If you like your Republic...
March 4, 2014

Another wave of health-care plan cancellation notices was set to crash on voters this fall. But the Obama administration found a way to shut that whole thing down. According to The Hill:

As early as this week, according to two sources, the White House will announce a new directive allowing insurers to continue offering health plans that do not meet ObamaCare's minimum coverage requirements.

Prolonging the "keep your plan" fix will avoid another wave of health policy cancellations otherwise expected this fall.

The cancellations would have created a firestorm for Democratic candidates in the last, crucial weeks before Election Day.

The White House is intent on protecting its allies in the Senate, where Democrats face a battle to keep control of the chamber. [The Hill]

Who knew that the Affordable Care Act could so conveniently conform itself to the changing political aims of the White House? The rule of law seems so much more negotiable now.

8:50 a.m. ET

Archaeologists in Belize have uncovered an ancient Mayan citadel, and its layout is fascinating.

The researchers used light detection and ranging (LiDAR) laser technology to locate the citadel in the ancient Mayan city known as El Pilar, which had about 20,000 residents. The city's construction began around 800 B.C.E.

The citadel is unlike previous discoveries at El Pilar, though. Anabel Ford, the lead archaeologist on the discovery, told Popular Archaeology that the citadel "does not meet with any traditional expectations."

The site doesn't include a "clear open plaza" or a "cardinal structure orientation," Ford noted, which would have been typical of Mayan centers. Ford also found it odd that the citadel features "no evident relationship" to other structures at the El Pilar site. The citadel does feature four temple-like buildings and terraces that are arranged in a way suggesting they are "defensive fortifications," Ancient Origins notes.

The archaeologists plan to continue excavating the citadel site and performing carbon dating of nearby organic materials. The researchers don't yet know whether the citadel dates to the pre-classical period, before 250 B.C.E., or if it was built long after the other buildings at El Pilar, in the Classic (200 to 1,000 C.E.) or post-Classic (after 1,200 C.E.) periods. Dating the citadel could also help the archaeologists understand what it was used for and why it was isolated from the rest of El Pilar.

The Next Jon Stewart
8:24 a.m. ET

On Monday, Comedy Central named Jon Stewart's replacement as host of The Daily Show — and it probably wasn't someone on your short list. Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old South African comedian, made his debut on the show only in December, and his segments usually involve making Stewart look ignorant or foolish when it comes to world news in general and Africa in particular.

When he got the call, "you don't believe it for the first few hours," Noah told The New York Times from Dubai, where he is on tour. "You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you're in a place where you can't really get alcohol." For his part, Stewart said he is "thrilled for the show and for Trevor," and that he may "rejoin as a correspondent just to be a part of it!!!"

As for how The Daily Show landed on Noah, Comedy Central's Michele Ganeless said: "We talked to women. We talked to men. We found in Trevor the best person for the job.... You don't hope to find the next Jon Stewart — there is no next Jon Stewart. So, our goal was to find someone who brings something really exciting and new and different." They certainly accomplished the "new and different" part. Now, let the second-guessing begin.

Watch the first of Noah's three appearances below. —Peter Weber

This doesn't look good
7:43 a.m. ET
Matt Cardy/Stringer/Getty Images

A new study to be published in next month's issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Texan cattle have become airborne. The DNA could then spread to humans and make the treatment of infections more difficult.

The study authors, who are environmental toxicology researchers at Texas Tech University, believe the bacteria may be capable of staying airborne for long periods of time and traveling significant distances, Time reports.

The researchers studied airborne particulate matter from 10 cattle feedlots in Texas over a six-month period. They found that the air downwind of the yards contained significant amounts of microbial communities with antibiotic-resistant genes. The scientists believe the genes become airborne after cow excretions become dust and are transported through the air.

"This is the first test to open our eyes to the fact that we could be breathing these things," study author Phil Smith told The Texas Tribune. Humans can already come into contact with antibiotic-resistant DNA through water or meat, but the findings suggest that feedlots may be bringing another DNA transfer risk into the picture.

The numbers don't lie
7:31 a.m. ET
Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images

In a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 34 percent of Republicans called President Obama an imminent threat to the United States, versus 25 percent who ranked Russian President Vladimir Putin and 23 percent who viewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assed as that dangerous. The online survey, conducted March 16-24, asked the 1,083 Democrats and 1,059 Republicans to assign a number to countries, groups, and individuals, with 1 being no threat and 5 being an imminent threat.

Obama wasn't the only domestic threat: 27 percent of Republicans gave 5 scores to Democrats, and 22 percent of Democrats similarly ranked the GOP as an imminent threat. "There tends to be a lot of demonizing of the person who is in the office," sociologist Barry Glassner tells Reuters. "The TV media here, and American politics, very much trade on fears."

There were some bipartisan fears, too: 58 percent of all respondents ranked Islamic State an imminent threat and 43 percent said the same of al Qaeda; Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was viewed as a top threat by only 27 percent of respondents. Find more results at Reuters.

6:38 a.m. ET
Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia via Getty Images

Last November, before Australia hosted a group of world leaders at a koala-hugging G20 summit, a staffer in the country's Department of Immigration and Border Protection accidentally emailed the passport numbers and other personal information about President Obama and 30 other world leaders to the local organizers of the Asian Cup soccer tournament, The Guardian reports.

"The cause of the breach was human error," the director of the Visa Services Support and Major Events department wrote in an email asking for guidance from Australia's privacy commissioner. The unidentified bureaucrat "failed to check that the autofill function in Microsoft Outlook had entered the correct person's details into the email 'To' field. This led to the email being sent to the wrong person." The compromised information included the "name, date of birth, title, position nationality, passport number, visa grant number, and visa subclass held relating to 31 international leaders," the official noted, adding that the Asian Cup people deleted all copies of the email.

The Guardian obtained the email through Australia's freedom of information law, noting that the visa manager's decision to not inform the world leaders about the breach — "Given that the risks of the breach are considered very low and the actions that have been taken to limit the further distribution of the email, I do not consider it necessary to notify the clients of the breach" — may violate some of the countries' privacy laws. For more details, read the entire email, or The Guardian's report.

Iran and the bomb
5:54 a.m. ET

On Sunday, with a hard deadline for a framework agreement on its nuclear program two days away, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the Iranian media that Iran will not ship its enriched uranium to Russia or anywhere else for conversion to rods incapable of fueling atomic weapons. "The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program," he said. "There is no question of sending the stocks abroad."

Western diplomats noted that there are other ways of rendering Iran's nuclear fuel unusable in weapons, such as diluting it or turning it into pellets inside Iran. Outside experts disagree on how much of a setback this is for the talks, or even whether shipping the uranium abroad was ever really on the table. The issue of Iran's stockpile hasn't been part of this final round of negotiations, an unidentified senior State Department official said in a statement. "There have been viable options that have been under discussion for months, including shipping out the stockpile. But resolution is still being discussed."

Talks are expected to continue up until the deadline at the end of March 31.

Science says
4:49 a.m. ET

Liver cancer is the second-deadliest type of cancer worldwide, and the London-based World Cancer Research Fund has a new report out examining what factors appear to contribute to liver cancer, and what helps people survive it. On the contributing-factor side, the WCRF study found that three or more alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of liver cancer — the same conclusion as in the body's last look at liver cancer in 2007.

In new findings, though, the WCRF discovered "strong evidence that drinking coffee is linked to a decreased risk of liver cancer," for reasons that aren't yet clear. "Both coffee and coffee extracts have also been shown to reduce the expression of genes involved in inflammation, and the effects appear to be most pronounced in the liver," the researchers suggest. This evidence comes largely from animal studies, "although some human studies contribute to the evidence," the study adds.

Other risk factors for liver cancer are obesity and being overweight — a new finding — and consuming aflatoxins, produced by a type of mold found on food stored improperly in warmer parts of the world. The researchers based their conclusions on 34 studies from around the world involving 8.2 million adults, 24,500 of whom had liver cancer. You can read the report at the WCRF's site.

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