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US man sentenced to 13 years on terrorism charges

Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Monday after pleading quilty to terrorism charges. Nguyen, also known as Hasan Abu Omar Ghannoum, admitted that he had plans to travel to Pakistan in order to give weapons training to Al-Qaeda fighters.

Nguyen had traveled to Syria in late 2012 to join forces in taking down President Bashar al-Assad, and had subsequently posted online that he had a “confirmed kill.” Nguyen also claimed to have offered to train Al-Qaeda forces in Syria after returning to the United States, but had been turned down.

District attorney court Judge John Walter called the crime “a very serious offense that requires a correspondingly long sentence.” Terrorism charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release, but Nguyen’s attorney requested a shorter sentence by citing other terrorism-related cases, of which most received less than eight years in prison.

Nguyen was arrested in October after a month of correspondence with a man he thought was an Al-Qaeda recruiter but was actually working for the FBI. According to court documents, Nguyen told the recruiter that he was born to wage jihad and agreed to train Al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan. In Nguyen’s plea agreement, Nguyen had planned to travel with a fake passport so he could spend five or six weeks training fighters for a “guerrilla warfare ambush attack on Coalition forces.”

Nguyen was arrested at a Santa Ana bus terminal in October while waiting for a bus bound for Mexico.

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Idaho officials sued over trappings of endangered lynx

A federal lawsuit filed Monday by five environmental groups accuses Idaho wildlife officials of failing to enact measures to restrict inadvertent trappings of the Canada lynx. Similar lawsuits have already been won in Minnesota and Maine.

Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and Western Environmental Law Center assert that the state needs an “incidental take” permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to allow recreational trapping to continue.  Such a permit would allow for limited accidental trapping of the lynx, an endangered species, during the hunting of other animals, as long as the overall population of the lynx was not affected. To obtain the permit, Idaho would be required to prepare a conservation plan for the lynx.

As part of that conservation plan, the groups are calling for Idaho to enact measures to restrict the use of snares that crush the bodies of animals, including steel-jaw traps and snares, as well as regular reporting on the local habitat of the lynx.  They are also asking that the state include daily trap checks throughout the areas where the lynx roam.

Without such a permit, the groups claim that Idaho is in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The groups claim that part of the reason that this permit is needed is due to the rapid increase in trappings over the past several years.

“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”

The Canada lynx is an extremely rare species, with a population of only several hundred throughout Maine, Washington and the Rocky Mountains.  It is believed that approximately 100 roam the lands of Idaho.

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Rio Grande habitat reborn in Las Cruces

A dedication ceremony on Monday marked the establishment of a new riparian habitat along the Rio Grande just outside Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The event was the culmination of five years of cooperation between local residents, The United States district of the International Boundary and Water Commission, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Audubon New Mexico, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Herbert Galliart, a resident of Doña Ana County and local landowner with water rights, sold his water rights in the southernmost section of the county to the USIBWC.  Local cooperation such as this was essential to completing the restoration project.

“I knew I was never going to really use [the water rights], because I live in the desert and I wanted desert landscaping,” said Galliart. “I was able to supplement my income, and now the water will be put to a better use for the enjoyment of all, rather than just the benefit of one person.”

David Yardas, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Southwest and Interior Water Program, commented, “The partnerships established to accomplish this project are another example of cooperation as the best way to solve western water conflicts.” He went on to note that, “It is refreshing to see cooperation between federal and local government agencies and agricultural and environmental interests on water, which is essential to both people and nature.”

The habitat dedicated on Monday is just the first of 30 new habitats planned for establishment along the Rio Grande through canalization efforts.  The areas run along the river beginning at Percha Dam down to the border of New Mexico and Texas.

The project is expected to restore approximately 2,500 acres of land.

The goal of the program is to restore trees native to the area, such as cottonwoods and willows, as well as shrubs and grasslands.

According to a release by the USIBWC, the program will also restore the river area to its natural state by removing non-native, invasive salt cedar shrubs, restoring overbank flows to refresh soil and enrich the habitat, and discontinuing the mowing of vegetation along the floodplain.

The restored environments along the Rio Grande will, in time, provide nesting areas for wildlife, including many endangered species such as the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

Local residents who may wish to lease or sell EBID water rights for the purposes of restoration may contact Beth Bardwell at Audubon New Mexico or USIBWC.

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Colorado's Boulder County Clerk now issues same-sex marriage licenses

Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional on Wednesday by a federal appeals court. Just hours later, Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses to couples in Boulder, Colorado.

“Couples across Colorado have been waiting a long time to have their right to marry the person they love recognized,” said Hall in a statement. “I want to act immediately to let them carry out that wish.”

Hall justified the decision by pointing out that since Colorado falls within the same judicial circuit as Utah, the Colorado ban on same-sex marriage was also invalidated by Wednesday’s ruling.

“Because 10th Circuit decisions are binding in the State of Colorado, the precedent established by Kitchen v. Herbert is applicable to the same-sex marriage ban contained in the Colorado Constitution,” said a state released by the Clerk and Recorder’s office.

On Wednesday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision upheld a lower-court ruling that overturned Utah’s gay marriage ban. The decision became law in the six states covered by the 10th Circuit: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. The ruling, however, was put on hold by the panel.

A spokesperson for Republican Attorney General John Suthers asserts that the stay on the ruling means that the decision is not binding and that the state’s Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage remains in effect, making same-sex marriage licenses invalid.

Despite the opposition, Hall stated that her office will continue to issue the licenses.

“I am relying on the 10th Circuit’s statement that marriage is a fundamental right,” Hall said in a statement. “Colorado’s prohibition on same sex marriage has treated our family, friends and co-workers as second-class citizens for long enough. Unless a Court in Colorado or the U.S. Supreme Court tells me otherwise, I plan to begin issuing licenses.”

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New report says women saved on oral contraceptives prescriptions in 2013

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report on June 27 finds that women saved more than $483 million on prescriptions for oral contraceptives last year, thanks to an Affordable Care Act provision that requires certain medications to be covered at no cost to plan members.

According to the News Observer on June 27, the report comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the constitutionality of a health law requirement that for-profit corporations cover birth control for women under employee health insurance plans. Currently, the health law allows non-profit religious organizations to forego the coverage if they have religious objections.

However, in the so-called “Hobby Lobby” case, for-profit employers are challenging the health law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, saying it violates their rights of religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The case was filed by the owners of  Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer. The owners mainly object to covering emergency contraceptives, like Plan B, because of their religious beliefs.

The News Observer reported that the June 27 report from the HHS shows that the number of prescriptions for oral contraceptives with no co-pays increased by 24.4 million from 2012 to 2013, due mainly to the health law’s zero-cost sharing provisions for certain preventative services, according to a recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

“Today’s findings are just one more indicator that the Affordable Care Act is delivering impact for millions of people nationwide,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell. “Seventy-six million is more than just a number. For millions of Americans, it means no longer having to put off a mammogram for an extra year. Or, it means catching a problem early enough that it’s treatable.”

The HHS report also estimated that 76 million Americans benefited from new coverage for expanded preventative services under the health law.

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In the highly anticipated decision, the high court must decide if for-profit corporations have the same rights as non-profit organizations that were formed for religious reasons.
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UNLV students to Hillary Clinton: Return hefty $225,000 speaking fee

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that student leaders at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, want former First Lady Hillary Clinton to return all or part of the $225,000 speaking fee for speaking to the UNLV Foundation in October back to the university.

“In keeping with Secretary Clinton’s long-standing history of advocating for students in higher education, we as student government leaders are asking that she charitably donate part or all of the $225,000 speaking fee she is reportedly making for this fund raising speech back to the UNLV Foundation as a whole,” the letter said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The letter comes at a time when Clinton is dealing with criticism for recent remarks about her and her husband’s wealth. The former secretary state told the Guardian that the American people don’t see her “as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off.”

Following those comments, many people were reminded that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has made more than $100 million in speaking fees since leaving office in 2001.

This isn’t the first time that Clinton has earned a hefty speaking fee for addressing a university. The New York Daily News reports that earlier this year, Clinton received $300,000 to speak at UCLA, but also notes that the speaking fee was paid by a private donor.

Should Clinton return her speaking fee to the university? Sound off in the comments section.

 

 

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Extramarital-dating site uses Hillary Clinton image on new billboard

MyFoxChicago reports that an image of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appeared on a new billboard for Ashley Madison. The company, whose motto is “Life is Short. Have an Affair,” runs a dating site for married people looking to have affairs.

The new billboard reads, “Harder Choices…Lead to AshleyMadison.com.” The phrase is a reference to Clinton’s recently released memoir, Hard Choices.

The ad may be part of a brilliant marketing strategy, but not everyone appreciates the use of Clinton’s likeness. “I think it’s a tasteless company with a tasteless ad,” Sam Chapman, CEO of Empower Public Relations, told MyFoxChicago.

It turns out that Clinton isn’t the only politician in recent memory to appear on a billboard for Ashley Madison. In 2012, an image of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was placed on a billboard for site. “If cheating on your taxes is ok… so is AshleyMadison.com,” read the phrase accompanying Romney’s image.

Prior to Romney, Ashley Madison “endorsed” Newt Gingrich for president. “Faithful Republican, Unfaithful Husband,” read the words next to a picture of Gingrich making a “shhh” gesture. According to Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, the former speaker of the house gave her two choices after revealing that he was having an affair: divorce or an open marriage.

Photo credit: Ashley Madison

Should Ashley Madison take the image down? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Russia scrubs maiden voyage of new rocket

As President Vladimir Putin watched via video, Russian space officials had to postpone the first launch of the new Angara rocket on June 27. According to Spaceflight Now, the launch was aborted due to a technical problem that arose in the final minutes of the countdown.

The Angara was supposed to have blasted off at 7:15 a.m. Eastern Time from Plesetsk Cosmodrome 500 miles north of Moscow. The test flight would have seen the rocket ply a suborbital course. The first stage would have fallen into the Barents Sea, while the second stage and a mock payload would have fallen to Earth in the remote Kamchatka peninsula in the Far East of Russia, 21 minutes after launch.

Russia has not divulged the cause of the problem that drove official to cancel the launch, nor has a new test flight date been given. Putin instructed engineers to “work without hurrying and chaos” to determine the cause and repair the 140-foot tall rocket.

The rocket is meant to become the new mainstay of the Russian space fleet, supplanting older rockets, such as the Rockot and Proton. The Angara design process commenced in 1992, with the initial goal of beginning flights in 2005. Rather than designing the Angara completely from scratch, engineers intended to use common components to keep cost down. However, Russia’s economic troubles delayed the Angara, which has cost $2.9 billion so far.

If the technical difficulties can be overcome and future test flights go smoothly, operational Angara flights are scheduled to start in 2015, launching from Plesetsk and the Vostochny Cosmodrome being built in the Far East. The Angara 1 will be able to transport 3.8 metric tons (almost 8,400 pounds) of payload to an orbital altitude of 124 miles (200 kilometers). The Angara 5, a heavy-lift version of the rocket able to carry as much as 24.5 metric tons (over 54,000 pounds) of payload, is set to make a test flight at Plesetsk in December of this year.

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World oceans on brink of collapse, report warns

The Global Ocean Commission on Tuesday released a report forecasting a stark future for the world’s population.

The report states that regional stability, climate resilience, and food security are at risk if world governments fail to take immediate action to curb “habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification” that are “pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse.”

The GOC, comprised of leading business persons and former prominent political figures, has just completed an 18 month investigation into the effects of humanity on the high seas, the 65% of global waters that lie outside the jurisdiction of any national government.  Included in the report is a five-year “rescue package”, which the GOC admits may be painful in the short term, but is necessary for long term survival.

Besides meeting with current political leaders during the course of the investigation, the GOC conferred with a diverse group of scientists, economists, business leaders, ocean users, and trade unions.

In addition to outlining the current dying state of the high seas, the GOC report outlays 8 propositions to reverse the current damage inflicted upon the “kidney of the planet”, not only bringing the high seas back to a healthy state, but providing social justice, climate stability, and a reduction in the anarchy that now rules the open seas.

Among these 8 propositions is the recommendation that the high seas become subject to governance through international agreement. A significant portion of the report is dedicated to the proposition that government subsidies to large industrial fishing fleets be eliminated.

The report concludes that:

“Stopping the abusive and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and freedoms, and restoring ocean health, requires a coalition for change with a clear mission. We are convinced that if the package of eight proposals that we now put forward is expeditiously acted upon, it is possible, within the next decade, to reverse the degradation of the global ocean.”

“The proposals here sound a warning, but they also offer a politically feasible way forward.”

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Governments spend $27 billion toward zombie fishing, collapse of fish stock

Fishing stocks have been plummeting on the high seas as governments of wealthy countries subsidize industrial fishing fleets to the tune of $27 billion yearly, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Global Ocean Commission (GOC).

Fuel subsidies alone account for $5 billion of this, while subsidies to enhance fishing capacity account for $16 billion, over half of the total yearly handout.

The GOC is an independent international organization dedicated to repair, sustainable utilization, and conservation of the high seas. The high seas are the 65% of the world’s oceans that are not subject to the jurisdiction of any government. The organization’s report in part addressed the urgency of addressing these subsidies:

“It is imperative to address the main drivers of fishing vessel overcapacity, in particular, the issue of capacity-enhancing subsidies. The Commission asks WTO member States to urgently adopt a three-step approach to dealing with this problem and so remove the negative financial incentives that maintain a global fishing fleet which has too many boats chasing an ever diminishing supply of fish.”

These industrial fleets would not be profitable without government subsidies.  In economic terms, these types of companies are called “zombies”.  Wealthy countries such as the U.S., EU, Japan and China, subsidize these fleets so that prices stay low and political approval stays high. In essence, though, taxpayers are paying twice for their seafood: once in the form of taxes that governments use to subsidize otherwise unprofitable fishing, and again when they purchase the seafood.

Besides having grown to 2.5 times the size that the GOC says current fishing stocks can sustain, industrial zombie fishing fleets also rob smaller fishermen of fish stock, keep productive companies from competing, and contribute to illegal and unregulated fishing.

The three-step approach recommended by the GOC includes “Full transparency (disclosure) of fisheries subsidies, classification of fisheries subsidies in order to identify and distinguish those that are harmful, and immediately capping and then phasing- out high seas fishing fuel subsidies within five years.”

Whether or not the world governments will implement such an approach remains to be seen.  The GOC report goes on to state that “Despite repeated commitments and ongoing efforts to address environmentally harmful subsidies in the fisheries sector through the WTO, there is clearly a lack of political appetite to tackle this issue.”