Tag Archive for: surveillance

Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.

Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.



Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide

A federal judge in Amarillo, TX, heard arguments today in a case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the sale of the abortion medication mifepristone nationwide. Attorneys for the Texas-based organization Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine contends that the FDA used improperly approved the drug in 2000. The group argues that the FDA and did not adequately assess its use by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.

Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen used to abort a pregnancy, usually before 10 weeks gestation. More than half of all abortions in the US are managed with medication. Mifepristone also has several other approved uses that have nothing to do with abortion. These include treating uterine fibroids and managing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

Department of Justice attorneys defending the FDA said that mifepristone has a proven track record of being safe and effective. The DOJ also argued that the challenge comes much too late as the drug was approved 23 years ago.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also filed an amicus brief in support of the FDA, saying mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe”.

Women’s health advocates say taking mifepristone off the market would force more women to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures. It would further overwhelm abortion clinics that are already struggling to meet the needs of women who often have to travel several states away.

Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presided over the case, asked the attorneys involved early last week not to publicize when and where the hearing would be held. Kacsmaryk hoped to minimize press coverage and protests at the courthouse in this momentous case that could impact over 60 million women of child-bearing age in the US. The judge’s attempt to keep proceedings quiet backfired with women’s rights groups descending on Amarillo. One dressed as a kangaroo with a gavel, implying the hearing was a “kangaroo court”.

Kacsmaryk is a former Christian activist appointed to the federal bench by former Pres. Donald Trump. His court has become a venue of choice for lawsuits from numerous conservative groups. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine incorporated in Amarillo just three months before filing suit, which many consider a case of “court shopping”.

Kacsmaryk did not issue a ruling today after four hours of arguments. The groups bringing the suit also asked Kacsmaryk for a preliminary order halting sales of the drug while their lawsuit proceeds. Kacsmaryk ended by saying he would “issue an order and opinion as soon as possible,” possibly suggesting he’s already made up his mind about the preliminary order. In anticipation of mifepristone becoming unavailable, healthcare providers are busy lining up viable alternatives.

The next stop for the losers in Kacsmaryk’s court would be the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It’s possible the case could wind up before the Supreme Court. Even if the FDA ultimately prevails, an order from Kacsmaryk halting sales of mifepristone could complicate the lives of millions of women for months (not to mention people who use mifepristone to manage other medical conditions). 

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Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment

The state of Ohio has filed a civil suit against the rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment in East Palestine last month that was responsible for releasing more than a million gallons of toxic chemicals. The state is hoping to recoup the cost of the state’s costs from the disaster. The suit wants to hold the rail company financially responsible for damage to the state’s natural resources, the cost of state emergency response and economic harm to residents.

The suit refers to the East Palestine disaster as just one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents for which Norfolk Southern is responsible. Norfolk Southern has been responsible for at least 20 derailments since 2015 involving the release of toxic chemicals, according to the filing. The state accuses Norfolk Southern of “recklessly endangering” residents and the environment, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence.

Communities in western Pennsylvania were also affected by the disaster which took place less than a mile the other side of their border with Ohio. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a criminal referral to his state attorney general regarding the disaster. The attorney general’s office is still investigating whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of Norfolk Southern, but no charges have been filed.

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Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea

Yesterday, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied since 2014. US officials say that the crash was the result of an encounter with two Russian fighter jets. The drone became “unflyable” when one of the jets clipped its propeller. Prior to this, the jets had been dumping fuel over the drone to try to force it down. The Kremlin denies this version of events.

The US says the drone was in international airspace when the Russian jets attacked it, but Russia insists the the drone violated their (or Ukraine’s) air space. Russia claims that the presence of the drone is further evidence of direct involvement in the Ukraine war by the US military.

Both Russia and the US have announced that they’ll attempt to recover the drone. There’s a worrisome possibility of confrontation as the two sides try to get to the drone first. Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley says he’s not sure if the drone is recoverable, claiming it sank under 4000-5000 feet of water. Milley also stressed the US has taken “mitigating measures” that would thwart Russia’s attempts to recover useful intelligence from the drone should they recover it. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed he has communicated with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the incident.

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Could industrial and civilian balloons account for the “objects” shot down this weekend? A quick Google search yields some intriguing, and potentially embarrassing, possibilities.




Could these be the “UFOs” shot down this weekend?

Speculation is running wild about the three high-altitude objects shot down this weekend in Alaska, Canada and over Lake Huron. An unnamed US government source also described the Alaskan object which the US Air Force shot down on Friday as “cylindrical and silverish-grey“. Canada’s Defense Minister Anita Anand described the object shot down there on Saturday as being “cylindrical“. The third object, which the F-16s needed two missiles to shoot down (the first missed and landed in Lake Huron), was described by an anonymous government source as “octagonal” in shape with strings hanging down.

A large industrial gas storage balloon made by Ballonbau Wörner.

A Google search of “cylindrical balloons” will lead you to several vendors who sell large sausage-shaped balloons used for storage of various gases. These balloons come in a variety of colors (including “silverish-grey”) and are made of a sturdy polyester fabric with a polyurethane or polyvinylchloride (PVC) coating inside and out. The website of one vendor, Ballonbau Wörner in Augsberg, Germany, describes the product:

“Gas storage balloons, also known as gas holder balloons, gas bags or gas recovery membranes, are flexible, inflatable bladders used for industrial purposes. They often serve as an intermediate storage solution for the economical collection or storage of gases such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, helium or other inert gases. These flexible containers (tanks) are used, for example, in breweries, technical universities and research institutes, and in special recycling processes.”

Hydrogen, nitrogen, and helium are all lighter-than-air gases, as are neon, ammonia, methane and carbon monoxide. All of these are commonly used in industrial processes.

Ballonbau Wörner’s website also says they make custom balloon shapes. This may possibly include octagons, or even hexagons which would be more space-efficient for storage. The website recommends various methods for securing the balloons:

“In order to stand securely at the installation location, the balloons are suspended in a tubular frame. The tubular frames can optionally be suspended from the ceiling using steel cables or fixed to the floor with supports. Installation is very simple and can easily be performed by any technician.”

Could the steel cables account for the “strings” hanging down from the octagonal object over Lake Huron?

Helium-floated wind turbines over Alaska

An experimental Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) by Altaeros Energies.

An article from 2014 discusses a project to float a wind turbine over Fairbanks, Alaska. The Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT), developed by Altaeros Energies, consists of a roughly cylindrical balloon (or envelope). The interior is hollow to accommodate the turbine.

In theory, the turbine would float some 300 meters off the ground to harness the greater wind energy at higher altitudes. This would allow for easy installation in areas that have little access to other renewable energy sources and where space was at a premium. As a bonus, the balloon could also carry equipment to boost cell phone service in the area.

Most of the articles referencing this experiment technology date back to 2014 and 2015. I could find no mention of current models or production of BATs on Altaeros’ website. But the 2014 article references other companies experimenting with other types of airborne turbines. 

If these are in use somewhere in the Arctic or the Yukon, did one of them get loose?

Silence from government and loose talk

Just a quick disclaimer, this is only a theory. I’m not a physicist and have no idea if it would even be possible for one of these envelopes to float up to 40,000 feet without losing buoyancy or air pressure. These materials are sturdier than your average party balloon which suggests it might be possible, at least to a layperson like me. 

So far, there haven’t been many answers forthcoming from the White House or the Pentagon either. None of the objects have yet been recovered. Two of them are presumably lying over the frozen wastes of Alaska and the Yukon. The third (along with a missile costing God-knows-what) is at the bottom of Lake Huron.

John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson, said yesterday that the intelligence community is considering whether the three objects could be balloons “tied to some commercial or benign purpose”. That may be all we ever hear from the White House or the Pentagon. If, as I’ve suggested here, these are just industrial balloons, the government will have to explain that they scrambled numerous fighter jets and fired at least four missiles (one of which missed!) costing in the millions of dollars to neutralize a few thousand dollars worth of industrial equipment.

Unanswered questions

This leaves us with another key question: how did these balloons get loose? Did someone screw up? Was it a prank following the furor over the Chinese spy balloon?

Maybe some bored workers at some desolate oil rig somewhere in the Arctic thought to themselves, “Hey, we’ve got balloons and we’ve got methane. Let’s have some fun!”. Did they laugh and high-five each other when a missile hit the balloon and an enormous fireball erupted across the night sky? 

Did Nena predict this exact scenario in 1983 in the anti-war anthem “99 Luftbaloons”?

These are all questions we may never know the answers to.



Please share any thoughts, comments or questions in the Comments section below!

How long has the Memphis bridge crack been there? 1 in 10 police departments can access Ring cameras without a warrant. 8000 migrants arrive in Spanish enclave in 36 hours.


Memphis bridge crack has been there for at least 2 years

Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor says she has fired a department inspector who failed to spot the crack in the 1-40 “New Bridge” that connects Memphis and West Memphis, AR, over the Mississippi River. Drone footage from 2019 has surfaced showing that the crack was visible even then. Tudor has not identified the inspector, but said that the inspector failed to note the crack in a fall 2019 report or any 2020 report. The inspector had been with the department for 15 years. Tudor said that all “fracture critical” bridges last inspected by the fired employee will be re-inspected.

Transport officials have not given a timeline for the repair of the I-40 bridge but have said it could take weeks. In the meantime, all traffic, including semis, is being redirected to the 71-year-old two-lane I-55 bridge. Officials have ordered a drone inspection of the I-55 bridge “out of an abundance of caution”.

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1 in 10 police departments have warrantless access to Amazon Ring cameras

Millions of people across the US have purchased doorbell cameras from Amazon Ring to protect their homes. Ring constantly records video outside your home, and all that data is uploaded and stored into Amazon’s Cloud. One Amazon software, Max Eliaser, recognized the problems with this, writing in a 2020 company memo that Ring is “simply not compatible with a free society”.

Since 2018, Amazon has brokered deals with 1,800 local law enforcement agencies across the US. These deals allow members of law enforcement to request recorded video content from Ring users without a warrant. And the number of these agreement is on the increase.

In the past year, law enforcement agencies have made more than 22,000 individual requests to access captured and recorded content from Ring cameras. Amazingly, this does not violate the fourth amendment, since the cameras are owned by civilians.

Many who aren’t running criminal enterprises out of their homes may be willing to sacrifice their privacy to keep their homes safe. However, it is worth considering that warrantless access means a member of law enforcement can access this data at any time, for any reason (or for no reason). This leaves the system wide open to abuse.

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1000s of migrants arrive in Spanish enclave in a matter of days

In just 36 hours, 8000 migrants have arrived in a Spanish-owned enclave bordering Morocco. Thousands of people from Morocco,  North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa either used rafts or swam around the breakwater that separates the enclave from Morocco. At least 2000 are minors. The influx apparently caught Spain off guard and left authorities to grapple with a sudden humanitarian crisis.

The wave of migrants seems to be connected to a dispute between the Spanish and Moroccan government. Spain recently allowed a leader of a Western Saharan independence group to come to Spain for COVID-19 treatment. This angered Morocco, who annexed Western Sahara in 1975. Karima Benyaich, Morocco’s ambassador to Spain, appeared to draw a direct link to the incidents. Benyaich implied that Spain’s actions had consequences that “must be accepted”.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said anyone who had entered Ceuta irregularly would be “immediately returned”.

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New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson said officers have arrested 18-year-old Eden Dye in connection with a weekend “shopping spree” burglary of the pro shop at the New Albany tennis complex.

Eden Dye

Dye, who was described as having no fixed address, was taken into custody Thursday night at the Lifecore Health Group, which deals with behavioral health, addiction treatment and other services, in Tupelo.

She is being charged with commercial burglary with bond set at $10,000.

The break-in occurred sometime Sunday, the chief said. Tennis coach and co-manager Suzy Boman said it was not discovered sooner because the complex was not in use due to rain.

The surveillance system for the complex is capable of sending alerts when motion is detected but Boman said that at the time the rain and wind were so heavy that they were triggering false alarms all the time, leading to the actual break-in being overlooked. She added they definitely are going to be beefing up the system.

The suspect broke in through an exterior glass window near the door to the pro shop. It looked like the door had sustained some minor damage as if the suspect had tried to get in through there first.

The suspect was in there about six hours, Boman said, behaving erratically at times, wandering around the shop. During this time the woman loaded a large bag with shoes, sunglasses, clothing and other items. “She basically went on a six-hour shopping spree,” Boman said.

The suspect left the area on foot, as far as could be determined.

Investigation of the case was aided by the fact that the complex and shop are extensively covered by a surveillance system the chief described as one of the best in New Albany, so images of the suspect inside the shop were captured and available, once the burglary had been discovered.

Chief Robertson said some of the items taken have been recovered but have been used and probably are unsellable.

The chief did confirm that the suspect is known to officers and does have a history of substance abuse.