Need to know:
Finally, it's here. The US votes today to decide the outcome of one of the closest, hardest-fought, most expensive presidential races in its history.
The latest polls have Barack Obama leading Mitt Romney by three points nationally – but in just a few more hours, the surveys won't matter a jot. Polling stations are open on the East Coast and in the Midwest. As many as 30 million ballots have already been cast by early or absentee voters. And the first results are already in: both candidates have at least five votes each, courtesy of the midnight voters of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.
Whoever he is and whoever you want him to be: today is the first day of the next four years. Vote.
Want to know:
At least 27 are dead after a car bombing outside a military base in Iraq.
More than 40 others were wounded in the explosion, which hit as troops were leaving the base in Taji, just north of Baghdad. Around 19 soldiers were among those killed. Reports suggest the targets were potential new service members, who were attending a recruitment day at the base.
The bombing, one of hundreds to have targeted Iraqi security forces, was the single deadliest in several days.
Dull but important:
Russia's corruption-fighting defense minister has been sacked... over a corruption scandal.
On President Vladimir Putin's orders, Anatoly Serdyukov was "relieved of his duties" this morning. His ministry has recently fallen under suspicion allowing a state-controlled firm to sell off government assets for some $100 million less than their market value, and Serdyukov himself may now face questioning over the scandal.
He has already been replaced by a loyal Putin ally, former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu. Unlike Serdyokov, Shoigu is an army man and will no doubt be more popular with the military than his predecessor: Serdyukov was Russia's first civilian defense minister and, during his six years in office, made several enemies as he attempted to reform, cut down and root out corruption in the Russian armed forces.
Was Neil Heywood, the murdered British businessman at the center of the Bo Xilai scandal, a spy?
That's what the Wall Street Journal claims, based on interviews with Heywood's friends and British officials. In an investigation published today, the Journal says Heywood had been passing information about the Bo family to Britain's intelligence service for more than a year by the time he was poisoned last November – a crime for which Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, would eventually be convicted.
Britain's intelligence agencies, naturally, refuse to comment – though Foreign Secretary William Hague did break protocol back in April to deny that Heywood was "not an employee of the British government in any capacity." Quite so, the Journal says; he wasn't a paid informant.
Perhaps, or perhaps not. The only thing that's certain is that the Bo scandal, already the most dramatic in China for a generation, looks set to continue to shock.
Strange but true:
This really isn't how we wanted to meet the world's rarest whale.
Two members of the spade-toothed beaked whale species – not one of which has ever been seen alive – stranded themselves on a New Zealand beach in 2010, genetic testing has revealed. They were originally misidentified as more common Gray's beaked whales, and it was only through studying their DNA that scientists discovered just how rare the mammals really were.
They were, sadly, ex-whales by the time they came into view; but at least the pair – a mother and her calf – confirm that the elusive species is still out there, somewhere.