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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, December 11, 2012.

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: Mrs. Cold by Kings of Convenience

News below Aunt Flossie's hairdo . . .

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
How the Fiscal Cliff Might Be Slowing the Economy Already

By Kevin Drum
A firm with profits must choose what to do with the money....Whenever you're making an investment decision, the fact that the future is uncertain is a real problem. But there's no particular reason to think that "uncertainty" about the future should specifically bias you in favor of low-yield highly liquid investment decisions.

. . .

That's why a real strategy for bringing corporate cash off the sidelines doesn't have anything to do with tax reform (though tax reform might be nice), it has to do with monetary policy.

In the long term, I agree. But in fairness, there's also a short term, and in the short term firms are wondering if Congress is going to throw the economy into a second recession by heading over the fiscal cliff for a protracted period. The economy is already fragile enough that companies aren't very excited about the prospects for growth, and if GDP sags further in 2013 because we can't come up with a deal, that would legitimately affect short-term decisions about business expansion.
Biologic link to being gay or lesbian

By (UPI)
pigenetics -- how gene expression is regulated by temporary switches called epi-marks -- appears to be critical in determining sexuality, U.S. researchers say.

. . .

The finding that "sexually antagonistic" epi-marks, which give a reproductive advantage to one sex while disadvantaging the other, sometimes carry over across generations and cause homosexuality in opposite-sex offspring, Gavrilets said.

. . .

However, these epi-marks aren't always erased, they're passed from father-to-daughter or mother-to-son, which might explain why homosexuality runs in families, but isn't genetic -- otherwise gays and lesbians would have died out as a result of natural selection, the study said.

"Transmission of sexually antagonistic epi-marks between generations is the most plausible evolutionary mechanism of the phenomenon of human homosexuality," Gavrilets said in a statement.

Van Jones on Obama: Climate will be ‘the issue he’s judged on’

By Chris Mooney
Van Jones is a leading environmental and human rights advocate, President Obama’s former “green jobs” special adviser, a CNN contributor, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream. Chris Mooney spoke with him by phone as part of our ongoing coverage of how Obama can tackle the climate issue — and lead — in his second term.

. . .

The other thing he can do is use the power he has as the president of the United States to force a national conversation. We’ve seen a lot of conversation about this fiscal cliff, which is an invented, manufactured crisis, but very little talk about the climate cliff, which is a real, unavoidable crisis. So if we can have the president of the United States on TV every day talking about the manufactured fiscal cliff, then he can use all of those resources to put pressure on Congress to do something about the real climate cliff.

I also think that it is still the case that the best possible way to get the economy moving is to move in a greener direction. You get on an airplane, you fly coast to coast, you look down, and you see a million rooftops that don’t have solar panels on them. You fly over the plains states, acre after acre, you don’t see wind farms and solar farms, even in places that they could exist. There is just tremendous opportunity to home-grow our energy, and put people to work. You land in any city, you are driving past buildings that are leaking energy, because they aren’t using modern energy efficiency technologies. There’s tremendous opportunity there.

. . .

So I think it takes two keys to unlock the door to change: It takes public activism and action, and it takes presidential leadership. But what we’re seeing now is the return of public action and public concern. 350.org is leading that process. The aftershocks of Sandy are going to push that process forward.

Activists say Tibetan teenager has become 8th child to self-immolate to protest Chinese rule

By (AP via WaPo)
. . .

Wangchen Kyi, 17, self-immolated and died in China’s western Qinghai province Sunday evening after calling for the long life of the Tibetan people and their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. The group cited reports from exiled Tibetans in contact with people in the area.

Activists say more than 90 people have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas since February 2009, with an upsurge in recent weeks. The vast majority have been in their late teens and 20s. Activists say the self-immolations show growing desperation over what the protesters see as the marginalization of Tibetan culture and religion under heavy-handed Chinese rule.

China maintains it protects Tibetans’ rights and that the region has enjoyed “leap-frog” economic development in recent decades. Beijing has increasingly sought to crack down on the protests, which it says are inhumane acts instigated from abroad by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to put pressure on the Chinese government.

PetroChina to buy BHP's stake in Browse LNG project

By (BBC)
. . .

Chinese firms have been keen to acquire oil and gas assets in an attempt to meet the growing energy demand in China prompted by its economic growth.

. . .

"The main driver of these acquisitions is to source oil and gas for the Chinese market," Tony Regan of consultancy firm Tri-Zen told the BBC.

. . .

PetroChina has agreed to buy BHP's 8.3% stake in the East Browse and 20% holding in the West Browse joint venture.

HSBC blasted for 'stunning failures over oversight'

By (BBC)
The US said "dangerous practices" at HSBC allowed the bank to pass money to "drug kingpins and rogue nations", as it fined it $1.9bn (£1.2bn).

. . .

A US Senate investigation said the UK-based bank had been a conduit for drug barons and nations such as Iran against which it had sanctions, making it illegal to do business there.

. . .

The cases are seen as part of a crackdown on money laundering and sanctions violations being led by federal government agencies and New York state authorities.

US recognises Syrian opposition coalition

By (Al Jazeera)
President Barack Obama has said the US now considers Syria's main opposition group the sole "legitimate representative" of the country's people, deeming the move "a big step" in the international diplomatic efforts to end President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

. . .

The move, which was widely expected, could give new international legitimacy to the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, but stops short of authorising US arming of the opposition.

. . .

Recognition of the council as the sole representative of Syria's population brings the US in line with Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which took the same step shortly after the body was created at a meeting of opposition representatives in Qatar last month.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Female workers fight against the statistics

By (UPI)
. . .

Women make up two-thirds of fast food workers in New York, according to a report by Fast Food Forward.
Read more at Women's eNews

If that reflects a national trend it's not a good financial sign for women. The national median hourly wage for "food service and preparation workers," jobs that include prep cooks, deli workers and fast food servers, is $8.76 an hour, lower than all other reported occupations, reported Fast Food Forward.

Women made up about two-thirds of all workers who were paid minimum wage or less in 2011 and 61 percent of full-time minimum wage workers, according to the National Women's Law Center, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

. . .

Repaying student loans is likely to present a worse hardship for women than men, according to a 2012 American Association of University Women report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that women still earn less than men across the board even though they face the same financial demands.

U.S. Students Still Lag Globally in Math and Science, Tests Show

Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday.

. . .

 In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern.

. . .

 The test designers included questionnaires for parents about preparation before formal schooling. Ina V. S. Mullis, an executive director of the International Study Center, said that students whose parents reported singing or playing number games as well as reading aloud with their children early in life scored higher on their fourth-grade tests than those whose parents who did not report such activities. Similarly, students who had attended preschool performed better.

Healthcare reform $1 billion gain for Ala.

By (UPI)
. . .

Healthcare economists David Becker and Michael Morrisey at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health said across the first seven years of Medicaid expansion, the net budgetary effect is positive throughout.

"In a very real sense, the state makes money while expanding coverage to nearly 300,000 Alabamians, because the federal government would cover 100 percent of healthcare expenditures from the expanded Medicaid from 2014 through 2016," Becker said in a statement.

. . .

Becker and Morrisey estimated from 2014 to 2020, new spending in Alabama due to the Medicaid funds would generate nearly $20 billion in new income, which would generate $1.7 billion -- $1 billion for the state -- in additional tax revenue in state and local governments across the state.

Milk consumption drops off massively in the US

By (globalpost.com)
. . .

Milk consumption in the US has dropped 30 percent since 1975 and even 3.3 percent in the last year alone, said a new report by the Wall Street Journal.

The most likely reasons are the plethora of new drinks on offer from smoothies to energy drinks to iced teas.

. . .

It also could be that children, who are the biggest consumers of milk, are a smaller portion of the US population than they once were.

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:
. . .

HAD: In a lot of documentary films about European bands coming to the states, there's this idea of New York as a mythical mecca of pop culture. Specifically, in both The Clash and U2 documentaries, there are scenes where they enter the scenes and they show the band's jaws drop as they see the city. Did it have that effect for you? Did it have a mythical aspect?

EØ: Still does. New York still is a one of a kind place in the world. In Sao Paolo for example, there's a beautiful old part of town, with beautiful sky scrapers: super dangerous. At night time, kids can't be around there. It's so unique in New York, it's the sort of shopping window of the capitalist idea. Here, capitalism works. The best survives. The small, tiny, independent restaurant, store, survives. You go a little bit outside, it's Burger King, Taco blah blah blah. Chains. That's the bad side of capitalism. At some point it has to continue to grow, and it can only keep growing by crushing the small independents, and the quality gets worse and worse. But New York, yeah, it's the best of capitalism. The biggest argument for capitalism. And amazing diversity, and amazing food.

HAD: How does that carry over to Bergen? Has it penetrated in the same way in Europe?

EØ: In Norway, it's much better overall than the United States. We have free health care, social security, not so many chain restaurants. We don't have so much of these "forgotten areas" of the country, like Detroit for example. But, it's not a big country, so, you know.

. . .

HAD: Back to the music a little bit - in terms of songwriting, and how you view your music. There's an anecdote about Lennon and McCartney, how they were two guitars, two voices, and had never really considered the concept of a "lead". Then somebody wanted it for sheet music, and asked what's the "lead" vocal line, and they really didn't know - there were just two of everything. When you write and perform together, do you have that concept of taking the lead?

EØ: Well, that's a really interesting anecdote. I think Lennon and McCartney is a really good way to describe me and Eirik, because that's really how it is. It's kind of clearly different, at the same time, you're not always able to tell who it is. There are clearly separate voices, but not always so easy to see. And, the great thing is really the combination of the two makes for a good band. For sure, there are just two guitars, there are just two voices. We don't really care. One is not supposed to be louder than the other. You're just supposed to choose one that you listen to.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Will U.S. Oil Consumption Continue to Decline?

By James Hamilton
. . .

Fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in the United States has been increasing rapidly over the last five years, meaning that the typical new car gets substantially more miles per gallon than older vehicles. If Americans keep buying cars that are no more efficient than the typical model sold in 2012, average fuel efficiency of the existing fleet will continue to rise over time, as older cars are scrapped and replaced with new models.

. . . Historically, it would usually take both a significant recession and a big spike in oil prices to produce a temporary dip down in U.S. vehicle miles traveled. Nevertheless, so far there is no sign of U.S. miles driven climbing back up to where it had been prior to the Great Recession.

Bill McBride notes that the drop in miles driven since 2007 is not just due to higher gasoline prices and the weak economy. Older people drive less than younger, so as America ages, that would be a factor offsetting the effects of higher income and a growing population and leading us to expect a slower growth rate over the next decade than we have seen previously. Bill also reports evidence of a values shift of younger people away from cars, and some changes in patterns of home and work location that reduce total driving.

. . .

My conclusion is that if the price of oil remains at its current value, an ongoing decline in U.S. oil consumption over the next decade is a plausible baseline scenario even without the currently planned CAFE standards. If the price rises modestly from its current value (as the IEA analysis assumes), given the increased commitment to conservation already embodied in current standards, a reduction in consumption by 2020 of the size assumed in the IEA report looks reasonable.

Long, uncertain path ahead for Gulf restoration after oil spill

By Erika Bolstad
. . .

Gulf states, especially Louisiana, will see billions of dollars devoted to restoring habitat and coastline hurt not just by the 2010 BP oil spill, but also by decades of oil and gas exploration, U.S. agricultural practices and the management of the Mississippi and the rivers that drain into it on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

. . .

The Gulf Coast Council that met Tuesday still doesn’t know how much money it will have to work with. BP, which recently pleaded guilty in the criminal case, faces a civil trial in February. BP CEO Bob Dudley said the company will contest allegations of gross negligence, which come with higher fines under the Clean Water Act.

. . .

Many observers are hopeful that the money going toward research will help tie everything together. The criminal fines ship $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences to focus on human health and environmental protection, including oil spill prevention and response. Many hope that research will take a look at what the Gulf of Mexico was like before the Deepwater Horizon spill, what was damaged by the spill, what they still need to learn, and how they can use the research for on-the-ground restoration.

Science and Health
My, What Big Teeth You Have! Threatening Objects Appear Closer

By (ScienceDaily)
When we're faced with things that seem threatening, whether it's a hairy spider or an angry mob, our goal is usually to get as far away as we can. Now, new research suggests that our visual perception may actually be biased in ways that help motivate us to get out of harm's way.

Our bodies help us respond to threats by engaging our fight-or-flight response and enabling us to act quickly: Our heart rate and blood pressure ramp up, and we produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. But research suggests that the body may also demonstrate its preparedness through certain perceptual biases.

. . .

This research suggests that our perception can be biased in ways that may help to promote functional action -- in this case, getting away from sources of threat. But an important question remains: Does perceiving objects as physically closer actually make us quicker to act?

Light smoking 'doubles sudden heart death risk in women'

By Michelle Roberts
Women who are light smokers - including those who smoke just one cigarette a day - double their chance of sudden death, a large study suggests.

. . .

But those who quit smoking saw their risk begin to go back down within years, a journal of the American Heart Association reports.

. . .

After taking into account other heart risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and family history of heart disease, Dr Roopinder Sandhu and colleagues found the women who smoked were twice as likely to die suddenly even if they smoked "light-to-moderate" amounts - between one and 14 cigarettes a day.

Obama-named lizard was wiped out with the dinosaurs

By (BBC)
Researchers say the giant extinction event that saw the end of the dinosaurs also killed off most snakes and lizards - among them a newly discovered species named after US President Barack Obama.

The effect of the event on dinosaurs is well known, but the fates of smaller creatures have been less certain.

Now, a rich record of reptile fossils - including the new Obamadon gracilis - suggests 83% of snake and lizard species became extinct at that time.

U.S. Government Will Launch a Dynamic Airwave-Sharing Scheme

By David Talbot
Aiming to boost wireless bandwidth and innovation, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is poised to recommend the biggest regulatory change in decades: one that allows a newly available chunk of wireless spectrum to be leased by different companies at different times and places, rather than being auctioned off to one high bidder.

. . .

Under the proposed rule, wireless carriers, corporate offices, or researchers could reserve pieces of that spectrum in different regions and at different times—a system managed by a central database. The approach guarantees that the spectrum will be available and not subject to interference in certain areas by a crush of new users, as might happen if the new chunk of spectrum were made available with no regulation at all.

. . .

Whatever the details, the move spells the beginning of the end of a system in which spectrum is either exclusively owned by a private company, walled off for government and military use, or unlicensed and crowded.

Ancient Red Dye Powers New 'Green' Battery: Chemists Use Plant Extract in Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Lithium-Ion Battery

By (ScienceDaily)
Rose madder -- a natural plant dye once prized throughout the Old World to make fiery red textiles -- has found a second life as the basis for a new "green" battery.

. . .

Fortunately, biologically based color molecules, like purpurin and its relatives, seem pre-adapted to act as a battery's electrode. In the case of purpurin, the molecule's six-membered (aromatic) rings are festooned with carbonyl and hydroxyl groups adept at passing electrons back and forth, just as traditional electrodes do. "These aromatic systems are electron-rich molecules that easily coordinate with lithium," explained Professor John.

. . .

The team estimates that a commercial green Li-ion battery may be only a few years away, counting the time needed to ramp up purpurin's efficiency or hunt down and synthesize similar molecules. "We can say it is definitely going to happen, and sometime soon, because in this case we are fully aware of the mechanism," said Professor John.

Hackers post web log-ins of NASA, FBI

By (UPI)
Log-in details of 1.6 million accounts on the websites of NASA, the FBI and the European Space Agency have been hacked and posted online, authorities say.

The data was gathered during a series of attacks by the hacktivist group Ghost Shell on those sites and of those of many other government agencies and contractors, the BBC reported Wednesday.

. . .

It said it had sent messages to those in charge of the security of about 150 servers it considered insecure and targeted with the attacks

Users will always pay dearly when Facebook votes with its wallet

By Dan Gillmor
. . .

Facebook's site-governance system, which stemmed in part from a backlash against its tendency in recent years to make more and more of users' information public and reduce their privacy, did raise intriguing questions about users' roles and rights in our massively networked future. Some journalists called it a quasi-democracy. The emphasis should overwhelmingly have been on the "quasi" – because from all appearances the company has considered the process a distraction, not a serious feature.

. . .

Commentators pronounced the voting dead due to user indifference, with taunts such as: "You can't even be brought to click a simple button on the issue!" While apathy may well have been a factor, it's just as likely that it was caused by users' rational expectations: that what they said meant little or nothing to Zuckerberg and company. Voting in an essentially rigged system is not a meaningful action. The only action that Facebook will ever recognize is the only one that its users are shortsightedly unwilling to take: that is, quitting altogether.

What users understand implicitly, but not deeply enough, is that the owner of the service makes the decisions. Apart from government regulation, which increasingly will become necessary as Facebook becomes a quasi-utility (emphasis on "utility"), owners always make the decisions that matter in our modern corporatocracy. Users are relevant only to the extent that they keep putting stuff into the site and spending time on it.

You Can Major in Social Media for College Now

By  Casey Chan
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—these are things that we use everyday! And these are things that a whole college education can be based off now. Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina has made an entire undergraduate major for social media. You can graduate with honors in Facebooking.

. . .

Offered through the Department of Arts and Communications, the Social Media major will be an original interdisciplinary program that would capitalize on the strengths of existing courses in Graphic Design, Communications, Business Administration, Psychology and Statistics. Four innovative courses, created specifically for the Social Media major are also included in the curriculum.
Peru's native potato campaign puts spotlight on extreme poverty

By Doris Mejía
It's not often you identify potatoes with campaigning, but in South America that is what we have managed to do. By pushing the drive for consuming native potato through a Facebook campaign, the Practical Action team in Lima, Peru, have been able to engage with a wider audience and make them aware of the plight of those who grow and depend on them – the Andean communities living in extreme poverty 4000 metres above sea level.

. . .

Practical Action has worked with communities growing native potatoes for more than 20 years, and we felt this was the perfect time to tell people about the lives of the people involved in the conservation of these potatoes.

After creating our Facebook profile page in 2009, we realised we could harness the potential of social media to reach larger number of people. Our team came up with "I eat native potatoes" or yo como papa native Facebook fansite.

. . .

Social media has become part of our daily work, largely due to the demand from our supporters. It has attracted a variety of audiences. Our work appeals to not only specialists, technical experts and development researchers but also other people who simply want to know more about climate change or market chains.

Wahhabi war waged on Indonesia's Shi'ites

By Rossie Indira and Andre Vltchek
Indonesia's Shi'ite minority is under heavy attack. Men, women, and children have been assaulted, schools damaged, and villages burned to the ground. Many have been killed. It is becoming increasingly clear that Saudi Arabia's intolerant brand of Wahhabi Sunni Islam - propagated far and wide by Saudi oil money - is behind most of assaults.

. . .

This is the latest chapter of gross discrimination against minorities in Indonesia. Since 1965, Indonesian authorities have committed at least three massacres that could be considered genocides. Between 1 and 3 million people - mainly leftists and members of the country's Chinese minority - died during and after the 1965 military coup. Indonesian forces also killed or starved around 30% of inhabitants of East Timor. And at least 120,000 people have been killed in Papua in a conflict that continues to fester.

Discrimination against Indonesia's many ethnic and religious minorities did not end after Suharto stepped down in 1998. Since then, there have been brutal and often deadly attacks against "liberal" Muslims, Muslims from the Ahmadiyah sect, and of course against Shi'ites. There have been countless other attacks against Christians, members of indigenous traditions, and more recently Hindus as well.

Women in North Korea: 'Men can't earn enough money so it's our job now'

By Tania Branigan
. . .

Korean culture was traditionally patriarchal and the Yi dynasty, which ruled until the early 20th century, restricted women further by entrenching Confucian ideology.

. . .

When Korea was divided the leaders of the North vowed to liberate women, who gained equal legal and social rights almost overnight, said Park. Political opportunities expanded. Childcare and household chores were socialised, with kindergartens and laundries to encourage women to work outside the home. Even so, they still earned less than men and lacked political power. And when the country's economy declined, the changes began to unwind. Women started leaving their jobs after marriage. But as households struggled to survive on official wages, and the food distribution system broke down, women found new ways to sustain their families. Some set up small home-based businesses, such as taking in sewing. Many more became involved in trading. In contrast, men were reluctant to sell at markets, seeing it as shameful.

. . .

Crossing into China is even more lucrative, and women find it easier to slip out of North Korea than men, often settling in Yanji, which is close to the border and has a large ethnic Korean population. Lee met the Guardian in a safe house there; she had overstayed a visa and used a pseudonym because she risked deportation and punishment in the North.

. . .

Women face a double burden, labouring outside and returning to housework, said Park. There has also been a significant rise in sexual violence, including sex trafficking, and an increase in family breakdowns.

Meteor Blades is known to offer an enlightening Evening Open Diary - you might consider checking that out tonight if you haven't already.
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