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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, December 04, 2012.

OND is a regular community feature on Daily Kos, consisting of news stories from around the world, sometimes coupled with a daily theme, original research or commentary.  Editors of OND impart their own presentation styles and content choices, typically publishing near 12:00AM Eastern Time.

Creation and early water-bearing of the OND concept came from our very own Magnifico - proper respect is due.


This diary is named for its "Hump Point" video: I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag by Country Joe and the Fish

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
NASA unveils multiyear Mars mission plans

By (UPI)
NASA has announced a multiyear Mars program including a new robotic science rover set to launch in 2020 to join the Curiosity rover now on the Red Planet.

. . .

The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover with a launch in 2020 comes only months after the agency announced InSight, to launch in 2016, bringing the total of NASA missions operating or being planned to study and explore Mars to seven.

. . .

"The challenge to restructure the Mars Exploration Program has turned from the seven minutes of terror for the Curiosity landing to the start of seven years of innovation," John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science who is also an astronaut, said.

Survey shows lack of food a big issue

By (UPI)
Nearly 1-in-3 U.S. adults say they either lacked food or were concerned about food insecurity among family, friends or neighbors, a non-profit group says.

. . .

"Before conducting the survey, we knew that the incidence of hunger had been rising in the years since the economic downturn. Nevertheless, we were disturbed to learn that so many adults are being forced to choose between eating or buying medicine," James Taylor, a member of Generations United's board of directors, said at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday.

. . .

The survey also found 70 percent of U.S. adults agreed policymakers should prevent cuts to existing federal food assistance programs for children, youth and older adults.

Cancer: Not only a rich-world disease

By Joanne Silberner
Cancer treatment in the developing world tends to be primitive or non-existent, and the disease is often regarded as a death sentence. It's not a priority for aid donors - there is a mistaken tendency to see it as a disease of the rich. But this is now beginning to change.

. . .

"People think that malaria kills [and] other diseases are killing people from a low socio-economic status. But cancer is the same," he says. "The truth of the matter is that cancer is a disease of the African person just like any other person elsewhere in the world."

. . .

The misconception affects funding. "When you ask for funding for cancer, nobody is going to give [it to] you," Orem says. "But if you ask for funding for these other diseases, they say, 'All right, your priority is correct, we are going to give you some funds.'"

. . .

The result is that the amount of money available for cancer care in the developing world is only a fraction of the sums spent on HIV, TB and malaria.

Green Fund faces early cash shortage

By Stephen Leahy
DOHA - The new Green Climate Fund to help developing countries cope with climate change may one day have a bigger budget than the World Bank. At the moment, however, the fund is empty. No financial pledges have been made even though the fund is supposed to begin dispensing money in 2013.

. . .

In 2009, at COP 15 in Copenhagen, "developing countries bought into the sales pitch" by industrialized countries that they would get financial help beginning in 2013 and ramping up to US$100 billion a year in new and additional funding by 2020, said Gore. In exchange for getting this Green Climate Fund - officially adopted at the following COP, in Cancun - they signed on to the Copenhagen Accord, a US-backed voluntary emission reduction agreement.

. . .

Should the promised billions for the fund materialize, this might simply be more bad news for the world's indigenous peoples if the money goes into massive tree plantations or mega-dams that end up displacing local communities, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous representative from the Philippines. "We will be in big trouble if the money goes into the wrong projects," Tauli-Corpuz told Tierramerica.

. . .

"What is happening at this COP is that rich countries are withholding pledges to fund the Green Climate Fund to see what concessions they can get from developing countries," she said. "The biggest fight at most of these COPs is over money," she added.

How Kenyan girls are using the law to fight back against rape

By Liz Ford
Child marriage, acid attacks, tyrannical male guardians and culture and traditions so ingrained that young men see the casual sexual assault of women in the streets as justifiable.

. . .

The 160 Girls project is a legal initiative that is seeking justice for the thousands of young women and girls who are raped and routinely ignored by the authorities. Despite Kenya's impressive suite of gender laws promising protection against assault, their implementation is not guaranteed. The law against rape – or defilement, as it's known in Kenya – is one such law.

. . .

Fiona Sampson, executive director of The Equality Effect, told the conference that these three groups "looked at all options" of taking civil or criminal claims against the government for not acting on claims of defilement. The term "defilement" is problematic in itself, says Sampson. It's a British term that originally referred to the defilement of property.

. . .

It took another two years to gather the evidence from those who had experienced sexual assault. But on 11 October this year, on the first UN international day of the girl, 160 Girls made legal history in Kenya by submitting its claim to the high court.

Ban calls for compromise at UN climate talks

By (Al Jazeera)
. . .

Speaking at the annual UN climate talks in Doha, Ban noted that there were "mixed feelings" among delegates who were negotiating deals, but that the situation posed an "existential challenge for the whole human race".

"This is a crisis," said Ban on Tuesday, as a string of scientific reports warned the world could be headed for calamitous warming way above the limit of two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) being targeted by the UN.

. . .

About 100 ministers and a handful of heads of state are in the Qatari capital for the final, high-level stretch of the talks that have so far been marked by disputes over cash and commitments required to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions.

. . .

Poorer countries have insisted that industrialised nations must sign up to deeper, more urgent cuts in carbon emissions under a follow-up, second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

Qatari Poet Sentenced To Life In Prison For Writing

By Andrei Codrescu
Last week in the country of Qatar, a poet was sentenced to life in prison. That was the punishment for writing verse that the country's ruler found insulting. The poet's name is Mohammed Ajami, and his poem skewered governments across the region. At one point, it declared: We are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.

. . .

ANDREI CODRESCU, BYLINE: The Emir of Qatar is a tolerant man. He allowed Al Jazeera, which is based in his country, to broadcast reports of the Arab Spring as long as they didn't cover local unrest. However, even a tolerant emir has to draw the line somewhere, and he drew it at "Jasmine Poem," a work by poet Mohammed Ajami, which criticizes the regime.

. . .

The United States did almost hang poet Ezra Pound after World War II, but not because of his poetry but because of his radio broadcasts from fascist Italy. Of course, if Mohammed Ajami had insulted the emir in a mosque, he might have been decapitated instead of just getting a life sentence. A ruler must draw the line somewhere.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
'Gay Cure' Law Rulings In California Draw Battle Lines On Looming Fight

By Lila Shapiro
Shortly after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed groundbreaking legislation this fall that banned licensed therapists from practicing gay "conversion therapy" on minors, two lawsuits were filed by conservative legal groups challenging its constitutionality. . .

U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb, appointed to the Eastern District of California bench by President George H.W. Bush, on Monday blocked the state from enforcing the law as planned on Jan. 1. Siding with the plaintiffs represented by the Pacific Justice Institute, Shubb called the law an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech rights of therapists. Until he can hold a full hearing, Shubb said his decision only applies to the three plaintiffs -- a licensed marriage therapist, a psychiatrist and a former conversion therapy patient who is in training to practice conversion therapy. In a 38-page ruling, he wrote that ultimately "the plaintiffs are likely to succeed," and the law will be overturned.

A day later, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, Shubb's colleague on the Eastern District of California bench, a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama, reached a nearly opposite conclusion in a similar lawsuit filed by the conservative Liberty Counsel. Mueller wrote that the law did not violate free speech rights, but instead regulated professional conduct.

Yet More Evidence That High-Frequency Trading is Bad For Us

By Kevin Drum
. . . It's about what a rising market in the absence of HFTs may indicate. If high-frequency traders are a net benefit to investors, their exit should cause valuations of stocks to fall. If stocks rise while they exit, this at least suggests they may be a net cost.

. . . First: the problem with HFTs is that they produce liquidity precisely when nobody needs it (i.e., normal times) and withdraw it precisely when everyone does need it (panicky times). But this isn't liquidity at all. Almost by definition, a market is only truly liquid if you can buy and sell even when times are tough. . .

Second: nobody really understands how HFTs work. Even the HFT gurus don't really understand it. That's why the quants got blindsided, and that's what makes HFTs so dangerous. They're almost certainly introducing a lot of extra tail risk, and they're doing it primarily by spamming the financial system.

Put all this together, and allowing HFTs to continue their merry little algobot wars is just monumentally stupid. A tiny financial transaction tax would put an end to it, and would probably improve the operation of the rest of the financial industry too, all while raising a bit of much-needed money. Fiscal cliffsters, take note.

Mississippi disaster chief tells Congress that recovery efforts need aid faster

By Gillian Roberts
 In a hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill about recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy, Mississippi’s top emergency-management official told Congress that federal dollars need to be released to disaster relief officials sooner.

 Government red tape can hold up money for people affected by storms such as Sandy, said Robert Latham, the executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, who’s overseen a dozen disasters in his state, from floods to tornadoes.

 “We need to change the language in the law to allow for estimates,” Latham said. He urges allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supply grants to local governments sooner, without waiting for detailed damage estimates.

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:
McDonald has recorded 33 albums and has written hundreds of songs over a career spanning 40 years. He and Barry Melton co-founded Country Joe & the Fish which became a pioneer psychedelic rock band with their eclectic performances at The Avalon Ballroom, The Fillmore, Monterey Pop Festival and both the original and the reunion Woodstock Festivals.

Their best known song is his "The "Fish" Cheer/I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," a black comedy novelty song about the Vietnam War, whose familiar chorus ("One, two, three, what are we fighting for?") is well known to the Woodstock generation and Vietnam veterans of the 1960s and 1970s. The "Fish Cheer" was the band performing a call-and-response with the audience, spelling the word "fish", followed by Country Joe yelling, "What's that spell?" twice, with the audience responding, and then, the third time, "What's that spell?", followed immediately by the song. The "Fish Cheer" evolved into the "Fuck Cheer" after the Berkeley free speech movement.

. . .

In the fall of 2005, political commentator Bill O'Reilly compared McDonald[10] to Cuban President Fidel Castro, remarking on McDonald's involvement in Cindy Sheehan's protests against the Iraq War.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Mercury in Coastal Fog Linked to Upwelling of Deep Ocean Water

By (ScienceDaily)
An ongoing investigation of elevated mercury levels in coastal fog in California suggests that upwelling of deep ocean water along the coast brings mercury to the surface, where it enters the atmosphere and is absorbed by fog.

. . .

Mercury is a highly toxic element that is released into the environment through a variety of human activities, including the burning of coal. In California, mercury mines in the coast ranges produced large amounts of elemental mercury for use in gold mining operations, leading to contamination of watersheds throughout the state. Bacteria in soil and sediments transform elemental mercury into methylmercury compounds that are especially toxic and readily absorbed by organisms.

. . .

Methylmercury becomes increasingly concentrated in organisms higher up the food chain, and mercury levels in some predatory fish are high enough to raise health concerns. This contamination of ocean fish is the result of biological sequestering of mercury that has been accumulating in the oceans since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Similarly, the mercury that moves from ocean waters into fog is probably not fresh pollution, but the result of the historical legacy of mercury pollution from coal burning and other sources, Weiss-Penzias said.

Here's How to Clean Up Dirty, Old Power Plants

By Kate Sheppard
. . .

NRDC's plan, released on Tuesday, outlines a framework for using the Clean Air Act (Section 111d, to be exact) to set new regulations on the country's 1,500 existing coal plants. Rather than a straightforward limit on emissions—which would likely require major retrofits or shutting the plants down altogether—NRDC's plan is somewhat more flexible. For starters, each state would have targets based on current emissions—so states that get most of their power from coal would have lower, more realistic targets than states that get their power from, say, hydropower. The state would work toward lowering its average across all power plants to meet the targets. Ambitious states like California could still adopt tougher targets for themselves that require deeper emission cuts than the federal rules.

. . .

The EPA announced limits on greenhouse gas pollution from new power plants last March. The comment period on the new rule ended in June, but the EPA has not yet finalized the rule. But even when it does, the rules still won't address the oldest, dirtiest power plants. When the rules for new plants were unveiled, the EPA said it had "no plans" to start working on rules for old plants. The NRDC hopes this plan will offer some good ideas on how to do that.

NRDC says the plan would cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent below 2005 by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025. (That's more than the 17 percent reduction by 2020 that the US has pledged in international negotiations thus far.) The group projects that the plan would cost about $4 billion annually by 2020, but would save lives and healthcare costs by reducing other harmful emissions like nitrous and sulfur dioxide. The plan "overturns conventional wisdom that relying on the Clean Air Act has to be expensive and won't make much difference," said Dan Lashof, director of NRDC's climate and clean air program.

Obama can tackle climate in his second term, and he doesn’t need Congress to do it

By David Roberts
. . .

Make no mistake, EPA is aware how big a flashpoint these regulations are going to be, and it’s nervous. Unlike the new-source standards — which merely ratified a market reality — existing-source standards really will (or could) drive change in the power sector. It might not be a “war on coal,” but it would have the effect of actively phasing coal-fired power out of the system. It needs to be done with a delicate hand, to say the least.

. . .

The thing about a conventional coal power plant is, there’s not much it can do to reduce its carbon emissions. There are efficiency measures — modern boilers and the like — that can push emissions down at the margins, but nothing that can get such a plant anywhere close to 1000 lbs/MWh. Coal just is carbon. If a power plant wants to meet any serious carbon standard, it has to burn less coal. That’s done by “fuel-switching” to natural gas or some kind of coal-biomass mix, which is a substantial investment and, for many, many coal plants, won’t be worth it. They’ll shut down instead.

As long as the unit of regulation is the individual power plant, EPA 111(d) regulations will either be so mild as to be meaningless (efficiency upgrades) or so severe as to shut down most of the coal fleet at a stroke and produce untenable economic and political blowback (fuel switching, CCS). A firecracker or a nuke.

NRDC’s proposal solves this dilemma by making a state’s power fleet the unit of regulation. Rather than each power plant having to meet the standard, a state’s utilities have to keep their fleet averages at or below the standard. (Just as automakers don’t have to hit fuel-efficiency targets with every car or truck, only for their fleet averages.)

Science and Health
Don't take medication in front of toddlers

By (UPI)
British researchers advise parents and caregivers not to take medication in front of children because of the risk that they will copy them.

. . .

"Poisoning can cause significant harm to young children and distress to parents, yet it is preventable. It is important that doctors and other healthcare professionals identify children at highest risk of poisoning and target prevention efforts to those families," Orton said in a statement.

"Parents also need to be aware that it is normal for young children to put objects into their mouth, so it is vital that medicines and other poisonous substances such as cleaning products or cosmetics are stored out of reach, ideally above counter height and in cupboards with a door catch or lock."

Sexual excitement heats genitals, while lying heats nose, new study says

By Alexander Besant
. . .

Researchers at the University of Granada in Spain used thermography to test a range of human experiences including sexual excitement and lying.

The study found that when someone lies, a brain element called "insula" (also called "insular cortex") is activated, raising the temperature around the nose, said Science Blog.

. . .

They have dubbed the phenomenon the "Pinocchio effect."

. . .

Arousal in men and women showed the heating of the chest and genitals.

'Promising results' for bowel cancer breath-test

By (BBC)
Scientists say they have developed a breath-test that can accurately tell if a person has bowel cancer.

. . .

However, another scientist said it was unlikely a fully functioning and reliable breath-test would be available soon for the general public.

Scientists are working on breath-tests for a host of other diseases, including several types of cancer, TB and diabetes.

Viewpoint: How happiness changes with age

By Tali Sharot
. . .

Most people assume that as children we live a carefree existence, then we go through the miserable confusion of teenage years ("Who am I?") but regain happiness once we figure it all out and settle down, only to then grow grumpy and lonely with every additional wrinkle and grey hair.

Well, this is utterly wrong.

It turns out that happiness is indeed high in youth, but declines steadily hitting rock bottom in our mid-40s - midlife crisis, anyone? Then, miraculously, our sense of happiness takes a turn for the better, increasing as we grow older.

. . .

This U-shape pattern of happiness over the life span (high during youth and old age, low during midlife) has been observed across the globe, from Switzerland to Ecuador, Romania to China. All in all, it has been documented in more than 70 countries, in surveys of more than 500,000 people in both developing and developed countries.

. . .

Then, just last month, a group led by Prof Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick, reported that happiness of our evolutionary cousins - the great apes - also follows a U-shape pattern throughout life.

Acquitted blogger files $50 million suit

By (UPI)
. . .

Harold C. Turner filed his lawsuit Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., alleging he was falsely arrested, wrongfully imprisoned, subjected to unlawful prior restraint of speech, and maliciously prosecuted, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant reported Monday.

The 50-year-old North Bergen man's suit names eight people as defendants, including Connecticut Capitol Police officers, state prosecutors and former lawmakers, as well as the state, The (Bergen County) Record reported last week

In 2009, Turner was arrested on charges of threatening and inciting violence against Michael Lawlor, a former state representative who is now under-secretary for criminal justice policy and planning in the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, Andrew McDonald, a former state senator now Gov. Dan Malloy's general counsel, and Thomas K. Jones of the office of state ethics, over a blog post in which he called on Catholics to "take up arms and put down this tyranny by force."

The Future of Texting Is a Mess

By Kyle Wagner
SMS messaging turned 20 years old yesterday, and feels even older. It's decrepit, though, wildly overpriced, and too limited to be our long-term texting solution.

. . .

For all of SMS's manifold faults, it still has that one unmatchable advantage of absolute cross-platform adoption. And that's the single biggest problem facing the current heirs to the SMS throne. It's going to be an incredible, frustrating chore trying to replicate what SMS managed to do. It's already frustrating watching people try.

. . .

But even if Facebook does succeed, it still wouldn't be totally ideal. Exclusive, non-cross-platform chat and message standards are hugely frustrating, even if they're a half-decent upgrade. They always seem like just a checkmark on a marketing brochure. At best, they're needlessly exclusive, like iMessage. At worst, a laughable ghost town, like Windows Phone's Rooms. Facebook making an awesome SMS and chat service would leave out a ton of people who rely on other message systems, like Google Talk, AIM, and even Messenger or Yahoo. What we really need is for carriers and platform-makers to get over themselves and just agree on one standard. Good luck with that.

DOE Awards $120M for New Battery, Grid Storage Research Facility

By Tiffany Kaiser  
Argonne National Lab is jump-starting a new Batteries and Energy Storage Hub that is expected to significantly advance battery technology for vehicles and the grid.

. . .

 More specifically, the advancements will focus on transportation and the grid. As far as transportation goes, research and development will work on increasing the electric range for vehicle batteries. On the grid side, increasing storage capabilities for energy-producing mediums like wind, solar and hydropower will improve efficiency and flexibility.

 This new hub falls in line with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) plan to focus 2013 spending on electric vehicles and grid modernization.

Postmortem on the Daily

By Cory Doctorow
Writing on Reuters, Felix Salmon has a good postmortem on the demise of the Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only, $30,000,000 subscription-based newspaper, which folded yesterday. Among other things, he writes about print media's enthusiasm for iPads, and the inability of closed ecosystems to out-iterate the open Web:
When the iPad was first announced, there were lots of dreams about what it could achieve, and how rich its content could be. But in hindsight, it’s notable how many of the dreamers came from the world of print. Web people tended to be much less excited about the iPad than print people were, maybe because they knew they already had something better. The web, for instance, doesn’t need to traffic in discrete “issues” — if you subscribe to the New York Times, you can read any story you like, going back decades. Whereas if you subscribe to a publication on a tablet, you can read only one issue at a time...

. . .

 I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of "content" isn't just that they can get it for free, though: it's that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.

The perfect income for happiness? It's $161,000

By Robert Frank
. . .

"Happiness" itself is not easily defined, and money, as the winners of this week's Powerball jackpot will tell you, doesn't always guarantee it. And the financial requirements for happiness usually depend on geography, peer groups and other external factors.

The latest to weigh in on the issue is Skandia International's Wealth Sentiment Monitor. It found that the global average "happiness income" is around $161,000 for 13 countries surveyed. The United States wasn't specifically measured. (Read more: Why Millionaires Prefer Dogs)

But there was a wide range of answers depending on the country. Dubai residents need the most to feel wealthy. They said they needed $276,150 to be happy. Singapore came in second place, with $227,553, followed by Hong Kong, with $197,702.

. . .

All of this shows that wealth and financial happiness is not an absolute number, but is relative to your peers and surroundings. Living in Dubai, with all those oil barons and oligarchs, the needs are higher. In Germany, where wealth is more evenly distributed, the needs are not as high.

Why al-Qaeda finds no recruits in India

By Andrew North
. . .

The biggest attacks in India involving Muslims have had clear evidence of Pakistani involvement.

. . .

While they make up 14-15% of the population, barely 4% have government jobs and they are far more likely than other groups to be in informal employment, running street stalls or the like.

. . .

It's much harder for any cohesive Islamic identity - let alone militant ideology - to gain ground in India's huge and diverse society - where Muslims share little except their faith.

So a Muslim from Kerala in the south who may be descended from seafarers has more in common with Hindus or Christians in the state than he does with Muslims from Uttar Pradesh in the north.

. . .

The government also has a tighter hold on madrassas or religious schools, which in Pakistan have become a bedrock of recruits for the Taliban and others.

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

Originally posted to wader on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 09:22 PM PST.

Also republished by Overnight News Digest.

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