agreement is first and foremost about migration. "As Turkey is making an effort to take in refugees — who will not come to Europe — it's reasonable that Turkey receive help from Europe to accommodate those refugees," French President Francois Hollande told reporters. Reuters has more on the deal in the video below:

Many European Union leaders are uncomfortable with the anti-secular and authoritarian bent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says BBC Istanbul correspondent Mark Lowen. After the editor of Turkey's main center-left newspaper, arrested last week apparently for publishing an article Erdogan disliked, urged EU leaders to keep human rights in Turkey a priority, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker insisted the migrant pact "would not lead to a situation where we forget about the main differences and divergences we have with Turkey — human rights and freedom of the press." Peter Weber

fight against ISIS
12:49 a.m. ET
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. military officials say the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State is causing mass defections and forcing elite fighters to take on roles usually reserved for low-ranking militants.

Army Col. Steve Warren said surveillance drones have captured footage showing checkpoints with fewer fighters, and because of weakened checkpoints, more civilians have been able to escape from ISIS-held territory; recently, 22 people were able to flee from Ramadi, Iraq. Checkpoints are also increasingly being manned by foreign militants who are trained to seize land and engage in battle, not inspect people and vehicles. There's also talk of more defections in places like Kirkuk, Iraq; last week, 90 ISIS fighters there — local men who were coerced into joining the group — surrendered to Kurdish peshmerga forces, USA Today reports.

Military officials estimate that 23,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since the campaign started in 2014, including 3,000 since mid-October; they also believe there are 20,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters still in Syria and Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institute, told USA Today "these anecdotes and snippets of information sound promising, but just remain a bit more skeptical until we see some more indicators and see what happens when more time passes." Catherine Garcia

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