Only in America: Criminalizing Christmas
Alabama schoolchildren who want to give their teacher a Christmas present should keep it simple — and cheap. According to a new statewide anti-bribery law, any teacher who accepts a non-token gift faces jail time and a $6,000 fine. Unacceptable bribes include a gift card, ham, or turkey. When teachers, parents, and even Gov. Robert Bentley (R) protested, the state ethics commission was unmoved, responding: "The suggestion that it is harmless for a schoolchild to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse."
Obama calls for drone regulation after Monday's incident at the White House
In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Tuesday, President Obama emphasized the importance of regulating unmanned aircraft.
Obama said that the remote-controlled quadcopter found on the White House lawn Monday was the kind "you buy in Radio Shack." He said that U.S. drone regulations need to "get the good and minimize the bad."
"There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife," Obama said. "But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it."
The Federal Aviation Administration is drafting drone regulations that will allow for wider drone use, but the process has been "fraught with delays," according to CNN.
Fox News' Rupert Murdoch really, really doesn't like Mitt Romney
The Australian-born media magnate — who owns both Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, both highly influential in conservative circles — has made his distaste for Mitt Romney all too clear, as chronicled in this story from The New York Times:
In the delicate and unseen campaign underway for Mr. Murdoch’s affections in the next presidential campaign, this much is clear: Mr. Romney is out of the running, a reality that has pained and angered his allies.
Presidential politics is rife with grudges and grievances, but it is hard to recall a display of animus as unsubtle as that which Mr. Murdoch and corners of his media empire have unleashed on Mr. Romney in the past few weeks as he has tried to build support for a third presidential run.
Mr. Murdoch’s most prominent American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, has called Mr. Romney’s last run a “calamity.” Mr. Murdoch has dismissed Mr. Romney as a “terrible candidate.” And, in a final indignity, Mr. Murdoch has heaped praise on Mr. Romney’s potential rivals, no matter how long a shot they have at the Republican nomination. [The New York Times]
Who does Murdoch like? According to the Times, he's a fan of Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul.
You can now send group Direct Messages on Twitter
Twitter announced Tuesday that it's rolling out a new feature for group Direct Messaging. Users will now be able to send private messages with 20 people at a time.
When users add others to a group chat, they'll receive a notification about the conversation. And the people you add don't need to all follow each other to participate in the group DM.
In addition to the group Direct Messaging service, Twitter has also added a video capture feature, which will allow users to record, edit, and post videos from within its mobile app. The video feature is available in the latest version of Twitter's app, and the group DM feature should be added to the app this week.
ISIS issues new video threatening to kill hostages
In a video purportedly produced by the Islamic State and posted online Tuesday, ISIS warns that it will execute a Japanese hostage unless its demands are met.
The video shows captive Kenji Goto while a voiceover intones: "I only have 24 hours left to live." In the message, ISIS again demands the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a failed suicide bomber being held in Jordan, in exchange for the release of Goto and a Jordanian pilot ISIS is also holding captive.
The video has yet to be authenticated, but it surfaced on sites tied to the militant Islamic group.
Study: Recreational pot will be legal in 18 states by 2020
A newly released report from a market research firm predicts that as many as 18 states will have legalized recreational marijuana use by 2020, a change a majority of Americans nationwide support. Here's the breakdown of the states the report taps for legalization:
Similar predictions from the Marijuana Policy Project offer a slightly different set of states, notably including Texas as a possible legalization candidate.
CBO: ObamaCare spends $50,000 per person who gets insured
While the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on ObamaCare included an optimistic assessment of the health care reform law's overall costs, the nonpartisan agency's data also indicates that taxpayers will spend about $50,000 for each person who gets insured because of the program.
Here's how the math breaks down: From 2016 to 2025, "between 24 million and 27 million" people will be insured who would not have had insurance if not for the ObamaCare provisions and mandate. And "CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] currently estimate that the ACA's coverage provisions will result in net costs to the federal government of... $1,350 billion over the 2016–2025 period."
That $1.35 trillion breaks down to a $50,000 bill per person using the more generous estimate that 27 million people will become insured.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft provides 'best-ever view' of dwarf planet Ceres
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned what it's calling the "best-ever view" of Ceres, a dwarf planet. Ceres is the largest body between Mars and Jupiter, and it may have liquid water beneath its mantle.
The images were taken on Jan. 25 from 147,000 miles away, and they represent "a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet," according to NASA. On March 6, Dawn will begin orbiting Ceres and will measure variations in the light it reflects.
"We know so little about our vast solar system, but thanks to economical missions like Dawn, those mysteries are being solved," Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. NASA hopes Dawn's images will help scientists better understand how the solar system began.
Nancy Pelosi on Mitt Romney: 'I hope he's their nominee'
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is confident Hillary Clinton would crush Mitt Romney in a hypothetical presidential election.
"Let me put it this way — I hope he's their nominee," she told The Hill.
'Undecided' is your new 2016 GOP frontrunner
Underscoring the fact that the 2016 Republican primary is an absolute toss-up at this point, 45 percent of GOP respondents in an open-ended USA Today poll could not name a preferred candidate for the nomination. That put "undecided" well ahead of more corporeal candidates like Mitt Romney (16 percent) and Jeb Bush (13 percent.)
On the Democratic side, a 51 percent majority named Hillary Clinton the top choice, while only five percent picked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Watch the seriously grim trailer for The Fantastic Four
You can say this for the new Fantastic Four trailer: no one will mistake it for 2005's goofy, widely reviled adaptation of the comic-book series (or its Silver Surfer-focused sequel).
This new Fantastic Four, helmed by Chronicle's Josh Trank, follows the doggedly self-serious model that has infected the entire superhero genre. "How did we get this far?" asks a deep, ponderous voiceover. "Human beings have an immeasurable desire to discover. To invent. To build."
The trailer, which looks more like an Interstellar knockoff than a superhero blockbuster, offers only fleeting glimpses of the four main heroes using their powers: stretchy Reed Richards (Miles Teller), invisible Sue Storm (Kate Mara), fiery Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), and rock-covered Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). It's a start, but Fantastic Four fans will have to until next August to see the superhero team use some real muscle — and maybe even have a little fun doing it.