Thursday Reads: NSA Spying, Philly Building Collapse, MA Senate Debate, and Much More

Dog_needs_his_morning_coffee

Good Morning!!

Glenn Greenwald got a big scoop in the Guardian yesterday, and for once even the corporate media in the U.S. is covering it. Not that any of us is really safe from government spying, but if you’re a Verizon customer you now know that all of your phone records are being handed over to the FBI and the NSA. Here’s the top secret court decision. Greenwald writes:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

Good thing they’re not recording the content of my calls with Verizon customers; because if the government spies had to listen to what we talk about, they’d probably be bored to tears.

From Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt at The New York Times:

The four-page order was disclosed Wednesday evening by the newspaper The Guardian.Obama administration officials at the F.B.I. and the White House also declined to comment on it Wednesday evening, but did not deny the report, and a person familiar with the order confirmed its authenticity. “We will respond as soon as we can,” said Marci Green Miller, a National Security Agency spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

The order was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under a section of theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates domestic surveillance for national security purposes, including “tangible things” like a business’s customer records. The provision was expanded by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The order was marked “TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN,” referring to communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets in the federal government, and its disclosure comes amid a furor over the Obama administration’s aggressive tactics in its investigations of leaks.

The collection of call logs is set to expire in July unless the court extends it.

The collection of communications logs — or calling “metadata” — is believed to be a major component of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance that took place without court orders. The newly disclosed order raised the question of whether the government continued that type of information collection by bringing it under the Patriot Act.

This morning the White House is defending the order for Verizon phone records. From Politico:

The Obama administration is defending itself against charges it secretly obtained records for Verizon phone calls made in the United States, arguing that the policy is a vital tool in monitoring terrorists and has the approval of “all three branches of government,” according to a senior administration official.

“On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls,” a White House official said. “The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.”

Still, the White House official declined to confirm the legitimacy of the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order published Wednesday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which described a wide sweep of Verizon calls both domestic and international by Americans by the National Security Agency.

“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the official said.

Six people are now reported dead and fourteen injured in the collapse of a building in Philadelphia yesterday, according to Reuters.

Six people were killed and 14 were injured yesterday when a four-story building under demolition collapsed in downtown Philadelphia, burying a neighboring thrift store in concrete and debris, officials said.

Search and rescue efforts continued into the night for more victims of the collapse, which occurred around 10:45 a.m. EDT, and Mayor Michael Nutter suggested at a late night news conference that the number of casualties could rise.

“We still do not know how many people were inside the thrift store or possibly on the sidewalk” at the time of the collapse, Nutter said. “If someone else is in that building, they will find them.”

Shortly after the mayor concluded his press briefing a 61-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble alive, more than 12 hours after the collapse, and taken to a hospital in critical condition….

Dozens of police and firefighters were still sifting through the chunks of concrete and splintered wooden boards past midnight, the scene lit by large spotlights as residents stood by watching. Several streets remained blocked off.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a controlled demolition and wondered why the area hadn’t been cleared of people first. Apparently, the collapse was completely unexpected.

One witness, 31-year-old Dan Gillis of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, a construction worker on a job across the street, said he saw a crane remove a supporting beam from the front of the building and then the wall next to the thrift store started swaying.

Jeffrey Fehnel, 48, of Philadelphia, said a backhoe hit the rear side of the building at about the same time.

“The building came down. It was like a big blast,” Fehnel told Reuters.

It sounds really scary.

An 84-year-old retired woman from Maine collected the second-biggest Powerball jackpot in history yesterday in Florida.

When Gloria C. MacKenzie went to a Florida supermarket near Tampa last month to buy a Powerball ticket, another person in line did something nice for the 84-year-old widow.

‘‘While in line at Publix, another lottery player was kind enough to let me go ahead of them in line to purchase the winning Quick Pick ticket,’’ she said in a statement Wednesday.

The nice gesture turned out to be a life-changing one for MacKenzie and her family. She came forward Wednesday to claim the biggest undivided lottery jackpot in history, $590 million.

A retiree from Maine and a mother of four who lives in a modest, tin-roof house in Zephyrhills, Fla., where the lone winning ticket in the May 18 drawing was sold, MacKenzie took her prize in a lump sum of just over $370 million. After federal taxes, she is getting about $278 million, lottery officials said….

MacKenzie bought the winning ticket at a Publix supermarket in the town of about 13,300, which is 30 miles northeast of Tampa. It is best known for the bottled spring water that bears its name — and now, for one of the biggest lottery winners of all time.

The family of a dying ten-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis yesterday won the chance to live with an adult lung transplant after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibilius declined to make a rule exception for her.

(CNN) – The father of a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who desperately needs new lungs told CNN on Wednesday night the family was “very excited” after a judge’s ruling that could help his daughter get a transplant.

Sarah Murnaghan’s father, Fran, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ that his daughter, who has cystic fibrosis, has declined slightly in the last two days.

“But we’re very excited with the news today, that she will have the opportunity to be equally judged and have the opportunity to receive lungs,” he said.

On Wednesday, the family asked a federal judge to issue a restraining order to block U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from having the agency that oversees transplants apply a policy that keeps children younger than 12 from being prioritized for available adult lung transplants.

The judge granted the injunction and ordered Sebelius to direct the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to waive the rule in Sarah’s case. The injunction is valid for 10 days.

Last night Rep. Ed Markey and his Republican opponent Gabriel Gomez debated for the first time in the important Massachusetts Senate race. With so many Democratic senators retiring, there is a real danger that Republicans could take control of the Senate. From The Boston Globe: Gomez, Markey spar over D.C. gridlock, Benghazi

An aggressive Gabriel E. Gomez wasted no opportunity to mockingly highlight Democrat Edward J. Markey’s nearly four decades in Washington while Markey used the first debate of the US Senate race Wednesday to paint his Republican rival as dangerously out of step with Massachusetts values.

During an hourlong face-off, Gomez repeatedly sought to link his opponent to a Congress mired in dysfunction and deeply unpopular with voters. Markey countered those attacks by arguing that for all his claims of bipartisanship, Gomez would join a GOP that has lurched to the right on issues such as gun control and abortion.

Gomez had difficulty articulating a coherent position on abortion.

Gomez said he could support a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, saying that “is not asking a lot.” He also said he could vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who opposes Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t believe there should be a litmus test,” he said. “If a judge comes in front of me and they follow the Constitution, and they’re ethical, and they’re prochoice, and they’ve done a good job, I’ll vote for them. If they’re prolife, I’ll vote for them.”

At the same time, he sought to defuse the issue, saying that while he was “personally prolife,” he was not planning to go to Washington to make any changes in abortion rights law.

Markey scoffed at that assertion, arguing that the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade could jeopardize legalized abortion. He said he would not vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees who oppose abortion rights, saying that was the same test espoused by senators Edward M. Kennedy, Kerry, and Elizabeth Warren.

The special election to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat will be held on June 25.

I came across this scary article at Truthout yesterday: America’s Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World

Early in the morning of July 16, 1979, a 20-foot section of the earthen dam blocking the waste pool for the Church Rock Uranium Mill in New Mexico caved in and released 95 million gallons of highly acidic fluid containing 1,100 tons of radioactive material. The fluid and waste flowed into the nearby Puerco River, traveling 80 miles downstream, leaving toxic puddles and backing up local sewers along the way.

Although this release of radiation, thought to be the largest in US history, occurred less than four months after the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, the Church Rock spill received little media attention. In contrast, the Three Mile Island accident made the headlines. And when the residents of Church Rock asked their governor to declare their community a disaster area so they could get recovery assistance, he refused.

What was the difference between the Church Rock spill and the Three Mile Island partial meltdown? Church Rock is situated in the Navajo Nation, one of the areas in the US sacrificed to supply uranium for the Cold War and for nuclear power plants. That area and many others in the Navajo Nation are contaminated to this day. Another sacrifice area is the Great Sioux Nation, a region in the western part of the country comprising parts of 5 states, where thousands of open uranium mine pits continue to release radiation and heavy metals into the air, land and water.

This poisoning of the people in the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations has been going on for decades and has had serious effects on their health. Even today, it is unknown what the full effects are and what the impact is on the rest of the nation and world because the contaminated air and water are not limited by borders.

Please go read the whole thing.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Evening Reads: Jackpots and Crackpots

Good Evening.

This is a quick post…and from the title you can probably guess what two items I will be highlighting this evening.

Powerball jackpot reaches $500 million

The top prize for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing has reached an estimated $500 million, a $75 million increase in the pot, lottery officials said.

That increase is a result of an uptick in ticket sales that lottery officials said tend to pick up before record drawings as people seek to win big.

You, win the $500M Powerball jackpot? It’s not happening

Now, with a record $500 million Powerball jackpot up for grabs on Wednesday, we figured it was a great time to, once again, dash your dreams. We know, we know — someone will win at least a share of the prize, if not Wednesday, then in some subsequent drawing. But it won’t be you.

The chance of a ticket winning a Powerball jackpot is 1 in 175,223,510 (slightly better than the chance of winning a Mega Millions jackpot, which is 1 in 175,711,536). Here are a few unlikely scenarios that, we’re sorry to say, are much more likely than you taking home this jackpot.

From the Harvard School of Public Health:

– Dying from a bee sting: 1 in 6.1 million.

– Dying from being struck by lightning: 1 in 3 million.

From U.S. Hole in One, which insures golf prizes for holes in one:

– An amateur golfer making a hole in one on a par-3 hole: 1 in 12,500.

– A golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes: 1 in about 156 million.

From a 2011 State Farm study on collisions between vehicles and deer:

– Hitting a deer with a vehicle in Hawaii, the state where State Farm says deer-vehicle collisions are least likely: 1 in 6,267.

From the National Weather Service:

– Being struck by lightning over an 80-year lifetime: 1 in 10,000.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History, based on U.S. beach injury statistics:

– Drowning and other beach-related fatalities: 1 in 2 million.

– Being attacked by a shark: 1 in 11.5 million.

And now for the crackpot…Rand Paul warns of GOP becoming dinosaur, cites robotic squirrels

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who’s known for his libertarian leanings, cautioned Tuesday that the Republican Party could meet the same fate as animals that went extinct millions of years ago. “I think my party, the Republican Party, is shrinking. We’re in danger of becoming a dinosaur,” he said on CNN’s “Newsroom.” “We’re not competitive on the West Coast, we’re not competitive in New England.”

[...]

“What I’ve said is that I won’t deny I’m interested–a little bit different than ‘I am interested,’” Paul said, pointing to a need for reform in the party.

Paul also weighed in on the fiscal cliff–a series of tax hikes and spending cuts to kick in next year if Congress fails to reach a deficit-reduction deal. Focusing on the negotiations to find an agreement and avert the crisis, Paul said entitlement reform–one of the options on the table in debt talks–should happen on its own and not be part of a deal that also includes raising taxes.

“The way I look at it is entitlements are broken, and it’s not my fault, it’s not Democrats’ fault, it’s because your grandparents had too many babies. It’s because we’re living longer. These are just facts,” he said. “Taxing anyone in a weak economy is not good.”

The Kentucky senator also said he’d be one of the few conservatives willing to compromise on military cuts but remained firm against raising taxes. To make his case, Paul cited examples of what he considers wasteful spending and argued an increase in tax rates would be futile while the government spends “$300,000 a year on robotic squirrels” and $2 million “on how we can convince Chinese prostitutes not to drink so much on the job.”

And that is one funny thing, one nut talking about robotic squirrels…This is an open thread.