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OND banner

Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, October 08, 2013.

OND is a regular community feature on Daily Kos, consisting of news stories from around the world, sometimes coupled with a daily theme, original research or commentary.  Editors of OND impart their own presentation styles and content choices, typically publishing near 12:00AM Eastern Time.

Creation and early water-bearing of the OND concept came from our very own Magnifico - proper respect is due.


This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: Double Vision by Foreigner

News below Aunt Flossie's hairdo . . .


You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

Please feel free to browse and add your own links, content or thoughts in the Comments section.

Any timestamps shown are relative to each publication.


Top News
Exxon demolishing homes ruined by its Mayflower spill

By John Upton
. . .

Since ruining the neighborhood with its pipeline rupture, Exxon has become something of a local real estate tycoon in Mayflower — specializing in sullied property.

The Log Cabin Democrat reports that the energy giant has purchased five of the 22 homes that were evacuated in the wake of the oil spill — and that it is in talks to purchase more:

. . .

He said the decision to demolish the two homes was a recent one, and was determined to be the most effective and efficient way to remove contaminated soil.

Stryk said he doesn’t have information about the depth of the excavation but said new dirt would be brought in, and the lots would be sodded.

IMF says world economy in 'low gear' as it cuts global growth forecasts

By Allison Jackson
Global growth is in “low gear” as the emerging economies of China, India, Russia and Mexico – previously the engines of the world recovery – turn sluggish, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.

. . .

The IMF also lowered its forecasts for the US to 1.6 percent in 2013, from 1.7 percent, and 2.6 percent in 2014, down from 2.8 percent, noting growth in the world's largest economy has been “hobbled” by “excessive” across-the-board budget cuts while political bickering was fueling uncertainty about the outlook.

. . .

He also said that the US government shutdown, which is currently in its second week, would have limited consequences if it is not prolonged, but could derail the US recovery if it lasts for longer.

. . .

The IMF said economies such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and Mexico have been hit hard by the prolonged downturn in Europe and the US as well as capital outflows triggered by the Federal Reserve’s plan to wind down its massive bond-buying program.

. . .

The IMF warned Chinese economic growth could “slow considerably” if authorities do not step up efforts to “rebalance the economy toward consumption” and reduce the country's excessive reliance on exports and government-backed investment.

McCutcheon case: US court weighs campaign finance limits

By (BBC)
The US Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case that could further expand the amount of wealthy donors' money in the US political system.

A Republican donor is challenging a legal limit on total political contributions in an election cycle.

. . .

At issue in the case argued on Tuesday, McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission, is the total amount of money a single individual can give to candidates across the country in a given two-year election cycle.

. . .

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr, who argued in favour of the limit on behalf of the Obama administration, told the court on Tuesday that if the limit were overturned, donors "could potentially funnel massive amounts of money to a favoured candidate".

. . .

While those groups are barred from directly co-ordinating with candidates' campaigns, they may spend large amounts of money promoting a candidate or running negative adverts again the candidate's opponents. They are funded by business interests, wealthy individuals and, to a lesser extent, labour unions.

Venezuelan president seeks 'decree' powers

By (Al JAzeera)
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has asked his country's National Assembly to give him special decree-making powers that he says he needs to fight corruption and economic sabotage.

. . .

Chavez was granted similar powers four times during his 14 years as president. In all, Chavez used the power to enact 200 legal changes that strengthened state control over Venezuela's economy.

. . .

Maduro has the support of 98 of the 99 lawmakers required for a three-fifths majority in the National Assembly, and he is expected to be granted the powers that he has sought after making the formal request on Tuesday.

"Critics say that all this is going  to do is to allow him to harass the opposition even further, and [...] he says this is to allow him to clamp down on corruption and quite serious economic problems here in Venezuela," said Girish Gupta, a Caracas-based journalist, ahead of the vote.

DR Congo: Cursed by its natural wealth

By (BBC)
The Democratic Republic of Congo is potentially one of the richest countries on earth, but colonialism, slavery and corruption has turned it into one of the poorest, writes historian Dan Snow.

. . .

Limitless water, from the world's second-largest river, the Congo, a benign climate and rich soil make it fertile, beneath the soil abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil are just some of the minerals that should make it one of the world's richest countries.

. . .

Dissidents were tortured or bought off, ministers stole entire budgets, government atrophied. The West allowed his regime to borrow billions, which was then stolen and today's Congo is still expected to pay the bill.

. . .

Forcibly conscripted child soldiers corralled armies of slaves to dig for minerals such as coltan, a key component in mobile phones, the latest obsession in the developed world, while annihilating enemy communities, raping women and driving survivors into the jungle to die of starvation and disease.

. . .

A deeply flawed, partial peace was patched together a decade ago. In the far east of the Congo, there is once again a shooting war as a complex web of domestic and international rivalries see rebel groups clash with the army and the UN, while tiny community militias add to the general instability.

Failed US raid targeted 'top al-Shabab' man

By (Al Jazeera)
Abdul-Kadir Mohamed Abdul-Kadir, the al-Shabab leader targeted by US special forces in a failed weekend raid, is a Somali-based planner and operator who has plotted attacks on neighbouring Kenya, according to Kenyan and Western security services and agencies.

. . .

A leaked Kenyan intelligence report suggests he was involved in planning attacks on a number of prominent targets, including plots to attack Kenya's parliament, assassinate senior Kenyan politicians and hit UN offices in Nairobi.

These plans failed, but so too did the US Navy SEALS mission into Barawe, a stronghold for the fighters on Somalia's southern coast.

. . .

The officials would not go into details about the operation in public, saying they could only address it in a classified session, but argued that the US needed to continue supporting Somali authorities and other countries in the region in their fight against armed groups like al-Shabab.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
D’Oh! ‘America Is Not Stupid’ Wins IRS Recognition as Tax-Exempt Nonprofit

By Kim Barker
The IRS has granted nonprofit status to America Is Not Stupid – a so-called dark money group best known for a 2012 election ad featuring a talking baby who compared the smell of his diaper with a Montana senator.

. . .

 To showcase the group’s “educational content,” Gutierrez pointed to the main website for America Is Not Stupid, a single page with 156 words on it.

 He told the IRS that the nonprofit conducted polls in Montana, Nevada and Texas, targeting heads of households with Hispanic surnames. But the only poll included in the response didn’t mention Latinos at all. Instead, it asked Montanans about which candidates they planned to vote for in the 2012 election.

. . .

 But former Bush official Hector Barreto gave the keynote address, Gutierrez told the IRS. One detail America Is Not Stupid didn’t mention: Barreto also happened to be the co-chair of Juntos Con Romney, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Hispanic steering committee.

Congress's private health club spared from shutdown by Boehner: "essential"

By Cory Doctorow
Congress's private gym -- whose budget is a closely held secret for "security" reasons -- has remained open during the shutdown. It was deemed an essential service. By John Boehner himself. (Possibly because so many Tea Party Congressmen live in their lavish tax-funded/tax-free offices and use the fancy club as their personal showers, rather than renting DC lodgings)

 The staffers' gym was closed, however.

. . .

 According to the aide, the decision to keep the gym open — even while other critical government services were shelved — came directly from Speaker Boehner’s office. Meanwhile, the staff gym available to Congressional staff has been closed.

Welcome to the "Hump Point" of this OND.

News can be sobering and engrossing - at this point in the diary, an offering of brief escapism:

Random notes related to this video:
. . .

For those wondering where the title came from, Lou Gramm explains in his new autobiography Juke Box Hero. "In the case of 'Double Vision', my inspiration came from a hockey game", says Gramm.

"The New York Rangers were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and during a flurry in front of the net, one of the Flyers elbowed Rangers goalie John Davidson in the head.

"He was knocked woozy and had to be helped to the locker room. One of the announcers came on with an update…that the goalie had been experiencing some double vision. Voila!"

The album featured the band's very first million selling single, "Hot Blooded," and during the interview Jones recalls how the band were called back repeatedly for encores during the California Jam II festival in March 1978.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Wind turbine blade manufacturer hiring at whirlwind rate

By John Upton
. . .

LM Wind Power, a global manufacturer of blades for wind turbines, says it doubled its U.S. workforce to 700 in August — up from 350 in April. And it says the boom will continue: It expects to employ some 1,200 people in the U.S. next year — most of them based at its factories in North Dakota and Arkansas.

. . .

By some estimates, the wind energy sector now employs about 80,000 Americans. And the decision by LM Wind Power to boost its American operations (it has factories in 14 locations all over the world) follows an encouraging trend that we told you about in August — as wind energy expands in the U.S., more of the production associated with that expansion is occurring right here in America.

But the company’s announcement also coincides with renewed uncertainty over whether the tax credit will be renewed next year. House Republicans are calling for an end to wind power subsidies, arguing that it’s time for the industry to stand on its own feet.

. . .

Democrats on the panel said that, that number paled in comparison to the billions in tax breaks and subsidies granted to the oil and gas industry each year.

. . .

OECD: 'No bailout' for climate threat

By Roger Harrabin
Governments forced to rescue the world's banking system are being warned there will be no bailout if there is a crisis in the Earth's climate system.

. . .

He will say the analysis of the climate threat is far clearer than were the warning signs for the financial crisis.

. . .

Rich nation governments struggling against recession have been going slow on climate change policies, and developing nations have argued that they need space to expand emissions to grow their economies and draw people out of poverty.

Mr Gurria will argue that creating an infrastructure that leaves people dependent on fossil fuels will prove more costly overall in terms of the economy and public welfare.

Science and Health
Weighed Down by Guilt: Research Shows It's More Than a Metaphor

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

In an article titled "The Weight of a Guilty Conscience: Subjective Body Weight as an Embodiment of Guilt" in the journal PLOS ONE, Day and Bobocel find evidence that the emotional experience of guilt can be grounded in subjective bodily sensation.

. . .

"Is this theoretical perspective correct? Did people actually report a sensation of more weight? We found that recalling personal unethical acts led participants to report increased subjective body weight as compared to recalling ethical acts, unethical acts of others or no recall. We also found that this increased sense of weight was related to participants' heightened feelings of guilt, and not other negative emotions, such as sadness or disgust. Although people sometimes associate importance with 'heaviness,' we found no evidence that importance could explain this finding. For example, ethical deeds were rated just as important as unethical actions, but only unethical, guilt-inducing memories led to increased reports of weight.

"In a final study we also explored a perceptual consequence of the weight of guilt. Using the same materials, we tested whether recall of unethical memories would affect perceived effort to complete a variety of helping behaviors as compared to a control condition. Importantly, some of these behaviors involved physical effort, such as carrying groceries upstairs for someone, whereas other behaviors did not, such as giving someone spare change. We found no differences between conditions for the perceived effort of the nonphysical actions. However, those who recalled unethical memories, which can be accompanied by sensations of weight, perceived the physical behaviors to involve even greater effort to complete compared to ratings provided by those in a control condition. This research demonstrates our initial investigation into the consequences of this phenomenon.

Empathy Helps Children to Understand Sarcasm

By (ScienceDaily)
The greater the empathy skills of children, the easier it is for them to recognize sarcasm, according to a new study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

. . .

Children detected the puppets' sarcasm about half of the time, and children with relatively strong empathy skills did so more accurately. Children with stronger empathy skills were nearly twice as accurate as children with less advanced empathy skills. Initially, the researchers analyzed a group of 6-7 year olds, but this age group revealed almost zero accuracy for sarcasm.

. . .

"Sarcastic language, especially in unfamiliar forms, is a real challenge for most children," explains Prof. Pexman. "Even when children did not recognize a remark as sarcastic, there was evidence in their reactions that the children with stronger empathy skills were sensitive to the speaker's intent."

Doctors Googling Patients

By Gregory E. Kaebnick
In the current issue of the Hastings Center Report, two teams of physicians and ethicists at Penn State consider the ethics of using online research and social networking tools to learn more about a patient who came to them with a request for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. The patient’s story doesn’t quite sound right to the patient’s treating team, and when the team contacts the patient’s doctors at another hospital to discuss the patient’s history, it sounds still worse. Finally, one of those doctors suggests that the treating team try “googling” the patient to learn more.  When the search is performed and the results are passed along to the surgeon, the surgeon decides not to operate.

How to think of a case like that? Personally, I think I tend to give less weight to concerns about privacy than do many others who are interested in medical ethics. I might be likelier than some others, for example, to value an orientation toward human relationships, and a level of candor and interchange of information that seem to me to go along with that orientation, over the careful hedges that a concern for privacy might make more appropriate. As a result, I might be likelier to find that sharing information about somebody’s illness seems acceptable. . .

Aircraft noise 'link' to stroke and heart disease deaths

By Jane Dreaper
The risks of stroke, heart and circulatory disease are higher in areas with a lot of aircraft noise, researchers say.

. . .

Their work suggests a higher risk for both hospital admissions and deaths from stroke, heart and circulatory disease for the 2% of the study - about 70,000 people - who lived where the aircraft noise was loudest.

. . .

The authors say fewer people are now affected by the highest levels of noise (above 63 decibels) - despite more planes being in the skies - because of changes in aircraft design and flight plans.

. . .

They stressed that the higher risk of illness related to aircraft noise remained much less significant than the risks from lifestyle factors - including smoking, a lack of exercise or poor diet.

Sex is matter of life, then death for male marsupials

By Matt McGrath
A new study suggests that some species of marsupials mate with such vigour and intensity that it quite literally kills them.

. . .

The males attempt to mate with as many females as possible in long, laborious bouts, driven by high levels of hormones including testosterone.

. . .

These chemicals in turn elevate their levels of stress hormones and their systems are unable to cope, says Dr Fisher.

. . .

The research team says that the strategy of losing half the species in the act of reproduction can work well as an evolutionary strategy if the population is dense.

Red Cross Wants Punishments for War Crimes in Realistic Video Games

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

 The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wants realistic war games to imitate the real thing by employing virtual consequences for war crimes like torture during interrogation, attacks on medical units, and deliberate attacks on civilians.

. . .

 The ICRC also said that it isn't against the portrayal of war crimes, but that it just wants punishment included when these acts are committed.

 Bohemia Interactive, which is makes the Arma series of realistic military games, has already agreed to include punishments for war crimes in its games.

Samsung Announces 2.3GHz Quad-core, 5.7" Curved Screen "Galaxy Round" Smartphone

By Brandon Hill
It looks as though the next bandwagon that Android smartphone makers will jump on will be curved displays (followed closely by 64-bit processors and fingerprint scanners). We’ve previously heard reports of curved display smartphones from both Samsung and LG, but it looks as though @evleaks has scored the first image of the production model from Samsung.

. . .

 Specs wise, the Galaxy Round features a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM, 5.7" 1080p OLED display, 13MP rear shooter, and a 2800 mAH battery.

Is it OK to call someone a conspiracy theorist?

By (BBC)
. . .

In a 2007 book, Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker suggested weapons inspector David Kelly was murdered by an Iraqi hit squad, and that this was covered up by the British authorities.

Asked how he felt about being called a "conspiracy theorist", Baker replied that people "tend to use the term when they want to insult people".

. . .

Typically, a member of such communities will describe themselves more neutrally as a "researcher" or "sceptic", according to Alasdair Spark of the University of Winchester's Centre for Conspiracy Culture.

. . .

Others, however, say it accurately fits a mindset that sees a conspiracy behind every disaster or major world event, where history is driven not by random events or socio-economic forces but by a never-ending succession of cabals and plots.

How Tech Companies, Surveillance Outfits, and Data Brokers Join Forces to Watch You

By Pratap Chatterjee
. . .

Ever played Farmville? Checked into Foursquare? Listened to music on Pandora? These new social apps come with an obvious price tag: the annoying advertisements that we believe to be the fee we have to pay for our pleasure. But there's a second, more hidden price tag—the reams of data about ourselves that we give away. Just like raw petroleum, it can be refined into many things—the high-octane jet fuel for our social media and the asphalt and tar of our past that we would rather hide or forget.

. . .

This second category is made up of professional surveillance companies. They generally work for or sell their products to the government—in other words, they are paid with our tax dollars—but we have no control over them. Harris Corporation provides technology to the FBI to track, via our mobile phones, where we go; Glimmerglass builds tools that the US intelligence community can use to intercept our overseas calls; and companies like James Bimen Associates design software to hack into our computers.

. . .

The simplest form of surveillance technology is an IMSI catcher. (IMSI stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity, which is unique to every mobile phone.) These highly portable devices pose as mini-mobile phone towers and can capture all the mobile-phone signals in an area. In this way, they can effectively identify and locate all phone users in a particular place. Some are small enough to fit into a briefcase, others are no larger than a mobile phone. Once deployed, the IMSI catcher tricks phones into wirelessly sending it data.

. . .

The technologies these kinds of companies exploit often rely on software vulnerabilities. Hacking software can be installed from a USB drive, or delivered remotely by disguising it as an email attachment or software update. Once in place, an analyst can rifle through a target's files, log every keystroke, and take pictures of the screen every second. For example, SS8 of Milpitas, California, sells software called Intellego that claims to allow government agencies to "see what [the targets] see, in real time" including "draft-only emails, attached files, pictures, and videos." Such technology can also remotely turn on phone and computer microphones, as well as computer or cellphone cameras to spy on the target in real-time.

What Africa can learn from Tanzania's remarkable Masai lands rights victory

By Maanda Ngoitiko and Fred Nelson
. . .

The case revolves around Masai communities living in Loliondo, just east of the world-renowned Serengeti national park. A land tenure conflict has simmered there for the past 20 years as a result of the government's allocation in the early 1990s of the area for use by a foreign hunting company, an action that did not take account of existing community land rights and uses of the resident Masai.

. . .

At the end of September, in response to these efforts, Tanzania's prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, visited Loliondo and announced a reversal of the earlier move by the natural resources and tourism ministry, stating that the land belonged to the communities and there could be no eviction of the resident Masai.

. . .

The international media coverage in support of the communities' land and human rights has been remarkable. Few communities in Africa have been able to attract media coverage and the global public's imagination as Loliondo's Masai, but nevertheless the case highlights the potential for these local-global networks to greatly enhance the voice of local people and their leverage in domestic policy negotiations.

The networks that link local communities in rural Africa to wider networks of global supporters depend on the transformational role of information technology. Not only local NGOs, but many herders and farmers in areas such as Loliondo own mobile phones, and increasing connectivity allows enhanced communication and transmission of information, including photographs and video evidence. As a result, external support for the communities in Loliondo can be mobilised in days, whereas a few years ago it might have taken weeks.

Women have helped lead the way. Masai society is known for being a male-dominated society, but women are beginning to assert their rights and assume a greater social leadership role. On land issues, Masai women in Loliondo have been at the forefront of generating community-level mobilisation and solidarity, many walking dozens of miles across the bush to assemble the community for demonstrations and meetings.

The Great Library at Alexandria was destroyed by budget cuts, not fire

By Annalee Newitz
One of the great tragedies of ancient history, memorialized in myths and Hollywood film, is the burning of the great library at Alexandria. But the reality of the Library's end was actually a lot less pyrotechnic than that. A major cause of the Library's ruin was government budget cuts.

. . .

What's interesting here is Phillips' emphasis on how the decline of the library rested as much on its reputation as a learning center as it did on the number of books in its collection. What made the Museum and its daughter branch great were its scholars. And when the Emperor abolished their stipends, and forbade foreign scholars from coming to the library, he effectively shut down operations. Those scrolls and books were nothing without people to care for them, study them, and share what they learned far and wide.

. . .

This was not Ptolemy's great collection, nor was it the center of scholarship in what was then the modern world. It was a broken-down remnant of its former self, neglected for centuries. The collection was mostly stocked with materials that reflected what Judeo-Christian bureaucrats would have considered important; these materials did not reflect the Greek ideal of universal knowledge that had birthed the library in the first place.

. . .

Though we imagine that knowledge and civilizations are destroyed in one fell stroke, a rain of fire as it were, the truth is a lot more ugly and more slow. The ancient world's greatest library didn't die in battle — it died from thousands of little cuts, over centuries, that reduced this great institution of knowledge to a shadow of its former self.

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