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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, March 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: Tarantella by Lounge Lizards

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.

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
National Academy of Sciences to Obama: Push Gas Taxes, 100 MPG Cars by 2050

By Jason Mick
According to a recent report by the The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NAS NRC), America has a petroleum problem. Petroleum consumption by light vehicles accounts for 17 percent of the nation's annual greenhouse gas emissions, and sends $300M USD overseas to oft-hostile foreign nations.

. . .

 Currently, President Obama has rolled out a target of 54.5 mpg by 2025.  The proposal also calls on both private insurers to charge a flat fee per mile driven, and calls on Congress to implement a Western European style tax on miles driven.  Comments the report, "Policies that increase the marginal cost of driving should be considered."

. . .

 But the NAS NRC is convinced that government venture capitalism will pay off, writing, "The government must be able to assess candidate activities, select only those with a high chance of success, accept some risk because is not guaranteed in every case, and be robust enough to survive when approaches initially chosen fail."

. . .

 The organization backs tech-neutrality in terms of fuel efficiency technologies -- as long as that technology isn't petroleum.

Your Texts May Not Be As Private As You Think

By Kevin Drum
Most cellular service providers do not retain stored text messages accessible to law enforcement for any time at all. Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity. In some cases, this means that critical evidence is lost. Text messaging often plays a big role in investigations related to domestic violence, stalking, menacing, drug trafficking, and weapons trafficking.
How do you feel about the idea that carriers should store all of your text messages for years at a time "just in case" some law enforcement officer wants access to them someday? Probably about the same way that gun owners feel about proposals to license and register their guns just in case law enforcement wants to track them down someday. In other words, not so great.

In both cases, opposition might be softened if law enforcement were consistently required to get a search warrant before they're allowed access to your private digital data. . .

Probable cause is certainly a pain in the ass. But if we don't need it in the digital world, why do we still need it in the physical world? Seems very anachronistic, doesn't it? . . .

Senate Democrats to drop assault weapon ban from gun bill

By (BBC)
US lawmakers will ditch a plan to ban assault weapons, all but killing off a key part of a gun control campaign prompted by a recent school massacre.

. . .

An assault-type weapon was used in the December massacre that killed 26 at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

. . .

But while polls show most Americans back an assault weapon ban, influential pro-gun lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association have pressed lawmakers to oppose such a move.

Sen Feinstein said she might put forward the assault weapons proposal, similar to a previous one she sponsored that expired in 2004, as an amendment to the bill.

But she would need 60 votes from the 100-member Senate to succeed, a margin analysts say the amendment would be unlikely to reach.

10 years on, Iraq ignores promised reforms in human rights

By Erin Evers
On the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein, violence and political crisis plague Iraq. The government blames its problems on regional interference, the unceasing threat of terrorism and the specter of Saddam Hussein’s Baathism. Implicit in their thinking is the idea that rights violations are justified by the state’s responsibility to prevent terrorism.

. . .

Despite the appealing simplicity of the sectarian narrative, sectarianism is not the cause of violence and Iraq’s political crisis. In recent months, the government has announced broad reforms in response to weekly mass demonstrations in majority Sunni provinces. These demonstrations began in December, after the arrest of Sunni Finance Minister Rafi al-Essawi’s bodyguards.

. . .

People told me over and over about random arrests, torture during interrogation and prolonged detention in unofficial facilities. They said corruption was rife among Interior Ministry officials, that there was collusion between officials and judges, and that trials lacked the most basic due process protections.

. . .

Speaking with Hanan in Baghdad’s Central Women’s prison, known as “Site 4,” I was struck by how her story confounded the government’s claims that such draconian measures are justified to fight terrorism and sectarian violence, and that sectarian divisions are behind all of the country’s ills.

Cyprus warned over parliament's bailout rejection

By (BBC)
Germany's finance minister has warned Cyprus that its crisis-stricken banks may never be able to reopen if it rejects the terms of a bailout.

Wolfgang Schaeuble said major Cypriot banks were "insolvent if there are no emergency funds".

He was speaking after the Cypriot parliament rejected an international bailout deal that would have imposed a one-off tax on bank deposits.

. . .

The eurozone's third smallest economy has just sent a resounding message of defiance to Brussels. And the impact will spread far beyond this tiny island.

Pakistani Taliban declare war on judiciary

By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
The Pakistani Taliban has declared a war on Pakistan's judiciary and announced it will suspend peace talks with the Pakistani government. At least four persons were killed and 30 injured including three policemen and a woman judge on Monday when two suicide bombers blew themselves up within the premises of the judicial complex in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

. . .

 Many political observers believe that the Taliban want to sabotage the general elections scheduled to be held in next two months and disrupt the democratic process by stepping up terror attacks across the country. TTP on Monday again warned the people to stay away from political gatherings of the liberal political parties including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), which are on TTP's hit list.

. . .

 The timing of Taliban's new war on judiciary raises many questions. The war should have been declared in 2010 when Siddiqui was convicted. Why is the judiciary being targeted now? The judiciary has emerged as first line of defense against all conspiracies against the continuation of the democratic process in the country. The judiciary is fully determined to protect democracy and it has repeatedly said that it would not allow any delay in the upcoming general elections. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry has repeatedly declared that the democratic process must continue in the country under all circumstances and change should be brought only through elections.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Economists Should Think a Little More About Politics

By Kevin Drum
. . .
Faced with a trade union exercising monopoly power and raising the wages of its members, most economists would advocate removing or limiting the union’s ability to exercise this monopoly power, and this is certainly the right policy in some circumstances. But unions do not just influence the way the labor market functions; they also have important implications for the political system.
....Because the higher wages that unions generate for their members are one of the main reasons why people join unions, reducing their market power is likely to foster de-unionization. But this may, by further strengthening groups and interests that were already dominant in society, also change the political equilibrium in a direction involving greater efficiency losses. This case illustrates a more general conclusion, which is the heart of our argument: even when it is possible, removing a market failure need not improve the allocation of resources because of its impact on future political equilibria. To understand whether it is likely to do so, one must look at the political consequences of a policy: it is not sufficient to just focus on the economic costs and benefits.

. . .

....It's impossible to wind back the clock and see what would have happened if things had been different, but we can take a pretty good guess. Organized labor, for all its faults, acted as an effective countervailing power for decades, representing not just its own interests, but the interests of virtually the entire wage-earning class against the investor class....If unions had been as strong in the '80s and '90s as they were in the '50s and '60s, it's almost inconceivable that they would have sat by and accepted tax cuts and financial deregulation on the scale that we got. They would have demanded economic policies friendlier to middle-class interests, they would have pressed for the appointment of regulators less captured by the financial industry, and they would have had the muscle to get both.

Climate Change Denying Congressman to Head Subcommittee on Climate Change

By Tim Murphy
As the new chairman of a key House subcommittee on the environment, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) will be one of the GOP's leading actors when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency and the growing threats from climate change. So with his first hearing as chairman on tap for Wednesday, what does the freshman Republican—and end times novelist—think about anthropogenic global warming?

He's not sure.

In response to an inquiry from Mother Jones, Stewart's office emailed a statement suggesting that more study was needed before he could safely say whether—as 97 percent of scientists believe—humans are responsible for rising global temperatures. And even if it was, he explained, that doesn’t mean we should act:

. . .

But if Stewart isn't sure how he feels about climate change, he's dead-set in his view of the EPA: He wants the agency dissolved. In August, following a campaign event in the southwest corner of the state, Stewart told the St. George News that the Environmental Protection Agency should be eliminated because, as he put it, "The EPA thwarts energy development."

Urban Exploration Helps Terrorism, Counterterrorism Agency Warns

By Spencer Ackerman
. . .

You might think that dude climbing across the girders of a suspension bridge late at night intends to get a good view or to write some graffiti. But the National Counterterrorism Center can’t help but notice the pathway he takes exposes “security vulnerabilities” inherent in the urban landscape, like “access to structural components including caissons (the structures that house the anchor points of a bridge suspension system)” — all of which a terrorist would find useful. Spelunking through subway tunnels might alert terrorists to “electrical, ventilation or signal control rooms.” The vantage point of a rooftop provides a glimpse useful to the “disruption of communication systems.”

All of this was part of a one-sheet warning that the National Counterterrorism Center issued in November, unearthed by our friends at Public Intelligence. Named in the document are prominent urban-spelunker websites like Undercity.org and Placehacking.co.uk, which grew out of urban-geography PhD research. Should you observe “suspicious UE activity,” the Center encourages you to report it to “the nearest State and Major Area Fusion Center and to the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

. . .

Urban exploration is not typically the reconnaissance mission of al-Qaida. While it’s not crazy to think that terrorists might be interested in studying an urban landscape, the vanishingly few cases of domestic terrorism in the post-9/11 era typically involved shooting up places like Fort Hood or leaving a would-be car bomb in Times Square, rather than recon from the top of a bridge or the depths of a subway tunnel. Such tips aren’t even a part of the DIY terrorism advice column in al-Qaida’s English-language webzine.

Freddie Mac 'sues' more than a dozen banks

By (Al Jazeera)
US mortgage finance company Freddie Mac is suing more than a dozen banks for losses from the alleged manipulation of the benchmark interest rate known as Libor, Reuters news agency reported.

. . .

Freddie Mac, which invested in mortgage bonds and swaps tied to US dollar Libor, claims the banks colluded to rig the benchmark from 2007 to 2010, according to the complaint, which was filed March 14 in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The banks worked together to artificially lower the US dollar Libor "both to hide their institutions financial problems and to boost their profits," the complaint said. The lawsuit seeks undetermined damages.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two government-controlled mortgage companies, may have suffered more than $3bn in losses as a result of Libor manipulation, according to a memo obtained by Reuters in December.

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:
The Lounge Lizards are a jazz group formed in 1978 by saxophonist John Lurie and his brother, pianist Evan Lurie. In American slang, a "lounge lizard" is typically depicted as a well-dressed man who frequents the establishments in which the rich gather with the intention of seducing a wealthy woman with his flattery and deceptive charm.[1]

Drawing on punk rock and no wave as much as jazz, The Lounge Lizards have since become respected for their creative and distinctive sound. In October of 1986, Robert Palmer of The New York Times wrote "the Lounge Lizards...have staked their claim to a musical territory that lies somewhere west of Charles Mingus and east of Bernard Hermann and made it their own."

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
86 elephants killed in Chad poaching massacre

By Celeste Hicks
Poachers in south-west Chad have killed at least 86 elephants including 33 pregnant females in less than a week, in a potentially devastating blow to one of central Africa's last remaining elephant populations.

Groups of elephants follow traditional migration routes during the dry season from Central African Republic, through Chad to Cameroon. Thirty years ago there were estimates of 150,000 animals across the region, but today that figure could be as low as 2,000.

. . .  It is thought the animals were killed by Chadian and Sudanese poachers travelling on horseback carrying AK47s and hacksaws to remove the tusks.

. . .

Anti-poaching teams are often poorly equipped and the guards themselves are targeted. Ten were killed trying to protect elephants between 2006-09 in Zakouma national park, in south-east Chad. As the Darfur conflict raged along the Chad/Sudan border, horseback raiders crossed into Zakouma, killing around 3,000 elephants in three years. At one point an average of three elephants a day were being slaughtered.

Two reasons climate change is not like other environmental problems

By David Roberts
. . .

The first difference is that carbon dioxide is not like other pollutants.

. . .

Carbon dioxide is not like that. Once it’s in the tub, it stays there for up to 100 years before it drains out. And the drain in the bathtub (so-called “sinks” that absorb carbon out of the air, like oceans and forests) is comparatively small relative to the enormous amounts coming out of the faucet. And by the way, we’re actively making the drain smaller by cutting down forests and carbon-loading the oceans.

. . .

The second difference is that climate change is irreversible.

. . .

The damage we’re doing now is something the next 40 to 50 generations will have to cope with, even if we stop emitting CO2 tomorrow. And the CO2 we’ve already released has locked in another 50 or 100 years of damage (because of the slow draining). There is no “reversing” climate change. There is only reducing the amount we change the climate.

Both these facts about climate change set it apart from other environmental problems. They also, for what it’s worth, set it apart from social problems like poverty, crime, or poor healthcare. All of those problems are serious; they all have an impact on public health. But they can all be measurably affected by public policy within our lifetimes. They are bad but they are not cumulative. They are not becoming less solvable over time.

Science and Health
Neanderthal genome sequenced

By (UPI)
Scientists in Germany completing the genome sequence of a Neanderthal say they're making the entire sequence available to the scientific community for research.

Svante Paabo and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, presented the first draft version of the Neanderthal genome in 2010 from data collected from three bones found in a cave in Croatia, have now used a toe bone excavated in 2010 in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia to generate a high-quality genome from a single Neanderthal individual, the institute said Tuesday.

The analysis of the genome shows that the individual is closely related to other Neanderthals in Europe and western Russia, and that Neanderthals and their relatives, Denisovans, were both present in this unique cave in the Altai Mountains on the border between Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Globe's giant squids may be single species

By (UPI)
A finding of exceptionally low genetic diversity suggests all giant squid worldwide are members of a single species, Danish researchers say.

. . .

The samples came from squid recovered in waters off California, Florida, Spain, Japan and New Zealand, and all showed the same genomic makeup.

If there is in fact just one giant squid species it is evidence adults must be capable of traveling huge distances, the researchers said.

A Peaceful Death or a Risk to People with Disabilities?

By William J. Peace
Armond and Dorothy Rudolph of New Mexico were evicted from their assisted living facility in January 2011, after administrators called the police and rescue workers and informed them the couple, who were in their early 90s, were attempting suicide. A chaotic scene ensued and the Rudolphs were permitted to remain in their apartment for one more night. The following day the Rudolphs' children rented a nearby home and 10 days later after refusing food and water Armond and Dorothy Rudolph died.

. . .

Dying by VSED has sparked an intense and polarizing debate. On one side you have Compassion and Choices maintaining that VSED is a panacea for those who want to end their lives in the absence of assisted suicide legislation. On the other hand you have groups such as Not Dead Yet and the Anti-Euthanasia Coalition arguing that VSED is inherently flawed and poses a serious risk to vulnerable populations such as the elderly and disabled. What is absent in discussions of VSED, assisted suicide, and euthanasia in general is a disability rights perspective.

. . .

Theoretically, the belief of Compassion and Choices that any person can opt to end his or her life by VSED is correct – anyone does indeed have this option “when physical decline and suffering become pointless and unbearable.” What advocates for VSED conveniently ignore is the cultural response when an individual actually expresses such a desire.

. . .

 Contrast them with Larry MacAfee, David Rivlin, and Christina Symanski, quadriplegics who all expressed a desire to die. Few people outside of the disability rights community will know these names. Symanski who did in fact die via VSED reinforced an ugly truth about how people perceive disability – that one is better off dead than disabled. Of course few people will openly admit this. Jackie Leach Scully identifies this nonverbalized bias “disablism.” “People who are nonconsciously or unconsciously disablist do not recognize themselves as in any way discriminatory,” she wrote; “their disablism is often unintentional, and persists through unexamined, lingering cultural stereotypes about disabled lives.”

Hackers tried to get Fla. absentee ballots

By (UPI)
Computer hackers requested 2,500 absentee ballots for last year's Florida primary from the Miami-Dade Elections Department, officials say.

The request is the first documented case of a cyberattack involving a U.S. election, NBC News reported. But experts say the goal of the attackers is unclear, especially because the number of ballots requested would not have made a difference in the outcome of the primary.

. . .

Elections officials quickly realized the absentee ballot requests were phony. A state investigation was closed in January without any suspects being named, although a later report in The Miami Herald said the requests were later traced to three ISP addresses in the United States, although they had been routed through overseas servers.

Social Networks Reveal Structure (And Weaknesses) of Businesses

By The Physics arXiv Blog
. . .

One of the unintended consequences of social networks is that they tend to reveal more about an individual than the information he or she has posted online. That’s because the structure of the network–the links set up between friends and acquaintances–is itself an important source of data.

. . .

The results reveal remarkable detail about the way these organisations are set up. For example, Fire and co found one group of employees at one company who were almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the organisation. By looking at these people’s publicly available employment histories, Fire and co worked out that they were all part of a start-up that had been bought by the company but had clearly failed to integrate into the broader organisation.

. . .

That raises the question of how companies can prevent this kind of information leaking out. “Organizations willing to conceal their structure, location and specialization of branches, identity of leaders, etc. must enforce strict policies which control the use of social media by their employees,” say Fire and co. That could put a few cats amongst the pigeons.

The World’s Biggest Ship Is Assembled like a Lego Model

By Andrew Tarantola
With a capacity of more than 16,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit shipping containers) the CMA CGM Marco Polo currently reigns as the "world's largest container ship" but it won't for much longer. Construction of an even larger line of mega-ships—the Maersk Triple E—will soon be complete and, once launched, will dwarf every other vessel on the high seas.

At 400 meters in length and capable of carrying 18,000 TEU containers, the new Triple E line will be the longest and highest capacity container ships in operation—larger than both the previous record holders, the Marco Polo and Emma Maersk. What's more, the Triple E's (which stands for "economy of scale, energy efficient and environmentally improved") will be far more fuel efficient than their predecessors.

Analysts Predict Apple Could Be Sitting on $170 Billion in Cash This Year

By Shane McGlaun
Apple continues to be incredibly successful in the technology market and one of the most valuable companies in the world. So far this year Apple is sitting on a cash stockpile that amounts to $137 billion. Some Apple shareholders are upset that the company is sitting on that much cash and isn't paying out dividends to shareholders.

. . .

 Apple has noted that it is in "active discussions" on returning some of that money to investors but no details were offered. Einhorn is currently involved in the suit against Apple that CEO Tim Cook has dubbed "a sideshow."

. . .

 The only non-technology company in the top five biggest cash-rich companies in the United States was pharmaceutical giant Pfizer with $46.9 billion in cash taking the number four spot. Rounding out the top five is Cisco Systems with $46.4 billion in cash.

China's elite are creating an abundance of female heirs

By Adam Taylor
. . .

State news agency Xinhua recently released a number of in-depth profiles of high ranking Communist Party officials to celebrate China's power transition, and observers have noted that a large number of these officials have female offspring.

Amongst those who have daughters are President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Xi's daughter, Xi Mingze, is said to be a student at Harvard University, where she reportedly studies under a pseudonym and is protected by bodyguards.

. . .

Just 23 percent of Communist Party members are female, and of the 3,000 deputies in the National People's Congress, 23.4 percent are female. No woman has ever reached the top echelons of Chinese political culture: the Politburo Standing Committee.

. . .

As we've reported before, reports about so-called "leftover women" in the country appear to be a symptom of official anxiety over the growing number of single Chinese men who will never find a wife (the "bare branches") — a result of the one-child-policy-induced gender gap.

Maria Toorpakai: The Pakistani squash star who had to pretend to be a boy

By Bethan Jinkinson
Maria Toorpakai Wazir is a star squash player with a promising international career. Born in Waziristan, a highly conservative region of Pakistan, she had to disguise herself as a boy when she took up the sport - and later received ominous threats for playing in shorts.

. . .

In the first month or two of playing squash, people didn't know she was a girl. When the truth came out, other players started taunting her.

. . .

"They wear a veil all the time and are always accompanied by male family members. When people saw Maria and realised that she did not wear a veil and that she played squash wearing shorts, they were shocked. They said she had brought dishonour to our tribe and they criticised me heavily for it."

. . .

"In our society people celebrate when a boy is born and they are aggrieved when a girl is born - this attitude must change. I want every tribal girl to have the same chances as other girls."

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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