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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, February 19, 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: The Sad Bag of Shaky Jake by Humble Pie

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
Rich-poor spending gap on schools hurts kids, report says

By Renee Schoof
America is failing too many of its children in public schools because it doesn’t spread the opportunity for a good education fairly to all, according to a report for the government released Tuesday.

. . .

It found that schools in poor communities in many cases spend thousands of dollars less per student than those in more affluent areas do. As a result, poor schools can’t compete for the best teachers and principals, buy the best technology and support rigorous academic and enrichment programs.

. . .

Among other things, it recommended higher pay and better work conditions for teachers and principals, and universal high-quality early education. The commission said that the U.S. could afford to pay teachers more, and it argued that raising starting pay to $65,000, instead of today’s average of $37,000, and increasing top salaries to $150,000, instead of around $70,000, would help attract better teachers.

. . .

The report said that states should adopt finance systems that divided funds equitably, which doesn’t mean evenly, the commission said, because some students need more support. It called on the federal government to use incentives to push states in this direction, and for more money for schools with large numbers of low-income students.

. . .

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was on the conference call, said the commission was independent. “We asked them to tell us not what we wanted to hear,” he said, “but to tell us the truth.”

The virtues of being unreasonable on Keystone

By David Roberts
I know Andy Revkin of The New York Times writes posts like this in part to bait people like me. But like Popeye, I yam what I yam. So consider me baited. Self-proclaimed moderates like to lecture anti-Keystone XL activists that they are “distracting” and “counterproductive,” without spelling out what the hell that means, yet they seem bewildered when that makes the activists in question angry.

. . .

Back before the election, Revkin acknowledged that “the pipeline, in isolation, is not in the national interest,” but “overall,” Obama “should not stand in the way of the pipeline.” Huh? It’s not in the national interest but he should greenlight it? Why? Because “it’s very much in the national interest for Obama to avoid saddling himself with an unnecessary issue that would be easy for his foes to distort into an Obama anti-jobs position.” So Obama should sacrifice the national interest in the name of political positioning. Got it. Time’s Bryan Walsh and Mike Grunwald echoed Revkin’s sentiment, warning that Keystone activists risked empowering Obama’s opposition and getting a Republican elected, which would be way worse for the climate than the pipeline.

A couple things have happened since then. One, Obama got reelected, pretty easily. Two, it’s become clear that literally anything Obama does will be distorted as anti-jobs by congressional Republicans, which is one reason they are so widely hated.

. . .

Intensity wins in politics, as I’ve said many times before, even if — Levi’s unreasonable demand notwithstanding — its effects cannot be easily predicted. There are benefits to an activated, impassioned constituency and the social and political machinery that brings them together in large numbers. It’s what the right has: an intense core, fighting on behalf of the status quo (using the status quo’s money), that has captured one of America’s two political parties. It’s what the fight against climate change does not yet have: an intense core, fighting on behalf of social and political change, with at least one political party that is scared to cross it.

Intensity is built through conflict, through the drawing of political and moral lines. That’s what activists like Bill McKibben are trying to do, with activist logic, not wonk logic, taking advantage of symbolism and opportunity. If there’s some other groundswell for change from which those efforts are “distracting,” I haven’t heard about it.

Google warns of rising account break-ins

By (UPI)
Google is warning of an increase in sophisticated attempts to hijack legitimate user accounts and use them in email scams.

. . .

"Although spam filters have become very powerful -- in Gmail, less than 1 percent of spam e-mails make it into an in-box -- these unwanted messages are much more likely to make it through if they come from someone you've been in contact with before.

. . .

Spammers are increasingly attempting to break into legitimate accounts and send mail to those accounts' contacts, CNET reported Tuesday.

. . .

Google has recommended users take advantage of the company's two-step verification and recovery options to secure accounts.

Justices to hear appeal of individual donation limits

By David G. Savage and Melanie Mason
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider taking another step toward dismantling campaign finance laws, potentially freeing wealthy donors to give as much as they want in any election cycle and raising the possibility that it could overturn limits that apply to individual candidates as well.

In its landmark Citizens United decision, the court ruled in 2010 that corporations, unions and individuals could spend unlimited sums on campaign ads so long as they are independent of the candidates and political parties. That triggered the creation of so-called "super PACs," which can raise and spend huge sums on politics, so long as they are ostensibly independent of a candidate or party.

On Tuesday the court moved to a different arena: that of limits on the sum individuals can contribute directly to candidates and parties.

. . .

Super PACs have already created an avenue for wealthy donors to give unlimited amounts to independent political action committees. By striking down the limit on total donations to candidates and parties, the court would be giving individuals the option of donating money to a party to be spread among its candidates, rather than to a supposedly independent super PAC.

. . .

Supporters of the current law called the court's action troubling. "If the current aggregate contribution limits were to be struck down, 1- or 2- or even 3 million dollars in contributions could easily be funneled by a single donor to his or her party and candidates," said Tara Malloy, counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which supports campaign finance regulation.

Warren Hill granted stay of execution

By Ed Pilkington
Warren Hill, an intellectually disabled prisoner, has been spared the death chamber just 30 minutes before he was due to die by lethal injection in Georgia despite a US supreme court ban on executions of people with learning difficulties.

Hill, 53, had already taken an oral sedative of Ativan to help calm himself for the gurney before he learned of the stay of execution from the federal appeals court for the 11th circuit. The court agreed to consider the issue of his intellectual disabilities in the light of a 2002 US supreme court ruling that prohibits executions of "mentally retarded" prisoners as a breach of the constitutional safeguard against cruel and unusual punishment.

Georgia is the only state in the union that insists prisoners must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they have learning difficulties – a standard that experts say is almost impossible to achieve.

. . .

Hill's scheduled execution attracted a comparatively small response, with few protesters and campaigners present in the prison grounds as the appointed hour approached. This was the second time in seven months that Hill has come close to the death chamber: last July he was spared by just 90 minutes and the experience was repeated on Tuesday night with just 30 minutes to go.

Health service to fund IVF for the over-40s

By Sarah Boseley
Women over the age of 40 are to be allowed fertility treatment on the NHS for the first time and all couples who are struggling to conceive and qualify for IVF should get it sooner, according to national treatment guidelines published on Wednesday.

Women aged 40-42 who have not previously had fertility treatment on the NHS should be offered one round of IVF, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), whose guidance applies to the NHS in England and Wales, rules.

Previously the cut-off age has been 39. Those struggling to conceive have also been told the treatment should start earlier – after two years of trying to conceive naturally, rather than three.

Saudi women take seats in Shura Council

By (Al Jazeera)
Thirty Saudi women have taken seats in Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, for the first time in the conservative kingdom's history, as they were sworn in before King Abdullah at his palace in the capital, Riyadh.

The women took their seats in the same room with their 130 male colleagues and were sworn in collectively, state television said on Tuesday.

"The development we are working at must be gradual," King Abdullah said in a brief statement broadcast on state television.

He recommended that the council, an advisory body, show "realism" in its discussions and allow "reason to prevail in issues it has to deal" with.

Tunisia Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigns

By (BBC)
Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government.

Mr Jebali had been trying to form a new coalition in response to the political crisis sparked by the killing of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

He had said he would quit if his Islamist Ennahda party did not back his plan for a cabinet of technocrats.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Who Pays the Corporate Income Tax?

By Kevin Drum
Who pays the corporate income tax? Corporations, obviously. That's like asking who's buried in Grant's tomb. One way or another, though, actual people have to ultimately pay the tax. Consumers pay it if companies respond to corporate taxes by raising the price of their products. Workers pay the tax if corporations respond by lowering wages. Shareholders pay the tax if it simply eats into profits and lowers share prices.

But which is it? Bruce Bartlett reports today that the March issue of the National Tax Journal has four articles that address this question . . .

So what's the real answer? By using the blogger's expedient of simply averaging all the responses, it looks like shareholders end up paying 80 percent of the corporate income tax.

US stocks hit 5-year high on merger activity

By Allison Jackson
US stocks rose Tuesday, with the S&P 500 closing at a five year high, after a burst of merger activity.

Chatter about a possible tie-up between Office Depot and OfficeMax got investors excited, The Street reported, with the office supplies rivals surging 9.4 percent and 21 percent respectively.

. . .

Reuters reported a recent spate of corporate deals, including the Berkshire Hathaway/3G Capital acquisition of H.J. Heinz and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s revised $20 billion takeover of Grupo Modelo, has buoyed investor sentiment and underpinned gains.

“Recent mergers and acquisitions are further evidence of just how high the mountain of cash has grown for corporate America,” Andrew Fitzpatrick, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates, told MarketWatch.

Child's 'finger gun' suspension lifted

By (UPI)
Virginia school officials agreed to rescind a disciplinary note after parents complained about their child being suspended for mimicking a gun with his fingers.

. . .

The boy's parents were baffled, telling The Washington Post Monday their son was just pretending as any child could and didn't deserve to be suspended. A letter from the family's lawyer was enough to prompt school district officials to agree to remove the suspension from the child's file, though they remained defiant about the child's behavior, the family's lawyer said.

"It just seems when you're moving forward instead of backward you should be conciliatory," attorney Robin Ficker said. "I did not feel a whisper of conciliation in the letter."

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:
One could make a good argument that Humble Pie have in some ways lived out the prophecy of their name. Now frequently overshadowed by the same peers they once blew off the stage, the British group have indeed been forced to eat humble pie in the grand scheme of classic rock history. But that in no way diminishes the scale of their influence or the lasting appeal of their discography – just ask many of those aforementioned peers, who still rave about Humble Pie’s awesome talents at every opportunity. In leader Steve Marriott, Humble Pie had perhaps the closest male reflection of Janis Joplin’s soulful blues howl; a voice that simultaneously made him one of the most envied and revered singers of his generation. Yet there was so much more to the band than that, . .
Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
BP to fight government's 'excessive' demands over Deepwater oil spill

By Suzanne Goldenberg
BP has announced that it will square off against the federal government in court next week to fight "excessive" claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

. . .

BP has already accepted criminal responsibility for the disaster, pleading guilty last November to manslaughter and lying to Congress and paying $4.5bn in fines. It reached a separate $7.8bn settlement earlier last year with thousands of local individuals that suffered economic damages because of the oil disaster.

But Bondy indicated the company had become stuck trying to reach a deal on the big ticket item: up to $21bn in fines for environmental damage arising from the oil disaster.

The fines, which would be levied under the Clean Water Act, would go directly for coastal restoration in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf states. More than 40 lawyers for federal and state governments are expected to be in court on Monday.

Emissions trading scheme: EU committee passes 'rescue' reforms

By Fiona Harvey
Reforms aimed at rescuing the European Union's landmark carbon-cutting mechanism, the emissions trading scheme (ETS), are back on track after attacks from business lobbyists and Conservatives.

A key committee of the European parliament judged in favour of the reforms on Tuesday, meaning that they will move on to be debated by the whole parliament, probably in April. However, it was unclear on Tuesday whether there would be an additional stage of scrutiny before the parliamentary vote, during which time the measures could be watered down.

. . .

The committee's decision to pass the reforms was welcomed by environmental campaigners. If the reforms pass the parliament, then some of the carbon permits destined for the emissions trading scheme market will be held back until 2019, which should restrict the over-supply of permits and raise the price of emitting carbon dioxide in the EU.

. . .

The short-term fix that the reforms would introduce is known as "backloading", whereby some of the allocations of permits by member states to their industries would be held back from auction for several years. At present, auctions of permits take place on a regular basis, in which companies bid for any they need above the free allocation that some receive. But as the market is already swamped, thanks in part to companies carrying over unused permits from previous years, if the auctions were to take place as usual the price could fall even further. Under "backloading", some of those auctions will be postponed until later in the current phase of the scheme, which runs to 2020.

Science and Health
'Bionic legs' for (UK) military amputees

By (BBC)
Injured military personnel who have legs amputated are to be given the most up-to-date prosthetic limbs after the government set aside £6.5m for them.

The micro-processor limbs, known as "bionic legs", will be available to service personnel who have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan and will offer them greater stability and mobility.

. . .

The new technology provides better stability and greater mobility, as well as improvements in the ability to step over obstacles, negotiate stairs and walk backwards safely.

. . .

Surgeon General Air Marshal Paul Evans said: "The next generation of micro processor knee is a fantastic prosthetic development and now seen to have proven benefits for certain amputees. It will improve the quality of life and rehabilitation for our patients, where it is clinically suitable.

Goldilocks and the Three Hospice Patients

By Carol Levine
. . .

The modern hospice movement started in the 1970s as a holistic philosophy of care that stressed pain and symptom control as well as emotional and spiritual support. When hospice became a Medicare benefit in 1982, partly predicated on being a cheaper as well as more humane form of care, it became a set of federal rules.  Now it is a business model complete with cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing strategies. Can hospice serve all these masters? And to what degree do patient and family preferences and values enter into these equations?

Two recent studies demonstrate the tension between efforts to bring the benefits of hospice to patients and their families earlier in the course of a final illness and the requirement that hospice patients die on regulators’ schedules and without expensive drugs or procedures that affect the bottom line.

. . .

The Teno study looked at three diagnoses – cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and dementia. Hospice was designed for cancer patients, but increasingly patients with other, less predictable diseases are potential hospice beneficiaries. It was also designed to be flexible in terms of length of stay, recognizing that there would be patients with very short stays and some with very long stays. Predicting when a patient has six months or less to live is not a hard science. Some patients do very well on hospice because of the good care they receive, which keeps them out of the hospital. They outlive the first six months even though their overall health is declining. (My mother was one such hospice patient.) It seems counterintuitive to penalize hospices for providing good care, even if it means a longer episode of care.  

. . .

What to do?  In their editorial, Jenq and Tinetti point out that site of death is an inadequate measure of the quality of end-of-life care, “given the many transitions endured, and intensive care services received.” A more appropriate metric, they suggest, might be whether patients’ goals were elicited and care intended to achieve those goals provided early enough to make a difference. Teno and colleagues suggest increasing the hospice per diem rate for patients who require complex palliative treatments.  They also propose removing the Medicare hospice benefit limit on receiving concurrent care.

Household cleaners threat to health, UN study says

By Alexander Besant
. . .

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the chemicals are disrupting hormones, causing serious health risks.

. . .

Medical News Today said the biggest exposure areas were industrial and urban run-off, burning and release of waste and agricultural run-off.

They are also found in food additives, pesticides, electronics, cosmetics and personal hygiene products.

“Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago,” said report author Åke Bergman, a professor at Stockholm University, reported Medical News Today.

Language Protein Differs in Males, Females

By (ScienceDaily)
Male rat pups have more of a specific brain protein associated with language development than females, according to a study published February 20 in The Journal of Neuroscience. The study also found sex differences in the brain protein in a small group of children. The findings may shed light on sex differences in communication in animals and language acquisition in people.

Sex differences in early language acquisition and development in children are well documented -- on average, girls tend to speak earlier and with greater complexity than boys of the same age. However, scientists continue to debate the origin and significance of such differences. Previous studies showed the Foxp2 protein plays an important role in speech and language development in humans and vocal communication in birds and other mammals.

. . .

The researchers extended their findings to humans in a preliminary study of Foxp2 protein in a small group of children. Unlike the rats, in which Foxp2 protein was elevated in males, they found that in humans, the girls had more of the Foxp2 protein in the cortex -- a brain region associated with language -- than age-matched boys.

"At first glance, one might conclude that the findings in rats don't generalize to humans, but the higher levels of Foxp2 expression are found in the more communicative sex in each species," noted Cheryl Sisk, who studies sex differences at Michigan State University and was not involved with the study.

How Big Business is Stymying Makers’ High-Res, Colorful Innovations

By Joseph Flaherty
If you're waiting for desktop additive-manufacturing technology to move closer to professional-level results, be prepared to wait for a very long time.

 The past year was a breakout for desktop 3-D printing. MakerBot released two new models, Formlabs debuted the first prosumer 3-D printer to use high-accuracy stereolithography, and a slew of innovative, printed projects lifted awareness and desirability of additive manufacturing for the general public.

. . .

 We've uncovered 10 patents that could severely stifle innovation in the low-cost segment of the 3-D printing market and keep you from making colorful, smooth-finished figures and precise, articulating parts. These patents cover core technologies and ease-of-use features, and could take momentum from the upstarts and return it to the entrenched companies.

NYT public editor weighs in on Tesla/Musk drama, throws Broder under electric car

By Xeni Jardin
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan on the controversy over John M. Broder’s NYT review of the Tesla S, which upset Elon Musk and many fans of his electric vehicles:

 "I do not believe Mr. Broder hoped the drive would end badly. I am convinced that he took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it. Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially."

 One detail Sullivan didn't address is something of a well-kept secret in tech journalism: Musk is a genius . . . But he also has a nasty habit of busting the balls of reporters . . . when the reporting they produce includes any criticism of SpaceX or Tesla.

"Secret" Chinese Military Unit May Be Behind Series of Hacks on U.S. Since 2006

By Tiffany Kaiser
U.S. computer security company Mandiant said that the Shanghai-based People's Liberation Army (Unit 61398) is a strong suspect behind the computer hacks occurring against a wide array of industries in the U.S.

. . .

 According to Mandiant, Unit 61398 -- which is considered a secretive military unit in Shanghai's Pudong district -- has stolen "hundreds" of terabytes of data from 141 organizations since about 2006. It has also stolen data from Canada and Britain, but mainly the U.S.

. . .

 Just this week, the U.S. Department of Defense said it worried that not enough cyber experts were prepared for DOD cyber defense. DOD wants to go on a hiring spree of capable cyber experts, but current certifications/qualifications necessary to work for DOD may not be enough to prepare these experts for the job ahead of them. Hence, it's currently rewriting its cyber workforce policy.

Braess’ Paradox Infects Social Networks Too, Say Computer Scientists

By The Physics arXiv Blog
One of the increasingly famous paradoxes in science is named after the German mathematician Dietrich Braess who noted that adding extra roads to a network can lead to greater congestion. Similarly, removing roads can improve travel times.

Traffic planners have recorded many examples of Braess’ paradox in cities such as Seoul, Stuttgart, New York and London. And in recent years, physicists have begun to study how it might be applied in other areas too, such as power transmission, sporting performance where the removal of one player can sometimes improve a team’s performance and materials science where the network of forces within a material  can be modified in counterintuitive ways, to make it expand under compression, for example.

Today,  Krzysztof Apt at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands and a couple of pals reveal an entirely new version of this paradox that occurs in social networks in which people choose products based on the decisions made by their friends.

. . .

Although that seems counterintuitive, it’s not so hard to imagine. Many people will have had the experience of choosing a computer, for example, where there is so much choice that it is impractical to research and assess all the available options. This reduces the chances of  making the optimal choice and everyone is worse off.

Should sperm donors have parental duties?

By Pia Gadkari
As more women become pregnant using sperm donated by men they know, the law must establish what role, if any, these men should play in their biological children's lives.

. . .

In some cases, like Mr Marotta's, donors do not want to be recognised as legal parents. But lawyers are also seeing more cases in which donors seek contact with their biological children.

. . .

The law protecting sperm donors from parental liability was passed in the 1970s, when most women seeking fertility treatment were married. Because treatment was new and cumbersome it had to be administered by a doctor.

But medical advances now offer cheaper, easier alternatives to treatment in a clinic.

Single mothers now make up as many as 49% of the women who receive donor conception treatment, says Wendy Kramer, director of the Donor Sibling Registry.

Gay Afghan defies tradition to expose identity

By Tahir Qadiry
Hamid Zaher is a young Afghan pharmacist, now living in Toronto in Canada. He has defied Afghan tradition by writing a searingly honest memoir about what it was like to be a gay man in Afghanistan.

. . .

Hamid's book, entitled "It is your enemy who is dock-tailed", is an impassioned and defiant attack on the conservative traditions and prejudices which he says made it impossible for him to carry on living in his home country.

. . .

Although segregation between the sexes means that homosexual activity in private is not unknown in Afghanistan, there is no publicly visible gay community whatsoever.

. . .

"This is a big stigma in Afghanistan," he told the BBC. "People see it as an immoral act... According to the law those involved could be punished by death."

The Persian version of Hamid's book, which was published in 2009, has been met with a wall of silence in Afghanistan.

Tony Mendez, the real CIA spy in Argo

By Naveena Kottoor
Argo, a film about the audacious rescue of six Americans hiding in Tehran after the storming of the US embassy in November 1979, is the bookies' favourite for best picture at the Oscars. CIA agent Tony Mendez, played in the film by Ben Affleck, explains how the rescue plan was hatched.

The six Americans in hiding had escaped from the back door of the embassy as Iranian revolutionaries broke their way in, and taken refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. But they were at risk of being discovered, either by Iranian revolutionaries or the international media.

. . .

"The Iranians could have decided to behead us. Or we could have been dragged around with a jeep. All these things were possible," he says.

. . .

"I was hoping that [this way] they would loosen up and enjoy the operation. It may sound contrived, but you can distract people with fun much easier than with fear. With one of the guests I had to resort to liqueur - Cointreau - to jolly him along.

. . .

In March 1980, after a personal meeting with President Carter in the Oval Office, the CIA presented Mendez with an award - the Intelligence Star - but as the mission was classified, he was obliged to return it immediately. Not even his family could attend the ceremony.

Pickle company agrees to drop 'midget'

By (UPI)
A U.S. pickle maker says it has agreed to stop calling a variety of small pickles "midgets" following a complaint by a Rhode Island woman.

Chelley Martinka of Cranston began her campaign in December after she spotted a jar of Cains Kosher Dill Midgets in a supermarket, The Providence Journal reported Tuesday. Martinka has a 10-month-old daughter with dwarfism, which means she will be very short of stature.

Martinka called and wrote Gedney Foods, the Minnesota company that owns the Cains brand, created a YouTube video and launched a blog. Gedney responded by announcing plans to change the label, although the jars already bearing the Midget label will remain on store shelves.

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