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Welcome to the Overnight News Digest (OND) for Tuesday, March 26, 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: Operator by Jim Croce

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
U.S. priciest for doctors, drugs, hospital

By (UPI)
A U.S. woman pays $7,200-$16,600 for a normal birth -- the highest in the world -- while an Australian woman pays $6,800, a group of global health insurers say.

The report, by the International Federation of Health Plans, a group of more than 100 member health insurance companies in 25 countries, found the price of a U.S. Cesarean section in 2012 was $10,500-$26,000, while the next highest was Australia at about $10,000, with the least expensive county Argentina at $1,500, the report said. The report analyzed the prices of 12 countries.

A routine office visit of a U.S. physician cost $68-$178, compared with $30 in Canada, $25 in South Africa and $10 in Argentina, while a day in a U.S. hospital costs $1,500-$12,500, but in Australia it costs about $1,500, $730 in the Netherlands, $660 in South Africa and $420 in Argentina, the report said.

. . .

Healthcare prices for Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were paid from the public sector and one health plan in each country, while prices for Australia, Chile, the Netherlands, Spain and South Africa were from the private sector and represent prices paid by one private health plan in each country.

Peru declares environmental state of emergency in its rainforest

By Dan Collyns
. . .

Achuar and Kichwa indigenous people living in the Pastaza river basin near Peru's border with Ecuador have complained for decades about the pollution, while successive governments have failed to deal with it. Officials indicate that for years the state lacked the required environmental quality standards.

A new law published on Monday that sets out, for the first time, environmental quality standards setting acceptable limits for contaminants in soil, may be a key advance, say officials.

. . .

Several multimillion dollar fines have been levied against Pluspetrol in recent years. The company has appealed against all of the fines in the Peruvian courts, including an $11m (£7m) fine levelled in January for failing to complete an environmental clean-up of an oil block located inside Peru's largest national park, Pacaya Samiria, in the Loreto region.

. . .

The Peruvian government plans to auction a further 29 new oil and gas concessions this year.

Gay marriage: Supreme Court to hear Defense of Marriage Act case

By (BBC)
The US Supreme Court is to consider whether to strike down a law denying federal benefits to same-sex couples, a day after weighing a gay marriage ban.

. . .

The Defense of Marriage Act (Doma), signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, has already been overturned by four federal courts and two courts of appeal.

. . .

Supporters of gay marriage are hoping for a broad decision from the court that could erase bans on same-sex unions nationwide.

However, legal analysts say the justices' comments during Tuesday's hearing did not seem to indicate that they were leaning in favour of a sweeping ruling.

In Cyprus financial crisis, even Orthodox Church likely to lose millions

By Roy Gutman
. . .

Under the deal, Cyprus’ Laiki Bank will close, and the Bank of Cyprus will absorb its accounts and the performing loans on its balance sheet. The losing investments in its portfolio will be paid off with $7.5 billion in funds skimmed from large accounts in the two banks.

But who actually will end up footing the bill isn’t known. Will it be Russian businesses and investors, who have some $32 billion – possibly even more – of the almost $88 billion in deposits held in Cypriot banks? Or will it be Greek Cypriot businessmen who’ve kept their working capital in the banks?

One entity that expects to take a huge scalping is the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Archbishop Chrysostomos II said Monday that he expected the church would lose more than $130 million in confiscated deposits.

. . .

About the only major figure in Cyprus who came out in higher standing than when the crisis began is Archbishop Chrysostomos, who in an interview offered to put all the church’s wealth at the disposal of the nation – and urged the Cypriot government to abandon the euro as its currency.

The astonishing speed of Chinese censorship

By Jed Crandall and Dan Wallach
Microblogging site Sina Weibo only launched in 2010, but it now has 300 million users and about 100 million messages are sent daily. It clearly plays an important role in the discourse surrounding current events in China.

. . .

Last year - along with several colleagues - we spent 30 days observing 3,500 users on Sina Weibo to track the fate of their posts. During this time around 300 of the accounts were deleted - that's about 12% of the total. We further examined data about the posts and that provided some fascinating insights into how the censors go about their job.

. . .

Deletions happen most heavily in the first hour after a post has been submitted. About 5% of deletions happened in the first eight minutes, and within 30 minutes almost 30% of the deletions had been made. Nearly 90% of deletions happen within the first 24 hours.

We worked out that if none of the process was automated, Sina Weibo would need to employ more than 4,000 censors reading at speed every day just to keep up.

World Social Forum opens in Tunisian capital

By (Al Jazeera)
Thousands of people marking the opening of the World Social Forum in Tunis, an alternative to the elite annual event held in Davos, have marched through the streets chanting pro-democracy and womens rights slogans.

Anarchists, ecologists, pacifists and trade unionists joined Sahrawi independence activists, veiled women and Arabs in traditional jellabas as they marched through the heart of the Tunisian capital at the start of the anti-globalisation event being held in an Arab country for the first time.

. . .

Before the revolution of January 2011, a meeting of the anti-globalisation event in Tunisia would have been "unthinkable", said Mohamed Jmour, a leader of Belaid's left-wing Democratic Patriots' Movement party.

. . .

Slogans were chanted in a medly of languages and by people from a wide range of nationalities on Tuesday, with one group of Japanese, dressed in yellow, calling for an end to armed conflict, as others demanded "Freedom for Palestine and Syria."

USA Politics, Economy, Major Events
First Woman Is Chosen to Lead Secret Service

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday appointed Julia A. Pierson, a longtime Secret Service agent, as the first woman to head the agency best known for protecting the president, vice president and their families.

. . .

 With 30 years of experience in the Secret Service, Ms. Pierson, 53, boasts a résumé much like those of her predecessors, including a stint on the first President George Bush’s protective detail. But the timing of her selection inevitably means that Washington will be watching closely to see how or if she changes a male-driven culture that came under harsh scrutiny when agents were caught employing prostitutes in Colombia before Mr. Obama arrived for a visit.

. . .

 The first woman was sworn in to what was then called the Secret Service auxiliary in 1970, and five women were then made full-fledged agents the following year. Eventually, women were included in presidential protective details.

US budget cuts 'hit consumer sentiment'

By (BBC)
US consumer confidence fell sharply this month, a closely-watched report has suggested.

. . .

The research group primarily blamed the fall on the US federal budget cuts that came into force at the start of this month.

. . .

The government cuts - called the "sequester" cuts - came into force earlier this month. They were due to the federal government running out of funds before a new budget was finally agreed by the US Senate on 20 March.

"This month's retreat was driven primarily by a sharp decline in expectations, although consumers were also more pessimistic in their assessment of current conditions," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board's economic indicators.

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:
Ingrid Croce:  . . .

Jim and I had gotten married in 1966, and we had been waiting for him to go in the service. He was in the National Guard, which he had joined with the hope that he would not be sent over, and he would be able to continue his education and his music career. So he signed up for the National Guard, and just as soon as we decided to get married – which was in August of 1966, the week before our little wedding, he got a letter that said that he would be leaving within two weeks for his National Guard service down in South or North Carolina. So he was leaving with a very heavy heart. My dad had been very ill and shortly after that passed away. We wanted to get married and have some time to be together after all those years of waiting.

And all of the sudden here he is National Guard, and Jim is not very good with authority. And he's in the south, and they were not very good with making pasta. He was missing good food, he was missing me, he was missing life in general. And he's one of the few guys I think who went through basic training twice. He really couldn't follow the system. He'd always find things that were funny. In fact, he put together a little a handbook in dealing with the service with a whole bunch of quotes of how to deal with people in the Army. But anyway, he was standing there in the rain at a payphone. He was listening to these stories of all these guys, the "Dear John" stories, that were standing in line waiting their turn in the rain, these green rain jackets over their heads – I can just picture it - all of them in line waiting for their three-minute phone call. Most of them were getting on the phone and they were okay, but some of them were getting these "Dear John" letters, or phone calls. I think that was one of the most important aspects of the song, because it was just so desperate. You know, 'I only have a dime' and 'you can keep the dime' because money was very scarce and very precious, and I think if you look at the words to the song there are so many aspects of our generation that are in it. Do you know, by the way, that they put out a Martin guitar with a dime in it?

Back to what's happening:
Environment and Greening
Ecuador courts Chinese oil bids for Amazonian land

By Jonathan Kaiman
Ecuador plans to auction off more than three million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, angering indigenous groups and underlining the global environmental toll of China's insatiable thirst for energy.

. . .

Amazon Watch said the deal would violate China's own new investment guidelines, issued jointly by the ministries of commerce and environmental protection last month. The third clause of the guidelines says Chinese enterprises should "promote harmonious development of local economy, environment and community" while operating abroad.

. . .

Critics say national debt may be a large part of the Ecuadorean government's calculations. Ecuador owed China more than £4.6bn ($7bn) as of last summer, more than a tenth of its GDP. China began loaning billions of dollars to Ecuador in 2009 in exchange for oil shipments. More recently China helped fund two of its biggest hydroelectric infrastructure projects. Ecuador may soon build a $12.5bn oil refinery with Chinese financing.

What climate hawks can (and can’t) learn from public-health campaigns

By David Roberts
. . .

Climate communicators often seem to see their job as shocking people into awareness through some dramatic gesture or image — as though the rest will follow naturally from that. But symbolic gestures create the equivalent of sugar highs. They fade. Guiding people into new patterns of behavior (political as well as civic and consumer behavior) requires “clear, actionable steps, combined with practical support to implement them.” It takes a long-term, steady drumbeat with a relentlessly pragmatic focus.

. . .

It’s really important to get that behavior change is not a substitute or an alternative to public policy; indeed, it’s often futile without supportive public policy. You can’t have zoning codes that encourage sprawl and expect people to bike around. The focus cannot be exclusively on individuals.

. . .

This has led to the recognition that if we are to effectively drive behaviour change, we need to locate our issue within people’s existing value sets and priorities, rather than seek to extend their value sets to encompass our issue. In very basic terms, we make healthy eating about being able to play football with your son, rather than about preventing heart disease; we make being smoke-free about attracting the opposite sex, rather than preventing lung disease.
. . .

Here we return, then, to the central dilemma of climate change: It is far away, abstract, rarely directly relevant to the American public’s well-being (yet). Its worst effects are distant in space and time; sacrifices made in its name will not pay dividends for many years. It is a truism that such problems rarely inspire sustained behavior change. And yet, and yet … I just don’t see how we’re going to tackle it at scale without “extending our value sets.”

Half of US rivers in "poor condition for aquatic life," mainly on East coast, EPA survey shows

By Freya Petersen
. . .

The Environmental Protection Agency assessed data from 2,000 rivers and streams in 2008-2009, the most recent figures available that showed 55 percent of waterways to be in poor biological health, unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects and other creatures.

. . .

Rivers in the country's east were in the worst condition: More than 70 percent of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast were in poor shape.

. . .

According to Reuters, the report blamed high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, mainly due to runoff from urban areas.

Science and Health
Researchers Attach Lyme Disease Antibodies to Nanotubes, Paving Way for Diagnostic Device

By (ScienceDaily)
Early diagnosis is critical in treating Lyme disease. However, nearly one quarter of Lyme disease patients are initially misdiagnosed because currently available serological tests have poor sensitivity and specificity during the early stages of infection. Misdiagnosed patients may go untreated and thus progress to late-stage Lyme disease, where they face longer and more invasive treatments, as well as persistent symptoms.

. . .

After using atomic-force microscopy to show that antibodies had indeed bound to the exteriors of their nanotube transistors, the researchers tested them electrically to get a baseline reading. They then put the nanotubes in solutions that contained different concentrations of the target Lyme bacteria protein.

. . .

The researchers suggested that, given the flexibility of their technique for attaching different biological structure, eventual diagnostic tools could incorporate multiple antibodies, each detecting a different protein from the Lyme bacterium. Such a setup would improve accuracy and cut down on the possibility of false-positive diagnoses.

Scientists re-program cells as nerve cells

By (UPI)
Swedish scientists working in the field of cell therapy say they've found it's possible to re-program other cells to become nerve cells, directly in the brain.

. . .

In the research, genes designed to be activated or de-activated using a drugs were inserted into two types of human support cells naturally present in the brain known as fibroblasts and glia cells.

Once the researchers had transplanted the human cells into the brains of rats, the genes were activated using a drug in the animals' drinking water, with the result that the cells began to transform into nerve cells.

Same-sex couple adoptions thrive

By (UPI)
Adoptive families headed by same-sex couples had more similarities than differences with heterosexual couples, researchers in Britain said.

. . .

"The participating families were similar in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and education," Golombok said in a statement. "Overall we found markedly more similarities than differences in experiences between family types."

.  ..

Responses from the same-sex parents, adopted children themselves and the children's teachers indicated bullying from peers and the children's own gender identity did not appear to be a significant problem, although the researchers, and some parents, acknowledged bullying could be a problem when the children were teenagers, the study said.

A Former Walmart Exec Wants to Help You Buy Less

By Jessica Leber
A decade ago, Andy Ruben was in charge of global strategy at a company that environmentalists love to hate: Walmart. Adam Werbach was a firebrand activist who had served as the youngest-ever president of the venerable green group, the Sierra Club, at age 23. It’d be hard to imagine a more unlikely pair sitting together in a San Francisco office in 2013. But today Ruben and Werbach are founders of a six-person startup with a grand plan: to reduce waste and change the retail economy by getting people to stop buying $200 billion worth of stuff every year.

. . .

Markets that make consumption more collaborative and resource-efficient have lately been termed the “sharing economy.” A number of startups just like Yerdle are now trying to make the sharing model work beyond high-ticket items. The challenge is attracting regular users and making it as easy as possible for individuals to transact with each other rather than with efficient, convenient, and cheap global conglomerates.

. . .

Ruben believes the resource sharing and rental will eventually become a larger part of the consumer economy, and views Yerdle as a long-term bid to help the retail industry evolve more quickly with this trend. He is thinking about why stores and brands may soon be eager to partner with or even acquire his startup and the path for it to become more than a niche service.

How the Maker of TurboTax Fought Free, Simple Tax Filing

By Liz Day
. . .

It's already a reality in Denmark, Sweden and Spain. The government-prepared return would estimate your taxes using information your employer and bank already send it. Advocates say tens of millions of taxpayers could use such a system each year, saving them a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time, according to one estimate.

. . .

Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years—more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit's disclosures pointedly note that the company "opposes IRS government tax preparation."

. . .

In 2005, Norquist testified before the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform arguing against return-free filing. The next year, Norquist and others wrote in a letter to President Bush that getting an official-looking "bill" from the IRS could be "extremely intimidating, particularly for seniors, low-income and non-English speaking citizens."

. . .

A year after Norquist wrote Bush, a bill to limit return-free filing was introduced by a pair of unlikely allies: Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the conservative House majority leader, and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a liberal stalwart whose district includes Silicon Valley.

Intuit's political committee and employees have contributed to both. Cantor and his leadership PAC have received $26,100 in the past five years from the company's PAC and employees. In the last two years, the Intuit PAC and employees donated $26,000 to Lofgren.

This SoCal Water Treatment Plant Is Powered by Poop

By Andrew Tarantola
The Inland Empire's cadre of water treatment plants clean millions of gallons of waste water every day. But what to do with all that left over poo? Normally it's unceremoniously dumped in a local landfill but at Regional Water Recycling Plant No. 1, that massive pile of crap is put to a better use—making electricity with the largest biogas fuel cell generator in America.

. . .

The Ontario fuel cell works just like any other fuel cell, generating electricity via an oxidizing reaction. Electrons stripped from the fuel material—typically hydrogen or hydrocarbons, like methane—create an electric current as they flow from the cell's positive to negative terminals, much like a battery. However, a fuel cell actively produces current (so long as fuel is available), rather than simply store it as a battery does. In addition to electricity, the oxidizing reaction also generates heat and water as by-products. This waste heat generated by the utility's fuel cell is reused, pumped back into the digester to keep the bacteria at their preferred feeding temperature. The system as a whole is exceedingly clean—save for the poopy bits of course—producing little more than electricity and water with 70 percent efficiency and minimal emissions.

Young Women Do Not Want to Run for Office, Experts Say

By (ScienceDaily)
Despite some very high-profile female candidates and elected officials, and what looks like a changing landscape of U.S. politics, a new study conducted by American University professor and director of its Women and Politics Institute Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox (Loyola Marymount University) reveals that young women are less likely than young men ever to have considered running for office, to express interest in a candidacy at some point in the future, or to consider elective office a desirable profession.

. . .

The report identifies five factors that contribute to the gender gap in political ambition among college students:

1. Young men are more likely than young women to be socialized by their parents to think about politics as a career path.

. . .

3. Young men are more likely than young women to have played organized sports and care about winning.

4. Young women are less likely than young men to receive encouragement to run for office -- from anyone.

Why are Zimbabwe police seizing radios?

By Brian Hungwe
Wind-up, solar-powered radios might seem like an excellent idea to help cash-strapped Zimbabwean villagers pass the long, dark evenings.

. . .

Villagers in in the east of the country were terrified one night during a police raid in a door-to-door search for radios.

. . .

"It is very diabolic the taking of the radios, people are entitled to information about what is happening in the country… taking away these radios is to force them to listen to the ZBC, which they don't want to listen to," MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told the BBC.

. . .

Amnesty International's Noel Kututwa has warned that the government is "attempting to stifle freedom of expression and alternative access to information" with its crackdown on radios.

Ms Charamba has said as elections approach it is not just radios that are the focus of police investigations, but other equipment distributed by NGOs like mobile phones.

Boxes sealed with ATHEIST tape lost by USPS 10X more often than controls

By Cory Doctorow
Atheist Shoes ("a cadre of shoemakers and artists in Berlin who hand-make ridiculously comfortable, Bauhaus-inspired shoes for people who don't believe in god(s)") noticed that a disproportionate number of their shipments to the USA were delayed or lost. A customer suggested this may be because USPS workers were taking offense at the ATHEIST packing tape they used to seal the boxes. So the company tried an A/B split, and found that boxes emblazoned with ATHEIST tape were 10 times more likely to go missing in the USPS and took an average of three days longer than their generic equivalents.
Want to stop sexual violence in war? Confront everyday inequality

By Geoffrey Dennis
. . .

Uganda has some of the highest reported cases of sexual violence against women in the world, particularly in the north of the country where years of conflict between rebels and government forces have taken their toll. Sexual violence as a tactic of war is well recognised and seen by many as inevitable: Care International has seen it both during and perhaps more importantly post conflict, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, as well as Uganda.

. . .

But women are not going to come forward to police, make statements and give evidence in court unless they are properly supported. In the immediate aftermath of an attack – by a stranger during an outbreak of violence or in a displacement camp – a woman needs medical attention and psycho-social support. Once these are supplied, she needs financial stability to get on with her life and legal advice to take her case to the authorities, without fear of reprisals from the men involved. Without this, prosecutions will fail.

. . .

At grassroots level, there is fantastic work being done in Uganda by women equality activists. But, what impressed me most on my visit was the way that clan chiefs are taking on this important task too. In the north of Uganda, around 60 of these leaders, led by a "paramount chief", are acting as role models and articulating the role of men, and how they operate within families.

In the past, these chiefs paid a bride-price for five or six wives; the women, if unhappy or abused, could not leave unless they bought themselves out. Ordinary men followed the same pattern in their relationships. Now, following work facilitated by Care, women can more easily leave abusive relationships with no financial penalties.

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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