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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, July 23, 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: Eyes Without a Face by Billy Idol

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
NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails

By Justin Elliott
The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology.

. . .

I filed a request last week for emails between NSA employees and employees of the National Geographic Channel over a specific time period. The TV station had aired a friendly documentary on the NSA and I want to better understand the agency's public-relations efforts.

A few days after filing the request, Blacker called, asking me to narrow my request since the FOIA office can search emails only “person by person," rather than in bulk. The NSA has more than 30,000 employees.

US Physicians Put Patients' Best Interests Above Concerns About Health Care Costs

By (ScienceDaily)
A new study of attitudes about health care costs reveals that an overwhelming majority of U.S. physicians feel a responsibility to address costs, but prioritize their obligations to patients' best interests over cost concerns. Results of the random survey of 2,500 U.S. physicians are published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
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"Physicians feel stuck in a difficult position," says lead author Jon Tilburt, M.D., Mayo Clinic's Biomedical Ethics Program and Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery. "Despite their sense of responsibility to address health care costs, physicians consistently express a commitment to the best interests of patients even when it is expensive. Given this finding, we recommend that cost-containment strategies aimed at physician behavior should focus on innovations that not only promote savings but also preserve physicians' commitment to individual patients."

. . .

"We found that physicians' degree of enthusiasm for various cost-containment strategies was associated with practice setting and compensation structure," says Dr. Tilburt. "Salaried physicians and those in larger institutional practice settings reported a significantly higher degree of cost-consciousness compared to physicians whose compensation is based on billing and those in small or solo practices."

The study was funded by the Greenwall Foundation and the Mayo Clinic Program in Professionalism and Ethics.

The Alberta Oil Sands Have Been Leaking for 9 Weeks

By Thomas Stackpole
. . .

On Friday, the Toronto Star reported that an anonymous government scientist who had been to the spill site—which is operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.—warned that the leak wasn't going away. "Everybody [at the company and in government] is freaking out about this," the scientist told the Star. "We don't understand what happened. Nobody really understands how to stop it from leaking, or if they do they haven't put the measures into place." The Star reported that 26,000 barrels of watery tar have been removed from the site.

. . .

The Primrose bitumen emulsion site, where the leak occurred, sits about halfway up Alberta's eastern border and pulls about 100,000 barrels of bitumen—a thick, heavy tar that can be refined into petroleum—out of the ground every day. But unlike the tar sand mines that have scarred the landscape of northern Alberta and added fuel to the Keystone XL controversy, the Primrose site injects millions of gallons of pressurized steam hundreds of feet into the ground to heat and loosen the heavy, viscous tar, and then pumps it out, using a process called cyclic steam stimulation (CSS). Eighty percent of the bitumen that can currently be extracted is only accessible through steam extraction. (CSS is one of a few methods of steam extraction.) Although steam extraction has been touted as more environmentally friendly, it has also been shown to release more CO2 than its savage-looking cousin.

. . .

It's unclear what long-term consequences might result from the spill. "They don't know where this emulsion has gone, whether it has impacted groundwater," says Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit group that studies the impacts of tar sand mining. According to Severson-Baker, the question is what will happen if the geology at Primrose is to blame. "[If] the problem is inherent to the project itself, are they going to remove the permits for the project?" Even so, he claims the damage might already be done. "At this point, what can actually be done to prevent the impact from continuing to occur? I don't think there is anything that can be done."

US-funded fighters around the world: Where are they now?

By Jean MacKenzie
With the United States poised to begin what could be a long and expensive intervention in Syria’s bloody civil war, it might be a good time to examine past military involvements in which US money and weapons contributed to some less-than-stellar results. As Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned on Monday, beware of "unintended consequences."

. . .

The United States has been led down some pretty shady byways by the simple principle of anti-communism. As in Afghanistan, it seemed to matter little who ended up receiving American largesse, provided they were resisting the spread of left-wing ideology or the creation of socialist governments.

. . .

So what, if anything, did the United States accomplish in its eight years in Iraq, at a cost of more than $2 trillion, the deaths of more than 4,000 US soldiers and more than 120,000 Iraqi civilians?

. . .

But where are those freedom fighters now? As early as 2010, there were fears that some of the Sons of Iraq were defecting to Al Qaeda, which was offering them more money.

. . .

So, if anyone can unravel the complex web of ties that unite Syria’s rebels and regional players, the United States may now be assisting some of the same fighters it was backing in Iraq before they joined up with Washington’s sworn enemy, Al Qaeda, which is now making common cause with the groups that will be the likely recipients of US aid.

Kurdish-Nusra battle becoming war within a war in northern Syria

By Roy Gutman
. . .

The Kurdish militia captured the border town of Ras al Ayn on Sunday, which had been under rebel control since last November. A day later, the United States said it was “very concerned” at reports that the militia was about to declare self-rule in northern Syria. “Such a declaration is highly provocative, as it will certainly exacerbate tensions between Arabs and Kurds,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Monday.

. . .

The fear is that a Kurdish entity in Syria would revive demands for a Kurdish nation made up of predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, Syria and Iran in combination with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.

. . .

Controversy surrounds the Kurdish Democratic Union, because although it says it opposes the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, it’s widely suspected that the group coordinated with the Syrian government when the regime withdrew its soldiers from large parts of the predominantly Kurdish area last year and allowed the Kurdish militia to fill the vacuum. The Kurdish force operates only a short distance from Syrian state security in Qamishli, the most important Kurdish city in Syria.

Influencing China's healthcare industry

By Martin Patience
Allegations that British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has paid millions of dollars in bribes to increase its market share in China have thrown the spotlight on the country's murky pharmaceutical industry.

. . .

Chinese doctors who spoke on condition of anonymity to the BBC - fearing they would lose their jobs for speaking out - say the healthcare system is awash with corruption.

. . .

That is because Chinese hospitals traditionally rely on pharmaceutical sales as a major source of income.

. . .

"And then, when the drugs reach the hospital, the directors get involved. Everyone takes their cut. And by the time it reaches the doctors there is very little money to be made."

Al-Qaeda claims attacks on Iraqi prisons

By (Al Jazeera)
Al-Qaeda's Iraq branch claimed responsibility for simultaneous raids on two Iraqi prisons, Abu Ghraib and Taji jails and said more than 500 inmates had been set free in the operation.

. . .

"There has been a conspiracy between some of the guards of both prisons and the terrorist gangs that attacked the prisons. That was one of the main reasons for the escalation of events which led to these consequences," the statement read.

. . .

"The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards," said an audio message attributed to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in July last year.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Report: FBI Looks to Dump BlackBerry, Get Samsung Android-based Smartphones

By Jason Mick
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Navy are two massive federal agencies.  The FBI has over 35,000 active employees [source]; the Navy has 54,000+ officers [source].  What do all of those government employees have in common?  Most of them carry government-purchased smartphones from Canada's BlackBerry Ltd.

. . .

 The deal would be a massive victory for the world's largest smartphone maker, which has been lobbying the U.S. government hard to adopt its Galaxy S IV smartphones.  And it would be opportune timing given Samsung's growth had started to slow on a market-wide stagnation of smartphone sales.

. . .

 That sluggish rollout may have been the last straw for more than one government agency that is losing faith that keeping BlackBerry exclusive is a wise logistics choice.  In May the Pentagon approved for the first time the use of Samsung and Apple, Inc. (AAPL) smartphones by the branches of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Senate probes banks' aluminium warehouse role

By (BBC)
. . .

The Senate Banking Committee is investigating whether banks should be allowed to control infrastructure used in the commodities and energy sectors.

. . .

"What's happening is that the aluminium we are purchasing is being held up in warehouses controlled and owned by US bank holding companies... who are members of the LME [London Metal Exchange] and set the rules for their own warehouses.

"These bank holding companies are slowing the load-out of physical aluminium from these warehouses to ensure that they receive increased rent for an extended period of time.

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:
Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Income Inequality and the Fracking Boom

By Kate Sheppard
The New York Times had a big feature on Monday looking at how where you live can affect your upward mobility in the US. Researchers from Harvard University and UC Berkeley found stark geographical differences in the likelihood that children will earn more than their parents did, which my colleague Erika Eichelberger covered yesterday.

The researchers looked at millions of tax records and compared the 2011 earnings of people born in 1980 and 1981 to that of their parents. They found that a variety of factors influence social mobility—things like how segregated a town is, the quality of the public school system, and the affordability of local colleges. But one thing that stuck out to me was the high social mobility in places like North Dakota and eastern Montana, which don't really seem to have many advantages on those fronts. (More than two-thirds of North Dakota public schools failed to meet federal standards this year, for example.) But they do happen to be places with heavy oil development right now, which the NYT article doesn't really talk about at all.

. . .

The area around Williston, ND, has the highest chance that a child raised on the bottom fifth of the income scale had made it to the top fifth—33.1 percent—of anywhere in the country. This gibes with the previous news stories about local economies now flooded with cash thanks to the oil boom, which started around 2008 with the advent of new fracking technology.

Historic lawsuit alleges ag-gag is unconstitutional

By John Upton
. . .

Animal welfare groups, journalists, and a woman who was briefly charged with violating Utah’s year-old Agricultural Operation Interference law sued the state in U.S. District Court, alleging that the ag-gag law violates the U.S. Constitution.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to record images or sound while inside an agricultural operation without the owner’s consent. It also makes it a crime to apply for work at a slaughterhouse or farm with the intention of making such recordings, or to obtain access to such an operation “under false pretenses.” The legislation was approved by state lawmakers amid a surge in such laws nationwide.

. . .

But the first person charged with violating the law wasn’t trespassing. Amy Meyer, one of the litigants in the suit, was charged after she filmed a cow being pushed by a bulldozer at Dale T. Smith and Sons Meatpacking. Charges against her were later dropped after a prosecutor reviewed the video footage and concluded that she made her film while standing on nearby public property.

Science and Health
Optimists Better at Regulating Stress

By (ScienceDaily)
It's no surprise that those who tend to see a rose's blooms before its thorns are also better at handling stress. But science has failed to reliably associate optimism with individuals' biological stress response -- until now.

New research from Concordia University's Department of Psychology is deepening the understanding of how optimists and pessimists each handle stress by comparing them not to each other but to themselves. Results show that indeed the "stress hormone" cortisol tends to be more stable in those with more positive personalities.

. . .

She also notes that pessimists tended to have a higher stress baseline than optimists, but also had trouble regulating their system when they go through particularly stressful situations. "On days where they experience higher than average stress, that's when we see that the pessimists' stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances," says Jobin.

Sex addiction may not be addiction after all

By (UPI)
. . .

Senior author Nicole Prause of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles, said a diagnosis of hypersexuality or sexual addiction is typically associated with people who have sexual urges that feel out of control, who engage frequently in sexual behavior, who have suffered consequences such as divorce or economic ruin as a result of their behaviors, and who have a poor ability to reduce those behaviors.

One way to tease out the difference is to measure the brain's response to sexual-image stimuli. If a person suffers sexual addiction, the brain response to visual sexual stimuli could be expected be higher, just as brains of cocaine addicts react to images of the drug.

. . .

"The brain's response to sexual pictures was not predicted by any of the three questionnaire measures of hypersexuality," Prause said in a statement. "Brain response was only related to the measure of sexual desire. In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain responses to sexual images any more than just having a high libido."

Physicians say they don't have to be a part of cutting costs

By (UPI)
. . .

A survey of physicians, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed most physicians look to lawyers, insurance companies, drug and device manufacturers and even patients to bear the responsibility of controlling healthcare costs.

Only a third of the doctors said individual practicing physicians should bear responsibility to bending the cost curve. In addition, physicians were hesitant to support bold steps that could have meaningful effects on controlling healthcare costs, the survey said.

. . .

"Ultimately, what this survey tells us is that physicians acknowledge that healthcare costs are an issue, but they are not yet willing to accept primary responsibility and take definitive action to lead change," Emanuel said in a statement.

Bottlenose dolphins use names to identify companions

By Alok Jha
Bottlenose dolphins have distinct "names" that they use to identify individuals in their social group, according to a study by scientists who followed groups of the animals off the east coast of Scotland. The names are composed of whistles – signature high-pitched sounds that are created by individual dolphins as they grow – which they then use throughout their lives to broadcast their locations to other dolphins they meet at sea.

. . .

"The interesting thing about these is that they are not voice recognition," said Janik. "In humans you can have different people say the same word and I'd still be able to tell who's speaking. What we also do is have names, so they are very different call types. The dolphins do the same thing, they're developing a completely new call type, a melody or whistle, which is not dependent on their voice features."

A spokesperson for the conservation charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation said that the research showed "once again just how intelligent some dolphins are. We already know that they, like us, are self-aware [they recognise themselves in the mirror] and use tools to hunt for food. This evidence of their communication skills just adds to the growing body of emerging scientific evidence that demonstrates the existence of cetacean culture and that cetaceans are well developed cognitively."

One more reason to be terrified by ticks

By Sarah Laskow
We’re bringing this upon ourselves, we really are. Because of the widespread changes that humans are wreaking on habitats across the U.S., ticks are multiplying. They are giving more people Lyme disease — and they’re not stopping there. Other diseases, including a brand-new gross virus, are carried by ticks as well.

As the New Yorker reported recently, black-legged ticks, which transmit Lyme, can also carry at least four other evil pathogens: “Anaplasma phagocytophilium, which causes anaplasmosis; Babesia microti, which causes babesiosis; Borrelia miyamotoi, a recently discovered genetic relative of the Lyme spirochete; and Powassan virus.” If that doesn’t freak you out, it should. . .

. . .

But according to the CDC, black-legged ticks are only really going to transmit diseases to humans in Northeastern and upper Midwestern states. So those of us outside their range can relax, right? NOPE. New research has confirmed that a new virus — the Heartland virus, which infected two Missouri farmers in 2009 – is carried by ticks. And these ticks, lone star ticks, live in the Midwestern and Southeastern United States.

The Five Second Rule Will Make You Sick (And Maybe Dead)

By Andrew Tarantola
With an unsettling splat your toast has once again landed butter-side down on the carpet. But it's not like you're going to waste another five minutes waiting for a replacement piece to brown. Heck no, just yell out "five second rule," pick that sucker up, brush off all that hair and lint and you're ready to eat, right? Science says no.

. . .

It doesn't take much for food-borne pathogens like E. coli and salmonella to infect your gut and wreak havoc on your bowels. In fact, fewer than 100 E. coli and less than 10 salmonella bacteria constitute an infectious dose. And the body's natural defenses, specifically the acidity of our saliva and stomach acid, aren't always enough to stamp out microscopic invaders. "Many viruses survive the low pH — in fact, they like it," explained University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba to WebMD. "Viruses like hepatitis A and norovirus (stomach flu) survive well at low pH. So do bacteria like salmonella. Any bacteria that infects the intestine can survive the low pH long enough to get to the intestine." And the intestine is where the real trouble starts.

. . .

Therefore, your best defense against severe intestinal discomfort and possible death is never letting germs in to begin with. That's something we're collectively terrible at. Particularly when it comes to our food. Especially particularly when we assume that picking up food quickly off the floor can somehow prevent pathogens from hopping on board.

Universal Music and Russell Simmons to launch YouTube-focused music label

By Stuart Dredge
YouTube turned songs like Gangnam Style and Harlem Shake into global hits, but now Universal Music Group is hoping to use Google's video site as the launchpad for a new generation of music stars.

. . .

All Def Music will rely partly on All Def Digital, an MCN launched by Simmons and Robbins earlier this year with funding from YouTube. The company also manages emerging artists, among them poet/musician Spoken Reasons, who has more than 1.3m YouTube subscribers already.

. . .

Traditional record labels are also finding new income streams from YouTube. Indie label Cooking Vinyl said in January 2013 that it was earning up to $5,000 per million views on the service, with its YouTube revenue having more-than doubled between February and November 2012.

Publishers Offering Feature-Packed, Digital Textbooks to Overcome Used Market Woes

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

 Publishers like McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson Plc don't make any money on used textbooks; their revenue comes from sales of new textbooks. However, college students in particular aren't always willing to pay the steep prices for new textbooks -- which can run hundreds of dollars -- after already having to pay thousands for tuition.

. . .

 To address this issue for publishers, they're launching digital e-book versions of their textbooks. This allows them to sell access codes to students, which expire when the semester ends.

. . .

 This is still more expensive than the used print version, and students don't have the option to resell it after use. But textbook publishers insist that the bonus material along with the access code is worth the extra money.

Belarus internet infested with spammers

By (BBC)
Almost 30% of all net addresses in Belarus are blocked by anti-spam firms because of the amount of junk mail passing through them, says a report.

. . .

The US was still the single biggest source of spam, it said . . .

. . .

Paul Ducklin, security researcher at Sophos, said Belarus's ratio of junk-sending IP addresses to population meant it was "way out at the top" of its list of spam senders per capita.

Critic of AIDS denialist needs help with Texas defamation lawsuit

By Cory Doctorow
Clark Baker, an "AIDS denialist" who plays hardball with his critics -- for example, calling a critic's elderly mother and saying that, as an ex-police-officer, it is his opinion that her son was a violent criminal who might murder her in her sleep -- can dish it out but can't take it.

. . .

 Understandably, this draws firm and impassioned criticism. One critic, J. Todd Deshong of Texas, is now the target of a lawsuit by Baker and his attorney, Mark Weitz of Weitz Morgan PLLC in Austin, Texas. They have brought suit against Deshong for "trademark infringement, defamation, "business disparagement," and for injunctive relief."

 As Ken at Popehat points out, this is without legal merit. But nuisance suits can be ruinously expensive, and if you're a deep-pocketed pseudoscientist-for-hire whose career as an AIDS denialist depends on silencing critics who point out the obvious holes in your scientific reasoning, then no price is too high when it comes to frivolous litigation.

Brazil new generation of Thalidomide babies

By Angus Crawford
. . .

About ten thousand Thalidomide babies were born worldwide until the drug was withdrawn in the early 1960s. In most countries the Thalidomide children became Thalidomide adults, now in their 50s, and there were no more Thalidomide babies.

But in Brazil the drug was re-licensed in 1965 as a treatment for skin lesions, one of the complications of leprosy.

. . .

Leprosy is more prevalent in Brazil than in any other country except India. More than 30,000 new cases are diagnosed each year - and millions of Thalidomide pills are distributed.

Researchers now say 100 Brazilian children have injuries exactly like those caused by Thalidomide.

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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