Archive for January 4, 2014

AND SO IT BEGINS…MAJOR SNOWSTORM AND DANGEROUS COLD

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CHICAGO, Illinois | DMN — A deep freeze is spreading across much of the United States this weekend, making the nor’easter that just blanketed about 20 states with snow look like a mere curtain raiser. Nearly half the nation — 140 million people — will shiver in temperatures of zero or lower by Wednesday. The arctic blast threatens to sweep subzero lows as far south as Alabama and plunge much of the Deep South into the single digits. Winter weather in the past week has claimed at least 13 lives. Eleven people died in road accidents — including one man crushed as he was moving street salt with a forklift.

A man in Wisconsin died of hypothermia. And in Byron, New York, a 71-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease wandered away from her home Thursday night and was later found dead in the snow in a wooded area about 100 yards away. The blast burst onto the stage in the northern Plains States early Saturday, hurling North Dakota into below-zero territory, as the National Weather Service predicted a day-long blizzard for the state. Parts of Montana and Minnesota were feeling the same pain, the NWS said. If there was ever a winter-toughened state, it’s Minnesota — but with this frosty bite on its way, schools in the state are keeping their doors shut on Monday. “I have made this decision to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures,” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said.

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FOR STORM SPECIFIC INFORMATION IN YOUR AREA…CLICK HERE

People in the town of town of Embarrass, Minnesota, say they may break their cold temperature record of 64 below, set in 1996. The frigid air is coming from the North Pole and — due to a jet stream — will be intense and mobile, Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for Weather Bell, told the Associated Press. Forecasters said record lows could be eclipsed. “All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” Maue said “If you’re under 40, you’ve not seen this stuff before.” Saturday’s temperatures will look relatively pleasant by the time we get to Sunday, as the thermometer falls to near 30 below zero in parts of North Dakota. And the wind will drive chills down to minus 50, the weather service said.

In Chicago, the temperature was 16 degrees Saturday and was expected to plummet to 11 below zero on Sunday and 12 below Monday. Chicago native Leo Londono, 30, said this is the harshest winter he’s experienced in the city. From his apartment he can see large chunks of ice floating on Lake Michigan. “It’s so cold you don’t want to step outside,” he said. “There’s wind chill. And then this huge Arctic air blast is supposed to come through and I don’t want to even leave my home.”  The low temperatures and wind chill are a recipe for rapid frostbite or hypothermia. A 66-year-old man died of hypothermia in Milwaukee on Friday, the medical examiner’s office said.

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The weather service’s Twin Cities, Minnesota, division warns, “Exposed flesh can freeze in as little as five minutes with wind chills colder than 50 below.” This system will produce “the coldest air in two decades,” the service said. The danger of injury and death from the cold will spread with the cold front into the Midwest by Monday night. Power outages were not as widespread despite blizzard-level winds in some places when the nor’easter passed through in the last few daysIndiana Gov. Mike Pence encouraged residents to do more than check on friends and relatives. “In preparation for the inclement weather, I encourage Hoosiers to assemble an emergency preparedness kit with plenty of non-perishable food and water, fill any necessary prescriptions, ensure they have a safe heating source, avoid unnecessary travel and be careful if they must be outside.” he said.

Sunday night in Chicago will see a shivering 16 to 20 below zero and — once you factor in the Windy City’s stiff breeze — a chill of 35 below to 45 below zero. Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is unfortunately not a domed stadium. Fans and players there will be outdoors and brave temperatures approaching minus 20 as the Packers battle the San Francisco 49ers for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl. Some sportswriters speculated that it may go down in the record books as the coldest football game ever played. The Packers organization and a stadium vending company will serve free hot chocolate and coffee to help fans withstand the deep freeze.

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As Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Friday: “This is not the norm.” That’s is not the only game where fans will brave the freeze. On Saturday in Philadelphia, the hometown Eagles will host the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game. Fans can expect temperatures in the high teens or low 20s. The Eagles’ website urged people to show up early, as officials expect that fans bringing in extra blankets and clothing will slow down the security process. As the arctic cold conquers about half of the continental United States, temperatures are forecast to dip into the minus teens through the lower Midwest. Snow will cover swaths from the Plains to the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, all the way to New England.

Parts of the Midwest could see temperatures not recorded in 15 to 20 years — for a painful couple of days. Even areas as far south as Nashville could be frozen solid in zero-degree cold as the arctic air mass dives southward at the beginning of next week. Thousands were stuck at airports nationwide Friday because of system wide delays — though at least they are not out in the frigid cold.

Almost 8,000 flights have experienced some kind of delay today according to FlightAware.com. Air travel was slow across the United States. Though the temperature in Las Vegas was 52 degrees — above zero — passengers there were also feeling the winter’s sting Friday. Long lines formed inside McCarran International Airport at the counters for Southwest Airlines, which had canceled many of its flights to and from Chicago. The airline carries 40% of Las Vegas’ passengers, according to Chris Hayes, an airport spokesman.

Posted January 4, 2014 by dmnewsi in Uncategorized

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AIDES SAY OBAMA PLANS SURVEILLANCE REFORMS

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WASHINGTON, D.C. | DMN — President Barack Obama is preparing a package of intelligence reforms that will probably put a public advocate for the first time in the secret court that approves surveillance practices and remove a controversial telephone records database from direct government control, aides said. With plans to unveil the changes days before the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, key presidential advisors are looking skeptically at a separate proposal to require a federal judge to approve each use of a “national security letter” except in emergencies, however.

Law enforcement officials issue the letters, a little-known form of administrative subpoena that doesn’t require a warrant, to secretly compel disclosure of otherwise private customer records by Internet providers, financial institutions, telephone and credit companies, and other services and organizations. The FBI has issued more than 123,000 such letters for people in or from the U.S. since 2004, federal records show, including more than 15,000 in 2012, the last year for which data are available. Obama has not made his own position clear, but the proposal to require judicial review each time the government seeks third-party records has sparked the most push-back from national security officials, including the FBI and some top White House advisors. “There is concern that this proposal makes it more cumbersome to investigate a terrorist than it does a criminal,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Last March, a federal judge ruled the program unconstitutional and ordered the FBI to stop issuing the letters because they contain a gag order that bars recipients from revealing the document’s existence or its demands. Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California stayed her order pending government appeal. Adding judicial review to the national security letters was among the 46 recommendations of a presidential task force that examined U.S. surveillance programs after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s torrent of leaks on domestic and foreign surveillance operations. Obama, who vowed to study the panel’s report during his two-week holiday in Hawaii, plans to meet with his national security team and outside experts to finalize his reforms after he returns to Washington on Sunday. Aides said he wants to boost public confidence that he is protecting Americans’ privacy while safeguarding national security.

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Obama already has put several of the panel’s proposals in the “likely” category, aides said. They include creating a position for an independent lawyer to argue for privacy rights and civil liberties before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court, which was created in 1978 and meets in secret, only hears from government lawyers seeking permission for additional surveillance — not from opponents. Records show the court grants nearly all of the government’s requests. The White House favors changing the procedure to ensure “that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary,” according to an administration official.

The chief justice of the Supreme Court appoints the 11 federal judges on the secret court. It’s unclear whether Obama has embraced the panel’s recommendation to let other Supreme Court judges also play a role, or other proposed changes to the court. Obama apparently supports shifting the NSA’s bulk collection and storage of domestic telephone calling records to private hands, a change he first signaled at a news conference the day he left for Hawaii. For Americans, the secret archiving of numbers and other data from virtually every U.S. phone call is arguably the most controversial of the surveillance operations revealed by Snowden.

Obama’s top advisors are not considering stopping the program, as some critics insist, because they are convinced the data may be crucial in counter-terrorism investigations. Instead, his advisors are trying to hash out how to ensure that telephone companies or other third-party groups will hold the data but make it available to the NSA or another agency when a judge orders it. The secret surveillance court has approved the NSA program 36 times in the last seven years, most recently on Friday. But in a clear sign of impending change, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said in a statement announcing the declassified order that U.S. intelligence agencies were “open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits.”

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The data collection has infuriated some members of Congress. On Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sent a pointed letter to NSA Director Keith Alexander demanding to know whether the NSA had monitored phone calls, emails and Internet traffic of members of Congress and other elected officials. In his letter, Sanders cited the ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata was probably unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian” in scope. Later Friday, the Justice Department filed a one-page notice of appeal asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn Leon’s ruling. The appeal had been expected. An aide to Sanders said the NSA had not responded to the senator’s letter by late Friday.

Sanders has introduced legislation to limit the records the NSA and FBI may search and require officials to establish a reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect. Some civil liberties experts who have been consulted by the White House are hoping Obama will make more sweeping changes than those his aides have disclosed so far. “Public concern is not going to be allayed by occasional transparency or by more secret advocates in a secret court,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, who has fielded questions from Obama’s aides. “They want the government to stop spying on them. That’s what we’ll be looking for. Are we going to let the government spy on innocent people or not?”

James Lewis, senior fellow and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cautioned against overlooking legitimate concerns of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda, he said, is not a spent force. “We overreacted after 9/11, and it makes sense to trim some of that back,” he said. “But you don’t want to trim it back so far that you increase the chances of another big event. That’s the big concern.”

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: “DUCT TAPE” USED TO REPAIR FUKUSHIMA WATER TANKS

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As TEPCO began preparations for the cleaning of the drainage system with tons of leaked radioactive water at the Fukushima power plant,a former employee reveals the reason for so many leaks was cost cutting measures such as using duct tape. Yoshitatsu Uechi, auto mechanic and tour-bus driver, worked at the devastated nuclear power plant between July 2 and Dec. 6, 2012, according to Asahi Shimbun report. He was one of the 17 workers from Okinawa Prefecture sent to work at the crippled nuclear plant in 2012 to create new places to store contaminated water.

The earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s coast, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The catastrophe caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the facility, leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The water used to cool the reactors has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water on the premises of the nuclear facility, with some escaping into the Pacific Ocean. The 48 year old Japanese man said that workers were sent to various places in Fukushima, including an area called H3 with high radiation levels.

In one of those cases in October 2012, Uechi was given a task to cover five or six storage tanks without lids in the “E” area close to H3 as it was raining, the Japanese paper reported. When he climbed to the top of the 10-meter-high tank Uechi found white adhesive tape covering an opening of about 30 centimeters. After using a blade to remove the tape he applied a sealing agent on the opening and fit a steel lid fastening it with bolts. According to instructions he was to use four bolts, though the lid had eight bolt holes. According to the employee, his colleagues later told him that the use of adhesive tape was a usual practice to deal with the problem of sealing in radioactive water.  “I couldn’t believe that such slipshod work was being done, even if it was part of stopgap measures,” Uechi told The Asahi Shimbun.

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Among other makeshift cost-cutting measures was the use of second-hand materials. Uechi also said that wire nets were used instead of reinforcing bars during the placement of concrete for storage tank foundations. In addition, waterproof sheets were applied along the joints inside flange-type cylindrical tanks to save on the sealing agent used to join metal sheets of the storage tanks. Rain and snow had washed away the anti-corrosive agent applied around clamping bolts, reducing the sealing effect, Uechi added. According to the Fukushima worker, many of the tanks were later found to be leaking contaminated water. On Saturday, workers at Fukushima Daiichi began preparations for cleaning the plant’s drainage system that contains more than 20,000 tons of water with high levels of radioactive substances, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plant’s operator responsible for the clean-up.

In August, TEPCO detected 2.35 billion becquerels of cesium per liter in the water located in underground passages which is leaking into the groundwater through cracks in the drainage tunnels. The normal level is estimated at 150 becquerels of cesium per liter, according to EU. The workers are to set up the special equipment to freeze the ground around the reactors, according to TEPCO. The plan includes plunging tubes carrying a coolant liquid deep into the ground that would freeze the ground solid so that no groundwater could pass through it.

Fallout researcher Christina Consolo told DMN that the contaminated water issue at the plant is a very difficult problem to solve.  “The water build-up is an extraordinarily difficult problem in and of itself, and as anyone with a leaky basement knows, water always ‘finds a way.’  She added that as “the site has been propped up with duct tape and a kick-stand for over two years. Many of their ‘fixes’ are only temporary, as there are so many issues to address, and cost always seems to be an enormous factor in what gets implemented and what doesn’t.”

Posted January 4, 2014 by dmnewsi in Uncategorized

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BARBARA BUSH RELEASED FROM HOUSTON HOSPITAL

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HOUSTON, Texas | DMN —  Former first lady Barbara Bush was discharged from a Houston hospital on Saturday after being treated for six days for pneumonia.   “I cannot thank the doctors and nurses at Houston Methodist enough for making sure I got the best treatment and got back to George and our dogs as quickly as possible,” the 88-year-old Bush said in a statement.  The Bush family had previously said that she was hospitalized for a respiratory ailment.  The former first lady, the wife of 41st President George H.W. Bush and the mother of 43rd President George W. Bush, is returning home just in time to celebrate a milestone: On Monday the longest-married presidential first couple will mark their 69th wedding anniversary.

REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: SENATOR RAND PAUL IS SUING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OVER N.S.A.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is suing the Obama administration for the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.  Paul announced last night that he plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Barack Obama and National Intelligence Director James Clapper over the NSA’s bulk metadata collection, making good on his promise to take the president to court over revelations of the spy agency’s expansive domestic snooping. Although no court documents have been filed in the case yet, Paul’s advisers told Daily Intelligencer that the Senator’s legal team is currently drafting a complaint claiming that the searches violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, and plans to file the suit “soon,” likely in D.C. District Court.

It’s a brazen move by Paul, a likely 2016 presidential contender who delights in antagonizing national security hawks in the Chris Christie wing of the GOP. Although Senate rules prohibit Paul from using his title in the suit, the Kentucky Republican will act as the lead plaintiff in the case against the spy agency, representing between 250,000 and 300,000 people who voluntarily signed on to the class-action suit via his Paul’s RANDPAC website.  Paul will also be getting an assist from Ken Cuccinelli, the failed 2013 Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate who will be out of his job as state attorney general next week. Sources say that Cuccinelli plans to join Paul’s team as a legal advisor for the NSA suit, reprising his role as the Tea Party’s most litigious firebrand.

So far though, the details of Paul’s lawsuit are murky. A legal counsel for Paul told Daily Intelligencer Friday that he expects the case will be similar to another NSA suit filed by birther provocateur Larry Klayman. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed with Klayman’s arguments last month, ruling that the NSA’s metadata collection violates the Fourth Amendment. The Paul advisor said that lawyers are now studying Leon’s ruling to formulate arguments for their class-action case. Of course, other federal courts have found the NSA’s surveillance programs to be within bounds of the Constitution. And Paul’s lawyers will also need to prove that their suit has standing as a class-action case — a tall order given the conflicting legal precedents on domestic drone surveillance.  In the end, the lawsuit is simply foreplay, both for the Supreme Court and for Paul’s anticipated 2016 White House run. And regardless of the legal outcome, compiling a list of 300,000 devoted civil libertarians isn’t a bad way to kick off a campaign.

Meanwhile…the top U.S. spy opened the door a sliver Friday on the mass collection of telephone records, acknowledging that national intelligence agencies had sought and been granted permission to vacuum up Americans’ calling data for three more months. In a statement released quietly on Friday (.pdf), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Director James Clapper had decided to declassify and disclose that the government made the request to the hush-hush Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved it earlier in the day. U.S. District Judge William Pauley upheld the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records — what’s called “telephony metadata” — in a controversial ruling in New York last week. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit challenging the program, said Thursday that it would appeal Pauley’s ruling.

The top U.S. spy opened the door a sliver Friday on the mass collection of telephone records, acknowledging that national intelligence agencies had sought and been granted permission to vacuum up Americans’ calling data for three more months. In a statement released quietly on Friday (.pdf), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Director James Clapper had decided to declassify and disclose that the government made the request to the hush-hush Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved it earlier in the day. U.S. District Judge William Pauley upheld the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records — what’s called “telephony metadata” — in a controversial ruling in New York last week. The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit challenging the program, said Thursday that it would appeal Pauley’s ruling.

The FISA court reviews the program every three months, meaning Friday’s seal of approval is the 36th it has issued since May 2006, when the administration of President George W. Bush successfully persuaded the secret court that the mass collection of data was legal under the USA Patriot Act. Friday’s statement also represented a sharp reversal from March, when Clapper flatly denied in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the NSA was doing any such thing.  After the Snowden documents emerged, however, the intelligence community came under vigorous attack from civil liberties advocates, and Clapper issued a public apology in July for having “misstated” the program’s reach in his testimony. “The Intelligence Community continues to be open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits,” Friday’s statement said. While Clapper disclosed that the FISA court had issued the approval, the court’s ruling itself wasn’t made public.

Posted January 4, 2014 by dmnewsi in Uncategorized

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