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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, July 08, 2014.

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: We Belong Together by Rickie Lee Jones

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
Air Pollution's Impact on Cancer Is "Grossly Underestimated"

By Rebecca Kessler
. . .

Scientists have suspected since the 1940s that air pollution causes lung cancer, but it has taken seven decades of research to establish the connection. During that time it became clear that smoking causes most lung-cancer deaths (70% globally) and that air pollution kills more people through cardiovascular disease than through cancer. Nevertheless, air pollution's cancer toll adds up. Researchers blamed it for 223,000 lung-cancer deaths in 2010, nearly 15% of all such deaths. The IARC also noted evidence linking air pollution to bladder cancer1.

. . .

Scientists are making progress in understanding the effects of air pollution and other environmental carcinogens. They are learning that certain chemicals may increase cancer risk at lower-than-expected doses, that people may be particularly vulnerable during certain periods of their lives and that the consequences of exposure may cause ripples for generations. Researchers are also looking into environmental triggers that can lead to the onset of particular cancers. Although it is the quest for a cancer cure that draws the most funding and talent, a small but vocal chorus is calling for more attention to environmental carcinogens, in the hope that reducing exposure to them will help to keep the disease from starting.

. . .

Dozens of environmental chemicals are regularly detected in people. Figuring out how these mixtures influence the risk of cancer and other problems may be the most puzzling question for researchers. Most studies investigate the effect of just one chemical at a time, and even that is tricky. “It is very unlikely for us to unravel what we need to know about chemicals until we can understand the implications of mixtures,” says Cohn. “We're just learning how to do this.”

. . .

 The IARC's World Cancer Report 2014 notes that cancer rates are rising fastest in developing countries (see page S18) and that some of the latest treatments will be too expensive for most people to access. It calls for a renewed commitment to prevention, including legislation limiting exposure to environmental carcinogens. “It just seemed an obvious conclusion that you couldn't treat your way out of cancer,” Wild says.

U.S. Labor Secretary would like to punch lawmakers who think the unemployed are lazy

By JC Sevcik  
Secretary Thomas Perez confessed during a press conference Tuesday that lawmakers who believe jobless Americans are simply lazy anger him to the point of violence.

. . .

Perez, who stressed his strong empathy for the jobless in remembering hardship from his childhood in Buffalo, New York, watching his father struggle after being laid off, emphasized that it's important not to rely entirely on the data, but instead to remember that each number is representative of a personal narrative of struggle.

"I talk to long-term unemployed folks with regularity. We make a habit of doing focus groups because I'm a firm believer that if you just sit here and talk in the numbers, you get numb," he said. "These stories just keep me up at night, especially the long-term unemployed."

Perez has been a continued advocate for the unemployed, consistently urging Congress to bring back extended unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed after legislators allowed those benefits to lapse at the end of last year.

OECD predicts collapse of capitalism

By Cory Doctorow
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development -- a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking -- has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They prescribe "flexible" workforces, austerity, and mass privatization.

 The report, Policy Challenges for the Next 50 Years, makes a number of assumptions about the impact of automation on skilled jobs in the workforce, the end the recent growth in the developing world (especially the BRIC nations), and a series of worsening environmental catastrophes.

 . . .

. . .

 The OECD's prescription – more globalisation, more privatisation, more austerity, more migration and a wealth tax if you can pull it off – will carry weight. But not with everybody. The ultimate lesson from the report is that, sooner or later, an alternative programme to "more of the same" will emerge. Because populations armed with smartphones, and an increased sense of their human rights, will not accept a future of high inequality and low growth.

Joe Biden's World Cup Gift to Brazil: A Chilling Torture Memo

By David Corn
When Vice President Joe Biden visited Brazil for the start of the World Cup soccer tournament last month, he brought along something of an odd gift for President Dilma Rousseff: a collection of State Department cables and reports that included a chilling account of state-sponsored torture. The documents were from 1967 to 1977 and covered assorted human rights abuses conducted by the military dictatorship then ruling Brazil—a government that was supported by the Nixon administration and its foreign policy poobah Henry Kissinger.

. . .

The cable was in sync with the Nixon/Kissinger policy of not getting worked up about torture conducted by military regimes Washington favored. (See Kissinger and Argentina.) And a cable sent to Foggy Bottom a year earlier by William Rountree, then the US ambassador to Brazil, noted that though the US embassy in Brazil had "on appropriate occasion and in appropriate manner" informed the Brazilians that the US government did not condone "excesses in the form practiced in Brazil," Rountree believed the United States had to make this case without "unduly jeopardizing our relations with this country or causing a counter-productive reaction on the part of the" government of Brazil. In this cable, Rountree said that he strongly supported the State Department's opposition to legislation then under consideration in Congress that would cut off US funding to Brazil as long as the government engaged in torture.

. . .

The Brazilian Truth Commission, which has posted the documents Biden handed over, has been at work for two years, and Biden, when he was in Brazil, promised that the Obama administration would mount a broader review of top-secret CIA and Defense Department documents that might be useful to the commission. So the World Cup has given Brazil more than just a soccer tournament; it has highlighted the nation's effort to come to terms with its recent past of government abuse and violence—and Washington's own effort to acknowledge its support of that regime.

Syrian conflict: Key sarin ingredients sold by UK firms

By Nick Hopkins
Britain sold chemicals and components to Syria that ended up being used in the manufacture of the deadly nerve agent sarin, BBC Newsnight can reveal.

A leaked Foreign Office document says they were supplied in the mid-1980s.

. . .

A report by UN chemical weapons inspectors found "clear and convincing evidence" that surface-to-surface rockets containing sarin were fired at suburbs to the east and west of the Syrian capital Damascus last August - an attack that killed hundreds of people.

. . .

The Foreign Office document makes clear Britain was not the only country guilty of selling materials to Damascus that ended up in its chemical weapons programme.

Voters face stark choice in Indonesia polls

By (Al Jazeera)
Indonesia's two presidential hopefuls are a study in contrasts: Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the soft-spoken governor of Jakarta and an outsider to the country's political elite, is facing off against Prabowo Subianto, a former lieutenant general and wealthy businessman who has run an energetic, nationalist campaign.

The election marks the first time in which Indonesia's 187 million voters will replace one directly elected president with another.

The vote comes as the country's economy - the largest in southeast Asia - has begun to slow, and many voters say they are fed up with a spate of corruption scandals.

. . .

The run-up to the election in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country has seen Jokowi subjected to smears that he is Christian and ethnically Chinese.

Ashers Baking Company: 'Gay cake' row could end up in court

By (BBC)
. . .

Ashers Baking Company declined an order from a gay rights activist, asking for cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets, Bert and Ernie.

. . .

The County Antrim firm could face legal action from the Equality Commission.

. . .

The general manager added that it was not the first time his company had refused customers' cake orders.

. . . "I would like the outcome of this to be that, any Christians running a business could be allowed to follow their Christian beliefs and principles in the day-to-day running of their business and that they are allowed to make decisions based on that."

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
Washington 'pot shops' hit by shortage on first day of sales

By (BBC)
Legal marijuana sales in the western US state of Washington have begun amid a shortage of the drug in the state.

State officials told licensed pot shops they could open at 8:00 local time but only a few are expected to have marijuana to sell on Tuesday.

. . .

More than 2,600 people applied to become licensed growers in Washington, but fewer than 100 have been approved.

. . .

The shortage is expected to raise prices to at least $25 (£15) a gram, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Brooklyn Prosecutors Won’t Pursue Low-Level Marijuana Arrests

By Josh Sanburn
. . .

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office announced July 8 that it will no longer prosecute adults charged with low-level marijuana offenses who have limited or no criminal records. The policy change has been in the works for several months but was delayed as the district attorney’s office worked to address concerns from the New York Police Department.

District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement that the move to stop pursuing minor marijuana cases will allow his office to redirect resources to higher priorities and ensure that “individuals, and especially young people of color, do not become unfairly burdened and stigmatized by involvement in the criminal justice system for engaging in non-violent conduct that poses no threat of harm to persons or property.”

. . .

“We understand that it is the prerogative of each of the city’s district attorneys to decline to prosecute any criminal offense occurring within their respective jurisdictions,” Bratton said in a statement. “However, in order to be effective, our police officers must enforce the laws of the state of New York uniformly throughout all five boroughs of the city.”

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:
Rickie Lee Jones (born November 8, 1954) is an American vocalist, musician, songwriter and producer. Over the course of a career of over three decades, Jones has recorded in various musical styles including rock, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and jazz standards. Her songwriting has been characterized as "a blend of bravado and vulnerability [that] wavers on indefinable borders". She is also known for her unique singing style, especially in live performances. One concert reviewer, describing her rendering of "We Belong Together", states she "reached her apex, skating from swells into near screams into breathy whispers, from pointillist staccato scats into brassy, trumpetlike bursts".

In 1999, Jones was listed at #30 in the VH1 list of 100 greatest women of rock.

. . .

In 1977, Jones met Tom Waits at The Troubadour after an Ivan Ulz show in which she had sung a few of her songs and one of her father's called The Moon is Made of Gold. The two would be lovers at the outset of her career, creating a lifelong association with one another. They were a popular couple at the time (Second City TV skits...) and moved in together. At the time Waits left his Tropicana days, and Jones was coming off a world wide tour in which she was booked as 'the new voice of America.' After Waits and Jones broke up, Jones hooked up with pal Sal Bernardi, who inspired the song "Weasel and the White Boys". He would remain a personal and musical partner for decades. Nominated for six Grammy Awards in 1980, Jones told her mentor Bob Regher that she would not attend the ceremony. Changing her mind at the last minute, the two raced to the event just in time for her to walk up and collect her 'best new artist' trophy, in her leather jacket and boa, signature beret and gloves. Her popular acceptance speech, in which she thanked her lawyers and her accountant (this was the year most of the winners, from Dylan to Neil Diamond, were thanking God), became a hallmark for speeches to come.

Jones and Waits were lovers of such enigmatic appeal it would be many decades before the media stopped asking them about one another. In fact, even after their breakup, Francis Ford Coppola asked Jones to collaborate with Mr. Waits on his upcoming film One from the Heart, but she balked, citing the recent breakup. Coppola responded that it would be perfect for the film, since the two main characters in the film are separated, and he asked her to reconsider. Jones still refused the job. It was then that Waits met his future wife, and Jones began work on Pirates, a Rolling Stone five-star record that included "We Belong Together" and "A Lucky Guy", both inspired by Waits. The album garnered praise from every corner of rock media at the time. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Randy Newman, the Brecker Brothers and Steve Gadd were a few of the A-list musicians who helped to create her 'sophomore' effort, a study of the end of her love affair with Waits and the darkness that followed.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Beijing Wants to Understand Its Smog

By David Talbot
In a new tactic in Beijing’s growing battle on choking smog, sensors and analytics will pinpoint the source and trajectory of polluting particles and forecast levels three days in advance down to the resolution of individual streets.

. . .

The problem is so bad that the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences recently said that Beijing is “almost unfavorable for human living.” Beijing’s 2013 PM2.5 concentrations averaged 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter last year, and surged above 600 on the worst days this past January. The World Health Organization says levels must remain below 25 to be safe.

Tao Wang, resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, a Beijing-based think-tank, says better data will help. “They know roughly the sources, but not the proportion from the different sources, or the interaction between pollutants,” Wang said. “The capability to monitor is lacking and they need to improve that. A lot of what this is about is getting this down to a lot more micro areas of the city, and getting more discrete measurements.”

Release of the International Surface Temperature Initiative’s (ISTI’s) Global Land Surface Databank, an expanded set of fundamental surface temperature records

By Jared Rennie
In the 21st Century, when multi-billion dollar decisions are being made to mitigate and adapt to climate change, society rightly expects openness and transparency in climate science to enable a greater understanding of how climate has changed and how it will continue to change. Arguably the very foundation of our understanding is the observational record. Today a new set of fundamental holdings of land surface air temperature records stretching back deep into the 19th Century has been released as a result of several years of effort by a multinational group of scientists.

The International Surface Temperature Initiative (ISTI) was launched by an international and multi-disciplinary group of scientists in 2010 to improve understanding of the Earth’s climate from the global to local scale. The Databank Working Group, under the leadership of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), has produced an innovative data holding that largely leverages off existing data sources, but also incorporates many previously unavailable sources of surface air temperature. This data holding provides users a way to better track the origin of the data from its collection through its integration. By providing the data in various stages that lead to the integrated product, by including data origin tracking flags with information on each observation, and by providing the software used to process all observations, the processes involved in creating the observed fundamental climate record are completely open and transparent to the extent humanly possible.

. . .

It is important to stress that the databank is a release of fundamental data holdings – holdings which contain myriad non-climatic artefacts arising from instrument changes, siting changes, time of observation changes etc. To gain maximum value from these improved holdings it is imperative that as a global community we now analyze them in multiple distinct ways to ascertain better estimates of the true evolution of surface temperatures locally, regionally, and globally. Interested analysts are strongly encouraged to develop innovative approaches to the problem.

Yorkshire carbon capture power plant gets EU funding

By Sean Farrell
Drax, the operator of Britain's biggest power station, has secured up to €300m (£238m) of European Union funding to build a power plant whose carbon dioxide emissions will be trapped and buried deep beneath the North Sea.

The new plant will be built on land next to Drax's existing power station near Selby in Yorkshire. It will burn enough coal for 630,000 homes and 90% of its CO2 will be transported by pipeline for permanent storage under the North Sea.

. . .

White Rose applied for funding from the European NER300 programme a year ago. NER300 is a fund set up by the European Commission to encourage low-carbon energy projects.

Mysterious blast at Chevron plant shakes pollution-weary Texas town

By Brentin Mock
A yet-to-be-explained explosion at a Chevron Phillips chemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas, last night has the community in a bit of an uproar, judging by Facebook updates I’ve been collecting throughout the day. Chevron referred to it as a “localized fire,” in its statement to the media. Whatever the label, it injured two of the plant’s workers, and badly enough that highway traffic was stopped so a medical helicopter could come take one to the hospital.

. . .

“We don’t know how we’re being impacted because sometimes it’s not what you see and smell, but what you don’t see and smell that’s most toxic,” said Kelley.

The Chevron plant sits in the westside of Port Arthur, where most of the low-income, black population resides. There was once a public housing community close to the plant, but it was torn down a few years ago. Still, there are people living in homes in close proximity to Chevron’s fencelines. The map below shows that Roosevelt Park and a playground are right next to it.

Science and Health
Lost vials of smallpox found in abandoned NIH closet

By Brooks Hays
According to the NIH, several scientists came upon three vials of smallpox left over from the 1950s. They were cleaning out a storage closet of a laboratory they're preparing to relocate from its current home in the FDA's campus in Bethesda, Md. to a new building.

. . .

The CDC says there's no evidence that the stash of variola vials was leaked, and that there is no risk to public health.

. . .

Technically, the vials are in violation of an international bioterrorism law that says only a lab at the CDC's Atlanta headquarters and a lab at the VECTOR Institute in Russia are allowed to host strains of smallpox.

Alzheimer's blood test not far away

By Brooks Hays
Researchers in Britain have identified ten proteins in the blood that predict dementia with 87 percent accuracy. The authors of the new study, which was published this week in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, say the work is a "major step forward" in the quest for a blood test to predict Alzheimer's.

. . .

A whopping 99.6 percent of Alzheimer's drug trials have failed over the last decade. Scientists think that pathetic track record is largely due to the fact that the trial participants are too far along in the development of the disease -- beyond the point of treatment.

. . .

Although promising, researchers warned that any early blood test would be unlikely to offer complete certitude, and would likely not be used by doctors in isolation -- but instead as part of a broader array of diagnostic techniques. A positive test would need to be confirmed with brain scans and testing of spinal fluid.

Tiny Changes in Earth's Gravity Can Help Predict Floods Months Away

By Sarah Zhang
When the Missouri River spilled over its banks in a catastrophic 2011 flood, we could have seen it coming—from space, that is. There's more to the story than meets the eye: the satellites don't take photos of snowpacks or rivers, but rather, they detect tiny changes in gravity over the Earth's surface to track water.

The pair of satellites in question make up NASA's GRACE mission, originally designed to monitoring the melting of polar ice sheets. Together, they orbit 137 miles apart above the Earth, measuring the precise distance between each other and to Earth. If you remember from high school physics, gravity is proportional to mass, so a local buildup of, say, ice or water on the Earth's surface would perturb the satellites' orbits. Thus GRACE measures the Earth's gravitational field and, by extension, the movement of water on the Earth's surface.

. . . Reager's study only analyzed the data retrospectively, and we'll have to see how well it holds up in future floods. It also can't predict flash floods from monsoons. But NASA is working to make data from GRACE available for scientists more quickly, so that we could one day have more time to prepare for these catastrophic floods. [Nature Geoscience via LiveScience]

Verizon: in 2014, US government made 150K requests for customer data

By Xeni Jardin
The U.S. government issued around 150,000 requests for data on Verizon's customers, the country's largest wireless telecom reported today. Most of these requests were subpoenas.
. . .

 Verizon also received over 37,000 court orders, including 714 wiretaps, which give access to the content of communications and over 3,000 pen registers and trap and trace orders, which give the government real-time access to outgoing and incoming phone numbers, respectively.

There’s the leak in the pipeline

By PZ Myers
We’re always talking about this curious phenomenon, that we see lots of women at the undergraduate and graduate level in biology, but large numbers of them leave science rather than rising through the ranks. Why is that? It seems that one answer is that elite male faculty in the life sciences employ fewer women, that is, the more prestigious, well-known labs headed by male faculty with great academic reputations tend not to hire women for the next level of training.

. . .

My first thought was that maybe this was a product of an older generation — that more senior faculty are going to be much older and perhaps unfortunately traditionalist, so all we have to do is wait for them to die off and be replaced. No such luck. When the data are carefully dissected, the correlation isn’t with age, but with elite status (as defined by membership in prestigious organizations). Young male investigators are just as unlikely as old male investigators to hire women.

As expected, among male faculty, elite status was negatively correlated with the percentage of female postdocs in a laboratory (P < 0.0001). This relationship remained true even when several other explanatory variables were added, including faculty rank, years since a faculty member had received his or her PhD, and total number of trainees in a laboratory. . .

The paper is careful to point out that they don’t know the direct causes of the differences, whether it’s exclusion, conscious or otherwise, by faculty men, or reluctance of women to apply to those labs. We should probably try to figure that one out, since that’s how the problem gets fixed…but it’s probably a combination of all of these factors.

How our fear of “wilding” colored the Central Park Five case

By Brentin Mock
The New York City men known as the “Central Park Five” will reportedly receive $40 million for their wrongful convictions and imprisonment after police falsely accused them of attacking and raping a white woman 25 years ago. It’s hard to imagine what financial amount, if any, could adequately repair what was taken from these five lives: Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam. They were just boys when they were arrested, the youngest 14; all of them of African American or Latino American heritage. They spent the rest of their teenage years in jail, one of them in the notorious Riker’s Island penitentiary.

. . .

Although it is impossible to identify any single reason for the false convictions, further research may be able to establish that the cultural panic engendered by wilding measurably contributed to the verdicts. The Central Park Jogger rape began as a horrific crime but became a multivalent spectacle in part because of an interpretive failure on the part of the broader public: an inability to read the word wilding critically, as a part of an ironic discourse interrogating the primacy of white civilization.

. . .

Central Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, an architect and nature conservationist who’s credited as the father of the public park system. He was also a journalist who reported on the evils of slavery, and a co-founder of The Nation magazine. Olmsted believed that parks should be public spaces accessible to people of all races, but the idea never took total hold. As the city’s black population grew since Olmsted’s time, particularly in those areas north of the park like Harlem, the park fell into disrepair and became a haven for crime. When the city started finally began making improvements to the park, to make it more welcoming, it left the northern parts unaddressed.

. . .

The media’s application of the term “wilding” for the black youth was like “a finger people used to point to the sum of everything that was going on with race (in New York City) at the time,” said Cobb. “With the Central Park case, it was hard to escape the racial conflagrations happening prior to this (Hawkins, Griffith) and so this just became the counterpoint. We had black people talking about being the victims of police brutality, but this became the case people pointed to to say, ‘Well, look how they’re acting.’”

Why are so many children trying to cross the US border?

By (BBC)
Thousands of children have been caught trying to illegally cross the south-western American border after migrating from across Central America.

. . .

Immigration to the US from Mexico and Central America has long been driven by economic difficulties and violence in home countries.

But a recent spike of gang and drug-related violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have increased the flow of migrants from those countries.

. . .

The White House is also expected to request funding for an additional $2bn (£1.2bn) to hire more immigration judges and open additional detention facilities.

. . .

Republicans have blamed Mr Obama for not doing more to prevent an immigration crisis, but the US president has argued Republicans have blocked any immigration reform in Congress.

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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