Nine Circles of Hell!: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Tuesday, August 30, 2011, are:

Court to decide if telecoms can give e-communications to NSA

Living a life with government secrets

US Muslims happier, less extreme than in rest of world

Republican lawmaker works to undermine US-UN relationship

Hopes for stronger international nuclear plant safety rules dashed

Killing of Egyptian security officers heightens tensions with Israel

Mother of four gets twelve years for selling $31 of pot to narc

Another tropical storm off US predicted to become a hurricane

Legacy of PCBs, banned in the 1970s, killing killer whales today

Court to decide if telecoms can give e-communications to NSA

This Week: Appeals Court to Weigh NSA Dragnet Surveillance

Whether the federal government and the nation’s telecommunication companies can be held accountable for allegedly funneling every American’s electronic communication to the National Security Agency without warrants is the subject of oral arguments scheduled for a federal appeals court Wednesday.

At issue is a Jan. 31, 2006 lawsuit, and others that followed, alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. The cases, about three dozen which will be consolidated into two oral arguments, have been thrown out of court on a variety of grounds, chiefly the government’s claim that the lawsuits would expose state secrets, and a 2008 law that immunized the nation’s telcos from such lawsuits.

Nearly six years later, the merits of the lawsuits have never been addressed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the leading cases, appealed, and contends that the litigation should never have been dismissed.

“As far as we know the surveillance is ongoing,” says Cindy Cohn, the EFF’s legal director, who will be arguing before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle. “I think it is tremendously important that Americans not be subject to dragnet surveillance by the government. I think the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy, is important for this country” …

The Obama administration is set to urge the court to let stand the lower-court decisions dismissing the lawsuits. What’s more, the government contends, litigation against the government and the telcos must die because it threatens to expose government secrets and undermine national security.

“Congress made a legislative policy judgment that, if litigation of this kind were permitted to proceed, firms that may have assisted the nation at a critical time would be improperly burdened and sensitive classified information might be improperly disclosed,” Thomas Bondy, a Justice Department attorney, told the appeals panel in a court brief.

The EFF’s allegations are based in part on internal AT&T documents allegedly outlining secret rooms in AT&T offices that route internet traffic to the NSA. Every major telecom carrier in the United States is now named in at least one of the surveillance lawsuits for allegedly cooperating with the government’s warrantless surveillance program.

Living a life with government secrets
BBC News

What is it like to keep top state secrets?

Throughout the many violent years that led up to the Northern Ireland peace process, Londonderry businessman Brendan Duddy and his family lived with an extraordinary secret.

Duddy was, for decades, the secret intermediary between MI6, MI5 and the IRA. Without him it’s unlikely that Northern Ireland would be where it is today.

“It took somebody with a lot of brains,” says Seanna Duddy, Brendan’s daughter. “He had what it took to go into a room, be in danger and keep his cool.”

The threat to Duddy’s life came not just from some members of the IRA who suspected he might be working for MI5, but from the loyalist paramilitaries who wanted to kill off any negotiations with the IRA – and perhaps anyone associated with them.

So the family could not breathe a word about the meetings between British intelligence officers and the IRA leadership that took place in the “wee room” in their family home.

“People had absolutely no idea,” says Larry Duddy, Brendan’s son. “Really close friends of my father for 50 years didn’t know what he was doing.

“There’s part of you wants to let the world know what your father did and there’s another part that doesn’t want anyone to know. I was quite happy with no-one knowing because it was the end result which was important.”

Duddy finally did get the end result he wanted – peace in Northern Ireland. But his children made personal sacrifices as co-inhabitants of their father’s secret world.

“When you came home from school you couldn’t bring your friends home,” says Seanna. “If everybody was out playing in the gardens or the roads nearby and it was our turn [for] our mammy to make tea, that never happened.”

Most individuals who operate in the secret world do not involve their families. Many, in fact, tell no-one about their hidden lives, not even those closest to them.

Ali, a pseudonym, is a Muslim who was recruited by MI5 shortly after 9/11. When he spoke to the BBC it was the first time he had discussed his work with anyone other than his handlers at MI5.

He said he’d been able to stop some terrorist attacks but did not want to get into “the specifics”. The impulse to share his successes or failures must, he says, be ignored.

“If you want to be able to help out doing this kind of work then you just have to hold those feelings in, which could be challenging but you learn with time,” he says.

Ali is proud of what he does and of what he believes he has achieved. But he knows some in his community would regard him as a traitor and that his life as a Covert Human Intelligence Source – CHIS – is risky.

US Muslims happier, less extreme than in rest of world
The Christian Science Monitor

Survey: Muslim Americans happier with conditions in US than broader public

For the most part, Muslim Americans disavow Islamic extremism, are happy with the way things are going in the country and in their lives, and are about as religious and educated as the general American public.

Those are a few of the lessons from a new report from the Pew Research Center that surveyed Muslim Americans and paints a detailed portrait of their demographics, experiences, opinions, and perceptions.

Pew’s last survey of this group was in 2007, and the current one was sparked, in part, by a desire to know whether recent concerns about home-grown terrorism and other pressures had led to increased alienation and anger among Muslim Americans and support for extremism, says Scott Keeter, Pew’s director of survey research and a coauthor of the study.

The result, he says, was the opposite. “There’s been no increase in favorable views of Al Qaeda, of suicide bombing, or Islamic extremism,” he says. And, “while a lot of Muslim Americans acknowledged that life is difficult and that they continue to face discrimination, they do not regard the American people as particularly unfriendly to them.”

In fact, Muslims surveyed for the report were happier with conditions in the United States than the broader American population. Some 56 percent of Muslims are satisfied with the way things are going in this country, compared with 23 percent of the general public. In 2007, those numbers were 38 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Similarly, Muslim Americans are far more satisfied with President Obama’s performance (76 percent) than the public at large (46 percent). In 2007, just 15 percent of Muslim Americans approved of President Bush’s performance. Moreover, 82 percent of Muslim Americans say they are happy with the way things are going in their own lives.

That overall satisfaction, says Mr. Keeter, “suggests many [Muslim Americans] may be defining their satisfaction with national conditions around the political leadership of the country rather than anything to do with economic conditions. And they’re as satisfied with Obama as president as they were dissatisfied with President Bush.”

The survey substantially probed Muslim Americans’ feelings about terrorism, Islamic extremism, and Al Qaeda, with somewhat mixed findings.

Just 1 percent of American Muslims say that suicide bombing is often justified – with an additional 7 percent saying it is sometimes justified. And just 5 percent say they have a somewhat favorable opinion of Al Qaeda (with 70 percent saying they have a very negative opinion). That is far less support than either suicide bombing or Al Qaeda gets among Muslim communities in other parts of the world.

Still, a sizable percentage (21 percent) say there is at least a fair amount of support for extremism among Muslims in the US (compared with 40 percent of the general public), and 60 percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the US, even though just 4 percent think that Muslim support for extremism is on the rise.

Republican lawmaker works to undermine US-UN relationship

House Republicans Seek to Force UN Changes by Using U.S. Funding Leverage

House Republicans are planning to introduce today legislation that seeks to force major changes at the United Nations, using as leverage the U.S.’s 22 percent contribution to the world body’s operating budget.

The bill by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would require the UN to adopt a voluntary budget model in which countries selectively fund UN agencies rather than according to a set formula. It would end funding for Palestinian refugees, limit use of U.S. funds to only purposes outlined by Congress and stop contributions to peacekeeping operations until management changes are made.

The legislation represents the leading edge of Republican moves against the world body at a time when the Obama administration is increasingly building its foreign policy around multilateral institutions, making the alliance-based approach central to its stance on Libya. The bill may advance in the Republican-controlled House but is likely to hit opposition in the Senate and from President Barack Obama …

The bill’s timing runs counter to the emergence of the administration’s “Obama Doctrine” of working with others to address international issues, particularly those that don’t pose an immediate security threat to the U.S., said Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York-based economic, political and social research foundation.

“After two years of the closest and most productive cooperation in decades at the UN between Washington and the rest of the international community, it is hard to understand why Republicans in the House of Representatives are determined to poison the well,” Laurenti wrote in a blog post yesterday.

Laurenti cites UN support for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the world body’s move to authorize limited military action in Libya at U.S. urging and its successful work in handing power over to the legitimate winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election.

On Capitol Hill, the focus is less on global affairs than on getting the U.S. fiscal house in order, as concern about the debt grows …

Groups that promote strong U.S.-UN relations, such as the Washington-based Better World Initiative, said the bill would undermine U.S. influence at the UN.

“We are hard-pressed to find a moment in history where the UN has had a greater role in promoting American interests,” said Executive Director Peter Yeo in an e-mail. The bill would “severely erode America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermine our nation’s security.”

Tensions between the UN and the U.S. over the agency’s management and funding are not new. A push for improvements in UN management came during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who signed the Helms-Biden United Nations Reform Act of 1999. It tied U.S. payments to specified steps to improve management

Hopes for stronger international nuclear plant safety rules dashed

U.N. nuclear safety proposals weakened: diplomats

Countries with atomic power plants would be encouraged to host international safety review missions, under a draft U.N. action plan that may disappoint those who had hoped for strong measures to prevent a repeat of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Seeking the middle ground between states advocating more binding global rules and others wanting to keep safety as a strictly national responsibility, the U.N. nuclear agency appears to have gradually watered down its own proposals.

The document from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the third draft presented to IAEA member states over the last few weeks, outlines a series of steps to help improve nuclear safety after the Fukushima accident almost six months ago.

The latest version puts increased emphasis on the voluntary nature of the proposals, highlighting resistance among many countries against any move toward mandatory outside inspections of their nuclear energy installations.

The changes were made following feedback from member state diplomats of the Vienna-based U.N. body. The 35-nation board of the IAEA is expected to debate the final proposal at a September 12-16 meeting in the Austrian capital.

Killing of Egyptian security officers heightens tensions with Israel
Almasry Alyoum

War and peace: Egyptians consider post-uprising relations with Israel

Mohamed Abdel Razek Ali has been standing outside the Israeli Embassy for the past week. His clothes are torn, his hands are filthy, and he holds a couple of signs, too detailed and busy to make immediate sense to any passers-by.

The message he is trying to get across, however, is all too clear: “Down with Field Marshal Tantawi!” Abdel Razek Ali demands as he takes his one-man protest off the sidewalk and into traffic.

Like many Egyptians, Abdel Razek Ali wants to redefine Egypt’s foreign policy regarding Israel. With former President Hosni Mubarak being largely perceived as an Israeli stooge – prior to his ouster, protester chants regularly accused him of being an Israeli “agent” and “co-conspirator” – one of the main points of debate in post-uprising Egypt revolves around what the country’s relationship with Israel should become – or whether there should be one in the first place. An associated populist discourse to the question that prevailed in Egyptian politics for years has unfolded in people’s thoughts.

“There should be no relationship with Israel, no communication, and no peace treaty,” 20-year-old Abdel Razek Ali asserts with a thick accent. The young protester hails from the nearby governorate of Fayoum.

The issue came to the forefront on 18 August after Israeli soldiers killed five Egyptian security officers during a botched skirmish with armed militants in the Sinai peninsula. The incident followed an earlier attack by militants that killed eight and allegedly occurred after the militants crossed to Israel from Sinai. The killing of Egyptian soldiers provoked a torrent of national outrage and led to a massive four-day sit-in outside the Israeli Embassy, with protesters demanding the ambassador’s expulsion.

“Mubarak sold our dignity to the Israelis and because of him, thousands died,” Abdel Razek Ali exclaims. “Now he’s gone, but Egyptians are still being killed. This has to stop now. I direct this message to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi: Listen to our demands before we turn on you.”

“The revolution has happened, so why are we waiting?” the young man asks, baffled. “We can destroy [Israel]. Look at how much we outnumber them by.”

Despite appearances, Abdel Razek Ali was not alone. While the majority of the protesters who took to the embassy after the border incident have since returned home – their demands for immediate justice somewhat sated by the sudden and surreal appearance of Flagman, the man who climbed the building of the Israeli Embassy to remove its flag – a small crowd still remained, consisting mainly of rowdy children clambering over abandoned security posts and throwing rocks at assorted vendors, as well as two old men sitting under a tree.

Mother of four gets twelve years for selling $31 of pot to narc
Tulsa World

Mom who sold $31 in pot seeks reduction to 12-year sentence

A Kingfisher County woman profiled in a Tulsa World story earlier this year examining the state’s high female incarceration rate has a hearing for a sentence modification set for Oct. 6.

Patricia M. Spottedcrow, 26, received a 12-year prison sentence last October for selling a total of $31 in marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010. Her mother, Delita Starr, 51, was also charged.

In blind guilty pleas before a judge, Spottedcrow received prison time, and her mother received a 30-year suspended sentence. Neither had prior criminal convictions.

Oklahoma City attorney Josh Welch said he has requested Spottedcrow be present to speak directly to the judge.

“Patricia wants to let the judge know what she has learned and been through,” Welch said. “She wants him to know she’s remorseful, accepts responsibility and it will not happen again. She doesn’t want a free pass or makes excuses for her conduct.

“With all things said, we disagree with the 12-year sentence, with it being excessive for this case.”

Spottedcrow was featured in a Tulsa World article on Feb. 20, published in media across the state through the nonprofit journalism group Oklahoma Watch.

The judge, who is now retired, said in a previous interview that Spottedcrow’s decade-long sentence was imposed because her four young children were in the home at the time of the drug buys. She said first-time offenders usually do not go to prison and alternatives including treatment are typically sought.

When Spottedcrow was booked into the jail after sentencing, some marijuana was found in a jacket she was wearing. She pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge and was given a two-year sentence to run concurrent with her other sentence.

The judge said she gave Starr a suspended sentence so she could care for Spottedcrow’s children, who are now 10, 5, 3 and 2.

In the filing, Starr reportedly earns about $800 a month from her job at a truck stop earning $8 an hour. Expenses for the children are a minimum of $500 for food, clothes, diapers and medicine, and $500 for utilities, water and home maintenance. She cannot drive because her license was revoked in her sentencing.

Starr owes $8,091 in court fees.

“It’s been very, very difficult on her,” Welch said. “Their living conditions are not ideal. She calls weekly asking explaining what’s going on and asking when Patricia could come home. They are tough questions to answer. When judges make these decisions, there is collateral fallout.”

Spottedcrow, who owes $4,026 in court costs, wrote a letter to the judge apologizing for her actions.

“This place has had a profound effect on me mentally,” she wrote. “I was not thinking about how my actions would affect my children’s lives or the people around me … I made a mistake and never thought what the repercussions would be. I am missing precious time away from my children, that I can never get back. What I know now is nothing is worth the cost of my children suffering.”

While in prison, Spottedcrow has taken parenting classes, finished her GED and participates in a grief/loss recovery program, a behavior course, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous and a faith-based program. She is on the waiting list for some other programs and would like to go to college for a business degree, according to her court filing.

She would have to spend at least 50 percent of her sentence in prison before being eligible for parole.

“I am asking for a second chance at life, my chance to be a positive role model and a mother to my children,” she wrote.

In response filed by prosecutors, they state the sentence is within the range of punishment allowed under the law and do not feel a modification is warranted.

Spottedcrow’s case led to a groundswell of support through online petitions, donations to help her children and an Oklahoma City rally featuring Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.

Welch said her case has attracted people for different reasons such as reform of drug laws, issues surrounding incarceration of women/mothers and excessive sentencing.

A prison reform bill was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in May. It will increase the eligibility for offenders who can be considered for GPS monitoring and community sentencing, enforce a 30-day deadline for the governor to sign paroles for low-risk nonviolent offenders, and add criteria for Pardon and Parole Board members.

Welch said he is not sure any of the changes would have been a benefit to Spottedcrow or Starr.

Another tropical storm off US predicted to become a hurricane

New major hurricane possible by weekend

Tropical Storm Katia formed on Tuesday and is moving quickly across the Atlantic.

At 11 a.m. ET, Katia had grown to maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Strengthening is forecast and Katia is expected to be a hurricane by late Wednesday, it added.

The storm’s forecast track shows it moving north of Puerto Rico over the weekend and becoming a major hurricane with winds greater than 110 mph …

Katia could affect the Caribbean, said NHC specialist Michael Brennan, but it’s too early to tell if it will hit the U.S.

The storm’s name replaces Katrina in the rotating storm roster because of the catastrophic damage from the 2005 storm.

Legacy of PCBs, banned in the 1970s, killing killer whales today
BBC News

What is killing killer whales?

Killer whales, the ocean’s fiercest predators, are easily recognisable by their black and white markings.

But their future seems less clearly defined.

Marine experts are concerned about an invisible threat to the animals that has been building in our seas since World War II.

That was when industries began extensively using chemical flame retardants, such as PCBs.

These chemicals were later found to harm human health and the environment, and governments around the world banned their use in the 1970s.

But their legacy lives on in the world’s seas and oceans, say biologists, posing a modern threat to animals such as killer whales, also known as orcas.