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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, September 17, 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: Tighten Up by Archie Bell and the Drells

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
Clean Energy Least Costly to Power America's Electricity Needs

By (ScienceDaily)
. . .

It's less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according to a new study published in Springer's Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

In fact -- using the official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels -- the study shows it's cheaper to replace a typical existing coal-fired power plant with a wind turbine than to keep the old plant running. And new electricity generation from wind could be more economically efficient than natural gas.

. . .

Carbon pollution imposes economic costs by damaging public health and driving destructive climate change. Working together, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, the Department of Energy and eight other federal agencies put a dollar value on those damages, in an official figure called the "social cost of carbon" (SCC).

. . .

The study also included government damage estimates from sulfur dioxide, a pollutant released simultaneously with carbon. Every year, sulfur dioxide causes thousands of premature deaths, respiratory ailments, heart disease and a host of ecosystem damages.

Opinion: Stop playing politics with hunger

One of the biggest pieces of business Congress has yet to resolve is the farm bill, legislation that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. Unfortunately, the process to reauthorize this crucial bill has taken a sharp and disheartening turn this year. The Senate and the House are in a standoff over extremely different versions of it with a deadline looming this month.

 At stake is the ability of millions of Americans who still struggle in our economy to provide adequate and healthy meals for their children and families. In an unprecedented move, the House stripped the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), from the bill with an intention to pass a separate nutrition bill, one with significant cuts to programs that fight hunger.

. . .

 Over time, we have worked hard to improve the program's efficiency and effectiveness. In 2011, SNAP lifted 47 million people out of poverty, and 72 percent of its participants were families with children. The error rate - the combined rate for underpayments and overpayments - has been on a steady decline since the 1990s. And a 2008 Moody's Analytics study shows that every $1 spent to help reduce hunger has resulted in $1.70 in economic activity.

. . .

 If Congress lets this bill fall victim to the misguided and detrimental partisan politics we face today, the results for families and children challenged with hunger will be severe. In a country struggling to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Depression, this is no time to play politics with hunger. As friends and colleagues, we hope that the House will do the right thing and follow the Senate's lead in passing a farm bill with adequate funding for food assistance. Our nation's future depends on it.

Falcon UAV Gets a Sour Taste of FEMA Bureaucracy

By Jason Mick
. . .

 CLMax Engineering LLC looked to chip in to the release effort with its Falcon UAV.  Now normally this might sound like a pretty bad idea, but Falcon UAVs are not only U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved (aka federally approved to fly in the U.S.), they also are experts in using their onboard GPS and cameras to create 3D maps to produce real-time maps of a disaster-stricken region in a mere half hour.

. . .

But despite after three days of great success, things took a bizarre turn.  CLMax recalls:
Early Saturday morning Falcon UAV was heading up to Lyons to complete a damage assessment mapping flight when we received a call from our Boulder EOC point of contact who notified us that FEMA had taken over operations and our request to fly drones was not only denied but more specifically we were told by FEMA that anyone flying drones would be arrested.  Not being one to bow to federal bureaucrats we still went up to Lyons to do a site survey for how we can conduct a mission in the near future to provide an adequate damage assessment to this storm raveged community.
. . .

FEMA's response seems nothing short of boneheaded and baffling.  Moreover why FEMA felt it necessary to threaten to arrest engineers from a reputable federal contractor who provides disaster relief UAVs is unfathomable.

American poverty figure edges up to 46.5 million

By (BBC)
The number of Americans in poverty rose slightly last year to 46.5 million, according to US Census data, despite a stock market recovery.

. . .

It is the sixth year in a row that the rate failed to improve, despite the US being out of recession since 2009.

. . .

Some analysts blame changing employment patterns and tightening of the social safety net for the lingering poverty.

. . .

"This lack of progress in poverty indicates that these small improvements in the economy are not yet being equally shared by all," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postpones US state visit over NSA spying scandal

By Allison Jackson
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday postponed her state visit to Washington next month following a US government spying scandal that has rocked relations between the two countries.

. . .

"The president has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged US intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

. . .

The stories released by the Guardian and Brazilian TV program Fantastico were based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"The illegal practices of intercepting the communications and data of Brazilian citizens, businesses and government members constitute a serious assault on national sovereignty and individual rights, and are incompatible with the democratic coexistence between friendly countries," the Brazilian president's office said in a statement.

Pirate Party Crashes Spy Drone in Front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

By Jason Mick
. . .

 To protest the EU's use of surveillance drones -- including a recently shuttered local program that cost German taxpayers 500M € ($667.8M USD) -- a Pirate operator flew a small unmanned drone over the crowd up to the podium where the Chancellor was speaking.  

 The drone appeared to take photos and video of the chancellor, who cracked a smile at the unusual sight.  Her defense minister to her left (in the right of the image) looked not so amused.  The super serious defense minister's face was locked in a severe frown at the sight.

 Eventually police sighted the operator, and took him into custody, leading the drone to crash harmlessly.  The 23-year-old pilot was briefly detained, but was released.  No charges have been filed yet.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir seeks visa for UN meet

By (BBC)
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, being sought to answer charges of war crimes, has asked for a US visa ahead of next week's UN General Assembly.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) wants Mr Bashir tried on charges of directing genocide and taking part in war crimes in the Darfur region.

. . .

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, confirmed that Washington had received a visa application from President Bashir. She described the move as "deplorable", "cynical" and "hugely inappropriate".

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Danziger Bridge Convictions Overturned

By A.C. Thompson
A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the convictions of five New Orleans police officers tied to the shooting of unarmed civilians during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, finding that prosecutors in the case had engaged in “grotesque” misconduct.

 In a blistering and meticulously detailed 129-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt found that federal prosecutors in New Orleans had anonymously posted damning online critiques of the accused officers and the New Orleans Police Department before and during the 2011 trial, a breach of professional ethics that had the effect of depriving the officers of their rights to a fair trial.

. . .

 Judge Engelhardt’s ruling sets the stage for another round of trials for former detective Arthur Kaufman, who was charged with directing an extensive cover-up, as well as former officers Anthony Villavaso, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, and Robert Faulcon, who were accused of firing on the civilians. Judge Engelhardt had overseen the trial and sentenced the officers to prison terms ranging from 6 to 65 years.

Fisa court: no telecoms company has ever challenged phone records orders

By Spencer Ackerman
No telecommunications company has ever challenged the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court's orders for bulk phone records under the Patriot Act, the court revealed on Tuesday.

. . .

Citing the "unprecedented disclosures" and the "ongoing public interest in this program", Judge Claire V Eagan on 29 August not only approved the Obama administration's request for the bulk collection of data from an unidentified telecommunications firm, but ordered it declassified. Eagan wrote that despite the "lower threshold" for government bulk surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act compared to other laws, the telephone companies who have received Fisa court orders for mass customer data have not challenged the law.

. . .

"The government's burden under Section 215 is not to prove that the records sought are, in fact, relevant to an ongoing investigation," Eagan wrote; merely that the government must have "reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought to be produced has some bearing on its investigations of the identified international terrorist organizations."

. . .

The Fisa court does not hear from any petitioner aside from the government. Bills currently before Congress would create a privacy advocate to push back against the government's arguments before the Fisa court.

US Federal Reserve to ease back on stimulus

By Kim Gittleson
Eyes across the US and the globe will be trained on Washington on Wednesday as the Federal Reserve concludes its two-day meeting.

. . .

Markets have been primed to expect a slowdown in the bank's efforts at quantitative easing, in a move known as a "taper", ever since Mr Bernanke hinted at a pullback in front of Congress in June.

. . .

But the challenges confronting the Fed are vast as it tries to navigate a completely new situation: how to return to normal, five years after the housing market collapse and subsequent recession forced the bank into new and untested stimulus tools.

. . .

But the question remains: is the US economy strong enough to continue to grow without the Fed's extraordinary efforts?

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:
Archie Bell & The Drells were a Soul group signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's record label. Gamble and Huff were prolific songwriters, but this song was written by Bell and the group's guitarist, Billy Butler. The song is about a dance, and the title has a double meaning: "Tighten Up" can mean to play music together in tempo or tune, with a psychological element that the band is emotionally engaged in the music. The phrase can also mean moving closer together on the dance floor, or to engage in sexual activity.
Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Paleoclimate: The End of the Holocene

By stefan
Recently a group of researchers from Harvard and Oregon State University has published the first global temperature reconstruction for the last 11,000 years – that’s the whole Holocene (Marcott et al. 2013). The results are striking and worthy of further discussion, after the authors have already commented on their results in this blog.

. . .

The important point is that the rapid rise in the 20th Century is unique throughout the Holocene. Whether this really is true has been intensively discussed in the blogs after the publication of the Marcott paper. Because the proxy data have only a coarse time resolution – would they have shown it if there had been a similarly rapid warming earlier in the Holocene?

. . .

The curve (or better curves) of Marcott et al. will not be the last word on the global temperature history during the Holocene; like Mann et al. in 1998 it is the opening of the scientific discussion. There will certainly be alternative proposals, and here and there some corrections and improvements. However, I believe that (as was the case with Mann et al. for the last millennium) the basic shape will turn out to be robust: a relatively smooth curve with slow cooling trend lasting millennia from the Holocene optimum to the “little ice age”, mainly driven by the orbital cycles. At the end this cooling trend is abruptly reversed by the modern anthropogenic warming.

Behind Georgia's War on Trees

By Stephanie Mencimer
Georgia is a strange place. As Mother Jones' Tim Murphy has explained, the next senator from the state is likely to be nuts. The state GOP leadership not long ago met to discuss a secret, Obama-mind-control plot. And the state regularly makes headlines for taking extreme measures to oppose any sane government efforts to do anything, well, sane. Various cities, for instance, have attempted to mandate gun ownership by residents, just to spite the gun-control activists looking to tamp down mass shootings. Now, the state is making news for its opposition to trees.

Essentially thumbing its nose at residents who might like to make the air cleaner, combat global warming, or just have a prettier state, the Georgia legislature enacted a law in 2011 that banned trees within 500 feet of a billboard. In Georgia, home to 16,000 billboards, that could could be just about anywhere. The law, upheld this May by the Georgia Supreme Court, actually allows billboard companies to clear-cut offending trees, including those on public property, that might blot out a "Have you been injured in an accident?" or "Vote Republican" message. Billboard companies can also prevent new trees from being planted that might obstruct motorists' views of their ads.

. . .

Now, though, those plans and the zoning regulations that went with them are in jeopardy thanks to the billboard lobby, which apparently spent about $200,000 persuading Georgia lawmakers to give it power over city streetscapes. The billboard companies will have veto power of those local projects, and trees that have already been planted may have to be cut down to placate the billboard owners and all of those crazy Georgians who want to make sure no driver misses their signs comparing Obama to Hitler, fall foliage be damned.

How energy efficiency measures are becoming big business

By Beth Gardiner
Upgrading air conditioning systems, replacing old lighting and improving insulation may lack the visual impact of windfarms and solar panels, but energy efficiency measures do cut carbon emissions at low cost – and, increasingly, they are big business too.

. . .

And dull can be lucrative. When Maryland-based Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Capital went public in April, raising $167m on the New York Stock Exchange, its shares became the main vehicle available to retail investors wanting to help fund efficiency projects.

. . .

And efficiency retrofits are generally low-risk. Hannon Armstrong hopes to pay a 7% dividend by the end of the year, generated from energy savings. Real estate investment trusts, or REITs, a tax-favoured property investment vehicle, could become a huge source of much-needed funding for building upgrades, said Jesse Morris, an electricity expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado thinktank.

Worldwide, REITs hold $430bn, and even a tiny fraction of that "would completely dwarf the amount of money that's currently being invested in energy efficiency projects," he said.

Fracking study downgrades methane worries, escalates enviro infighting

By John Upton
. . .

A study of 190 natural gas fracking sites, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that methane leaks at the sites were notably lower than fracking critics have warned.

. . .

There’s controversy not only about the study’s findings but about its backers. Alongside oil companies, the Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based environmental group, was a funder. The group was already being treated as a pariah by some greens for striking an agreement with frackers in March, agreeing on voluntary environmental standards for fracking (instead of pushing for a ban) and jointly establishing the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. With the release of Monday’s paper, howls of anger only grew louder.

. . .

Steve Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, says his organization is funding 16 studies to look at the entire natural gas system in the United States. The PNAS study, focusing only on production, is just one part of that.
Science and Health
Weak Charge of Proton Determined for First Time

By (ScienceDaily)
Researchers have made the first experimental determination of the weak charge of the proton in research carried out at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab).

. . .

The weak force is far weaker than the electromagnetic force. In classical terms, one might think of this as for every one million electrons that interact with the protons via the electromagnetic force, only one will interact via the weak force. Physicists measured those few weak interactions by exploiting an important difference between the two forces -- the weak force violates a symmetry known as parity, which reverses all spatial directions and turns our right-handed world into a left-handed one. In an opposite-parity world, the electrons spinning with their axes along their direction of motion would interact with protons via the electromagnetic force with the same strength. Where the weak force is concerned, electrons with right-handed spin interact differently than left-handed ones. By keeping all other parameters of the experiment the same, and only reversing the polarization direction of the electron beam, scientists can use the difference or "asymmetry" of the measurements between two polarization directions to isolate the effect of the weak interaction. The goal is to measure this difference, only ~200 parts per billion, as precisely as possible. This precision is equivalent to measuring the thickness of a sheet of paper laid atop the Eiffel Tower.

The initial analysis of the Q-weak experimental data yielded a value for QPW that is in good agreement with the Standard Model prediction. However, the collaboration has 25 times more data than was used in this initial determination. The final result should provide a rigorous experimental test of the Standard Model, providing constraints on new physics at the scale of energies being explored at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Europe.

How mercury poisons gold miners and enters the food chain

By Linda Pressly
About 15% of the world's gold is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners, most of whom use mercury to extract it from the earth. In Indonesia, the industry supports some three million people - but the miners risk poisoning themselves, their children and the land.

. . .

And in Central Kalimantan the effects of this unregulated industry on the environment have been devastating. Around Kereng Pangi, the miners have cleared virgin forest once home to orang-utans and hornbills. What is left is a lunar-like landscape, its pools polluted with mercury.

. . .

Cyanide helps to dissolve the mercury, and when the waste is spilled into paddy fields it binds with organic molecules in the environment, becoming methyl mercury. This is far more toxic - in Minamata it was methyl mercury that poisoned thousands of people.

. . .

Indonesian's Assistant Deputy Minister of the Environment, Halimah Syafrul, says controls on illegal imports of mercury are being tightened. And the government hopes the forthcoming ratification of the UN treaty on mercury - known as the Minamata Convention - will bring international assistance to help Indonesia's miners find alternatives to the use of mercury.

LEGO-like modular phones mean you never have to throw away an obsolete phone again

By Holly Richmond
Today, using a flip phone invites mockery (or at least comes standard with a self-deprecating disclaimer about how ancient your hardware is). Even if you persist in using the brick phone you got in 2007 — whether out of sheer laziness or a desire to fight the system — new updates and operating systems ensure your phone isn’t compatible with anything. . .

. . .

Basically, Phonebloks is a modular smartphone that’s designed to way outlast the throwaway phones of today. You can customize it with whatever suits you: a huge camera, more memory, a bigger battery. And as technology advances, you can swap in the latest whoosits and whatsits galore, which this phone calls “bloks.” Everything hooks into a pegboard-like base. It’s like building a phone out of LEGO.

And because it’s brand-agnostic, you can buy a speaker blok from one company and a camera blok from another — or create your own bloks that others can buy.

'Terminator' plastic world's first self-healing polymer

By Samantha Stainburn
Researchers at the CIDETEC Center for Electrochemical Technologies in San Sebastian, Spain, have created the world’s first man-made, self-healing polymer.

When sliced in two, the material was able to spontaneously regenerate without a catalyst, the research team reported in the Sept. 13 issue of Materials Horizon, the journal of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry.

. . .

"The fact that polys with similar chemical composition and mechanical properties are already used in a wide range of commercial products makes this system very attractive for a fast and easy implementation in real industrial applications," the authors wrote.

Facebook Offers Tools To Help Prevent Suicide

By Robert Sorokanich
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and Facebook is sharing a new infographic and a site-wide public service announcement to help users find the resources they need when a friend makes troubling posts on the social network.

If you see worrying posts from a friend, you can either click "report" on the post itself or search "suicide" in the search bar or Facebook Help Center. This provides you with a list of resources and a suggested message you can send your friend. You'll also have the option to report the post directly to Facebook, which triggers a read-to-proceed message on your friend's Facebook with resource information. . .

Stephen Hawking speaks out about assisted suicide

By (BBC)
UK cosmologist Prof Stephen Hawking has publicly said he backs the notion of assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses.

. . .

Prof Hawking, who has progressive motor neurone disease, has in the past been less candid about the idea, saying "while there's life, there's hope".

. . .

But he added: "There must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressurised into it or have it done without their knowledge or consent as would have been the case with me."

. . .

Aside from his academic accolades, the professor learned to adapt to life after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live when he married his first wife, Jane, in 1964.

The relationships that last longer than marriage

By Vanessa Barford
Banks have reduced the time it takes customers to switch current-account providers. It's a well-known saying that customer-bank relationships last longer than most marriages. But what are the other really long relationships?

. . .

It's been reported that a loyalty survey of 2,000 adults found hairdressers are the businesses that customers are most loyal to, with two-thirds of consumers stating that they would continue to go to the same hairdressers, without even thinking of switching to another salon.

"With hairdressers there is a risk of uncertainty and risk when people go to someone new," says consumer psychologist Philip Graves. "They've got to describe how they want their hair cut, and they probably don't know how to do that technically. On the other hand, with someone familiar it feels comforting."

. . .

"People tend to give things attention when they decide they are going to get a psychological return from it. For some people, changing bank accounts might feel like a big thing to do - something that involves a lot of learning for not much reward. They'd rather spend two days looking around at a new pair of mountain bike socks, or whatever hobby they have," he says.

UN honours DRC's 'humanitarian heroine' nun

By (Al Jazeera)
A nun working with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in a remote corner of the DR Congo has been awarded the world’s most prestigious refugee prize, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.

The UNHCR awarded Sister Angelique Namaika the Nansen Refugee prize on Tuesday for working to improve the lives of more than 2,000 displaced women and children who face horrific crimes, including rape, forced labour and abduction at the hands of the LRA, over the past 10 years.

. . .

Mama Bongisa became the Centre for Reintegration and Development some years later to make it easier for men to participate in their activities, without the added stigma of associating with an organisation perceived as a haven for mostly women and children, especially orphans.

The centre produces a selection of crops, including millet and bananas, and uses the income from produce sold to buy resources to train women to bake, sew and learn how to read.

. . .

Sister Angelique said that the displacement caused by the LRA, who have been fighting the Ugandan government for three decades, had left a society demoralised.

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