Daily Archives: February 5, 2012

Coldest January on record in parts of Alaska: Thermometer breaks at 80-below zero


Image from hamweather.com

High temperature in 1 town was a blistering -49°F

Bitter cold records broken in Alaska – all time coldest record nearly broken, but Murphy’s Law intervenes.

wattsupwiththat.com | Jan 30, 2012

by Anthony Watts

Jim River, AK closed in on the all time record coldest temperature of -80°F set in 1971, which is not only the Alaska all-time record, but the record for the entire United States. Unfortunately, it seems the battery died in the weather station just at the critical moment.

While the continental USA has a mild winter and has set a number of high temperature records in the last week and pundits ponder whether they will be blaming the dreaded “global warming” for those temperatures, Alaska and Canada have been suffering through some of the coldest temperatures on record during the last week.

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For example in  Circle Hot Springs, AK on Sunday, 29 Jan 2012 the HIGH temperature was a blistering -49°F, breaking the  -44°F record which has stood since 1917. It gets better.

That same day in Circle Hot Springs the low temperature was  -58°F   breaking the old record of  -52°F set  in 1941 by six degrees.

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Thousands tracking ‘cover-up’ of Fast and Furious scandal

Holder put on hot-seat before Congress as Americans watch

WND | Feb 4, 2012

Tens of thousands of Americans are tracking the allegations of a “cover-up” in the Department of Justice’s “Fast and Furious” scandal under Attorney General Eric Holder, according to members of Congress who have been holding hearings on the issue.

Members of the House committee that this week held a hearing for members to quiz Holder on the progress of the investigation say nearly 14,000 Americans logged online to watch the hearing live, nearly 18,000 followed up with visits to FastandFuriousInvestigation.com, and almost 8,500 viewed a diagram of what is suspected to have gone on.

Further, there were nearly 20,000 views of hearing-related videos.

The statements are getting testy, too.

“How many more Border Patrol agents would have had to die as part of Operation Fast and Furious for you to take responsibility,” U.S. Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle asked Holder during the hearing.

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Her questioning noted that someone needed to be held responsible, and she alone had gotten 30 questions from her district just that morning from constituents who wanted to know what happened and why – and who would be held liable.

The program had federal authorities telling gun dealers to sell weapons to individuals who then took them to Mexico to be used in that nation’s internal drug cartel war. The idea was that the weapons would be tracked and arrests made at the top levels.

However, from information that’s available, the government essentially lost track of most of the 2,000 or so weapons that were involved in the program. Some of them later were found at the site when Agent Brian Terry was murdered.

Buerkle noted that the agent’s family, testifying previously before Congress, had wanted to know if the search for those responsible would track them down – and then would they be charged with facilitating the murder of a federal agent.

Holder said it was an issue that was being addressed.

“We are endeavoring to find out who made the determinations to allow guns to walk,” he said. “We will hold accountable people who were involved in this flawed investigation.”

Part of the hearing:

Holder’s testimony failed to convince fully members of the committee, as they alleged he was continuing the cover-up of the problems.

Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., pointed out that Holder and the Department of Justice were still withholding 93,000 documents. They suggested the committee may need to issue a subpoena to obtain the withheld records if the DOJ refuses to comply voluntarily.

In testimony, Holder admitted that no DOJ employee had been reprimanded or otherwise admonished for their participation in Fast and Furious some 13 months after Terry was killed in Arizona by Mexican drug-war operatives using guns that traced back to the gun operation.

Before the hearing, Issa released a majority report documenting that officials in DOJ headquarters in Washington “had much greater knowledge of, and involvement in, Fast and Furious than [DOJ] has previously acknowledged.”

In one particularly sharp exchange, Issa accused Holder of lying about when he and top officials in the DOJ in Washington first knew about the operation that evolved into Fast and Furious under Holder’s watch.

The majority report charged that for “months, the [DOJ] has stonewalled Committee document requests and refused to comply with committee subpoenas. The [DOJ] has produced scores of blacked-out pages containing no information and many duplicate documents in order to bolster its page count.”

The report asserted that the DOJ is still withholding 92 percent of the documents it has handed over to the Office of Inspector General. It objected as well to the DOJ decision not to hand over to the committee any documents created after Feb. 4, 2011.

US No-Fly list doubles in 1 year

Associated Press | Feb 2, 2012

The Obama administration has more than doubled, to about 21,000 names, its secret list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the United States, including about 500 Americans, the Associated Press has learned. The government lowered the bar for being added to the list, even as it says it’s closer than ever to defeating al-Qaida.

The size of the government’s secret no-fly list has jumped from about 10,000 in the past year, according to government figures provided to the AP.

The surge comes as the government says it’s close to defeating al-Qaida, after killing many of its senior members. But senior officials said the threat does not stop there.

“As long as we sustain the pressure on it, we judge that core al-Qaida will be of largely symbolic importance to the global jihadist movement,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress on Thursday. “But regional affiliates and, to a lesser extent, small cells and individuals will drive the global jihad agenda.”

Those are the people added to the no-fly list, current and former counterterrorism officials said. Most are from other countries; about 500 are Americans.

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Here’s The Other Worrying Thing About The FBI’s Expanding No-Fly List

“Both U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities and foreign services continue to identify people who want to cause us harm, particularly in the U.S. and particularly as it relates to aviation,” Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole said in an interview.

Affiliated terror groups in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria and elsewhere, as well as individuals who ascribe to al-Qaida’s beliefs — “All are in the mix,” said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “And no one is claiming that they are shrinking.”

The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner. The government lowered the standard for putting people on the list then scoured its files for anyone who qualified. The government will not disclose who is on its list or why someone might have been placed on it.

Among the most significant new standards is that now a person doesn’t have to be considered only a threat to aviation to be placed on the no-fly list. People who are considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp also are included, said a U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.

The Christmas attack led to other changes in how the U.S. assembles its watch list. Intelligence agencies across the government reviewed old files to find people who should have been on the government’s terror watch list all along, plus those who should be added because of the new standards put in place to close security gaps.

The Nigerian man who pleaded guilty in the Christmas 2009 attack over Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was listed in a large U.S. intelligence database that includes partial names and relatives of suspected terrorists. That database is a feeder to the broad terror watch list, of which the no-fly list is a component, but only when there is enough information linking the person to terrorism. Officials believe the U.S. had enough information about Abdulmutallab at the time to put him on the broader terror watch list, which would have helped the intelligence community catch him.

After the Christmas attack, “We learned a lot about the watch-listing process and made strong improvements, which continue to this day,” said Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, which produces the no-fly list.

As agencies complete the reviews of their files, the pace of growth is expected to slow, the counterterrorism official said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the government on behalf of Americans who believe they’re on the no-fly list and have not been able to travel by air for work or to see family.

“The news that the list is growing tells us that more people’s rights are being violated,” said Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney working for the ACLU’s national security project. “It’s a secret list, and the government puts people on it without any explanation. Citizens have been stranded abroad.”

The government will not tell people whether they’re on the list or why they’re on it, making it impossible for people to defend themselves, Choudhury said. People who complain that they’re unfairly on the no-fly list can submit a letter to the Homeland Security Department, but the only way they’ll know if they’re still on the list is to try to fly again, she said.

While the list is secret, it is subject to continuous review to ensure that the right people are on it and that the ones who shouldn’t be on it are removed, said Martin Reardon, former chief of the Terrorist Screening Operations center and now a vice president with the Soufan Group. If a person is nominated to be on the no-fly list, but there is insufficient information to justify it, the Terrorist Screening Center downgrades the person to a different list, he said.

“You can’t just say: ‘Here’s a name. Put him on the list.’ You’ve got to have articulable facts,” Reardon said.

On average, there are 1,000 changes to the government’s watch lists each day, most of which involve adding new information about someone on the list.

The no-fly list has swelled to 20,000 people before, such as in 2004. At the time, people like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy were getting stopped before flying — causing constant angst and aggravation for innocent travelers. But much has changed since then.

While thousands more people are on the list, instances of travelers being mistaken for terrorists are down significantly since the government — not the airlines — became responsible for checking the list, Pistole said. Travelers must now provide their full name, birthdate and gender when purchasing an airline ticket so the government can screen them against the terror watch list.

But with the nature of the terrorism threat, it’s not likely that the list will dwindle, even as al-Qaida’s core leadership is defeated, Reardon said.

“I would argue that even if (al-Qaida) as we know it ceased to exist as of tomorrow, other terrorist organizations or lone wolves with both the intent and capability of carrying out attacks against the U.S. would fill the void,” Reardon said. “The consolidated terrorist watch list exists for that very reason.”

Once they are identified and placed on the list, he said, “We have a much greater chance of keeping them from entering the country.”

Bloomberg reloads in push for gun control


NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg with his armed bodyguards. Reuters

Reuters | Feb 4, 2012

By Emily Flitter

(Reuters) – Among the slick, million-dollar ads for the likes of Pepsi and Honda during the Super Bowl this Sunday, viewers in New York and Boston will see a far more modest spot. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino will be sitting on a couch touting an issue most politicians avoid like the plague: gun control.

The two mayors, whose local teams face off in the big game, are making the pitch for Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), the organization they co-founded in 2006.

Murder has been on the decline in New York and other major American cities for years, but the mayors say they still see too many dead cops and teens. On Tuesday night, Bloomberg was at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan visiting a New York police officer who had just been shot in the face in Brooklyn.

“We have someone who’s dedicated his life to protecting all of us, who has had a much too close brush with death tonight because of what appears to be an illegal gun,” Bloomberg told a news conference. He added that more Americans have been killed by illegal guns since 1968 than were killed in World War II.

Candidates for local and national office in the U.S. have faced sharp backlashes for advocating restraints on gun ownership, such as assault weapons or guns on campus. Such pushes draw fire from the well-funded National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies. For many defenders of the Constitution’s Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – guns are the single issue on which they vote.

“We have to face the fact that both Democrats and Republicans have for a while viewed this as the third rail of American politics,” said John Feinblatt, who helps run MAIG as Bloomberg’s chief advisor for policy and strategic planning. (Bloomberg is an independent; Menino is a Democrat.)

Democrats, who are more likely than Republicans to favor some restrictions on gun ownership, made a conscious decision to stay away from the gun issue in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. The aim: protect the so-called Blue Dog conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, who didn’t toe the party line on gun control. Most were defeated anyway.

If the Democratic Party hoped to keep the gun issue off center stage in the 2012 presidential race, MAIG’s campaign makes that unlikely. So does the fact that the NRA and the gun industry’s trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), have announced they will have a combined war chest of $225 million .

“We are anticipating having a voter-education effort that will be our largest effort ever,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel at the NSSF.

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre echoed the sentiment.

“I don’t think this is going to be an apathetic year for American gun owners.”

NO MORE CANDLES

New York’s activist mayor cannot simply restrict handguns in his city – as he has done with smoking and transfats. Two Supreme Court decisions – District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago – have declared such local initiatives unconstitutional. Instead, Bloomberg launched MAIG, which now has 600 members nationwide. Although it has a handful of private donors, the bulk of MAIG’s $4 million budget comes out of the mayor’s own pocket.

“He’s putting his money where his mouth is,” said Carolyn McCarthy, a Democratic congresswoman from Long Island. She entered politics after a 1993 shooting spree on the Long Island Rail Road left her husband dead and her son severely injured.

Bloomberg, in his third and last term, is free from concerns about electability and can tap a personal fortune of $19.5 billion, according to a November estimate by Forbes. As for speculation that he might mount a presidential bid this round or next, his leadership on such a divisive issue makes that look less likely.

“There was a lot of political capital that was poured into this,” one person who worked closely with MAIG said.

In the past, advocates for stricter gun controls held marches, rallies and candlelight vigils. MAIG has taken a far more activist approach, conducting undercover investigations and sting operations that are then dramatically revealed to the press.

In 2009, New York City contracted the security firm Kroll Inc. to send undercover agents to gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee and Nevada to show how people who could not pass a background check easily bought guns.

MAIG also used undercover investigators to expose gun dealers who sold to “straw purchasers,” buyers intending to quickly resell the guns on the black market. Another investigation identified online gun sellers who did not require background checks.

Bloomberg launched another probe after the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six people and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Using city money, he sent undercover investigators to Arizona to repeat the gun show sting and prove how easy it was for someone like Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, to get a gun.

That move enraged supporters of unfettered gun rights.

“The ‘sting’ was a waste of money that misleads Americans and did nothing to reduce crime,” wrote John Lott Jr., an economist who writes about guns, in a column on FoxNews.com. “Talk about an aggressive publicity stunt.”

The NSSF’s Keane said there are serious problems with many MAIG actions. He cited another investigation in which MAIG used gun data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to sue dealers found to be selling guns to straw buyers.

“The New York City police department went to the ATF, traced data, turned that traced data over to private investigators, violated federal law, and interfered in 18 ongoing criminal investigations,” he said. “The ATF had to pull agents out of the field because they were placed at risk.”

Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the New York City mayor’s office, said in response: “They can’t argue the substance, so they continue to make a false, tired claim that has been directly refuted by the ATF. And the courts have validated that our investigations were legal.”

The ATF did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Opponents of the mayors’ efforts have also seized on a Department of Justice program codenamed “Fast and Furious” to discredit sting operations. Beginning in 2009, the ATF, investigating a gun-trafficking network in Arizona and Mexico, supplied 2,000 illegal guns they hoped to trace through the system so they could catch the leaders. Instead, they lost track of hundreds of the guns – two of which were found near the murder scene of Brian Terry, a border patrol agent, in 2010.

Last Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder was called before a congressional committee for a second time to explain how the program went bad. He repeated that senior Justice Department and ATF officials had not known about the operation until it was over.

REAL CHANGE

Members of the MAIG say they are not trying to take guns away from their legal owners, just to close loopholes that allow criminals to get guns and move them around undetected.

“It’s a serious safety issue,” said Margaret Stock, the Democratic mayor of Butler, Pennsylvania, the town of 13,000 where Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum spent part of his childhood. “If an officer gets shot with an illegal gun I’m responsible.”

Butler is in a sparsely populated area of western Pennsylvania where the first day of deer hunting season is often a school holiday.

“We’re a big hunting community, but this is illegal handguns, it’s a totally different issue,” Stock said. “I had a little bit of backlash from local members of the NRA that I was somehow anti-gun. That was not the intent of the coalition.”

MAIG’s efforts have spurred some change. In 2008, Wal-Mart (WMT.N) signed the voluntary 10-point code of conduct MAIG developed for gun sellers. It includes videotaping the area of a store where guns are sold, setting up a computerized gun tracing and alert system, and performing background checks on its employees.

An Ohio gun show operator identified in MAIG’s 2009 sting began offering police and federal firearms agents a free booth at his shows to strengthen background checks and help dealers recognize straw buyers, according to the Dayton Daily News.

MAIG claims on its website that “four out of the seven gun shows and venues” fingered in the 2009 investigation “have changed their practices.”

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

No one thinks gun control is going to be the most important issue in 2012, but there are specific races and constituencies where it certainly will matter.

One such race is northwestern Arkansas, where a 33-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran named Ken Aden is challenging his former battalion commander for a Congressional seat. Aden is running as a progressive Democrat; his Republican opponent, Steve Womack, is a freshman incumbent, part of the Tea Party sweep of the 2010 midterm elections.

Aden, who has already met with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other party officials in Washington, has strong views on guns. He collects them, and say he knows what damage they can do. When Aden was 16 his father was shot and killed by his stepmother, using his dad’s own 357 magnum and his shotgun.

“We’ve got to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” Aden said.

He supports the background checks mandated by the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and has pledged in his platform to “fight to make sure that dangerous assault rifles and ammunition with no practical purpose in hunting, self-protection, or sport shooting … stay off our streets.”

Womack, for his part has co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to reinforce Second Amendment rights, including a bill that would force states to honor other states’ concealed carry permits.

“New, more stringent gun laws will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Womack told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in January 2011, after the Tucson shootings. “Rather, proper enforcement of our current laws will provide the necessary mechanisms to ensure the well-being of the American people.”

The NRA is telling supporters that President Obama will outlaw guns in a second term by appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the gains made in the Heller and McDonald decisions. The White House denies that it has any such aim.

“The real threat to the Second Amendment is the reelection of President Obama,” said LaPierre.

He believes that other Democratic candidates will stay away from gun issues so as not to draw attention to Obama’s ultimate game plan.

“Their strategy is to fog the issue through the 2012 election, because they don’t want the Second Amendment or guns to prevent the reelection of President Obama,” LaPierre said of the Democrats.

SWING VOTERS

Democratic strategist Celinda Lake, who has spent many years polling on gun issues, said her data suggest two audiences will be open to gun-control measures in the 2012 elections: Latinos and suburban women.

Her firm, Lake Research Partners, conducted a poll in late October for MAIG that found 76 percent of Latinos supported a new program requiring gun dealers in border states to report when someone attempts to buy more than one semi-automatic rifle within a five-day period.

Suburban women, Lake said, who are known to be swing voters, want guns kept out of their neighborhoods.

In addition to his work with MAIG, Mayor Bloomberg is keeping a close eye on elections all around the country. He has already backed six candidates for Virginia’s state senate with contributions of $25,000 each, and may give to more candidates.

MAIG’s Feinberg said the group had not yet identified congressional races it wanted to support, but, he added, “We’re always watching.”

Europe deep freeze death toll reaches 260


A man touches an ice covered car on the iced waterside promenade at the Lake Geneva in Versoix, Switzerland, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. A cold spell has reached Europe with temperatures plummeting far below zero. AP Photo Feb 4, 2012

gulftoday.ae | Feb 5, 2012

ROME: Hundreds of people were plucked to safety on Saturday after a ferry caught in a snow storm hit a breakwater off Italy, as a vicious cold snap that has claimed over 260 lives across Europe maintained its grip.

Ukraine has suffered the heaviest toll of 122 deaths, including many people who froze to death in the streets, as temperatures plunged to as low as minus 38.1°C in parts of the continent.

Bosnian authorities have declared state of emergency in the capital Sarajevo after it was paralysed by snow, while hundreds of people remain trapped in their homes and vehicles throughout the country.

Airports were shut, flights and trains delayed, and highways gridlocked as emergency services raced to clear the falling snow.

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But as Europe huddled indoors for warmth, Russian gas giant Gazprom said it could not satisfy western Europe’s demand for more energy.

In Italy, the ferry Sharden hit a mole shortly after setting off from the port of Civitavecchia near Rome, causing panic among the 262 passengers who feared a repeat of a cruise ship tragedy in the area last month which killed 32 people.

Coastguard spokesman Carnine Albano said the accident, which tore a 25-metre hole in the ship’s side above the waterline, happened after the vessel was buffeted by a violent snow storm from the north-east.

All passengers were evacuated to safety and no injuries were reported.

The heaviest snowfall in 27 years in Rome caused the capital better known for its warm sunshine to grind to a halt, with taxis and buses unable to navigate through the icy streets without snow chains. Parts of the Venice lagoon also froze over.

A 46-year-old woman died in Avellino, near Naples in southern Italy, after a greenhouse roof collapsed on top of her with the weight of snow and the ambulance failed to get through the blocked roads to her in time.

In Poland, the death toll rose to 45 as temperatures reached minus 27°C in the north-east. In Romania, four more victims were found, bringing the number of fatalities in the country to 28.