The Chinese spy balloon shot down today by the U.S. military had “generated deep concern” in Congress because of a classified report on aerial surveillance that was sent to it last month by intelligence agencies, the New York Times reported today.

“The (report) discussed at least two incidents of a rival power conducting aerial surveillance with what appeared to be unknown cutting-edge technology, according to U.S. officials,” the Times reported. “While the report did not attribute the incidents to any country, two American officials familiar with the research said the surveillance probably was conducted by China.”

The balloon was shot down by the U.S. military off the Carolina coast Saturday afternoon, as reported by Raw Story. The Biden Administration had decided to leave it in flight until it was over water to minimize the risk of debris plummeting to the ground.

The New York Times account provided new context about what had preceded the arrival of the spy balloon.

RELATED: ‘Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon’

“The report on what the intelligence agencies call unidentified aerial phenomena focused on several incidents believed to be surveillance,” the Times noted. “Some of those incidents have involved balloons, while others have involved quadcopter drones.

“The Chinese government said on Friday the Chinese balloon discovered over the United States was mainly for weather research. However, American officials said they have assessed it to be a collection device, though not one that could gather the kind of sensitive information that advanced Chinese reconnaissance satellites already collect.”

It was not surprising that the Chinese spy balloon set off an especially strong reaction in Congress, according to the Times report.

“The surveillance balloon stirred outrage on Capitol Hill. Some officials said the information about adversarial spying contained in the classified report on unidentified aerial phenomena had already driven up concern earlier. Both Republicans and Democrats hawkish on China called the surveillance balloon a violation of American sovereignty that highlighted the threat from Beijing.”

ALSO IN THE NEWS: Durham’s dud is worse than it looks — and now Trump suddenly doesn’t want to talk witch hunts

The derailing of a cargo train near East Palestine, Ohio caused a massive fire on February 4, 2023

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (AFP) – A cargo train derailed in the midwestern United States, sparking a massive fire and evacuation orders, officials and reports said Saturday.

No injuries or fatalities were reported after the 50-car train came off the tracks late Friday near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state border.

The train was shipping cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, when it derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.

Several explosions were heard as the cars continued to burn into Saturday, according to local media.

Low temperatures hampered the effort, as fire trucks pumping water froze up.

Officials said the train was carrying the chemical vinyl chloride, NBC’s local affiliate WFMJ-TV reported.

Firefighters wore hazmat suits as they tackled the blaze.

Roughly 2,000 residents — about half of the town’s population — were asked by authorities to evacuate their homes.

Officials asked anyone living within a one-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of the scene to leave. They also enforced a shelter-in-place order for the entire town.

“We cannot stress enough that we need everyone to stay away from the scene,” East Palestine’s town manager wrote in a letter posted on Facebook.

NEW YORK (AFP) – An Arctic blast that brought “frostquakes” to parts of the United States saw the country record its lowest ever wind-chill temperature, meteorologists said Saturday.

Atop Mount Washington in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, the wind-chill factor reached minus 78 degrees Celsius (minus 108 degrees Fahrenheit) overnight, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

The service’s office in the town of Gray, Maine, said in a tweet that it set a new US record for the lowest wind-chill temperature in the United States.

CNN reported that it broke the previous record of minus 76 C set in Alaska.

The previous low at Mount Washington was minus 74 C, recorded there in 2004, the Weather Channel said.

At almost 6,300 feet (1,920 meters), Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern US and is known for having some of the world’s worst weather.

Temperatures of minus 43 C and wind gusts of over 110 miles per hour (177 kmh) combined for the historic low.

The NWS office in Caribou, Maine, said a wind chill of minus 51 C was recorded in the small town of Frenchville, just south of the border with Canada.

The office said they had received reports of “frostquakes,” also called “cryoseisms,” in the region.

“Just like earthquakes, (they) generate tremors, thundering sensations. These are caused by sudden cracks in frozen soil or underground water when it’s very cold,” the NWS office wrote on Twitter.

Ahead of the blast, it had warned of an “epic, generational Arctic outbreak.”

The NWS said the chills would be “something northern and eastern Maine has not seen since similar outbreaks in 1982 and 1988.”

“Most stations are forecast to see their lowest wind chills in decades or, in some cases, the lowest ever recorded,” the service added.

It warned that frostbite to exposed skin can occur within five minutes in such conditions.

“The dangers of being caught unprepared without shelter from the elements and without proper winter survival gear cannot be stressed enough,” the service wrote.

The NWS said the blast brought temperatures 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below average over parts of the US Northeast and the coastal Mid-Atlantic.

Extreme weather warnings covering several million people were in effect across much of New England, Quebec and eastern Canada.

A wind chill factor of minus 41 C was measured at Montreal International Airport.

The Hydro Quebec energy company said the polar blast had sparked record high electricity consumption late Friday and urged customers to turn down their heating by a degree or two.

In New York City, a “code blue” regulation was in effect, meaning no homeless shelter could turn anyone anyway.

In New York’s Central Park, the mercury dipped to minus 16 C, the NWS said.

Wind-chill temperatures fell below minus 34 C in Boston, where public schools were closed Friday as a precautionary measure.

Warmer air is due to move into the region late on Sunday.

A Chinese spy balloon that’s been drifting through U.S. airspace for days was shot down off the Carolina coast Saturday afternoon, President Joe Biden said.

The balloon had spent five days floating from Idaho to the Carolinas, sparking a diplomatic incident between the U.S. and China and a huge political debate in which many Republicans criticized Biden for not downing it quickly – with some encouraging civilians to shoot it down themselves.

Biden’s administration decided to leave it in flight until it was over water to minimize risk of debris plummeting to the ground.

The balloon was downed by the U.S. military shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration announced it had “paused departures from and arrivals to” airports in the area “to support the Department of Defense in a national security effort.” The Associated Press reported an operation was underway to recover the debris from the ocean.

Some on social media posted videos apparently showing the craft falling from the sky.

The Chinese government had claimed that the ballon was used for weather research and had drifted off course into U.S. airspace, but the Pentagon said it was a surveillance device.

Biden had said earlier Saturday that “we’re going to take of it.”

CONQUEIROS, Portugal (Reuters) – When his dog was born three decades ago in a tiny village in central Portugal, Leonel Costa was only eight years old. Little did he know that his beloved Bobi would one day be recorded as the world’s oldest dog.

When Bobi, a purebred Rafeiro do Alentejo, celebrated its 30th birthday last year, Costa knew he had broken an almost century-old record held by an Australian cattle-dog that died at 29 years and five months in 1939.

Costa got in touch with the Guinness World of Records, submitted all the paperwork and a year later Bobi was officially named the oldest dog on record.

Bobi was 30 years and 269 days old as of Feb. 4.

“It’s a feeling of pride we can’t explain,” Costa, 38, told Reuters as he petted Bobi near a church in the village of Conqueiros in central Portugal.

“Some people told us we wouldn’t make it… but we knew Bobi’s age and were sure the exams would only prove what we already knew.”

The Guinness World of Records, which made the announcement on Thursday, described Bobi’s story as “miraculous”.

At the time Bobi was born, Costa’s family had many animals and little money so his father, a hunter, generally buried newborn puppies rather than keep them. But Bobi hid among a pile of firewood. Costa and his siblings found it a few days later and kept it a secret until the puppy opened its eyes.

“We knew that when he opened his eyes, my parents wouldn’t be able to bury him, ” he said.

Bobi’s breed usually has a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years and Costa attributed its longevity to a number of factors, including living in calm countryside, never having been chained or kept on a leash and always eating “human food”.

“Of course our love and affection throughout his life has also helped,” he said, giggling.

Although Bobi still loves walks, age is taking its toll: the dog is less adventurous, its fur is thinning, its eyesight has worsened and it needs to rest more than it used to.

Costa hopes Bobi has many more years of life and is thankful the dog has put the remote village of Conqueiros on the map.

“There were other animals here who lived long lives but Bobi surpassed everything.”

(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira in Conqueiros; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Police arrested a man late Friday for firing off blank rounds from a handgun earlier this week at a San Francisco synagogue.

The man, whose name has not been released, was arrested after police developed probable case to obtain a search warrant at the man’s home, where investigators said they found evidence from that incident and another one that happened nearly an hour later, reported KGO-TV.

Video shows the man entering Schneerson Jewish Center on Wednesday evening and firing gunshots, which turned out to be blank rounds, and then flee the synagogue.

“Terrorism doesn’t have to have killings,” said Rabbi Alon Chanukov, the vice president of the synagogue. “In my mind, what he did was he came and he did a terrorist attack. He came to terrorize people.”

Police said he took part in another unspecified incident nearly an hour later.

No injuries were reported in the synagogue shooting, but the congregation took additional security measures ahead of this weekend’s services.

The political future of longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein, R-Calif, has reached a new stage of distress for Democrats as the 89-year-old, five-term U.S. Senator remains non-committal about whether she’ll retire in 2024, Politico reports.

Under the headline, “Dianne Feinstein’s extremely awkward, very uncomfortable exit from the political stage,” Politico pointed to a growing list of House Democrats who are already running for a Senate seat she has not said she will vacate when her term is up in 2024. Writer David Siders put it like this:

“An extreme awkwardness has fallen over California political circles, where virtually everyone is acting as if Feinstein is done, but without her explicitly saying so. It’s the electoral equivalent of clearing the dessert from the dinner table as one guest sits there, nibbling at the main course chicken dish that had been served hours prior.”

In an exclusive interview with Raw Story at the U.S. Capitol last week, Feinstein “announced she’s not not running. In fact, she has no plans to decide—let alone announce—her 2024 intentions until next year. ‘I need a little bit of time, so it’s not this year.’”

That uncertainty about Feinstein’s future is not setting well with many California Democrats, many of whom have believe “her brand of centrism fell out of step with her party’s progressive base,” Politico noted. It cited the refusal of the California Democratic Party to endorse her 2018 primary candidacy for re-election, which she won easily.

Siders also wrote this:

“More problematic for Feinstein has been the persistent questions about her health. Even Democrats sympathetic to the senator have been reading headlines about her cognitive fitness to serve. The stories about it pop up with such regularity now that they no longer elicit the shock value of the early versions, when publication of such matters seemed to be violating some unwritten code of D.C. conduct.”

The Politico report cited numerous observers with a common theme: Feinstein has overstayed her welcome.

“God bless her,” Garry South, a Democratic strategist who has worked on major statewide campaigns in California told Politico. “But the most pathetic part of politics is when somebody doesn’t know when it’s time to leave.”

And there was this from an unnamed Democratic strategist:

“What’s sad about this is that she’s always been somebody you didn’t dare mess around with,” the strategist said. “And it looks like that’s just gone.”

Christian and Jewish clergy are protesting anti-LGBTQ legislation and an abortion ban in Missouri on the basis of religious freedom.

More than a dozen clergy represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Women’s Law Center are challenging the state’s ban on abortion, and some of those same religious leaders are preparing to fight legislative attacks on LGBTQ rights, reported Religion News Service.

“Basically, Missouri is leading the nation, it seems right now, in anti-LGBTQ legislation,” said Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.

Missouri lawmakers have introduced 27 bills targeting LGBTQ rights, the most in the nation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and clergy members showed up to a recent marathon hearing to express their opposition to the proposed legislation.

“I think one of the most distinct parts about the resistance to these bigoted and bullying bills in Missouri is the way that the faith community has shown up to stand up for these kids,” said Rabbi Daniel Bogard of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis.

The Rev. Mike Angell, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City, said many faith communities welcome LGBTQ worshipers, and he said it was important to show them support.

READ: ‘Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon’

“A number of us have trans youth in our congregations, some of whom are here to testify and to witness,” Angell said. “So, for a lot of us, there’s a piece of this that is accompaniment of the trans youth, who would be directly affected, and the parents of trans youth, who would be directly affected.”

The Biden administration may shoot down a Chinese balloon suspected of spying on the U.S. military once it reaches the Atlantic Ocean.

Administration officials told the Associated Press that it’s not clear whether President Joe Biden had made a final decision, but he had discussed whether to bring down the suspected spy craft over the ocean where the remnants might be recovered and it posed less risk than over the ground.

The president considered bringing it down over land when first briefed on Tuesday, but Pentagon officials warned its potential to harm people on the ground outweighed the danger it posed from an intelligence standpoint.

The ballon was spotted over North Carolina on Saturday as it moved closer to the Atlantic coast.

Earlier today, police in North Carolina asked locals not to take “pot shots” at the balloon.

Gastonia police posted a notice on Facebook urging the public not to fire their guns into the air in hopes of bringing down the balloon, which was expected to pass over North Carolina on Saturday, and they also asked residents not to report sightings to them, reported Newsweek.

READ: ‘Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon’

“If the now infamous Chinese ‘weather balloon’ makes its way over Gastonia, please don’t call the police to report it,” police said in the post. “We don’t have the capability to respond to an altitude of 60k feet to check it out. We are pretty sure the Feds would want us to stay out of it.”

“And finally, please don’t take pot shots at it with your handguns in an attempt to bring it down on your own,” the post added.

Even if a shooter managed to hit the balloon with a gunshot from more than 60,000 feet away, experts say it’s unlikely to be brought down by gunfire.

Merrick Garland should have indicted Donald Trump as soon as he had the chance, according to one legal expert.

The attorney general could have charged the former president for hoarding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and refusing to hand them over to the National Archives immediately after the ultra-conservative Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 1 unanimously affirmed the Justice Department search warrant, and Washington Monthly columnist James D. Zirin argued that recent events only make that failure look worse.

“Garland also knew what we didn’t: A few weeks earlier, Joe Biden’s lawyers had uncovered a file of government documents, some of them classified, at the Washington office Biden had used for his work with the Penn Biden Center, the think tank he founded after he served as vice president,” Zirin wrote. “Even if the attorney general had allowed for the possibility that Biden might have more government documents elsewhere, Garland could easily have distinguished the two cases and moved forward with a Trump prosecution.”

Zirin, a former federal prosecutor, points out that Biden cooperated with investigators from the start while Trump stalled and obstructed until FBI agents executed the search warrant, and he argued that Garland knows, and has always known, more about the inner workings of both cases than has been publicly revealed.

“However the facts fall, Garland may have dug a hole for himself, courted further delay, and dealt a lethal blow to the ideal of principled non-partisan justice,” Zirin wrote.

ALSO IN THE NEWS: ‘Sorry, this is not a Chinese balloon’