Evening Blues Preview 5-14-15
This evening's music features jazz and blues singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone.
Here are some stories from tonight's post:
After only one hour of floor debate, and no allowed amendments, the House of Representatives today passed legislation that seeks to address the NSA’s controversial surveillance of American communications. However, opponents believe it may give brand new authorization to the U.S. government to conduct domestic dragnets.
The USA Freedom Act was approved in a 338-88 vote, with approximately equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans voting against. The bill’s supporters say it will disallow bulk collection of domestic telephone metadata, in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has regularly ordered phone companies to turn over such data. The Obama administration claims such collection is authorized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which is set to expire June 1. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that Section 215 does not provide such authorization.
Today’s legislation would prevent the government from issuing such orders for bulk collection and instead force it to rely on telephone companies to store all their metadata — some of which the government could then demand using a “specific selection term” related to foreign terrorism. Bill supporters maintain this would prevent indiscriminate collection. ...
However, the legislation may not end bulk surveillance and in fact could codify the ability of the government to conduct dragnet data collection.
“We’re taking something that was not permitted under regular section 215 … and now we’re creating a whole apparatus to provide for it,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said on Tuesday night during a House Rules Committee proceeding.
“The language does limit the amount of bulk collection, it doesn’t end bulk collection,” Rep. Amash said, arguing that the problematic “specific selection term” allows for “very large data collection, potentially in the hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions.”
Ooops. The nuclear genie has been out of the bottle for decades. Every country has nerds who can make bombs. How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm if you keep creating unstable situations and fanning the flames of conflicts among nations?
When President Obama began making the case for a deal with Iran that would delay its ability to assemble an atomic weapon, his first argument was that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a “free-for-all” of proliferation in the Arab world. “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he said in 2012.
Now, as he gathered Arab leaders over dinner at the White House on Wednesday and prepared to meet with them at Camp David on Thursday, he faced a perverse consequence: Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain.
What could possibly go wrong with this pissing contest?
The Chinese government gave a stern warning Wednesday that it will protect its sovereignty in the South China Sea after a cat-and-mouse pursuit of a U.S. warship by a Chinese frigate.
"The Chinese side will take resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty and safety. We will keep an eye on the situation in relevant waters and airspace and respond to any violation of China's sovereignty and threat to China's national security," said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Her warning came after an advanced Navy warship — the USS Fort Worth — sailed through the South China Sea on Monday near islands China is building in an effort to extend its territorial claims. The United States considers the area to be international waters, and the Philippine and Japanese navies have conducted exercises in the area in an attempt to counter the Chinese claims. ...
International law does not recognize man-made islands as extensions of the mainland, Army Col. Steve Warren said.
Israel is just itching to bomb somebody:
Israel has warned once again that civilian areas of south Lebanon could be heavily bombed in the next war with Hezbollah, blaming any future destruction on the party for its alleged construction of military facilities in towns and villages.
The Israeli military showed the New York Times satellite images of southern Lebanese villages that claim to pinpoint specific Hezbollah military positions among the buildings such as command posts, rocket-launching sites and bunker entrances. ...
“The civilians are living in a military compound,” a senior Israeli military official told the New York Times in a report published Wednesday. “We will hit Hezbollah hard, while making every effort to limit civilian casualties as much as we can ... [but] we do not intend to stand by helplessly in the face of rocket attacks.” ...
Nevertheless, human rights activists warn that Israel cannot threaten to bomb civilian areas even if Hezbollah has installed military facilities within them.
“This would be a violation of the laws of war to treat entire villages or the entire south Lebanon as a legitimate military target,” said Nadim Houry, deputy director for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division.
“Regardless of what Hezbollah does, Israel has a fundamental obligation under the laws of war to distinguish between a military target and civilians. It’s not enough to basically say, ‘OK, here’s the notice, you have this much time to leave’ and anyone who stays behind is considered to be a military target.”
One in three European birds is endangered, according to a leaked version of the most comprehensive study of Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats ever produced.
The EU State of Nature report, seen by the Guardian, paints a picture of dramatic decline among once common avian species such as the skylark and turtle dove mainly as a result of agricultural pressures, and also warns that ecosystems are struggling to cope with the impact of human activity. ...
Of 804 natural habitats assessed by the European Environment Agency for the report, 77% were deemed to be in a poor condition, with almost a third having deteriorated since a study in 2006. Just 4% were found to be improving.
The wide-ranging technical survey made use of data compiled by 27 EU countries between 2007-2012, and will be released by the European Commission later this year.
“The report clearly shows that Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats are in crisis,” said Andreas Baumueller, the head of WWF Europe’s natural resources unit. “Our habitats are slowly dying and our natural capital – reflected by species such as birds and butterflies – is being put under enormous pressure from unsustainable agriculture and land use policies.”
also of interest: