TIME weather

First Hurricane of the Season Could Ruin Your 4th of July Plans

Happy Birthday, America

Well here’s a birthday present America can do without. A tropical depression that formed off the coast of Florida Monday night could become the season’s very first hurricane … and it could move north along the East Coast just in time for the 4th of July, raining on literal parades in its wake.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the depression is expected to become a tropical storm — named Arthur —Tuesday. AccuWeather predicts that the conditions will be at its worst on Thursday into Friday around Delmarva and New Jersey. Independence Day hotspots Long Island and Cape Cod will experience the most bad weather during the day Friday and into the evening.

“The system, which is forecast to attain tropical storm status and could become a hurricane, will hug the coast and could even make landfall in North Carolina before turning out to the Northeast late in the week,” AccuWeather’s Dan Kottlowski said.

Although if the storm does move northeast as predicted, firework conditions could improve from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and New York City.

This has been a week of bad weather. Severe storms swept across the Midwest to the Great lakes Monday, resulting in strong winds, reported tornadoes, heavy rain, several injuries, and two deaths.

 

TIME National Security

Report: NSA Authorized to Spy on 193 Countries

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md. Reuters

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed information to be intercepted in all but 4 of the world's countries, according to a new report

The National Security Agency exempted four countries from its list of places where it could rightfully intercept information, leaving the world’s 193 other countries open to surveillance, according to a new set of top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Four countries that had signed a no-spying agreement with the U.S. — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — were declared off-limits by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Washington Post reports, but the court approved a list of 193 countries where the NSA could legally conduct surveillance.

The list also authorized spying on 20 organizations “not substantially composed of United States persons,” including the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union.

Other documents showed the court approved expansive rules for the collection of emails and phone conversations of foreign targets. The NSA was granted authorization to monitor not only the targeted person’s communications, but also individuals who come into contact with the target, including American citizens. Nearly 90,000 foreign individuals and organizations were designated as foreign targets in 2013, according to a report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

[Washington Post]

TIME Caffeine

Prom King Died From Caffeine Powder Overdose

Logan Stiner, 18, died after ingesting a toxic amount of caffeine

Correction appended

The death of an Ohio high school senior just shy of his graduation has officially been attributed to a caffeine overdose.

On May 27, recently elected prom king Logan Stiner, 18, came home for lunch and ingested enough caffeine powder to cause an irregular heartbeat and seizures. His brother found him dead next to the white powder.

“I never thought it would hurt an 18-year-old child,” neighbor Lora Balka told WKYC.

Lorain County Coroner Steven Evans said Saturday that 1/16 a teaspoon of power has the caffeine equivalent of one can of Mountain Dew or a high-power energy drink. No one saw how much powder Stiner drank or knows where he got it from, but Evans said that it can be purchased online.

In October 2013, a British man died from a caffeine overdose after eating too many Hero Instant Energy Mints. Every mint contains the caffeine found in a can of Red Bull and the label advises taking no more than five in a 24-hour period. The coroner did not disclose how many pills John Jackson, 40, ingested.

“I am as certain as I can be that Mr. Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger,” said Coroner Robin Balmain, who vowed to write to the U.K.’s Department of Health regarding the potential dangers of high energy products.

In 2010, a 23-year-old man died in Nottingham, England after ingesting two spoonfuls of caffeine powder at a party with friends, which is the equivalent of 70 cans of Red Bull. The label warned to only take one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.

“Caffeine is so freely available on the internet,” coroner Nigel Chapman said, “but it’s so lethal if taken in the wrong dose and here we see the consequence.”

This article originally misstated how Lora Balka was related to the victim. She is a neighbor.

TIME medicine

Painkiller Use High Among Soldiers Returning From War, Study Finds

A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado.
A soldier salutes the flag during a welcome home ceremony for troops arriving from Afghanistan on June 15, 2011 to Fort Carson, Colorado. John Moore—Getty Images

Of the 2,597 soldiers surveyed, 15% had taken opioids in the past month. Among civilians, that number is around 4%

A study published by a U.S. medical journal found that soldiers returning from war experience pain and take prescription opioids much more than civilians.

U.S. Army researchers surveyed an infantry brigade that had recently come home from Afghanistan. Of the 2,597 soldiers, 44% reported experiencing chronic pain that lasted for three months or more. 15% had taken opioids in the past month.

By contrast, the study’s authors suggest that 26% of civilians endure chronic pain, whilst 4% take opioids. Robin Toblin, who led the study, told the Los Angeles Times: “We were surprised by the percentages.”

Of the 1,131 soldiers who experienced chronic pain, nearly 14% described it as “severe”. Combat injuries were the main reason for the pain whilst rates of chronic pain were higher in those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. 60 soldiers said the pain was so bad that they were taking opioids nearly every day.

The study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine noted that use and misuse of opioids, prescribed for chronic pain, has “ballooned” recently. But experts said the study didn’t answer the questions it raised about whether opioids are being correctly prescribed.

“American medicine in general is overprescribing,” said Dr Mark Edlund, a psychiatrist and pain expert who was not involved with the survey.

The study did suggest some soldiers might have been incorrectly prescribed opioids. Amongst those taking the drugs, 17 soldiers said they experienced no pain and 144 reported it as “mild”.

Painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have faced a public backlash as addiction rates and fatal overdoses continue to increase. These drugs are considered most beneficial for short-term pain. When prescribed for chronic pain, the benefits might not exceed the risks.

TIME Crime

‘Cannibal Cop’ Conviction Overturned

Based on a lack of evidence

A federal judge overturned a former New York City police officer’s conviction for plotting gruesome crimes against women Monday night, based on a lack of evidence.

Gilberto Valle — given the moniker “cannibal cop” — was found guilty of plotting to kidnap, rape, kill, and then eat several women, including his wife, in 2013. His conviction was largely based on evidence found on fetish websites in which Valle openly discussed which women in his life would be easiest to kidnap and then butcher, sending online friends “blueprint” documents including real women’s names and photos. He also wrote about opening a restaurant that served human flesh.

According to the New York Times, Judge Paul G. Gardephe overturned the case because he did not believe that the evidence supported the conviction.

“The evidentiary record is such that it is more likely than not the case that all of Valle’s Internet communications about kidnapping are fantasy role-play,” Gardephe wrote in his opinion page. He continued that although the chats were “misogynistic… Despite the highly disturbing nature of Valle’s deviant and depraved sexual interests, his chats and emails about these interests are not sufficient — standing alone — to make out the elements of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.”

Valle has been in jail since his late 2012 arrest, and had faced a life sentence. During his time behind bars, he became a prison chef in what the New York Daily News called “the most ironic jail work assignment in recent memory.”

Valle’s mother told the NYDN that fellow inmates would joke, “Don’t stand too close to the oven, and that kind of thing.”

The judge upheld Valle’s conviction of illegally gaining access to a law enforcement database, which has a maximum sentence of a year in prison. A hearing will be held Tuesday to determine his status.

[NYT]

TIME poverty

U.S. Census Bureau Shows More People Living in Areas of Poverty

A man covers himself as he crosses a street under a snowfall in Washington, D.C. on March 25. 2014.
A man covers himself as he crosses a street under a snowfall in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

Researchers find living in poor neighborhoods adds burdens to low-income families

A U.S. Census Bureau report released on Monday reveals that the proportion of people living in areas of poverty increased by 7.7 percentage points from 2000 to 2010. Latest figures collected by the American Community Survey from 2008 to 2012 showed that 1 in 4 U.S. residents lived in areas with a poverty rate of at least 20%.

The report, Changes in Areas With Concentrated Poverty: 2000 to 2010, compares new data with that collected in the 2000 Census Bureau to track income changes throughout the country. According to latest figures, 30% of the population lived in areas of poverty in the District of Columbia and 14 states — an increase from only four states and the District of Columbia in 2000. States that had experienced the greatest increase included Tennessee, Oregon, Arkansas and North Carolina.

Data also showed that the entire country was affected by the increase in poverty, regardless of race. Although the report indicated that minorities and households headed by single mothers were at the greatest risk of living in poverty, whites living in poor areas had the greatest proportional increase — from 11.3% in 2000 to 20.3% in 2008 to 2012.

The report’s lead author, Alemayehu Bishaw of the Census Bureau’s Poverty Statistics Branch, said in a statement that federal and government agencies would be able to use the data to provide assistance to those in need. “Researchers have found that living in poor neighborhoods adds burdens to low-income families, such as poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities,” he said.

Despite the general rise throughout the country, the report found that the proportion of people living in poverty areas in West Virginia, Alaska, Louisiana, the District of Columbia and Hawaii actually decreased by at least 0.4 percentage points over the same period.

TIME World Cup

These Are the Best Places to Watch the World Cup (Besides Brazil)

Plenty of places to choose from here

Can’t make the ten-hour flight to Brazil in time for the U.S. vs Belgium World Cup match on Tuesday? TIME offers the following list to help you figure out where to catch the action:

Best Place to Hang Out with a World Cup Star: Las Vegas
If you’re looking for a place to escape the sweltering Vegas heat, let the air conditioning in the Wynn Encore Resort and Casino cool you down. The sports book at the Wynn is known for its luxurious appointments. As with any good sports book, it has dozens of television screens and also two large 12-foot by 12-foot screens. More importantly, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of Wayne Rooney, the English forward who’s reportedly vacationing there after his team was eliminated from the World Cup.

Biggest Crowd: Chicago
Looking for a place to hang out with 20,000 of your closest friends? Officials in Chicago moved the viewing party on Tuesday to the 61,500-seat Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears during football season, after recent parties drew unexpectedly large crowds.

Most Cultured Venue: Washington D.C.
On the calendar of the Goethe-Institut in Washington D.C., a World Cup viewing party is listed between a theatrical production of a work by Franz Kafka and an exhibition of German prints. If you catch the game here maybe you’ll absorb some of the culture as well. Just know in advance that the crowd at this organization dedicated to German culture probably wants Germany to win the whole thing.

Best Beach Scene: Redondo Beach, Calif.
Los Angeles’ hometown soccer team, the Galaxy, is hosting this gathering beachside at Veteran’s Park. After the game, you can go for a quick drive down the coast to Newport Beach, home of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Most Soccer-Devoted Sports Bar: New York City
Bars all over New York City are showing soccer. But if you’re looking for a place that has been dedicated to the beautiful game before everyone started jumping on the bandwagon, check out Nevada Smiths. Its website describes it as a place “Where Football is Religion.”

Best Place To Hang Out With A Big City Mayor: Boston
Marty Walsh, Boston’s new mayor, is hosting his second World Cup viewing party outside of City Hall. The New England Revolution mascot and cheerleaders will be on hand to keep people in good spirits.

And if you still can’t make it to any of these places, you can stream the games live via ESPN. Just make sure your boss doesn’t see, or try recycling Klinsmann’s note to get out of work for a bit.

TIME Iraq

Iraq Warplanes: When Subsonic is Faster than Supersonic

Russian soldiers unload Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad
Russian troops unload a Russian Su-25 attack plane in Baghdad on Saturday. REUTERS

Baghdad pivots to Russia for aircraft to fight Islamic terrorists

The lone acknowledged confrontation between a U.S.-made F-16 jet fighter and a Soviet Su-25 warplane took place over Pakistan near the Afghan border on August 4, 1988. The Pakistani F-16 destroyed the Su-25 with a missile, reportedly after it had strayed into Pakistani air space during Moscow’s occupation of Afghanistan.

Now a second dogfight between this pair of 20th Century war birds is underway. But the Su-25 appears to be winning. This time, it’s not in the sky, but on the ground: Iraq wants those warplanes on its runways and in its inventory as soon as possible so they can be flown into the fight against the rebels of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who are threatening to topple the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

The U.S. has sold Iraq 36 speedy F-16s for $3 billion, but the first pair isn’t slated to arrive in Iraq until September. So Iraq has turned to a pair of former Soviet republics, Russia and Belarus, and is buying used Su-25s, lumbering “low and slow” aircraft like the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Warthog, from them. Moscow apparently has accelerated delivery of the already-ordered planes at Baghdad’s urgent request.

Think of it as the military equivalent of the half-a-loaf argument: when your nation is in danger of collapsing, aging Su-25s beat brand-new F-16s every time.

“The United States remains committed to delivering the F-16s to Iraq as quickly as possible,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday, blaming some of the delay on the “completion of required financial and administrative details, which the Iraqi government has been slow to complete.” The U.S. plans to deliver two F-16s to Iraq monthly beginning in the fall, with all 36 delivered by 2016.

Amid all the geo-politicking over Iraq’s future, its choice of airplanes now that it’s in extremis highlights what’s good and bad about U.S. military hardware. It is, by most accounts, the best in the world—but the ponderous bureaucracy associated with its delivery, financing, training and logistics means that while it may be suited for tomorrow’s conflicts, it isn’t much help in today’s.

Iraq took delivery of its first F-16 June 5 at the Lockheed factory in Fort Worth where it was built (it still needs more work before they’re ready for delivery). Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, expressed delight. “It gives us the confidence that we can have enough capability of our own that we can protect the borders, to be able to protect our pipelines, and more importantly to deal with any threat of terrorism,” he said at the handover ceremony.

Five days later, ISIS took Mosul, and Iraq no longer seemed satisfied with Washington’s F-16 delivery schedule. “I’ll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract” for the F-16s, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the BBC last week, complaining that the process was “long-winded.” He said Iraq would have been better off trying “to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian to secure the air cover for our forces; if we had air cover we would have averted what had happened.”

Certainly, the Su-25 (NATO nickname: Frogfoot; Russian nickname: Grach, Russian for Rook) is better-suited for plinking terrorists down below than the F-16. An initial batch of five reportedly arrived in Iraq on Saturday, part of a bigger package totaling 12 aircraft and the personnel needed to keep them flying. “The Sukhoi Su-25 is an air-ground support and anti-terrorism mission aircraft,” Iraqi Army Lieut. General Anwar Hamad Amen Ahmed told Russia’s RT news service. “In these difficult times, we are in great need of such aircraft.”

Iraq flew Su-25 attack planes during the 1980-1988 war with Iran. That means there’s an aging cohort of Iraqi pilots who could be flying the planes pretty quickly, Pentagon officials say. Iraq hopes to have the planes attacking ISIS targets within days. “God willing within one week this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists’ dens,” Maliki said.

ITAR-TASS, the Russian news service, has repeatedly jabbed at the slowness of the U.S. deliveries in recent days. “Iraq has requested Russia to urgently supply Su-25 (Frogfoot) ground attack aircraft over Washington’s delay in delivering F-16 fighters,” one dispatch said.

But that’s not quite correct. The F-16 deliveries haven’t been delayed. “There’s been no slow-rolling,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “I’ve said it from here for the last several months that the first deliveries, the first two were scheduled to be delivered in the fall… I don’t know how one can make the case that we’re slow-rolling it when they weren’t even supposed to be delivered for another few months.”

But Army Colonel Steven Warren said Monday that the insurgency has forced the evacuation of contractors from the base north of Baghdad readying for the F-16s’ arrival. “I don’t have a specific timeline for how the relocation of contractors from Balad will affect the delivery of the F-16s,” he said. “It certainly will.”

 

TIME technology

California Lifts Ban on Bitcoin

California Legalizes Bitcoin
California Gov. Jerry Brown looks on during a news conference at Google headquarters on September 25, 2012. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Technically, all transactions using digital or alternative currencies had been illegal in California until Monday

California lawmakers approved a bill Monday that lifted an outdated ban on the use of bitcoin and other alternative currencies, as more states seek to clarify and revise virtual currency laws.

AB 129, which Governor Jerry Brown had signed on Saturday, will ensure that “various forms of alternative currency such as digital currency” will be legal in purchasing goods and transmitting payments, according to the bill’s text. The bill reflects the growing use of digital currencies, revising Section 107 of California’s Corporations Code that prohibits use of “anything but the lawful money of the United States.”

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” Democratic Assemblyman and the bill’s author Roger Dickinson said in a recent statement.

Dickinson noted that points and rewards programs function as digital currencies, and thus would not have been legal without the passage of AB 129, which legalizes these “community currencies,” that is, alternative payment systems between businesses and customers.

Other states have similarly sought to clarify their bitcoin laws. In March, the Texas Department of Banking stated that bitcoin transmissions, while permitted, are not technically “currency” transmissions. That month, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the state will accept proposals for a virtual currency regulation system.

While bitcoin use is now legal in California, it is not technically legal tender, a status reserved for and defined federally as “United States coins and currency” under the Coinage Act of 1965. The IRS clarified in March that bitcoin functions more like property than currency, which means that taxes applying to property transactions also apply to bitcoin transactions.

Elsewhere in the world, only very few countries, notably Brazil and China, have specific regulations of bitcoin use.

TIME White House

White House Chooses Congressional Fight Over Hobby Lobby Decision

The White House denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow for-profit companies to refuse payment for certain employee birth control insurance coverage because of religious objections. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Earnest quickly added that President Obama, who has been touring the country promoting his ability to work around Congress, plans no immediate executive actions to remedy the situation created by the Hobby Lobby ruling. “The Supreme Court was ruling on the application of a specific law that was passed by Congress,” Earnest said. “So what we’d like is for Congress to take action to pass another law that would address this problem.”

This is a notable departure in strategy for the White House that is likely to increase the visibility of the issue in an election year, while delaying the arrival of a solution for those women who will now be denied certain contraceptive coverage. All signs Monday pointed to the fact that Democrats would rather stage a political fight over the issue than quickly resolve it for the affected women. Both the Democratic Party and the White House Twitter accounts spend much of the day rallying people to outrage on social media over the decision. “It’s time that five men on the Supreme Court stop deciding what happens to women,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Legal observers say it would not be difficult for the Obama Administration to resolve the situation unilaterally. The Department of Health and Human Services has already taken unilateral executive action to ensure that women employed by religious nonprofits get contraception coverage in cases where the employer declines to pay. “There was nothing in the statute that specifically allowed them to create the exemption for non-profit organizations so I don’t see why they couldn’t extend that to for-profit corporations,” said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the Affordable Care Act’s regulations. “I don’t know why they couldn’t do it themselves.”

In fact, in a concurring opinion at the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy recognized Obama’s unilateral powers as a rationale for allowing the for-profit companies to opt out of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. “In other instances the Government has allowed the same contraception coverage in issue here to be provided to employees of nonprofit religious organizations,” Kennedy wrote. “The accommodations works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it.”

But the White House has chosen to first try for a legislative fix in Congress, where the chances of success are slim at best. Republicans are mostly united in praising the Supreme Court result, all but foreclosing chances that a change in the law makes its way through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where most GOP lawmakers still back repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Polls suggest that the issue could benefit Democrats in the election year. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted over the last month found that only 35% of the country believes that employers should be able to decide what kind of contraceptives their health plan provides for employees based on religious beliefs. By contrast, 53% of the country opposed giving employers that power.

The White House, meanwhile, is leaving open the option for unilateral executive action, but only once Congress fails. “We’ll consider whether or not there is a range of other options that may be available that don’t require legislative action,” Earnest said, declining to put a timeframe on the review.

 

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