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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, August , 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: USA by Middle Class Rut

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
How Corporate America Used the Great Recession to Turn Good Jobs Into Bad Ones

By Barbara Garson
. . .

When America's industrial workers were hit hard in the 1970s and 1980s, the excuse for breaking their unions, lowering their wages, and outsourcing their work was that we had to compete with foreign manufacturers. But not to worry, it was then suggested, there might be tough times ahead for a few blue-collar troglodytes who couldn't be retrained, but the rest of us would soon be data manipulators in a booming postindustrial society.

. . .

The recession itself certainly doesn't explain such job transformations. Traditionally, during recessions employers reduced hours or laid people off in a way that would enable them to reconstitute an experienced work force when business picked up. In the meantime, they competed on price and took less profit. As a result, the share of national income that went to owners and investors used to decline during such periods, while the share that went to workers actually rose.

No longer. Ina's and Greg's employers used the downturn to dump entire departments and reorganize themselves so that the same work, the same jobs, requiring the same skills, would henceforth, in good times and bad, be done by contingent workers. Many other companies seem to be doing the same thing. One sign of that: during the course of the Great Recession corporate profits went up by 25%-30%, while wages as a share of national income fell to their lowest point since that number began to be recorded after World War II.

According to the latest Labor Department figures, 65% of the jobs added to the economy in July 2013 were part-time. The average hourly wage fell slightly. Interpreters of those statistics will make it sound as though it's simply a matter of factories firing and burger joints hiring.  That, at least, would be a situation that could be reversed over time. If, however, golden jobs are being transmuted into lead by the reverse alchemy described in this piece, then they're not coming back gradually, certainly not without a growing labor movement and a fight.

You know what the rest of the world has figured out? The metric system. It’s time the US got on board.

By David Wogan
. . .

Our choice of unit system is perhaps more important now than in recent years. Science is conducted using the language of SI units. If we want to have a scientifically literate populace, we should make sure that scientists and non-scientists speak the same language. In terms of national competitiveness, Americans are competing on a global market of information now more than ever. We are at a disadvantage by not speaking the international language of science at a time when we are struggling with truly global issues like climate change and resource depletion.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the government arm that sets standards and measurements to support American competitiveness, concludes that “the current effort toward national metrification is based on the conclusion that industrial and commercial productivity, mathematics and science education, and the competitiveness of American products and services in world markets, will be enhanced by completing the change to the metric system of units. Failure to complete the change will increasingly handicap the Nation’s industry and economy.”

Perhaps the most ironic fact about use of our of U.S. customary units is that since 1893, we have been defining our system of units in terms of the meter and kilogram. We have essentially given ourselves the additional burden of converting from the international standard to our own system and then back again.

. . .

So what can we do? In December 2012, someone started a We The People petition to make the metric system the standard in the United States. The petition received nearly 50,000 signatures and prompted a response from Patrick D. Gallagher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, and Director of the National Institute for Standards and Technology:

In our voluntary system, it is the consumers who have the power to make this choice. So if you like, “speak” metric at home by setting your digital scales to kilograms and your thermometers to Celsius. Cook in metric with liters and grams and set your GPS to kilometers.
New Zealand spy bills key up controversy

By (Al Jazeera)
New Zealand is on the verge of passing new legislation empowering its electronic intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), to carry out wider surveillance on its citizens.

If passed, the laws would allow the GCSB to covertly intercept citizens' internet communications, force internet service providers (ISPs) to provide port access to networks, and require technology companies to provide de-encryption keys to secure data.

. . .

Given that New Zealand's GCSB shares its data with Five Eyes, an intelligence-sharing alliance between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Beagle asks, "Can we be sure whose side the GCSB will be on when it comes to protecting New Zealand communications from US spying?"

. . .

Western countries have been mounting pressure against Huawei since October 2012, when the US House of Representatives' intelligence committee warned US businesses against dealing with Huawei and another Chinese telecommunications firm, ZTE, citing an 11-month investigation that concluded their products were a security threat. There were concerns that the computers had backdoor vulnerabilities and "malicious circuits".

. . .

Buchanan believes that the push in New Zealand for new spying powers is designed to complement US attempts to contain China's influence in the Pacific. "The focus on the enhanced GCSB cyber-security role is clearly directed at Chinese cyber-espionage," says Buchanan, "which is a mix of corporate and traditional state espionage done via electronic means".

Al Jazeera launches US television news service

By (BBC)
Al Jazeera is launching a new TV news channel in the United States.

Al Jazeera America will be available in almost 48 million US households, offering 14 hours of news each day.

The new network replaces Current TV, the cable television network founded by former US Vice President Al Gore, which the Qatar-owned broadcaster acquired in January 2013 for around $500m (£308m).

. . .

In 2010, Al-Jazeera English blamed a "very aggressive hostility" from the administration of former President George W Bush for reluctance among US cable companies to show the network.

Mexico's striking teachers say they're being scapegoated

By Dudley Althaus
 As most of Mexico's 26 million students return to school this week, more than two million remain at home after teachers launched strikes to protest reforms aimed at improving the country's woeful public education system.

. . .

Federal police jailed Elba Esther Gordillo, the powerful boss of the National Education Workers Syndicate, or SNTE, the largest teachers' union, in February on corruption charges, removing a powerful political obstacle to the reforms. Despite reportedly living on her teacher and union salaries, Gordillo amassed a fortune worth millions of dollars in her more than two decades in control of the 1.2-million member syndicate.

Gordillo's arrest and replacement with an underling subdued the giant union. The strikes this week are being led by the National Education Workers Coordinator, a rival and often more radical union to the larger SNTE. But among the more radical strikers are those of the SNTE's Section 22, which maintains a grip on public education in Oaxaca state. Section 22 launches crippling strikes in the state nearly every spring, pushing for sometimes trifling wage increases and other benefits.

The teachers throughout southern Mexico have been fighting against the reforms all year, marching on Mexico City, striking at home and fighting with state officials. Rioting teachers attacked and burned government and political party offices in the Guerrero state capital of Chilpanincingo in April after legislators approved the reforms.

Will Col Inocente Orlando Montano face criminal trial?

By Nina Lakhani
The commander of one of El Salvador's notorious death squads, active during the 1980-92 civil war, could soon become the first top-ranking Salvadoran officer to face trial for murder. But if so, he will be tried in Spain, not his own country, where an amnesty protects even those guilty of atrocities against civilians.

Inocente Orlando Montano was quietly working in a sweet factory in Massachusetts in May 2011, when he and 19 others were indicted by a Spanish court for their alleged role in the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her teenage daughter.

Five of the priests - outspoken critics of El Salvador's military regime - were Spanish. Spain asked for Montano to be extradited - and soon afterwards he was indicted by the US for having lied about his entry date and military past to obtain papers giving him the right to work in the US.

Syrian refugees flood into Iraqi Kurdistan

By (Al Jazeera)
About 35,000 refugees, believed to be mainly Syrian Kurds, have entered Iraq since last Thursday, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.

. . .

Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told reporters in Geneva that refugees arriving at two border crossings in the region were exhausted and dehydrated after walking long distances in spiralling desert temperatures.

. . .

Both al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have in recent months been fighting for control of parts of northern and northeastern Syria against Kurdish groups who have taken advantage of the war to assert their control over majority-Kurdish areas.

Kenya's Kenyatta and and China's Xi sign $5bn deals

By (BBC)
Kenya has signed deals worth $5bn (£3bn) with China to build a railway line, an energy project and to improve wildlife protection, officials say.

They were signed during Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's first visit to China since his election in March.

. . .

Mr Kenyatta has a strained relationship with the West as he is facing violence-related charges at The Hague.

He is due to go on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) later this year for allegedly fuelling violence after disputed elections in 2007, charges he denies.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
What NSA Transparency Looks Like

By Justin Elliott
Last week, the Washington Post published an internal audit finding the NSA had violated privacy rules thousands of times in recent years.

. . .

What information about rule violations has the agency itself released? Take a look

. . .

That is the publicly released version of a semiannual report from the administration to Congress describing NSA violations of rules surrounding the FISA Amendments Act. The act is one of the key laws governing NSA surveillance, including now-famous programs like Prism.

. . .

One of the only unredacted portions reads, “The value of statistical information in assessing compliance in situations such as this is unclear. A single incident, for example, may have broad ramifications. Multiple incidents may increase the incident count, but may be deemed of very limited significance.”

FBI agent reaffirms claims of job discrimination

By Michael Doyle
. . .

 Laura M. Laughlin, the special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, contends in a new legal filing that discrimination has cost her multiple opportunities in other cities, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington. The denied promotions newly alleged by Laughlin are on top of other lost opportunities she cited in her original lawsuit filed in 2011.

. . .

In its own legal filings, the FBI has denied Laughlin’s claims of discrimination and retaliation. But these are not the only time the bureau has faced similar complaints. More broadly, Laughlin’s case illuminates the kind of subsurface obstacles that newly confirmed FBI Director James Comey must navigate once he’s sworn in Sept. 4.

. . .

While Comey was not asked about gender issues at his confirmation hearing, he acknowledged that he will be inheriting some potential workforce problems. Among them, he said, are “issues dealing with whistleblower retaliation (that) must be addressed as they threaten to undermine the hard work of all the faithful employees at the FBI.”

Detroit bankruptcy: Challenges filed against city request

By (BBC)
Trade unions in Detroit, as well as pensioners and some residents, have filed objections to the city's application for bankruptcy.

They are asking a US court to throw out the request for protection from creditors, saying it is constitutionally flawed at both the state and federal levels.

. . .

However, bondholders who have lent money to the city have not objected to the bankruptcy.

Detroit has suffered economic decline and seen its population and tax base shrink in recent decades.

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:
Middle Class Rut is poised for great things. Their just released sophomore album, Pick Up Your Head, is an astounding sonic tour-de-force that expands greatly beyond the duo’s debut and they’re just about ready to embark upon this summer’s Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival which also features Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, and Circa Survive. Recently, drummer Sean Stockham spoke to Pop!Blerd about why you should check out Middle Class Rut:

For the uninitiated, can you give a brief history of Middle Class Rut?

Me and Zack (Lopez) met when we were about 12 years old and pretty much started playing music right away. We were in another band called Leisure and lived down in L.A. for a few years. Once that all dissolved we took a little break and we met up again about four years ago and started writing some new songs and kinda kept it as a two-piece and called it “MC Rut”.

. . .

Why should fans check you out on the Uproar festival and pick up the new album?

Good question. I guess if there’s nothing else happening at that moment like no reruns of M*A*S*H* are on or something (laughs). We’re pretty passionate about what we do and we’re brutally honest even if it doesn’t make for the most technically perfect show or right decision. We just feel how we feel, we feel strongly at that moment and we just kinda roll with it and let all the emotions out. I think people respect that and I know I respect other artists that live their lives that way so that’s what we bring to the table. This is one chapter in our life and we look forward to other albums that are probably going to be totally different than this one and the last one.

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Fracking frenzy slows as oil and gas assets plummet

By Claire Thompson
You know that domestic oil-and-gas boom that’s been sweeping the country for the past few years, turning places like Williston, N.D., into Sin City? Well, the party’s winding down — or maybe it was never that ragin’ in the first place. Oil and gas shale assets, possibly overvalued to begin with, are plunging in price thanks to an oversaturated market and wells whose production hasn’t always lived up to expectations.

. . .

Shell downgraded the value of its North American assets by $2 billion last quarter, and announced that it expects drilling here to remain unprofitable until at least next year. Companies are cutting off drilling in fields where it’s not worth it and selling off properties.

As Philip Bump pointed out in Gristmill earlier this year, what’s happening with fracking is kind of the same as what’s happening to the coal industry — but on a super compressed timeline (think 10 years, not 100). What seemed like a bonanza just four years ago is already struggling to deliver.

Fukushima operator reveals leak of 300 tonnes of highly contaminated water

By Justin McCurry
Frantic efforts to contain radioactive leaks at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been dealt another blow after its operator said about 300 tonnes of highly contaminated water had seeped out of a storage tank at the site.

. . .

Tepco's spokesman, Masayuki Ono, said the water had seeped into the ground after breaching a concrete and sandbag barrier around the tank. Workers were pumping out the puddle and removing the remaining water from the tank, he added. Despite efforts to contain the spillage, the leak is already the most severe since the crisis began.

. . .

It is the first time Japan's nuclear regulator has deemed an incident serious enough to warrant an international classification since the country's triple disaster almost two and a half years ago.

. . .

Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, recently suggested he had lost faith in Tepco's ability to handle the water crisis without government help. The firm's failure to prevent leaks could frustrate his attempts to relaunch further reactors in Japan. The leaks are also causing concern abroad. On Tuesday, South Korea said it had asked Japanese officials to explain the leaks of contaminated water into the Pacific.

Science and Health
Social Giving Makes Us Happier

By (ScienceDaily)
People usually feel good when they make a charitable donation, but they feel even better if they make the donation directly to someone they know or in a way that builds social connection. Research to be published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development investigates for the first time how social connection helps turn generous behavior into positive feelings on the part of the donor.

. . .

The research has implications for not-for-profit organizations hoping to maximize donations, suggesting that recruiting advocates and helping them build on their social connections could have benefits for the donors too. Extending these findings, it is possible that if donors have a greater sense of happiness when giving involves making a social connection one might imagine that the positive emotions might even lead to more frequent and perhaps bigger donations. Extrapolating further from the research happy donors might themselves be more likely to become advocates for a given cause or benefit it through their spontaneous word-of-mouth marketing." The findings also complement earlier research that has demonstrated a positive effect on happiness of social interaction and taking part in voluntary work.

There's a Blue Moon Tonight But Not Because of What You Think

By Casey Chan
The moon you see up in the night sky tonight is a Blue Moon. But no, it's not actually the color blue. Duh, everybody knows a Blue Moon isn't actually blue. A Blue Moon means the second full moon in the same month! But, um, that's not the reason why tonight's moon is considered a Blue Moon either. Wait, what?

. . .

Traditionally, it is the third full moon in a season with four that is referred to as a "Blue" moon. That's what tonight's moon is: the third full-faced orb of a summer season with four full moons, in a year with 13 total.

. . .

Because in 1946, the definition of Blue Moon was accidentally expanded to include instances where two full moons occur in the span of a single calendar month. In cases such as these, the second full Moon of the month (not the third full Moon of a four full moon season) is referred to as a Blue Moon. The newer definition makes it possible for a Blue Moon to occur even during a year with a normal seasonal distribution of full Moons.

. . .

In recent years, a controversy has raged — mainly among purists — about which Blue Moon definition is better. The idea of a Blue Moon as the third of four in a season may be older than the idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month. Is it better? Is one definition right and the other wrong? After all, this is folklore. So the folk get to decide, and, in the 21st century, both sorts of full moons have been called Blue.
Study Advances Iris Images as a Long-Term Form of Identification

By (ScienceDaily)
A new report by biometric researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) uses data from thousands of frequent travelers enrolled in an iris recognition program to determine that no consistent change occurs in the distinguishing texture of their irises for at least a decade. These findings inform identity program administrators on how often iris images need to be recaptured to maintain accuracy.

. . .

In both large-population studies, NIST researchers found no evidence of a widespread aging effect, said Biometric Testing Project Leader Patrick Grother. A NIST computer model estimates that iris recognition of average people will typically be useable for decades after the initial enrollment.

. . .

NIST researchers then reanalyzed the images from the earlier studies of 217 subjects that evaluated the population-wide aspect. Those studies reported an increase in false rejection rates over time -- that is, the original, enrolled images taken in the first year of the study did not match those taken later. While the rejection numbers were high, the results did not necessarily demonstrate that the iris texture itself was changing. In fact, a study by another research team identified pupil dilation as the primary cause behind the false rejection rates. This prompted the NIST team to consider the issue.

U.S. Gov't Ask For Your Input on Reforming Copyright for the Digital Age

By Jason Mick
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has taken its fair share of criticism of late, with some calling it a "broken" system.  Verdicts like the $1.92M USD verdict against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for sharing 24 songs (eventually reduced to $220,000 USD) or Apple, Inc. (AAPL) threatening to sue the New York City for using an Apple in a city greening campaign logo (Apple has sued other companies for using images of the fruit, claiming it owns trademark rights to all corporate artistic depictions of the fruit) have many convinced that the copyright system is in need of reform.

. . .

In recent years, the debates over copyright have become increasingly contentious. Too often copyright and technology policies are seen as pitted against each other, as if a meaningful copyright system is antithetical to the innovative power of the Internet, or an open Internet will result in the end of copyright. We do not believe such a dichotomy is necessary or appropriate.

. . .

 The Task Force says it will "convene roundtable" sessions of public, corporate leaders, and copyright watchdog groups (e.g. the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)).  It also says it will "solicit public comment".  The paper offered no details on when or where the public can take advantage of these opportunities, but it advises interested citizens to "stay tuned for announcements."

Public.Resource.Org Fights Back Against Copyright Lawsuit

By (
In an ongoing effort to protect free speech and the right of the public to examine the rules and regulations that govern our society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today announced it will defend open-government advocate Carl Malamud and the organization he founded, Public.Resource.Org, against a copyright lawsuit filed by three standards development organizations. . .

. . .

This isn't the first time Public.Resource.Org has faced legal threats for its work. In Public.Resource.Org v. SMACNA, a standards development organization claimed that it held the copyright in federally mandated air-duct standards and that Malamud's site violated its copyright by publishing them online. EFF and co-counsel Fenwick & West and David Halperin stepped in to litigate the case, and SMACNA promptly backed down.

The stakes are even higher this time around. The standards in question are crucial to the public's interest in fire and electrical safety. Public access to such codes is important when, for example, there is an industrial accident or natural disaster, or when a homebuyer wants to double-check that a house was built to code. Public.Resource.Org publishes the codes in a user-friendly format for not only interested citizens, but reporters, researchers, and business owners.

"Private organizations shouldn't control who can read the law, or where and how they can access it," Stoltz said. "The law belongs to all of us."

Merkel becomes first German chancellor to tour Dachau death camp

By (Deutsche Presse-Agentur via McClatchy)
Angela Merkel became the first German chancellor to visit the World War II Nazi death camp Dachau on Tuesday, as part of her campaign to warn about the threat posed by the extreme right in Europe.

. . .

 She was accompanied by 93-year-old Max Mannheimer, a survivor of Dachau and president of the committee of former prisoners who had invited her to tour the site located about 10 miles from the southern city of Munich.

. . .

 Dachau was opened in March 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler came to power, to house opponents of the Third Reich and later those it wanted to rid Germany of, such as Jews, gays and gypsies.

. . .

 An estimated 41,500 people died in Dachau, before it was liberated by U.S. troops in April 1945.

 Green Party parliamentary leader Renate Kuenast criticized Merkel for making the visit to Dachau during the election campaign.

Guinea pigs disturb German town with loud sex

By Holly Richmond
. . .
Residents of the German town of Munster have filed a complaint about the loud sexual noises coming from the university — and pinned the blame on a gang of horny guinea pigs.

. . .

The university has a little more than a dozen male and female guinea pigs inside a huge cage outdoors. The sign outside the cage reads: “These animals live in non-committal, mixed-gender groups and mate with every possible partner.”

. . .

“The guinea pigs are unbelievably loud and stink to high heaven. It’s unbearable,” said 69-year-old Pavo R.

. . .

Apparently Pavo is fine with being 69 (tee-hee) but distinctly NOT FINE with animals enjoying a little carnal pleasure. And it sounds like Pavo will get his way: The guinea pigs’ cage was only 6.5 feet away from his property, yet the legal requirement is about 10 feet, so they have to be relocated. . .

Peru's isolated Mashco-Piro tribe 'asks for food'

By (BBC)
Members of one of the most isolated tribes on Earth have briefly emerged from the Peruvian jungle to ask for food, according to local activists.

A group from the Mashco-Piro tribe made contact with villagers, apparently sparking a tense stand-off.

. . .

Campaigners say logging and urban development have diminished the area in which the tribe can live.

. . .

The government forbids direct contact because the tribes' immune systems are not thought able to cope with the type of germs carried by other Peruvians.

. . .

There are thought to be between 12,000 and 15,000 people from "uncontacted" tribes living in the jungles east of the Andes.

Nail bars: modern-day slavery in plain sight

By Holly Baxter
. . .

You don't have to be the highly paid fictional journalist Carrie Bradshaw to enjoy the luxuries of a nail bar in 2013. In fact, the beauty industry was one of the most resilient and dependably priced of all throughout the latest recession – nail-care businesses and lipstick sellers in particular. This rise in low-level pampering during frugal times is so well known that Leonard Lauder, the chairman of Estée Lauder Companies Inc, once theorised that the state of the economy was inversely proportional to the amount of lipstick sales in beauty stores. When you can't afford a Mulberry mac, a Mac lipstick in mulberry might be just the ticket.

But it turns out that there is another, far darker reason for the rise of the affordable manicure in the UK of late. A report by the Sunday Times (paywalled link) this week detailed the growing prevalence of nail salons controlled by human traffickers and staffed by the trafficked, specifically from Vietnam. . .

. . .

What's perhaps so unnerving about this is that we've known for a while about the female face of human trafficking. Many men suffer at the hands of traffickers too, and that must not be overlooked. But the number of women and girls who cross borders illegally, only to be forced into manual or sexual labour for years, is astounding. All too often we assume that these modern-day slaves are deliberately kept away from prying eyes by their captors, and only glimpsed every so often by a guilty City worker stumbling into a brothel on a lonely Saturday night. In fact, it seems that their existence in the UK is now driven by female consumers. The thrifty pampering tactics of western women in an economic downturn have provided the perfect opportunity for those who deal in people.

The rise of the nail bar as a centre of human trafficking demonstrates how there truly is no single blueprint for exploitation. Human trafficking these days has as much to do with a pedicure as it does with a massage parlour in Soho, and there are more people currently enslaved than there ever have been in human history. The lipstick law proposed by Leonard Lauder, the recession, prostitution, the skyrocketing popularity of nail care courses in Vietnam: these are not unconnected phenomena.

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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