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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, January 29, 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: Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock

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
Kerry wins 94-3 Senate vote to become Obama’s 2nd-term secretary of state

By Hannah Allam
With only three “no” votes, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed veteran lawmaker and former presidential candidate John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as the secretary of state for the Obama administration’s second term.

. . .

Not a single objection to Kerry’s candidacy was raised in either last week’s hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry had led before recusing himself, or in the two-hour debate period before the full Senate vote Tuesday. Even so, there were “no” votes from three Republicans: John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. Ninety-four senators voted in favor of Kerry’s candidacy; one voted present – and that was Kerry.

. . .

The confirmation might’ve been the easy part. Now, Kerry is poised to inherit a long list of worsening conflicts and humanitarian crises in which U.S. policy has waffled or remained opaque and heavily criticized. In just the Middle East and North Africa, there’re the civil war in Syria, the French-led fight to dislodge extremists from northern Mali, and fresh violence in U.S. partners Egypt, Libya and Iraq.

CHART: Which Kills More Birds, Cats or Turbines?

By Tim McDonnell
Last month Fox News reported on the "grizzly deaths" of 500 songbirds in West Virginia. Behind the fell deed: a wind farm, caught red-turbined. "To date, the Obama administration... has not prosecuted a single case against the wind industry," the Fox reporter laments. Opponents of renewable energy love to trot out the risk wind turbines pose to birds, and some engineering work has gone into making them more avian-friendly. But a new study released today in Nature shows that if you really want to protect birds, forget about wind: You need to lock up Kitty.
Study: Elderly Memory Loss Due to Lack of Deep Sleep

By Tiffany Kaiser
Slow waves are generated by the middle frontal lobe, and as this region deteriorates with age, the elderly tend to lose the ability to experience long REM sleep

. . .

 According to the study, the slow brain waves produced during deep REM sleep help move memories from the hippocampus (short-term memory storage in the brain) to the prefrontal cortex (long-term memory in the brain) while we are young. But as we grow older, memories tend to get trapped in the hippocampus because we receive less REM sleep.

 . . .

 “What we have discovered is a dysfunctional pathway that helps explain the relationship between brain deterioration, sleep disruption and memory loss as we get older – and with that, a potentially new treatment avenue,” said Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley.

Egypt army chief warns of 'state collapse' amid crisis

By (BBC)
Egypt's armed forces chief has warned the current political crisis "could lead to a collapse of the state".

General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, in comments posted on the military's Facebook page, said such a collapse could "threaten future generations".

. . .

Thousands were again on the streets of Port Said on Tuesday for the latest funerals of those killed, with mourners calling for the downfall of the president.

. . .

Gen Sisi's lengthy statement appears to be a veiled threat to protesters and opposition forces as well as an appeal for calm and an attempt to reassure Egyptians about the role of the military, the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says.

US signs deal with Niger to operate military drones in west African state

By Paul Harris in New York and Afua Hirsch in Accra
The US government appears close to opening a new front in its fight against Islamist militants by planning a new base for surveillance drones in the west African country of Niger.

American forces are already assisting a French offensive in neighbouring Mali that is aimed at recapturing the country's northern desert territory from the hands of Islamist rebels. On Monday the US signed a military agreement with Niger that paves the way legally for US forces to operate on its soil, prompting a series of reports that the Pentagon was keen on opening a new drones base there.

. . .

The deal with Niger had been under negotiation for some time but had got a sudden burst of urgency after the dramatic events following the French intervention in Mali. Though French-led forces have swept militants from key cities in northern Mali, the conflict has focused diplomatic efforts on the security threat posed by Islamist groups in the vast wilderness of the Sahel and Sahara./td>

Colombia considers legalizing ecstasy

By Jennifer Mattson
. . .

Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa said a new drugs bill would legalize synthetic drug use including ecstasy, the BBC reported.

. . .

Colombia is considering the legislation as a way to curb both drug use and trafficking in the country.

If passed, the plan would replace current laws in Colombia which bans cocaine and marijuana but does not prosecute those found with small amounts, the BBC said.

Last week, Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos said the nation needed to reassess the “war on drugs.”

Iran Successfully Sends Monkey on Sub-Orbital Flight

By Tiffany Kaiser  
Iran said it successfully sent a monkey into sub-orbital flight today, which is only the first step in its space plans toward a manned mission in 2020.

. . .

 "This success is the first step towards man conquering the space and it paves the way for other moves," said Vahidi. "Today's successful launch follows previous successes we had in launching (space) probes with other living creatures (on board). The monkey, which was sent in this launch, landed safely and alive and this is a big step for our experts and scientists."

 The Islamic republic has sent other animals into space, such as worms, rats and turtles, but this is the first time a monkey was sent successfully on a sub-orbital flight. An attempt was made with a monkey in 2011, but the mission failed for reasons unknown.

China's Wanxiang wins approval to buy US battery maker

By (BBC)
Wanxiang, China's biggest auto parts maker, had bid $257m (£163m) to buy almost all of A123's assets after it went bankrupt last year.

. . .

Some US lawmakers also opposed the deal arguing that A123 had developed its technology using government grants.

. . .

One of the fears surrounding the sale of A123 concerned its government contracts, under which the firm supplies batteries to the US military.

However, Wanxiang had excluded the firm's government business from its bid.

Security firms eye African 'terror' bonanza

By Ramzy Baroud
.  ..

Following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) toppling of the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his brutal assassination in Sirte on October 20, 2011, numerous militias sprung up throughout Libya, some armed with heavy weapons, courtesy of Western countries.

Initially, such disturbing scenes of armed militias setting up checkpoints at every corner were dismissed as an inevitable post-revolution reality. However, when Westerners became targets themselves, "security" in Libya finally became high on the agenda.

. . .

Private security firms are essentially mercenaries who offer services to spare Western governments without the political cost of incurring too many casualties. While they are often based in Western cities, many of their employees come from so-called Third World countries.

It's much safer this way - when Asian, African or Arab security personnel are wounded or killed on duty, the matter tends to register, if ever, as a mere news item, with little political consequence, Senate hearings or government enquiries.

. . .

As France, the US and EU countries determine the future of Mali through military efforts and political roadmaps, the country itself is weakened and politically disfigured beyond any possibility of confronting outside designs. For G4S and other security firms, Mali now tops the list in Africa's emerging security market. Nigeria and Kenya follow closely, with possibilities emerging elsewhere.

Israel boycotts UN Human Rights Council

By (Al Jazeera)
Israel has become the first country to boycott a UN Human Rights Council review of its rights situation, sparking heated debate among diplomats on how to respond.

. . .

Israel cut all ties with the 47-member state council last March after the body announced that it would probe how Israeli illegal settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

Israel has come under widespread criticism for ramping up its construction of illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, notably in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

. . .

Israel's failure to show up for its UPR marks the first time since the reviews began in 2007 that a country under evaluation has been absent without explanation, and it was unclear how the rights council would react.

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
"Three Months Is a Lifetime": Sandy Victims Slog On

By Tim McDonnell
. . .

Lazzara and folks like him caught a much-needed break yesterday when Congress, after much hemming and hawing, finally passed a $50 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy—despite opposition from 31 GOP Senators who had previously supported emergency relief in their homes states. While much of the money will go to local governments (to repair infrastructure, reimburse emergency spending, and rebuilding the damaged coastline), some is destined for the pockets of people like Lazzara, whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and to business owners who suffered storm-related losses (the storm's total pricetag is estimated at $50 billion). But Lazzara says he's a long way from popping a bottle of champagne: Bad communication, neglect, and perceived mismanagement by government agencies like FEMA in the storm's wake left him and his neighbors suspicious and cynical about ever actually receiving a check.

. . .

Meanwhile, FEMA recently released new flood maps that could mean even more expenses for residents, like Lazzara, of low-lying parts of the city. The maps, redrawn after Sandy, double the number of homes within the flood zone; stiff building codes and higher insurance premiums for flood-prone areas will impose new costs on homeowners who had previously considered themselves out of harm's way. But it's likely that maps don't even go far enough: FEMA's top coordinator for New York City admitted to the Times that the new maps are "not taking into consideration any future climate change." Sea level in NYC is expected to rise up to five feet by 2080; higher seas amplify damage from extreme weather events like hurricanes.

Valentine bristled at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's suggestion last week that some of the aid money might be used to help families relocate away from the most vulnerable coastal areas; it's a hard sell, he says, for families whose roots in the neighborhood stretch back generations. As far as he can tell, the focus in Breezy Point is on piecing the community back together.

9/11 fund makes first payments to sick responders

By Jennifer Mattson
The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, set up by Congress, is making its first round of payments to fifteen first responders with respiratory problems.

The payments are earmarked for those who got sick after being exposed toxic dust at the World Trade Center after September 11, the Associated Press reported.

Fund administrator Sheila Birnbaum said Tuesday the payouts were approved for at least 16,000 applications and the first of those will go to mostly firefighters.

House Committee Questions Aaron Swartz Charges in Letter to DOJ

By Tiffany Kaiser  
. . .

 Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, wrote a letter to the DOJ asking what exactly pushed the department to prosecute Swartz in such an intense manner.

. . .

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz decided to slam Swartz with 13 felony charges that could have sent him to jail for up to 50 years. He also would have had a $1 million fine for his actions.

However, Swartz was offered a couple of different plea deals, such as a 7-8 month prison sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to all 13 felony counts, and a six-month prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. Swartz turned down all of the plea deals, since he didn't want any felony charges on his record and didn't want to spend any time in prison.

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:
As a member of Miles Davis' second quintet during the 1960s, pianist Herbie Hancock rarely performed live under his own leadership, but he did take the time to record. Hancock's 1964 effort, Empyrean Isles, remains one of the most diverse and often challenging records of the pianist's tenure with Blue Note Records. It's a rare jazz record that offers both a hugely popular hit, as well as an outré masterwork of rhythmic repetition and angular melodies.
Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Iran threatens to sue BP over pollution claims from Caspian Sea oil platforms

By (Reuters via
Iran believes BP-operated Azeri oil platforms have polluted the Caspian Sea and may sue the UK oil group if it continues, Iran's deputy environment minister has been reported as saying by Iranian media.

Iranian officials have complained that Azeri oil has washed up on Iranian beaches over the last year, with Iran's Press TV reporting on Sunday that Tehran may sue Azerbaijan.

. . .

Last October, the Azeri president, Ilham Aliyev, attacked BP - the biggest foreign investor in Azerbaijan - over declining output from the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) fields in the last few years.

Science and Health
In-Brain Monitoring Shows Memory Network

By (ScienceDaily)
Working with patients with electrodes implanted in their brains, researchers at the University of California, Davis, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have shown for the first time that areas of the brain work together at the same time to recall memories. The unique approach promises new insights into how we remember details of time and place.

. . .

Intriguingly, memories of time and of place were associated with different frequencies of brain activity across the network. For example, recalling, "What shop is next to the donut shop?" set off a different frequency of activity from recalling "Where was I at 11 a.m.?"

. . .

Placing electrodes inside the skull provides clearer resolution of electrical signals than external electrodes, making the data invaluable for the study of cognitive functions, Tandon said. "This work has yielded important insights into the normal mechanisms underpinning recall, and provides us with a framework for the study of memory dysfunction in the future."

Greater Transparency Needed in Publishing Information from Clinical Trials, Experts Say

By (ScienceDaily)
An initiative from the drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency, to commit to releasing all of the information from clinical trials once the marketing authorization process has ended, which has been greeted with cautious optimism by proponents of access to data but with much less enthusiasm by the pharmaceutical industry, sparks an interesting debate on the role of medical journals in publishing drug data, according to the Editors of PLOS Medicine.

Writing in an Editorial, the Editors state: "As 2013 begins, it is clear that critical times lie ahead for the publishing of clinical trials, which may define the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and the public for many years to come."

. . .

As data become more available for reanalysis, the Editors explain that report of a trial sanctioned by the pharmaceutical company and published in a journal will no longer be considered the definitive report of the trial. Instead, this report will become just one part of the large volume of information available around a trial, to be considered in conjunction with all analyses and data.

NASA to recycle parts for science work

By (UPI)
NASA says it is recycling parts used to test satellites to create an instrument for the International Space Station to measure ocean surface winds.

Hardware originally built to test parts of the space agency's QuikScat satellite will be used in the building of the ISS-RapidScat instrument to help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring, and understanding of how ocean-atmosphere interactions influence Earth's climate, NASA officials said.

. . .

"By leveraging the capabilities of the International Space Station and recycling leftover hardware, we will acquire good science data at a fraction of the investment needed to launch a new satellite," JPL project manager Howard Eisen said.

Study: People in power happier

By (UPI)
Being in a position of power makes people happier, and people who feel powerful in any context tend to be more content, researchers in Israel said.

. . .

The most powerful people surveyed felt 16 percent more satisfied with their lives than the least powerful people. This effect was most pronounced in the workplace: Powerful employees were 26 percent more satisfied with their jobs than their powerless colleagues.

The power-based discrepancy in happiness was smaller for friendships and romantic relationships, perhaps because friendships are associated with a sense of community rather than hierarchy, and therefore having power in this kind of relationship is less important.

US soldier who lost all limbs gets new arms

By (BBC)
The first US soldier to survive losing four limbs in Iraq has said he is looking forward to swimming and driving after having a double arm transplant.

. . .

He also received bone marrow from the deceased donor of his arms, a therapy intended to help his body accept the new limbs with minimal medication.

His surgeon says it will take more than a year to know how fully Mr Marrocco will be able to use the new arms.

. . .

While he has used prosthetic legs, the former soldier said he hated not having hands.

"You talk with your hands. You do everything with your hands, basically, and when you don't have that, you're kind of lost for a while," he said.

Online Social Networking at Work Can Improve Morale and Reduce Employee Turnover

By (ScienceDaily)
By allowing employees to participate in a work-sponsored internal social networking site, a company can improve morale and reduce turnover, according to a Baylor University case study published in the European Journal of Information Systems.

The study, which looked at a financial institution's efforts to acclimate new employees into the organization, also found that participation led to a greater sense of well-being and organizational commitment and better employee engagement.

. . .

The SNS system also helped the new hires maintain relationships with one another, thus facilitating a network of acquaintances that can do small favors and help build emotionally close friendships. Finally, by allowing the new hires to access information on the SNS, meet other new hires and develop and maintain relationships with their peer group, the financial institution was able to shift some of the burden of acclimating the new hires away from middle managers and human resources.

Despite the good outcome of this institution's experience, the study data suggest that organizations should move cautiously when implementing SNSs, Koch said. "While the new hires enjoyed using the system, the middle managers experienced frustration, isolation and envy, and the senior executives were somewhat circumspect.

Judge Rules That Samsung Did Not Willfully Infringe on Apple’s Patents

By Casey Chan
Because the court system is an inescapable never ending maze of appeals and paperwork, a ruling doesn't seem to mark the end of anything. Even when the court said Samsung had to pay a billion dollars to Apple back in August, it can rule something differently tomorrow. Or at least, tweak and overturn something. Tonight, Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Samsung's infringement of the Apple patents were not 'willful' which means Samsung might be able to get a coupon on the billion it owes Apple. Maybe.
What the ban on unlocking phones means (worse than you think)

By Cory Doctorow
You will have heard that the US Copyright Office has lifted the temporary ruling under which you were allowed to unlock your phone. EFF explains in detail what this ruling means (it's not what you think -- and in some ways, it's worse):
First, the good news. The legal shield for jailbreaking and rooting your phone remains up - it'll protect us at least through 2015. The shield for unlocking your phone is down, but carriers probably aren't going to start suing customers en masse, RIAA-style. And the Copyright Office's decision, contrary to what some sensational headlines have said, doesn't necessarily make unlocking illegal.

. . .

 Now, the bad news. While we don’t expect mass lawsuits anytime soon, the threat still looms. More likely, wireless carriers, or even federal prosecutors, will be emboldened to sue not individuals, but rather businesses that unlock and resell phones. If a court rules in favor of the carriers, penalties can be stiff - up to $2,500 per unlocked phone in a civil suit, and $500,000 or five years in prison in a criminal case where the unlocking is done for "commercial advantage." And this could happen even for phones that are no longer under contract. So we're really not free to do as we want with devices that we own.

California man who "sextorted" over 350 women online is arrested

By Xeni Jardin
What, exactly, is "sextortion"?

"It’s a familiar script: boy chats up girl (or sometimes boy) online, hacks her or his e-mail, asks for or steals nude photos, and threatens the victim with the possibility of publicizing those photos, before eventually getting caught," Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica writes.

The latest online "sextortion" suspect has just been arrested by the FBI: Karen “Gary” Kazaryan, 27. He is accused of hacking into "hundreds of Facebook, Skype and email accounts and extorting women into showing him their naked bodies," according to the DoJ arrest notice, and he faces up to 105 years in prison.

The secret to the sharing economy: ‘You don’t want the drill — you want the hole’

By Greg Hanscom
Gorenflo is founder and editor of Shareable, a website dedicated to promoting the sharing economy in all its forms, from car sharing to tool lending libraries and even pet sharing. Shareable is a one-stop shop for everything from the scoop on Jellyweek (sorry, you missed it) to a guide to sharing your wi-fi without sacrificing privacy or bandwidth — and it is, itself, the product of a whole lot of sharing.

. . .

There’s nothing kumbaya about it. It’s just a better life. And it’s nothing new. Wisdom traditions throughout the world speak of the salvation found in serving the common good. What is new is that peer-to-peer social relations and dynamics are ascending and could become the dominant way of life.

. . .

Q. Let’s talk about these dog sharing websites for a minute. At what point does “sharing” become “free dog care”?

A. [Laughs] Some of these things I just scratch my head at. But I think what’s interesting here is, why not try it? The cost to start an internet startup has gone from millions to thousands. It used to be, you’d spend millions on market research. Now, why not just put the site up? Look at Airbnb: It sounds nuts to rent out a spare room or a mattress on the floor, but you could try it out really easy and they made a success out of it. And coworking: When it first started out, it sounded nutty — a bunch of strangers sitting in a room working together — but it has gone viral globally.

. . .

A. Sharing works best when you have high-value assets that have a lot of excess capacity — so your car, for example, which just sits there most of the time. Transportation is linked to accessing things of high value – work, leisure, education. Access to place is quite valuable. So ride sharing and car sharing companies have gotten a lot of funding.

. . .

Q. OK, so given the limitations, how revolutionary is this sharing economy business, anyway?

A. I believe the sharing economy is a fundamental shift in the way we produce and govern. Broadly speaking, it’s becoming more democratic. The cost of interactions and production are low enough that individuals and small groups now have the power that only large corporations had a few years ago.

. . .

On one hand, it’s never been more difficult to find a job. On the other hand, it’s never been easier to create your own. We’re shifting from a top-down factory-style society to a peer-to-peer, network-driven society.

Burma lifts 25-year-old ban on public gatherings

By (BBC)
The reformist government of Burma has abolished a 25-year-old ban on public gatherings of more than five people.

The order dates from 1988, when a military government took power after crushing pro-democracy protests.

Correspondents say an end to the ban has been demanded by the international community and has been widely flouted at protests in recent years.

. . .

The public-gatherings ban was commonly used in the years immediately after 1988 as a tool to crush dissent against successive military regimes.

But it was eased following the end of military rule in November 2010 - and when the elected government of President Thein Sein took office the following year.

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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