As your faithful scribe, I welcome you all to another edition of Overnight News Digest.
I am most pleased to share this platform with jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, rfall, JLM9999 and side pocket. Additionally, I wish to recognize our alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, Oke, Interceptor7, and ScottyUrb along with annetteboardman as our guest editor.
Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Embassy Espionage: The NSA's Secret Spy Hub In Berlin
It's a prime site, a diplomat's dream. Is there any better location for an embassy than Berlin's Pariser Platz? It's just a few paces from here to the Reichstag. When the American ambassador steps out the door, he looks directly onto the Brandenburg Gate.
When the United States moved into the massive embassy building in 2008, it threw a huge party. Over 4,500 guests were invited. Former President George H. W. Bush cut the red-white-and-blue ribbon. Chancellor Angela Merkel offered warm words for the occasion. Since then, when the US ambassador receives high-ranking visitors, they often take a stroll out to the roof terrace, which offers a breathtaking view of the Reichstag and Tiergarten park. Even the Chancellery can be glimpsed. This is the political heart of the republic, where billion-euro budgets are negotiated, laws are formulated and soldiers are sent to war. It's an ideal location for diplomats -- and for spies.
Research by SPIEGEL reporters in Berlin and Washington, talks with intelligence officials and the evaluation of internal documents of the US' National Security Agency and other information, most of which comes from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, lead to the conclusion that the US diplomatic mission in the German capital has not merely been promoting German-American friendship. On the contrary, it is a nest of espionage. From the roof of the embassy, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. And there is evidence that agents based at Pariser Platz recently targeted the cellphone that Merkel uses the most.
The NSA spying scandal has thus reached a new level, becoming a serious threat to the trans-Atlantic partnership. The mere suspicion that one of Merkel's cellphones was being monitored by the NSA has led in the past week to serious tensions between Berlin and Washington.
Destruction of Peru’s Rainforest By Illegal Gold Mining Is Twice As Bad As Experts Thought
The destruction of a global biodiversity hotspot deep in the Peruvian Amazon by illegal gold mining is twice as bad as previously thought, an authoritative new study using ground-breaking technology has revealed.
According to the report by the US-based Carnegie Institution for Science, 15,810 acres of rainforest in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, home to various nature and indigenous reserves as well as a booming eco-tourism industry, have vanished per year since the start of the 2008 global economic crisis.
The crisis saw international gold prices rocket as investors rushed to put their cash into the ultimate financial safe haven. In response, thousands of Peruvians have flooded into Madre de Dios, near the Bolivian border, in search of gold, dredging river beds and digging vast holes in the forest, largely beyond the reach of the law.
While many are impoverished farmers or labourers simply seeking to eke out a living, some have grown rich from the gold rush and now employ hundreds of other miners. Some use mechanical diggers and even dredging boats that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Using a light aircraft mounted with Lidar, a new laser technology that can create 3D models of the Amazon and even pick out individual trees, the Carnegie study, carried out in collaboration with Peru’s Environment Ministry, was able to map the devastation in far greater resolution than previous research.
Climate Change and the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Basin and Climate Stability
Protecting the Amazon basin, which contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet, is critical to our planet's climate stability. The rainforest serves as one of Earth's largest reservoirs of carbon dioxide, helping regulate global climate patterns through the sequestration and storage carbon dioxide in above-ground biomass and soil. By absorbing about 20 percent of the atmospheric carbon emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, the world's tropical rainforests can help mitigate climate change substantially.
As the source of one-fifth of all fresh water on the planet, the Amazon Basin's hydrological system plays a critical function in regulating the global and regional climate. Water condensation, evaporation, and transpiration over the Amazon are key drivers of the global atmospheric circulation, affecting precipitation across South America and much of the Northern Hemisphere. Among the regions directly linked to the Amazon by a complex weather system is the Rio de la Plata basin of southeastern South America, one of the most important agricultural zones on the planet. Recent climate models indicate that deforestation has also had the effect of reducing precipitation as far afield as the lower Midwest of the United States.
The Amazon's important contributions to global weather, however, are at risk as well. The Amazon serves as a carbon sink only so long as the rainforest absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases which could soon change if patterns continue.
h/t and link to an excellent diary by Pakalolo
Rockefeller Urges Obama Administration To Move Quickly On Black Lung Rule
There is an alarming increase the number of coal miners—including younger and younger miners—diagnosed with deadly black lung disease. But a proposed federal rule limiting miners’ exposure to the coal dust that causes black lung is stuck in regulatory limbo and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has urged President Obama to end the delays and move the rule “as expeditiously as possible.”
The coal dust rule, along with two other mine safety rules to prevent miners from being crushed by underground mining equipment, has been pending since 2010. Citing reports from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that document the rise of black lung cases, Rockefeller writes in his letter to Obama:
"This disease is back and will not go away unless we make it a priority and act."
Mine Workers (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts praised Rockefeller’s action and said:
"We know what causes black lung and we know how to prevent it. The delay in implementing limits to miners’ exposure to respirable coal dust puts more and more miners at risk every day....We join Sen. Rockefeller in urging the administration to get moving, and take action to save miners' lives."
The first delay in the black lung rule came in 2011, when House Republicans inserted a rider into the labor appropriations bill that banned the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) from moving on the rule. That ban ended in 2012, but the rule has yet to move forward.
The Bridgeton Landfill Fire
In December 2010 a subterranean fire was detected in the Bridgeton Sanitary landfill, the same site as the West Lake Landfill, the Superfund site containing radioactive wastes, near the intersection of Interstate 270 and Interstate 70 off St. Charles Rock Road in St. Louis County. The site is owned by Republic Services. The underground fire, or "subsurface smoldering event" has generated attention since last fall because it is causing an obnoxious odor that is impacting communities as far as three miles away. The Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) has recorded rising temperatures due to the underground fire just 1,200 feet away from the radioactive wastes. After our prodding in January because of the odors and health concerns, DNR began air testing at the site and in the community. The agency has been diligent about posting its data and reports on its website at http://www.dnr.mo.gov/.... Air testing has shown increased levels of benzene, a known carcinogen and hydrogen sulfide, a neurotoxin.
Science and Technology
Bats May Be Carrying The Next SARS Pandemic
In November 2002, a deadly new virus emerged suddenly in the south of China. In less than a year, the disease it caused, known as SARS, spread to 33 countries, sickening more than 8000 people and killing more than 700. Then it disappeared. Now, researchers say, they have for the first time isolated a closely related virus from bats in China that can infect human cells. "This shows, that right now in China, there are bats carrying a virus that can directly infect people, and cause another SARS pandemic," says Peter Daszak, one of the authors and president of EcoHealth Alliance in New York City.
Scientists have long suspected bats to be the natural reservoir for coronaviruses such as the one responsible for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The animals have been identified as the source of many dangerous viruses, such as Nipah and Hendra, and have also been linked to Ebola and the new coronavirus causing a SARS-like illness, dubbed MERS. In 2005, Daszak and others found viral DNA closely resembling the SARS virus in three species of Chinese horseshoe bats. However, while the sequences of those viral genomes were 88% to 92% identical with that of the SARS coronavirus, they showed marked differences in a region coding for the so-called spike protein. In the SARS virus, this protein binds to a receptor on the surface of human cells mediating its entry. The differences meant that the bat viruses would not be able to infect human cells. And because some palm civets were found to carry a virus almost identical to the human SARS virus, most researchers have come to believe that SARS spread from bats to civets—probably in a Chinese market, where these and other animals come into close contact—and then to humans.
Now, new research suggests that civets may not be necessary to start a SARS pandemic. For more than a year, scientists from China, Australia, and the United States collected anal swabs or fecal samples from horseshoe bats at a cave in Kunming, in the south of China. They found coronavirus RNA in 27 of 117 sampled animals. Among the viruses were two new strains of coronavirus that resemble the SARS strain more closely than those previously identified in bats, especially in the part of the genome coding for the important spike protein. The scientists also managed to isolate live virus from one of the animals. In experiments, reported online today in Nature, they showed that the virus infected pig and bat kidney cells, and perhaps more important, cells lining the human lung.
Ancient DNA Links Native Americans With Europe
Where did the first Americans come from? Most researchers agree that Paleoamericans moved across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia sometime before 15,000 years ago, suggesting roots in East Asia. But just where the source populations arose has long been a mystery.
Now comes a surprising twist, from the complete nuclear genome of a Siberian boy who died 24,000 years ago—the oldest complete genome of a modern human sequenced to date. His DNA shows close ties to those of today's Native Americans. Yet he apparently descended not from East Asians, but from people who had lived in Europe or western Asia. The finding suggests that about a third of the ancestry of today's Native Americans can be traced to "western Eurasia," with the other two-thirds coming from eastern Asia, according to a talk at a meeting* here by ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen. It also implies that traces of European ancestry previously detected in modern Native Americans do not come solely from mixing with European colonists, as most scientists had assumed, but have much deeper roots.
"I'm still processing that Native Americans are one-third European," says geneticist Connie Mulligan of the University of Florida in Gainesville. "It's jaw-dropping." At the very least, says geneticist Dennis O'Rourke of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, "this is going to stimulate a lot of discussion."
Society and Culture
The Prison Guard With A Gift For Cracking Gang Codes
As a corrections officer at a Westchester County, N.Y., prison in the 1990s, Gary Klivans was a one-man gang unit. Members of The Latin Kings and the Bloods made up a sizable part of the prison population. Klivans learned quickly that to handle them, he needed to understand them, and that meant understanding the code they used to communicate. Klivans taught himself to decipher their messages. He became one of the most sought-after code-breakers in the country.
Even in retirement, his skills are in demand: Klivans sifts through encoded messages sent to him by law enforcement offers from around the country. “I have a knack for this. I see the patterns,” he told me. “Even as I’m printing the paper out, the words are jumping off the page at me.…A lot of people can’t see what I see.”
Here is the transcript of [the] interview with Klivans, edited for length and clarity.
Well, that's different...
Psychic Scammers Find Fertile Haunting Ground In Internet Age
As pre-Halloween witches and ghouls sprout up on U.S. lawns, experts are warning people to be wary of modern occult scammers who have moved online to hawk virtual voodoo dolls, revenge spells and otherwise "haunted" items.
While the idea of spending money for a magic spell - to help with an endeavor or to inflict pain on an enemy - has been around for centuries, experts say the anonymity of online transactions can encourage people who would otherwise never think of visiting a storefront psychic to fall for a con.
"It's a new twist on an old idea," said Nicholas Little, legal director of the Center for Inquiry, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes secular and rational thinking. "It's easy to hide your identity on the Internet, so people are willing to try scams online that they would never be willing to try in person."
While most scammers offer items in the small-dollar range - selling allegedly haunted items on auction sites for under $10 - some go for large sums of money. A Manhattan woman running a fortune-telling business earlier this month was found guilty of conning two women out of $138,000, claiming that the funds would be used to solve problems related to their past lives.
Bill Moyers and Company:
Historian Peter Dreier
Financial Columnist Gretchen Morgenson