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OND banner

Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, October 22, 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: Right To Be Wrong by Joss Stone

News below Aunt Flossie's hairdo . . .

Intro

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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.

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Top News
Disaster resilience: the private sector has a vital role to play

By Albert Cho
. . .

Superstorm Sandy was supposed to be a once-in-a-generation event, but many scientists believe that such storms will become both more frequent and more destructive. Rapid urbanisation around the world means that they will also disproportionately affect city-dwellers, especially in coastal regions, where nearly half of the world's population lives. Last year, the US government spent about $100bn on disaster cleanup related to extreme weather events – more than it spent on transportation or education. Building resilience to natural disasters is both a humanitarian mandate and an economic imperative.

We usually think of disaster preparedness and response as the responsibility of government, and from New York and New Orleans to Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur, cities are leading the way with ambitious programs to protect residents from harm. Non-profits are helping the cause by stimulating policy innovation and community engagement – witness the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge and Mercy Corps' global disaster preparedness initiatives.

. . .

. . . companies can help to "harden" infrastructure, improving the speed of recovery after disasters strike. Redundant systems for critical infrastructure and waterproof or diesel-powered pumping systems can reduce the chance of water and power system failures. System intelligence is another form of hardening; embedding sensors and controls into power lines and water treatment plants can allow cities to assess hazardous conditions, take preventative actions and target repair efforts.

. . .

New funding solutions can help. In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently insured itself against infrastructure damage from storm surges by investing in cost-effective catastrophe bonds. Asset sharing is another important strategy. These days, most city managers understand it doesn't make sense to own a stockpile of flood-relief equipment – it's too expensive to pay for, store and maintain.

For Transgender Patients, a Growing Fight Over Health Coverage

By Nina Martin
. . .

This can be hard for providers and insurers to wrap their heads around, according to advocates. Once transgender people go through reassignment surgery, their sex change is marked in their medical records, and insurers often don’t want to pay for tests and treatments pertaining to the sex that a patient used to be, advocates say. In fact, people fortunate enough to have insurance through their jobs frequently discover that the fine print of their coverage explicitly bars paying for cross-gender medications or care.

. . .

 Perhaps more common for transgender people, however, is the situation Blair found herself in: without any insurance whatsoever. In her case, a heart condition made her uninsurable, she said; for others, being transgender can itself be considered a pre-existing condition. And for still others, the decision to undergo gender reassignment requires them to leave their job or risk being fired, either outcome robbing them of their insurance.

. . .

 The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act specifically bars discrimination against transgender people in places of “public accommodation” such as a health clinic, Parady said. Whatever the CDC says, “that does not excuse the WWC program from complying with Colorado law,” Parady said. She also noted under the CDC’s interpretation, male-to-female transgender people don’t qualify for free screenings — but female-to-male transgender people do. She called that distinction “inexplicable.”

. . .

 Meanwhile, Jacqueline Miller, the medical director overseeing the screening program for the CDC, has said the agency was only complying with a 1990 statute, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act. “CDC’s position has been that federal funds can only be used to screen clients born as women since the law establishing the program specifically states women,” Miller said in an email to Colorado officials in July. To avoid denying necessary care, Miller added, the CDC encourages grantees “to identify other payment sources... that are not restricted to women.”

 Now the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality have entered the fray. Last week, the groups sent a letter to the CDC’s director, Thomas Frieden, urging him to bring the agency’s interpretation into compliance with Affordable Care Act guidelines that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotyping.

Facebook Lifts Ban on Photos, Videos with Graphic Violence

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

According to a report from NBC News, Facebook will allow its users to post photos and videos that show graphic violence once again as long as they're not doing so because they actually enjoy the content. It must be displayed in a way that "condemns" the gory content.

 Facebook had previously banned such content earlier this year after many complaints on the site.

. . .

 It looks like Facebook is opening up a lot lately when it comes to previous restrictions. For example, the social giant lifted a privacy feature that prevented minors under the age of 18 from sharing Facebook photos or posts with the public (the previous ban only allowed them to share content with friends and friends of friends).

Eat butter and cheese not low-fat spreads, says heart specialist

By Sarah Boseley
Butter, cheese and even red meat are not as bad for the heart as has been maintained, a cardiologist has said in a leading medical journal, adding that it is time to "bust the myth" of saturated fat.

Aseem Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University hospital, London, also argues that statins have been over-prescribed because of the government's obsession with lowering cholesterol in an attempt to reduce heart disease – and that the side-effects outweigh the benefits for millions of people who take them every day.

. . .

He tells his patients that butter and cheese – though not processed cheese – are better for them than low-fat spreads and that the odd steak will not hurt. Rather than take statins, he said, people with cardiovascular risks should eat a Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts. He pointed to a recent study that showed that adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is three times more effective in preventing further illness than statins.

. . .

"Cholesterol levels can be influenced by many factors including diet, exercise and drugs, in particular statins. There is clear evidence that patients who have had a heart attack, or who are at high risk of having one, can benefit from taking a statin. But this needs to be combined with other essential measures, such as eating a balanced diet, not smoking and taking regular exercise."

. . .

But Malhotra got support from those who think sugar is a leading cause of obesity and heart disease. Robert Lustig, paediatric endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco and author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar, said: "Food should confer wellness, not illness. Real food does just that, including saturated fat. But when saturated fat got mixed up with the high sugar added to processed food in the second half of the 20th century, it got a bad name. Which is worse, saturated fat or added sugar? The American Heart Association has weighed in – the sugar many times over. Plus added sugar causes all of the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.

International
Benefit cap 'not encouraging work or saving money'

By (BBC)
The government's benefit cap will struggle to meet its aims of encouraging people into work and saving taxpayers' money, a report suggests.

. . .

The researchers said there was evidence that the cap was changing attitudes to employment, but for many claimants there were significant barriers to finding work, such as a lack of job-seeking skills and affordable childcare.

Nearly half of capped households claimed Discretionary Housing Payments from the council to help them pay their rent, which the CIH said "both shunts costs between national and local government budgets and masks the true impact of the cap until those discretionary payments run out".

. . .

Claire Kober, leader of Haringey Council, said: "Only a few households have been able to get back into work and, while the government may be making some savings, the real costs are just being passed to local councils already under enormous financial pressure.

Greek MPs vote to cut funding for Golden Dawn

By (Al Jazeera)
Greek politicians voted to cut off state funding to the far-right Golden Dawn party, the latest effort by the government to clamp down on a party it has branded a "neo-Nazi criminal gang".

. . .

Golden Dawn had steadily risen on the back of an anti-austerity and anti-immigrant agenda to become Greece's third-most popular party, until the killing of a left-wing rapper by a party supporter last month triggered the government crackdown.

After entering parliament last year and appearing virtually immune to frequent accusations of violence against immigrants and leftists, the party has been on the defensive since the fatal stabbing of 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
How Smart Are American Kids?

By Kevin Drum
. . .

Bob Somerby has been reviewing Amanda Ripley's new book, The Smartest Kids in the World. I haven't linked to any of Somerby's increasingly acerbic posts about Ripley because I haven't read the book and can't vouch for how fair they are. But one point he makes is simple enough: for her international comparisons, Ripley relies entirely on a single test, the PISA, on which American students do relatively poorly. She ignores others with longer pedigrees, like the TIMSS, on which Americans do fairly well.

. . .

Ripley never names the international tests to which she refers in this passage, not even in her endnotes, which run 35 pages...

. . .

That's odd, all right. It's almost as if Ripley has a story she wants to tell, and cherry picks whatever statistics help her tell it. For the record, TIMSS (despite its name) also tests reading these days, and it turns out that American kids in general—not just Minnesotans—did pretty well in the latest round of testing: 9th out of 56 in math, 10th out of 56 in science, and 6th out of 53 in reading. For some reason, though, you never hear about that. After all, everyone, both liberals and conservatives, has their own educational hobbyhorses, and it's a lot easier to promote them if you tell an alarming story of educational decline. But the truth is different. If you look at all the evidence—TIMSS, PIRLS, PISA, NAEP, and other metrics—the story is rather more mixed and nuanced. America continues to do a poor job of educating its low-income kids and its black and Hispanic kids, something that's especially inexcusable given the increasing evidence that these children are far behind their peers even before they get to kindergarten. On the other hand, American kids more broadly are (a) doing better over time and (b) doing fairly well compared to kids in other countries. Like it or not, that's the story.

Nevada shooting: Parents of suspect may face charges

By (BBC)
Authorities in Nevada are weighing prosecuting the parents of a 12-year-old who shot a teacher dead and wounded two classmates before killing himself.

Officials in the city of Sparks have not identified the boy but believe the weapon came from his home.

. . .

Officials are still working to determine how the boy, who was enrolled at the school, gained access to a semi-automatic handgun.

. . .

When asked if the parents would face charges, Mr Miller said, "That is basically a question for the local prosecutor. But the potential is there."

From American dream to American nightmare in Detroit

By Kim Gittleson
Three months ago, Detroit became the largest city to file for bankruptcy in US history. On Wednesday, the trial to determine whether a city of Detroit's size can stop paying its bills is set to begin - with huge potential repercussions for cities and states across the country.

. . .

Despite all the hardship, those representing the city's pension schemes say a bankruptcy filing would allow the city to renege on promises made long ago.

. . .

"They're taking away the American dream and turning it into the American nightmare," says Donald Hall, who spent 29 years as a detention centre officer and now depends on the $850 he receives from the city every month.

. . .

"If Detroit is able to file for bankruptcy, then every other big city is going to be watching this," says Mr Pottow.

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:
. . .

When she was just 15 years old, Stone laid down a collection of classic Motown gems—The Soul Sessions—that immediately went gold. Suddenly Stone was all over the television on the video stations, talk shows, and on sound tracks for E.R., West Wing, and Third Watch. Her second album, Mind, Body & Soul, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Soul Sessions was anything but a fluke. Through songs co-written with some of R&Bs most gifted composers, it also gave the world a glimpse beyond the golden voice into the heart of a vibrant young woman.

While the fame machine has a well-earned reputation for chewing up young artists and spitting them out in pieces, this plucky songstress seems anything but jaded. . .

MF: What's that like for you?

JS: It's OK. Sometimes it's really odd. Because you walk into a room and you've just done a show. It may have gone good, it may have gone bad. And there's 20 or 30 people staring at you like you're a tourist attraction. It's very scary. But it's sweet because they're all very nice and they're all there just because they like your music. But it's quite strange. It's very awkward. I'm just a person that's making a noise you happen to like. I'm not Nelson Mandela! I would understand it if I were. I had to learn to say thanks. At the beginning somebody would walk up and say, "You are the greatest singer in the world." I'd just look at them like, "No I'm not." And my mom would like [whispers] "just say thank you." "But I'm not. Don't say stupid s--t, I'm not." [laughs] "It's very nice that you said that but, I mean, come on I'm really not!" So I had to learn just to say "thanks!" They're just up because they had a good night.

But it's such a strange thing to get used to. I was just this girl who nobody noticed and nobody gives a s--t about. And now people are like, [breathlessly] "Can I take your picture?" in the airport. Some guy came up to me, "Can I take your picture?" and he took it on his phone. And I said to my friend Allison, "Three years ago he would erase that picture off his phone without knowing who it was. He wouldn't care who it was. It wouldn't make any difference to him." But just because I make this little noise . . . it's crazy. People go completely weird. [laughs]

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Utility trying to bury solar in Arizona

By John Upton
. . .

The fight is over net-metering rules, which require utilities to purchase excess electricity produced by solar panel–owning customers. Hearings to consider proposed rule changes are scheduled for next month.

. . .

APS wants to slash its payments to each solar-panel owner by between $50 and $100 a month. It says the payments are a burden on customers who don’t own solar panels. The solar industry, meanwhile, is saying the proposed changes would cripple its growth.

. . .

APS recently acknowledged to The Arizona Republic that it provided money to a Washington, D.C.-based conservative organization called 60 Plus, which focuses on seniors’ issues such as taxes, Social Security and Medicare.

. . .

How far will APS go to get its way? A clue comes to us from another story in The Arizona Republic, which reveals that a plan was developed four years ago to engineer false controversies to wreck the reputations of members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates the utility . . .

Three reasons why Germany is kicking our arsch on solar

By John Farrell
Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” What is often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

. . .

. . . Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system. Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

. . .

Not only does local ownership flip the notion of energy costs as consumers become producers, it also flips the notion of political ownership. Three-quarters of Germans want to maintain a focus on “citizen-managed, decentralized renewable energy.”

Science and Health
Drug Ad Side Effects List Helps Sell Product

By Erika Beras
Medications come with long lists of potential side effects. Now a study finds that the litany of unpleasant consequences does not deter prospective purchasers. In fact, those warnings might actually increase drug sales.

. . .

 Subjects who saw ads with warnings were initially less likely to buy the products. But when surveyed again some time later, they were actually more likely to make the purchase than were those who saw ads without the warnings. The study is in the journal Psychological Science.

 The researchers say after some time goes viewers of the ads interpret the listing of negative side effects as a show of good faith: a sign of trustworthiness. . .

Researchers Propose Social Network Modeling to Fight Hospital Infections

By (ScienceDaily)
Two researchers at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business have teamed up with a researcher at American University to develop a framework to help prevent costly and deadly infections acquired by hospitalized patients. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), these transmissions strike one out of every 20 inpatients, drain billions of dollars from the national health care system and cause tens of thousands of deaths annually.

. . .

The authors manipulated and tracked the dynamics of the social network in a mid-Atlantic hospital's intensive care unit. They focused on interactions between patients and health care workers -- primarily nurses -- and the multiple competing factors that can affect transmission.

. . .

"The health care industry's electronic records movement could soon generate data that captures the structure of patient-healthcare worker interaction in addition to multiple competing, related factors that can affect MDRO transmission," said Barnes

Economists are horrible, horrible people. So says science

By Thomas Mucha
. . .

Citing research by Cornell professor Robert Frank, Grant makes the compelling case that economists are neither generous, nor cooperative. And that's because they've swallowed one of Adam Smith's main tenets: people act out of rational self-interest.

. . .

First, economics professors give less money to charity than those in other academic fields, such as literature, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, physics, chemistry and biology.

. . .

Second, economics students are more likely to engage in deceptive behaviors when they believe they stand to gain, as this study in Germany shows.

Finally, economics majors — echoing that old Wall Street hero Gordon Gekko — are more likely to believe that greed is good.

Technology
New Device Stores Electricity On Silicon Chips

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

It is the first supercapacitor that is made out of silicon so it can be built into a silicon chip along with the microelectronic circuitry that it powers. In fact, it should be possible to construct these power cells out of the excess silicon that exists in the current generation of solar cells, sensors, mobile phones and a variety of other electromechanical devices, providing a considerable cost savings.

. . .

Research to improve the energy density of supercapacitors has focused on carbon-based nanomaterials like graphene and nanotubes. Because these devices store electrical charge on the surface of their electrodes, the way to increase their energy density is to increase the electrodes' surface area, which means making surfaces filled with nanoscale ridges and pores. "The big challenge for this approach is assembling the materials," said Pint. "Constructing high-performance, functional devices out of nanoscale building blocks with any level of control has proven to be quite challenging, and when it is achieved it is difficult to repeat."

. . .

Pint's group is currently using this approach to develop energy storage that can be formed in the excess materials or on the unused back sides of solar cells and sensors. The supercapacitors would store excess the electricity that the cells generate at midday and release it when the demand peaks in the afternoon.

"All the things that define us in a modern environment require electricity," said Pint. "The more that we can integrate power storage into existing materials and devices, the more compact and efficient they will become."

A Stick-On Speaker That Uses Your Windows To Silence Noises Outside

By Andrew Liszewsk
. . .

We've probably all seen those vibrating devices that can turn flat surfaces like tables or windows into speakers. Well, Stefanich takes that idea one step further with the Sono. Noise cancelling headphones feature tiny microphones that can pick up and cancel out ambient sounds, and that's exactly what the Sono would do. Except that it would counter-vibrate the window it was stuck to, turning it into a giant noise-cancelling speaker that silences any sound coming from outside.

And while Stefanich's proposed device is only just a finalist for a James Dyson Award at this point, there's no reason to believe the technology and approach wouldn't work as intended. Furthermore, it's reasonable to say that eventually, the electronics in the Sono could be integrated into window frames directly—taking soundproofing to a whole new level.

VPN company shuts down after Lavabit case demonstrates threat of state-ordered, secret self-sabotage

By Cory Doctorow
Cryptoseal has shut down Cryptoseal Privacy, a VPN product advertised as a privacy tool, citing the action against Lavabit, the privacy-oriented email provider used by Edward Snowden. Court documents released in the wake of Lavabit's shut-down showed that the US government believes that it has the power to order service providers to redesign their systems to make it possible to spy on users. Cryptoseal had been operating under the assumption that since it had no way of spying on its users, it was immune to wiretap orders, and the revelation that they may be forced to break their system's security was enough to put them off altogether.
Cultural
'Abused' Indonesian monkeys taken off Jakarta streets

By (BBC)
The first 11 out of an estimated 350 performing street monkeys in the Indonesian capital Jakarta have been confiscated and taken into quarantine, animal rights activists say.

. . .

The macaque monkeys are often dressed up and made to perform as street buskers, often attracting large audiences.

. . .

She said that the monkeys' handlers were invariably street children who were often exploited or coerced into becoming their handlers.

. . .

The Jakarta authorities initially intended that the monkey confiscations would begin in 2014 but they say that they were forced to act earlier because of the appalling conditions in which they are made to live.

. . .

Mr Widodo said the city government would place the confiscated monkeys under the control of the Jakarta Marine and Agriculture Office while their owners were trained to learn new skills for other jobs.

SpongeBob headstone removed by Ohio cemetery

By (BBC)
. . .

Kimberly Walker's loved ones erected a 7ft (3.7m) stone of her favourite cartoon character wearing an Army uniform with her name and rank.

The cemetery in the city of Cincinnati initially approved the headstone, then said it was not appropriate.

. . .

They said they would discuss a compromise with the Walker family, including a more traditional gravestone bearing a small likeness of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Walker, who served two tours in Iraq in 2006 and 2010 as a petroleum supply specialist, was 28 years old when she was found strangled and beaten to death in a Colorado hotel room in February.

The four sisters who took on Botswana's chiefs - and won

By Pumza Fihlani
In many countries across Africa, the right of the firstborn male, or closest male relative, to inherit family property - is still standard practice. Women are denied the right to inherit the family estate purely because of their gender, a custom that is upheld by some traditional leaders.

. . .

As a result, their nephew had earlier won the case at the Customary Court of Appeal which found that under his ethnic group's customs, women could not inherit the family home.

. . .

As a last-ditch attempt to avoid eviction, the sisters took the matter to the High Court and later the Appeals Court, which both ruled in the women's favour.

. . .

In its broadest sense, traditionalists argue that the only way of preserving family wealth is by passing on the inheritance only to the males, arguing that women may take that wealth to another family after they marry.

. . .

Back in Kanye, Ms Mmusi is hopeful that the case will inspire other women to stand up for what they believe in.

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