Category - News

Notre Dame Once Again Loses Legal Battle Against Birth Control Benefit

RH Reality Check, By Jessica Mason Pieklo, May 20

A federal appeals court on Tuesday again rejected claims by the University of Notre Dame that the federal accommodation process to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) substantially burdened the university’s religious rights.

[…]

That process allows the objecting employers to complete a form that notifies the federal government of their religious objection and triggers a process whereby the insurance company contracts directly with the people who want contraception coverage at no additional cost.

Under the accommodation process, groups like Notre Dame that claim a religious objection to the birth control benefit must simply notify the administration of their objection. The administration then takes on the task of coordinating coverage between insurance providers and those who want contraception coverage.

Notre Dame and other religiously affiliated nonprofits objected to this requirement, arguing that simply filling out the form to notify its insurance company, or other relevant third parties, violates its religious beliefs by making it complicit in a scheme it finds morally objectionable: providing contraception to university employees and students.

So far federal appeals courts in multiple jurisdictions have rejected those claims which, under most circumstances, would be the end of the road for the legal challenges to the birth control benefit.

[…]

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the majority, rejected the university’s claims that the Hobby Lobby decision means courts must take at face value claims of religious burden, stating “[a]lthough Notre Dame is the final arbiter of its religious beliefs, it is for the courts to determine whether the law actually forces Notre Dame to act in a way that would violate those beliefs.”

US House Republicans vote to restrict research funding

AFP, May 21

US House Republicans voted to place limits on funding for scientific research, including climate change studies, as they passed legislation that more narrowly defines their priorities.

Many in the American scientific community criticized the bill, which passed 217 votes to 205 and sets funding guidelines for the National Science Foundation for fiscal year 2016 beginning October 1.

The America Competes Reauthorization Act still has to be reconciled with a Senate version, and the White House has threatened a veto if the measure passes as is.

[…]

Democrats fumed that the bill automatically slashes social, behavioral and economic sciences by 55 percent compared to 2015, while geosciences including climate research shrinks eight percent to $1.2 billion.

Research budgets for green energy programs would be hit too.

Conversely, Republican prioritize funding for biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physical sciences.

BP oil spill caused biggest dolphin die-off in Gulf history – study

RT, May 21

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused an unprecedented number of fatal diseases in roughly 1,300 dolphins over the course of five years, according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Up to now, the link between oil spill exposure and dolphin deaths has been inconclusive, but this study changes that. The results are from a forensic investigation that was part of NOAA’s long-term ecological analysis of the Deepwater incident that began in 2013. The spill itself leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over five months in 2010.

“No feasible alternatives remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of this increase in death,” co-author Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego said in a Wednesday press conference.

Permission to die: California doctors no longer oppose assisted suicide

RT, May 21

The California Medical Association abandoned its 30-year opposition to physician-assisted suicide, removing a major obstacle to a bill currently being debated in the state legislature. It is the first state medical association in America to do so.

The CMA’s decision comes as the Monning-Wolk Senate Bill 128, also known as the End of Life Option Act, is coming up for a vote. If the bill is adopted, California would join Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont in legalizing assisted suicide.

CMA officials said they were motivated by the desire to preserve the doctor-patient relationship and made the decision after extensive consultations with lawmakers. The association’s spokeswoman, Molly Weedn, told Reuters the key concern was that doctors not be required to participate in assisted suicide or refer patients to a colleague who does.

California oil spill: State of emergency declared, up to 105,000 gallons leaked

RT, May 20

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over Tuesday’s oil spill off the Santa Barbara County coast. It follows news that up to 105,000 gallons of oil leaked out from the ruptured pipeline.

“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” said Governor Brown in a statement. “We will do everything necessary to protect California’s coastline.”

Brown’s office added that six boom boats, three 65-foot collection vessels and hand crews coordinating with the state as clean-up efforts continue. California state oil spill, wildlife and emergency officials are also working to alleviate the situation.

Originally, US Coast Guard officials estimated that the approximately 21,000 gallons of oil had spilled out of a pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline, though this calculation is being investigated. The type of oil was later identified as crude, and officials said the spill had stretched out to approximately nine miles across Santa Barbara County’s Refugio Beach.

The company stated to AP that the 105,000 gallon estimate was a “worst-case scenario”and that it does not know exactly how much oil actually seeped into the ocean. The pipeline itself is onshore, but oil traveled down a storm drain before hitting the Pacific Ocean.

Texas Prohibits Local Fracking Bans

Newly signed law is one of several across the U.S. to curtail municipal governments’ power

Wall Street Journal, By Russell Gold, May 18

Austin, TX—Last year, a city in North Texas banned fracking. State lawmakers want to make sure that never happens again.

On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits bans of hydraulic fracturing altogether and makes it much harder for municipal and county governments to control where oil and gas wells can be drilled. Similar efforts are cropping up in states including New Mexico, Ohio, Colorado and Oklahoma, where both chambers of the legislature have passed a bill that limits local governments to “reasonable” restrictions on oil and gas activities.

This is all part of a broader legislative and judicial effort, backed by the oil industry, to limit local governments’ ability to regulate drilling. Backers say that both the Oklahoma and Texas bills were proposed in response to a voter-approved ban on fracking in Denton, Texas, in November.

Climate change: Americans crowding into future heatwave zones, study says

Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh areas most affected by ‘double whammy’ of population shift and temperature rises, scientists argue

AP, May 18

The combination of global warming and a shifting US population will by mid-century deliver a “double whammy” that greatly increases the number of Americans exposed to extremely hot days, a new study says.

People are migrating into areas where the heat is likely to increase more, said the authors of a study published on Monday by the journal Nature Climate Change. The study highlighted the Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh corridors as the places where the effect looks to be greatest.

“It’s not just the climate that is changing in the future,” said study co-author Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “It is many things: how many people and where people are that affects their exposure to climate changes.”

In a unique study looking at the interplay of projected changes in climate and population, scientists tried to characterize the number of people who will feel temperatures of 95F (35C) or higher and how often they will feel it. They used a figure called person days for the extreme heat to reflect both the length of time heat waves continued and how many people felt it by multiplying people affected by how many days they felt the heat.

Between 1970 and 2000 the US averaged about 2.3bn person days of extreme heat each year. But between 2040 and 2070 that number will be 10bn-14bn person days a year, according to the study.

Fossil fuel subsidies to hit $5.3 trillion in 2015, says IMF study

Governments could cut 20% of carbon emissions at a stroke if they stopped subsidising oil, gas and coal

RTCC, By Ed King, May 19

Subsidies for fossil fuels that cause climate change have soared since 2013, a new study from the International Monetary Fund has revealed.

Oil, gas and coal costs will be subsidised to the tune of US$5.3 trillion a year in 2015. The last time the IMF ran the data it calculated they were worth $1.9 trillion.

Economists say the latest figures are more accurate as they represent the “true” cost of energy, which includes the environmental, health and climate impacts of burning fossil fuels.

“Over half of the increase is explained by more refined country-level evidence on the damaging effects of energy consumption on air quality and health,” IMF officials Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in [sic] a blog [sic].

The figure is larger than the health spending of all the world’s governments combined, a reckoning the pair called “shocking”.

Coal is the biggest recipient of polluting subsidies, the IMF found, given its combined impact on air quality and high carbon emissions.

“The most dramatic difference, compared with the pre-tax figures, is for coal which is the biggest source of post-tax subsidies, amounting to 3.0% of global GDP in 2011 and rising to 3.9% in 2015,” says the study.

Officers warned about more bikers possibly heading to Texas after brawl

CNN, By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Holly Yan, May 19

Waco – A memo has gone out to law enforcement in the wake of Sunday’s shooting, warning officers that members of the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle gangs reportedly had been instructed to arm themselves and travel to north Texas.

“Obviously it’s something we’re concerned about. We would encourage biker groups to stand down. There’s been enough bloodshed. There’s been enough death here,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ on Monday night.

[…]

When police responded — within 30 to 45 seconds because of their proximity — the bikers turned their weapons on law enforcement, he said.

“Our officers took fire and responded appropriately, returning fire,” the sergeant said.

[…]

According to a law enforcement source, preliminary information indicates that four of the bikers killed were killed by police gunfire. The investigation continues and the ballistics will be analyzed to determine for certain who was responsible for each shooting.

[…]

While the U.S. Justice Department characterizes the Bandidos as a “growing criminal threat” with at least 2,000 members in 14 countries, the motorcycle club’s website highlights noncriminal endeavors such as its Easter party in Germany or its toy drive in France.

Graham says ‘I’m running’ in 2016, sets June 1 for official announcement

Fox News, May 18

Sen. Lindsey Graham all but declared he plans to run for president in 2016, saying Monday that “I’m running” because “the world is falling apart” — while setting June 1 as his official campaign announcement.

The South Carolina Republican senator, speaking on “CBS This Morning,” said he’ll formally unveil his campaign plans in his hometown of Central, S.C.

But he also repeatedly used the phrase “I’m running,” explaining that he believes he would make the best commander-in-chief.

Graham also pointed to his own record working with Democrats. He said he’s drawn a string of primary challengers over the years because of that history, but touted that record as a positive in a presidential run.

“Democrats and Republicans work together too little,” he said. “I would try to change that if I got to be president.”
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Obama to set new limits on police use of military equipment

Reuters, By Julia Edwards, May 18

Reuters – President Barack Obama plans to put in place new restrictions on the use of military equipment by police departments, following unrest in U.S. cities over the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, the White House said on Monday.

Obama will ban police use of equipment such as explosive-resistant vehicles with tracked wheels like those seen on army tanks, the White House said in a fact sheet. For other types of equipment, such as MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicles and riot shields, departments will have to provide added justification for their use.

Obama will announce the steps, which are the result of an executive order, during a visit later on Monday to Camden, New Jersey, where he plans to push efforts to encourage trust-building between police and the communities they serve.

Key Iraqi City Falls to ISIS as Last of Security Forces Flee

New York Times, By Tim Arango, May 17

Baghdad — The last Iraqi security forces fled Ramadi on Sunday, as the city fell completely to the militants of the Islamic State, who ransacked the provincial military headquarters, seizing a large store of weapons, and killed people loyal to the government, according to security officials and tribal leaders.

The fall of Ramadi, despite intensified American airstrikes in recent weeks in a bid to save the city, represented the biggest victory so far this year for the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the vast areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls. The defeat also laid bare the failed strategy of the Iraqi government, which had announced last month a new offensive to retake Anbar Province, a large desert region in the west of which Ramadi is the capital.

“The city has fallen,” said Muhannad Haimour, the spokesman for Anbar’s governor. Mr. Haimour said that at least 500 civilians and security personnel had been killed over the last two days in and around Ramadi, either from fighting or executions. Among the dead, he said, was the 3-year-old daughter of a soldier.

“Men, women, kids and fighters’ bodies are scattered on the ground,” said Sheikh Rafi al-Fahdawi, a tribal leader from Ramadi, who was in Baghdad on Sunday and whose men had been resisting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

He also said, “All security forces and tribal leaders have either retreated or been killed in battle. It is a big loss.”

9 Dead, 192 Arrested Following Biker Gang Gunfight in Waco, Texas

ABC News, By Dan Good, May 18

Nearly 200 suspected gang members were arrested after a meeting between rival Texas biker gangs turned into a deadly brawl, Waco police said.

Nine people died in the incident — eight at the scene and one at the hospital. The meeting had been scheduled so the rival gang members could settle their differences, police said.

Eighteen people were taken from the scene to hospitals, mostly for gunshot and stab wounds, Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said at a news conference. Everyone involved was a gang member, police said.

Police said 192 suspected gang members were arrested and processed today on charges of engaging in organized crime.

“This was a true gang fight that occurred at this location,” Swanton said at a Monday morning news conference. He said the people involved in the brawl were using “bad-guy weapons” such as brass knuckles, knives and guns.

Members of as many as five biker gangs gathered at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in the Central Texas Market Place early in the afternoon to discuss their differences, Swanton said. A fistfight began and quickly escalated to include knives and firearms, and then spilled into the parking lot, where gang members fired at each other, Swanton said.

Autostart video at the link.

David Cameron to unveil new limits on extremists’ activities in Queen’s speech

Prime minister will announce counter-terrorism bill including plans to restrict harmful actions of those seeking to radicalise young people

The Guardian, By Patrick Wintour, May 12

A counter-terrorism bill including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalise young people is to be included in the Queen’s speech, David Cameron will tell the national security council on Wednesday.

The orders, the product of an extremism task force set up by the prime minister, were proposed during the last parliament in March, but were largely vetoed by the Liberal Democrats on the grounds of free speech. They were subsequently revived in the Conservative manifesto.

The measures would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”.

The aim is to catch not just those who spread or incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake harmful activities for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.
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China: Massive Protest in Linshui Intense Repression and Resistance

Revolution News, By Jennifer Baker, May 16

Linshui County, China – Tens of Thousands of residents of the southwestern county of Linshui gathered in the morning and marched about 3km. Photos posted by the protesters on social media also showed violent attacks by a police tactical team(SWAT)and the resistance that followed lasted all day and well into the night.

The residents want (need) to have a proposed railway linking Dazhou to Chongqing pass through their county in the centre of Sichuan. The county currently has no railway, waterway, or airport.

Rage built up last week after residents found out that the authorities favor another plan – that the railway stretching more than 200km will instead by-pass Linshui and be routed through the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s hometown Guangan, to the west of Linshui.

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