Monday, December 16, 2013

Published:

Judge: NSA's bulk collection of phone records likely violates Constitution; appeal expected

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a ruling with potentially far-reaching consequences, a federal judge declared Monday that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records likely violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on unreasonable search. The ruling, filled with blistering criticism of the Obama administration's arguments, is the first of its kind on the controversial program.

Even if NSA's "metadata" collection of records should pass constitutional muster, the judge said, there is little evidence it has ever prevented a terrorist attack. The collection program was disclosed by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, provoking a heated national and international debate.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against the collecting of the phone records of two men who had challenged the program and said any such records for the men should be destroyed. But he put enforcement of that decision on hold pending a near-certain government appeal, which may well end up at the Supreme Court.

The injunction applies only to the two individual plaintiffs, but the ruling is likely to open the door to much broader challenges to the records collection and storage.

The plaintiffs are Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, who is the father of a cryptologist technician who was killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. The son worked for the NSA and support personnel for Navy SEAL Team VI.

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UN issues record funding appeal for Syrian refugees and victims of civil war

BEIRUT (AP) -- The exodus of millions of people from Syria in one of the largest refugee flights in decades is pushing neighboring countries to a breaking point, and thousands of lives are threatened with the onset of a bitter winter.

The crisis prompted a record appeal by the United Nations on Monday for $6.5 billion to help displaced Syrians and their host countries, with hundreds of thousands more refugees expected as the civil war rages.

With less than a month to go before internationally brokered peace talks by Syria's warring sides are to begin, the U.N. chief demanded a cease-fire for the discussions to have any chance in succeeding.

"We must have cessation of hostilities before we begin political dialogue on Syria in Geneva," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York.

But if anything, the violence in Syria, which activists say has already claimed more than 120,000 lives, appears to be spiraling. Opposition groups said at least 76 people were killed in a series of airstrikes targeting the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday. They said government aircraft took to the skies again Monday, hitting opposition-held areas in the country's north and south.

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10 Things to Know for Tuesday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday:

1. WHY AN NSA PROGRAM MAY BE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

A judge says the collection of phone records likely violates a ban on unreasonable search.

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GOP establishment, hard-right groups displaying classic signs of a bitter political divorce

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican leaders and several hard-right groups are displaying the classic signs of a political divorce, including bitter name-calling and reprisals against one another.

The recent eagerness of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to lash out at groups that have given them fits has unshackled others in the Republican ranks to publicly question the motivation of organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, Madison Project and Club for Growth.

Such organizations disparage Republicans they accuse of following the path of least resistance in Washington and vow to replace them in primaries with conservative purists.

"I think there's a growing recognition around here that many of the outside groups do what they do solely to raise money, and there are some participants inside Congress who do the same," said Sen. Bob Corker. He said that some of the newer senators have caught on to "the disinformation, getting people to call offices, send in small donations to a website."

"I think people are getting tired of that. I tired of it before I got here," said the Tennessee Republican.

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Mega Millions jackpot climbs to $586 million; still short of $656M record set last year

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Mega Millions jackpot inched toward a U.S. lottery record Monday as it soared to $586 million amid a frenzy of ticket purchases, raising the possibility that the prize could pass the once-unthinkable $1 billion mark by Christmas Eve should nobody win before then.

Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions, said ticket sales are ahead of projections for Tuesday's drawing, increasing the likelihood it could shatter the current record of $656 million, set in a March 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

That was enough for Drew Gentsch to buy one ticket Monday morning. The attorney from Des Moines never plays, but the ballooning jackpot was too good to pass up.

"I think it's ridiculous but you have to dream big," he said. "The odds of winning are so low, there's no real reason to play. But it's fun to do so once in a while."

The large Mega Millions prize is the product of a major game revamp in October that dramatically lowered the odds of winning the jackpot. If a winner isn't selected Tuesday night and it rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday night, Otto predicts the jackpot will reach $1 billion -- an unheard of amount for Mega Millions or Powerball, the nation's two main lottery games.

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HEALTHBEAT: Studies show multivitamins didn't protect men's aging brains or help heart disease

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There's more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills didn't protect aging men's brains or help heart attack survivors.

Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin combinations, presumably to boost their health and fill gaps in their diets. But while people who don't eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government doesn't recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases.

The studies released Monday are the latest to test if multivitamins might go that extra step and concluded they don't.

"Evidence is sufficient to advise against routine supplementation," said a sharply worded editorial that accompanied Monday's findings in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

After all, most people who buy multivitamins and other supplements are generally healthy, said journal deputy editor Dr. Cynthia Mulrow. Even junk foods often are fortified with vitamins, while the main nutrition problem in the U.S. is too much fat and calories, she added.

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Why the Fed's low-rate policies may or may not have helped inflate 5 asset bubbles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve's super-low interest-rate policies have inflated a slew of dangerous asset bubbles. Or so critics say.

They say stocks are at unsustainable prices. California homes are fetching frothy sums. Same with farmland, Bitcoins and rare Scotch.

Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Fed has aggressively bought bonds to try to cut borrowing rates and accelerate spending, investing and hiring. Its supporters say low rates have helped nourish the still-modest economic rebound.

Yet some say the Fed-engineered rates have produced an economic sugar high that risks triggering a crash akin to the tech-stock swoon in 2000 and the housing bust in 2006.

On the eve of the Fed's latest policy meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, here's why -- or why not -- these five assets might be in a bubble:

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After years of study, FDA says it has no evidence anti-bacterial soaps curb spread of bacteria

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After more than 40 years of study, the U.S. government says it has found no evidence that common anti-bacterial soaps prevent the spread of germs, and regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that they are revisiting the safety of triclosan and other sanitizing agents found in soap in countless kitchens and bathrooms. Recent studies suggest triclosan and similar substances can interfere with hormone levels in lab animals and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The government's preliminary ruling lends new support to outside researchers who have long argued that the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.

"The FDA is finally making a judgment call here and asking industry to show us that these products are better than soap and water, and the data don't substantiate that," said Stuart Levy of the Tufts University School of Medicine.

While the rule only applies to personal hygiene products, it has implications for a broader $1 billion industry that includes thousands of anti-bacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste. Over the last 20 years, companies have added triclosan and other cleaners to thousands of household products, touting their germ-killing benefits.

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Judge revokes Chris Brown's probation over DC arrest, orders him to abide by previous sentence

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A judge on Monday revoked Chris Brown's probation after his recent arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor assault in Washington, D.C., but the ruling will not alter the singer's requirements to complete rehab and community labor for his 2009 attack on Rihanna.

Superior Court Judge James R. Brandlin cited details contained in an arrest report as his reason for revoking Brown's probation for the second time this year. He ordered Brown to return to court Feb. 10 for an update on his progress in rehab.

Prosecutors did not request that Brown be sent to jail during Monday's hearing.

In November, Brown was ordered to spend 90 days in a treatment program for anger management and other issues. Brandlin said probation officials reported the Grammy-winner was handling the program well in recent weeks.

"I'm pleased he's doing well" in treatment, the judge said.

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Justin Tucker's 3 field goals put Ravens ahead of sluggish Lions 9-7 at halftime

DETROIT (AP) -- Justin Tucker kicked three field goals in the second quarter to give the Baltimore Ravens a 9-7 halftime lead over the sluggish Detroit Lions in a crucial Monday night matchup with playoff implications in both conferences.

Reggie Bush ran for a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but the Ford Field crowd had little to cheer about after that. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford went 8 of 15 for 70 yards in the half, and he was hurt by a pair of uncharacteristic drops by Calvin Johnson.

Tucker kicked field goals of 29, 24 and 32 yards -- the third one on the final play of the half. Two of the field goals were set up by Detroit penalties on what could have been deep incompletions by Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

Both passes were intended for Marlon Brown. The Lions were called for pass interference on one, giving the Ravens the ball at the Detroit 10-yard line and setting up the field goal that made it 7-6.

The more damaging penalty came on third down in the final seconds of the half. Detroit safety Louis Delmas was called for a personal foul for hitting Brown on a pass that fell short of the receiver. The penalty moved Baltimore into field-goal range and kept that drive alive.