Secret court orders U.S. to declassify Prism surveillance ruling

FISA Obama
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A secret U.S. court overseeing government domestic surveillance activities has sided with Yahoo and ordered the Obama administration to declassify and publish a 2008 court decision justifying Prism, the data collection program revealed last month by former security contractor Edward Snowden.

The ruling could offer a rare glimpse into how the government has legally justified its spy agencies’ data collection programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Judge Reggie Walton of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued Monday’s ruling. The government is expected to decide by August 26 which parts of the 2008 opinion may be published, according to a separate court filing by the Justice Department…

Ever apply for and receive a copy of your FBI case history? That’s what this will probably look like. An advert for black magic marker with everything redacted but Obama’s signature.

In June, after Snowden leaked information about Prism to the Washington Post and the Guardian newspapers, Yahoo’s lawyers asked the courts and government to declassify and publish decisions upholding the constitutionality of the program.

Legal experts who follow surveillance cases said the 2008 ruling may not reveal any strikingly novel legal reasoning by the government or the courts. But civil liberties advocates said the significance of the ruling may lie in the court’s decision itself to declassify the previously secret 2008 ruling.

“Unless the public knows what the laws mean, it can’t really assess how much power (it has) given its government,” said Patrick Toomey, a national security fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Monday’s ruling “is a suggestion that the FISA court is primed now to consider the government’s assertion of the necessity of secrecy,” Toomey said. “It’s a promising first step.”

The decision is also a victory for Yahoo…”Once those documents are made public, we believe they will contribute constructively to the ongoing public discussion around online privacy,” Yahoo said.

Other Internet companies, including Google and Facebook began participating in Prism in early 2009 soon after Yahoo lost its appeal before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

This can be a victory for a lot of ordinary citizens concerned with the government being the ultimate decider – to use George W. Bush’s term – on questions of balance between national security and individual privacy.

Same-sex marriage is now the law in England and Wales

Same-sex couples will be able to get married in England and Wales after new measures became law.

The government’s controversial legislation on the issue received Royal Assent on Wednesday.

The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaderships all backed the proposals, which were finally approved by MPs and peers earlier this week.

Continuing to call a measure “controversial” after all three major parties backed the proposals is only a comment on the BBC worrying about offending the few churchgoers left in the UK.

It is expected that the first gay and lesbian wedding ceremonies will take place by summer next year.

Under the terms of the the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, religious organisations will have to “opt in” to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so.

Commons Speaker John Bercow announced the bill had received Royal Assent – the formal approval of the sovereign required for all legislation. The news was greeted with cheers in the Commons chamber…

There will also be a review of whether groups such as the humanists will be allowed to carry out marriages, while ministers said they were prepared to look at eliminating any difference in the treatment of gay couples when it came to pension schemes.

During the Commons debate, Equalities Minister Maria Miller said the passing of the bill was “clear affirmation” that “respect for each and every person is paramount, regardless of age, religion, gender, ethnicity or sexuality”, she added.

Religious groups which traditionally support civil rights will opt-in, no doubt. Conservatives, cowards, cookie-cutter reactionaries will continue to whine until their children finally stop inviting them for holiday dinners – and they run out of people polite enough to listen to them.

Of course, all the reasons for passage of this law in the UK are as legitimate here in the United States. But, then, neither the White House nor Congress has sufficient courage to challenge bigots and backwards ideology.

Would you hire Luis Suarez to work in your office?

I realize hilarious responses may be limited to fans of proper football who already know Luis Suarez. Suffice it to say he’s an athlete paid millions of dollars [pounds, pesos, whatever] to dazzle his opponents on a football pitch. Soccer field in the USA.

He’s also known for problems with translation into English leading to penalties for racism. Problems with civil behavior leading to penalties for biting an opponent. Problems with balance admittedly affecting dozens of world-class athletes leading to penalties for “simulating” a foul by an opponent.

Any road, the video is a hoot.

Sea levels to rise 2.3 metres per degree of global warming

Sea levels could rise by 2.3 metres for each degree Celsius that global temperatures increase and they will remain high for centuries to come, according to a new study by the leading climate research institute…

Anders Levermann said his study for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research was the first to examine evidence from climate history and combine it with computer simulations of contributing factors to long-term sea-level increases: thermal expansion of oceans, the melting of mountain glaciers and the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets…

Sea levels rose by 17cm last century and the rate has accelerated to more than 3mm a year, according to the IPCC. A third of the current rise is from Antarctica and Greenland…

“In the past there was some uncertainty and people haven’t known by how much,” Levermann said. “We’re saying now, taking everything we know, that we’ve got a robust estimate of 2.3 meters of rising sea per degree of warming.”

David Vaughan, head of the Ice2sea project to narrow down uncertainties about how melting ice will swell the oceans, has said sea levels would rise by between 16.5 and 69 cm under a scenario of moderate global warming this century.

Vaughan told Reuters the biggest impact rising seas will have is that storms will be more destructive in the near future.

“It’s not about chasing people up the beach or the changing shape of coastlines,” he said. “The big issue is how the storms will damage our coasts and how often they occur. That’ll increase even with small levels of sea rise in coming decades.”

“Continuous sea-level rise is something we cannot avoid unless global temperatures go down again,” Levermann said. “Our results indicate that major adaptation at our coastlines will be necessary. It’s likely that some currently populated regions can’t be protected in the long run.”

The worst of the climate change deniers are the know-nothings. They have zero knowledge of the topic so their arguments rely on volume more than topicality. The most insidious. The science groupies who have learned at least to make their non-science and overt lies sound somewhat reasonable – to the ignoranuses in the first group.

I spent two years debating, examining, studying the topic at the turn of the millenium. I’ve since stayed current with the work coming from the researchers who best explained the processes at play – to my satisfaction. The Max Planck Institute – fortunately offers a great deal of their published work in English.

For day-by-day, month-by-month resources, I heartily recommend the folks noted over on the right of this page at RealClimate.

As predicted, the dementia rate is dropping sharply

A new study has found that dementia rates among people 65 and older in England and Wales have plummeted by 25 percent over the past two decades, to 6.2 percent from 8.3 percent, a trend that researchers say is probably occurring across developed countries and that could have major social and economic implications for families and societies.

Another recent study, conducted in Denmark, found that people in their 90s who were given a standard test of mental ability in 2010 scored substantially better than people who had reached their 90s a decade earlier. Nearly one-quarter of those assessed in 2010 scored at the highest level, a rate twice that of those tested in 1998. The percentage of subjects severely impaired fell to 17 percent from 22 percent.

The British study…and the Danish one, which was released last week…soften alarms sounded by advocacy groups and some public health officials who have forecast a rapid rise in the number of people with dementia, as well as in the costs of caring for them. The projections assumed the odds of getting dementia would be unchanged.

Yet experts on aging said the studies also confirmed something they had suspected but had had difficulty proving: that dementia rates would fall and mental acuity improve as the population grew healthier and better educated. The incidence of dementia is lower among those better educated, as well as among those who control their blood pressure and cholesterol, possibly because some dementia is caused by ministrokes and other vascular damage. So as populations controlled cardiovascular risk factors better and had more years of schooling, it made sense that the risk of dementia might decrease…

The new studies offer hope amid a cascade of bad news about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia…Dr. Marcel Olde Rikkert…who wrote an editorial to accompany the Danish study, said estimates of the risk of dementia in older people “urgently need a reset…”

Dr. Anderson, of the National Institute on Aging, said the news was good.

“With these two studies, we are beginning to see that more and more of us will have a chance to reach old age cognitively intact, postponing dementia or avoiding it altogether,” he said. “That is a happy prospect.”

RTFA for advocacy groups primarily American that whine about needing more study. Of course, more study is needed. No one involved with either of the groups in the UK or Denmark says otherwise. Good science always requires the broadest possible investigation.

Still, good news is worth reflecting upon.