NEW YORK, New York | DMN — A major snowstorm is sweeping across the Midwest and Northeast Thursday, creating treacherous travel conditions for millions in Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland. The worst of the storm will arrive overnight for the Northeast, bringing blizzard conditions from Boston to New York with wind gusts as high as 50 mph. In some locations, snow will fall at a rate of 2 inches per hour. Drivers can expect slowed travel as blowing and drifting of snow occurs across major roadways, such as I-90 and I-95, and visibility lowers.
The storm also has the potential to cause flight delays in major travel hubs including Boston-Logan International, La Guardia International and JFK International airports. During Thursday and Thursday night, the storm will affect 20 states with more than 120 million people in the Midwest and the Northeast combined and could have a major negative impact on travel for people returning from holiday destinations, heading back to school or resuming business activities. It will be far from the worst storm to ever hit the area, but people should be prepared for flight delays and cancellations because of direct and indirect impacts from the far-reaching storm. Some roads may even close for a time.
The high temperature in New York City will be in the teens on Friday during the day and drop to between 5 and 8 degrees in the evening, with the wind chill making it feel well below zero. “Please, starting this evening, stay indoors for the maximum extent possible,” newly minted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio implored residents at a Thursday evening briefing. “If you don’t need to go out, please don’t go out.” North of the New York, it will be even colder. Lows in Boston will be below zero. Maine could see the mercury drop to minus 30 after dark. “That is a very, very dangerous set of circumstances,” Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said. He dismissed all state workers at 3 p.m. and urged residents to minimize time outside and be aware of frostbite and hypothermia symptoms.
A second wave of icy weather will hit the nation’s midsection by late Sunday, stretching from the upper Midwest to Kentucky and Tennessee, forecasters said. Chicago will struggle to get above minus 8 and by Monday morning the wind will make it feel like it’s 40 below zero there. In Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers host an NFL playoff game Sunday evening, the low temperature could reach minus 18.
Larry Wittmers, a hypothermia expert at the University of Minnesota-Duluth medical school, said it’s not necessarily the coldest areas that face the most peril. “True hypothermia cases turn up more often in more southern regions because people are not prepared and don’t know what to do,” Wittmers said. How long people can safely spend outside depends on how wet or windy it is and how they are dressed, Wittmer said. Shoveling snow or other exercise can be dangerous because sweat reduces the insulation capability of clothing, and consuming alcohol can speed heat loss and reduce awareness of the cold. And even though record snowfall is not expected, the cold could make roads even more hazardous because the snow-melting salt that homeowners and road crews use loses effectiveness at between 10 and 20 degrees.
To give plows time to work and guard against vehicles getting stranded, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency and closed several major roads, including the Nassau and Suffolk county sections of the Long Island Expressway from midnight to 5 a.m. New Jersey also declared a state of emergency. At the Pine Street Inn shelter in Boston, vice president Heidi Daniels was preparing for a packed house. “We won’t turn anybody away,” she said. “We’ll pull out cots and mats and make sure everybody has a warm place to stay tonight.”
Winter storm warnings and advisories were in effect in 22 states, stretched from Chicago through the New York tri-state region into New England and affecting an area home to more than 90 million people. Flights were being canceled by the hundred at some of the nation’s busiest airports. Five hundred had been scrapped at Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy; Boston’s last departure was slated for 8:30 p.m.; almost 600 were off the boards at Chicago’s O’Hare, according to FlightAware. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning on Long Island in New York beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, predicting inch-an-hour snow with 45 mph winds during the worst of it Thursday night. Blizzard conditions also are warned for Cape Cod and coastal Massachusetts.
Gov. Patrick said that storm models were showing heavy bands that could sock some communities with up to 2 feet of snow, depending on wind drifts, while the rest of the state was anticipating 8 to 10 inches. In New York City, the administration of newly minted Mayor Bill DeBlasio said it would do its best to keep outdoor subway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains moving, calling out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ice-busting equipment. Bus riders might not be so lucky: If roads become impassable, bus service will be suspended, the MTA said.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino — in his last official act in office — pre-emptively declared a snow emergency for Thursday and closed the city’s schools Friday as weather models pointed to up to 18 inches of new snow. “What a New Year’s gift, to receive one last snowstorm as mayor,” Menino said Wednesday. Buffalo was also predicted to get a 12- to 18-inch wallop, and accumulations of 8 to 12 inches were expected in areas of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Kelly St. Denis, of Auburn, Maine, hit the slopes at at the Sunday River ski area with family and friends. “Hey, it’s winter in Maine,” she told the Associated Press. “We go with it.”
If you love politics…here is a story for you to salivate over. Former Louisiana Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards, who spent eight years in prison after being convicted of racketeering charges, is staying mum about reports that he’s considering a campaign for a vacant Louisiana congressional seat. The 86-year-old told the Times-Picayune that he had not decided whether to run for the 6th Congressional District seat and that it would be a “while” before he made an assessment. His remarks followed a Thursday report on the Hay Ride, a Louisiana-focused politics blog, that he was thinking about running for the seat.
Edwards spent 16 years as governor and seven years in the House of Representatives. In 2001, he was found guilty on a series of corruption charges. Still, he’s kept alive the idea of a return to politics. In an October radio interview, Edwards said: “Lately, for some strange reason, I’m beginning to think it might be a nice thing to do. But I’m not going to make the decision based upon that. I’m going to make the decision based on whether I think I can win and whether there’s a need for me, because I don’t want to end what I consider to be a successful political career on a sad note.”
Edwards was recently the subject of an A&E reality series called “The Governor’s Wife,” about his marriage to Trina Edwards, who is more than 50 years his junior. The show was canceled late last year. Should he enter the race for the Baton Rouge-area seat, Edwards would join a field of candidates that includes Republicans Dan Claitor, a state senator, and Paul Dietzel, a businessman. GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy is vacating the seat to run for Senate.
BEIRUT, Lebanon | DMN — A powerful car bomb exploded near a Hezbollah security zone in southern Beirut on Thursday, killing at least five people and wounding dozens more in the fifth such attack on the militant group’s heartland since July. The blast came a week after another bomb killed a senior opposition figure and seven other civilians in the downtown area of the Lebanese capital. The explosions have marked a deterioration in security across the country widely believed to stem from the war in neighbouring Syria, which has kindled long-standing regional rivalries.
Thursday’s attack hit the Haret Hreik district of the suburb of Dahiyeh, which has long been an operations hub for Hezbollah. The organisation said none of its people or sites had been affected. The increasing frequency of the attacks has, however, instilled widespread fear among the group’s supporters and those who live in areas protected by Hezbollah and other Shia militias. Four of the attacks have been in civilian neighbourhoods. A blast in July that wounded at least 50 people was followed on 15 August by an attack that killed at least 20. In November, twin suicide bombers targeted the Iranian embassy, killing another 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat.
BBC News, Beirut
Hezbollah is heavily involved in the conflict in Syria, fighting alongside government forces. The party’s intervention is believed to have been forceful and decisive, and has drawn the wrath of opponents of the government. Some groups have threatened revenge on the streets of Beirut, and many will be quick to say this attack is another retaliation for Hezbollah’s role.
But Lebanon is in the midst of several conflicts, some local, others regional, all of them interconnected and mired in intrigue. This explosion happened less than a week after a former government minister was killed by a car bomb. Every suicide attack, car bomb or assassination is swiftly sucked into a war of narratives, and this one will not be different.
Last month, a senior Hezbollah figure, Hassan Laqqis, who directed logistics for the organisation, was assassinated by gunmen using silenced weapons outside his Beirut apartment. In Tripoli, at the other end of the country, two explosions in August outside Sunni mosques killed more than 40 people. Community leaders and many of those killed had been vocal supporters of the largely Sunni opposition in Syria. Hezbollah, meanwhile, robustly backs the Syrian regime, which draws much of its support base from Shia Islamic interests, including Iran, the Alawite sect and a large Iraqi Shia militia.
As the Syrian war has worsened, Lebanese political leaders from these two main blocs have insisted they are trying to quarantine the feeble state from steeply rising sectarian tensions over the border. The western-leaning 14 March faction has sent weapons and funds to the Syrian opposition, while in May, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, revealed the depth of his organisation’s support for the Assad regime, on which it has relied for support since its inception more than 30 years ago. Mohammed Shatah, senior 14 March official, was killed in last week’s car bombing. Both sides suggest their involvement in Syria is a counterweight to the other and have repeatedly said that importing the war to Lebanon serves neither of them. The rising number of interests in the war and the vehemence of the protagonists is, however, making attempts to control Lebanon evermore difficult.
Also on Thursday, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon confirmed that Saudi national Majed al-Majed, whom local authorities believe is the leader of an al-Qaida affilliated group, the Abdullah al-Azzam Brigades, had been captured in Beirut on Monday. He is being questioned in relation to the Iranian embassy bombing, which the group claimed responsibility for shortly after the attack. Nasrallah had previously accused Saudi Arabia of being responsible for the bombing, a claim Riyadh denied. The Beirut blast comes a day after it was reported that Lebanese authorities had captured a militant leader suspected of leading a group that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, in November.
Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid is believed to be the leader of the al-Qaida-inspired Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which claimed responsibility for the 19 November attack that killed 25 people, including an Iranian diplomat. He is believed to have been arrested on Monday by an intelligence unit of the Lebanese military.
100 MILLION PEOPLE IN PATH OF MAJOR WINTER STORM
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana | DMN — Some of the U.S.’s biggest cities braced for what’s expected to be another mammoth snowfall and blizzard-like conditions in the Midwest and the Northeast — with as much as a foot and a half forecast through Friday. Winter storm warnings stretched from Chicago through the New York tri-state region into New England — affecting an area home to more than 100 million people. Central Indiana motorists took to Twitter and Facebook early Thursday morning to complain about a perceived lack of road crews as snow fell heavily during the overnight and early-morning hours.
Commute times were tripled for many as motorists returning to work after the holidays were treated to snow-packed highways and the resulting creeping traffic. Forecasts called for 3 to 5 inches of accumulation, and Indianapolis had more than 4 inches on the ground as of 8 a.m according to Indianapolis television station WRTV. Traffic on many of the major interstates around Indianapolis moved at 20 mph or less, and there were numerous slide-offs, compounding an already difficult commute. INDOT spokesperson Nathan Riggs said the timing and length of the storm were challenges for crews.
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The New York Times is calling on President Barack Obama to make a clemency or plea bargain deal with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to bring him home. The paper’s editorial board waded into the traitor-vs.-hero debate with a piece titled “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower” out Thursday, writing that although Snowden may have broken the law when he stole and revealed details about the NSA’s surveillance tactics, he provided an important service in exposing the tactics.
“He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service,” the Times board wrote. “It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.”
The Times also took issue with a past statement from Obama that Snowden should have used other avenues afforded to whistleblowers to air his concerns with the NSA program, saying that Obama’s whistleblower protections didn’t apply to contractors like Snowden and saying his superiors ignored him when he did raise concerns to them. “In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not,” the Times wrote.
In a tweet, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked closely with Snowden to publish his material in The Guardian, called the editorial “remarkable.” The New York Times has been working with the British publication The Guardian to publish information provided by Snowden since this summer. The Guardian posted its own editorial urging clemency for Snowden on Thursday saying “Mr Snowden – through journalists, in the absence of meaningful, reliable democratic oversight – had given people enough knowledge about the nature of modern intelligence-gathering to allow an informed debate. Voters might, in fact, decide they were prepared to put privacy above security – but at least they could make that choice on the basis of information.” Snowden has been given a year of amnesty to live in Russia, where he traveled after fleeing the U.S. to China shortly before his leaks were published. He has remained there out of fear of prosecution were he to return to the U.S. The government has charged Snowden with espionage.
When Snowden first made headlines revealing that the N.S.A. was grabbing meta-data from Verizon Wireless, I took a somewhat wait and see attitude. Like many people, I grappled with the traitor vs whistleblower reality that confronted us but with the revelations as deep and disturbing as they are, I say thanks Edward Snowden…a true American who should be able to come home and continue this debate.