Superstorm Sandy has pounded the mid-Atlantic United States, bringing massive flooding and damage that’s left at least 13 people dead and more than seven million people without power. Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night after being reclassified as a post-tropical cyclone. But it still brought hurricane-force winds and rain, making it one of the largest storms the United States has ever seen. Its winds stretched all the way from South Carolina to Canada, and from West Virginia out far into the Atlantic Ocean. Estimates of the damage so far have reached as high as $20 billion. [includes rush transcript]
Parts of New York City were submerged under water higher than 13 feet, flooding a number of subway stations and causing blackouts for more than 600,000 people. The storm set off a massive fire in the Queens neighborhood of Breezy Point, destroying at least 50 homes. The Brooklyn-Battery car tunnel was flooded with water just hours after it was closed to traffic. The floodwaters also filled streets, submerging vehicles and even sending some floating downstream. At least seven subway tunnels were flooded beneath the East River, prompting the head of New York’s transit authority to call Sandy the most devastating storm in the subway system’s history. Dozens of patients were evacuated from the New York University Langone hospital after a backup generator lost power. President Obama has declared New York City and Long Island to be disaster areas, clearing the way for federal aid.
In New Jersey, the Exelon Corporation’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant was placed on alert after rising waters threatened the cooling of uranium fuel rods. The alert-level designation is the second-lowest of four action levels for safety. Another New Jersey plant, the Salem 1, was shut down after its water pumps failed. The plant’s operator, PSEG Nuclear, says it is stable. The storm is continuing to barrel through Pennsylvania today, bringing a mix of rain, wind and snow that is expected to last for several days.
Hurricane Sandy hit the United States after pummeling the Caribbean, where it left at least 69 people dead, including at least 52 in Haiti.
Thousands of people marched in Yemen on Monday to protest a U.S. drone attack that killed four people. The Yemeni government says three of the dead were alleged militants, but their identities have not been disclosed.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Algeria Monday for talks on an effort to oust Islamist militants in Mali. The United States is backing a potential U.N. intervention that would help the Mali government oust the rebels, who seized control of northern Mali in March.
The U.S.-backed monarchy in Bahrain has banned all protests and gatherings in the face of continuing pro-democracy rallies. It is the second time Bahrain has banned public demonstrations since protests erupted in early 2011.
The two members of the Russian band Pussy Riot still behind bars have reportedly been sent to notoriously harsh prison camps to finish out their two-year terms. According to supporters, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are being placed in penal colonies known for having the worst conditions of all the possible facilities where they could have been jailed. Their prison is said to have insufficient medical supplies and no hot water despite subzero temperatures.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case challenging government surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The American Civil Liberties Union brought the case on behalf of lawyers, journalists and human rights researchers who say the monitoring of overseas communications violates their constitutional rights. The U.S. government has fought for dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiffs cannot prove their communications have been monitored. But the ACLU argued Monday that such proof is impossible to obtain since spy targets are considered secret. In a statement, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer said he was encouraged by Monday’s arguments, saying: “The court seemed appropriately skeptical of the government’s attempts to shield this sweeping surveillance law from meaningful judicial review.”
A federal appeals has upheld a ruling vacating the death sentence of California’s longest-serving death row prisoner. The 9th Circuit ruled Monday that Douglas Ray Stankewitz is entitled to either a new trial or re-sentencing because of a failed effort to investigate his upbringing, including an abusive childhood and extensive substance abuse. Stankewitz, a Native American, has been on death row since 1978 for a kidnapping and murder.
The New York Times has revealed a top Obama campaign strategist has played a major role in advising corporations lobbying the federal government on polices and regulations. Anita Dunn has emerged as one of President Obama’s top advisers while still running the consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker. SKDK’s client list includes TransCanada, the Canadian company seeking Obama’s approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; as well as General Electric, AT&T, Time Warner, and the military contractor Pratt & Whitney. The firm also represents a number of business coalitions, including one seeking to reduce tax rates on around $1 trillion in offshore profits. An SKDK partner was reportedly able to learn of the White House’s opposition to the tax proposal in a private conversation with a top adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Despite working for top corporations lobbying the government, Dunn’s role has escaped scrutiny under ethics rules that subject consultants to less oversight than lobbyists.