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U.S. Makes Major Changes to Endangered Species Act

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  • The Department of Interior announced upcoming changes to the Endangered Species Act, which are being criticized by environmental activists. 
  • Critics are afraid these changes could allow regulators to overlook climate change and factor in economic costs when determining if a species should be listed.
  • The Department of the Interior made a statement calling the changes effective.
  • But two states have vowed to take the Trump administration to court over the revisions.

Changes Made to the ESA

The Department of Interior’s changes to the long-standing Endangered Species Act are being met with criticism from environmental activists and Democratic leaders. 

Enacted in 1973, the ESA has been seen as an effective measure and is credited with saving the bald eagle, grizzly bear, and other species from extinction. The new regulations were approved by the Trump Administration on Monday and were released in part with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service. 

Some are afraid these changes will allow for the costs of protection to become a factor in deciding if a species should be listed as endangered or threatened. According to the release, a line in the ESA that stated these decisions would be made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination”  will be removed. 

Instead, the update says, “the Act does not prohibit the Services from compiling economic information or presenting that information to the public as long as such information does not influence the listing determination.”

While it does include that the information should not “influence the listing determination” critics are upset the initial language was removed in the first place. They worry that any presentation of economic data could sway decisions no matter what. 

The changes also include a new definition for the term “foreseeable future.”

“The term foreseeable future extends only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine that the conditions potentially posing a danger of extinction in the foreseeable future are probable,” the revisions read. “The Services will describe the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis.”

The term is used in important elements of the ESA, such as the determination of threatened species and critical habitats. Many critics are concerned this revised definition will allow regulators to take climate change out of the picture when listing species since they can decide how far down the road they want to look on a case-by-case basis. Since the effects of climate change are not necessarily immediate, this could give them space to ignore its potential impacts. 

Another major change will rescind a blanket rule that gave threatened species the same protections as endangered species. This will only apply to newly listed threatened species. 

Support for Changes

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said these changes will make sure the ESA remains effective. 

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species,” Bernhardt said. “The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation. An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Bernhardt was not the only person to support the act. Several Senators, legislators, and leaders from multiple industries spoke in favor of it, including Senator Steve Daines (R-MT)

“These new rules will lead to more transparency, increased recovery of species greater conservation, and will help take the decision making powers out of the hands of radical activists in the courtroom,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said in a statement with the Department of the Interior. “I applaud the administration for taking this action.” 

Lawsuits Against Changes

However, the criticisms of the changes have led to strong pushback from Democrats. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a statement announcing her plans to sue the Trump administration over them.

“By gutting key components of the Endangered Species Act, one of our country’s most successful environmental laws, the Trump Administration is putting our most imperiled species and our vibrant local tourism and recreation industries at risk,” Healey said. “We will be taking the Administration to court to defend federal law and protect our rare animals, plants, and the environment.”

Healey is not alone. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also plans to take these changes to court.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,” he said in a statement. “Our precious wildlife and ecosystems are in critical danger. By rolling back the Endangered Species Act the Trump Administration would be putting a nail in our coffin – all for the sake of boosting the profits of those putting these species at risk in the first place. We’re ready to fight to preserve this important law – the species with whom we share this planet, and depend on, deserve no less.”

The changes to the ESA come just a few months after a U.N. report claimed that one million plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction, with many facing that possibility in just decades. Right now, environmental groups see high stakes and a ticking clock when it comes to the matter. 

The regulations are set to go into effect in 30 days. Right now it is unclear if the planned lawsuits will block this.

See what others are saying: (WBZ Boston) (Sacramento Bee) (NPR)

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Houston Police Chief Slams Republican Lawmakers After Officer Death

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  • Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo slammed Republican leaders for their opposition to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act on Monday.
  • His remarks came right after his sergeant, Christopher Brewster, was fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence call.
  • He claimed Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and John Cornyn are refusing to pass the bill because of its provision to close the “boyfriend loophole” that allows non-married men with a past conviction of domestic violence to buy firearms. 
  • Acevedo accused the senators of supporting the National Rifle Association over the safety of women, children, and officers.

The Chief’s Remarks

Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo publicly denounced Republican senators on Monday for their failure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and take action against gun violence.

Acevedo was standing outside of a medical examiner’s office when he spoke to the press, waiting to escort the body of Sgt. Christopher Brewster to a funeral home. Brewster was fatally shot after responding to a domestic violence call over the weekend. 

The chief specifically called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in his passionate remarks. He said he believes that one of the biggest reasons they won’t pass the VAWA is “because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends.” 

“And who killed our sergeant?” he added. “A boyfriend abusing his girlfriend.”

The VAWA was originally enacted in 1994 to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, but it expired in February. The House passed a reauthorization of the bill in early April, but it is currently on hold in the Senate as some disapprove of new provisions like closing the “boyfriend loophole.” 

Under the former version of the VAWA, only spouses and ex-spouses who are convicted of stalking offenses or domestic violence crimes are not legally allowed to buy firearms. Closing the “boyfriend loophole” would extend these gun restrictions to boyfriends and non-spousal partners. 

The NRA has publicly criticized the provision to close the “boyfriend loophole” in the past, calling it a “poison pill” and “too broad and ripe for abuse.” 

“You’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts,” Acevedo said on Monday. “Or you’re here for the NRA.”

Last week, before Brewster’s death, Acevedo had been part of the group of Houston leaders who urged Congress to reauthorize the VAWA. 

In response to these requests, Sen. Cornyn blamed the ongoing impeachment hearings for distracting lawmakers from other matters.

Acevedo mentioned Cornyn’s online response in his call for action on Monday. 

“And don’t tell me, Senator, with all due respect, it’s about the impeachment,” he said. “Because you brag every day, you and Mitch McConnell, about getting judges confirmed. You brag about every piece of legislation you care about.” 

“Start caring about cops, children and women, and everyday gun violence,” Acevedo added.

Senators’ Responses

The suspect accused of killing Sgt. Brewster, Arturo Solis, already had a previous domestic violence conviction. A spokesperson for Cornyn told The Washington Post that Acevedo’s arguments to close the “boyfriend loophole” didn’t apply to this case because there are already laws that restrict people who have previously been convicted of domestic violence (although the federal gun control act still has its own ‘boyfriend loophole.’)  

“So the ‘loophole’ he spent so much time blaming Sens. Cornyn and Cruz for didn’t apply because [Solis] already wasn’t supposed to own a gun,” Cornyn’s spokesperson said.

Cornyn’s office also told CNN that Democrats are to blame for the delay in reauthorizing the revised VAWA.

“Democrats in DC walked away from negotiations and that’s when it fell apart,” they said in an email.

In turn, Cruz’s office released the following statement to KHOU 11:

“For many years, Senator Cruz has worked in law enforcement, helping lead the fight to ensure that violent criminals—and especially sexual predators who target women and children—face the very strictest punishment,” they said. “Senator Cruz is currently reviewing Violence Against Women Act legislation in the Senate.”

See what others are saying: (Houston Chronicle) (Washington Post) (CNN)

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Influencer Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison After Heist to Steal Website Domain Goes Completely Wrong

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  • Influencer Rossi Adams was sentenced to 14 years in prison for extortion after he convinced his cousin to help him steal a domain name.
  • Adams’ cousin, Sherman Hopkins Jr., held up the domain owner at gunpoint before that owner managed to gain control of the situation.
  • Adams, who had created social media company State Snaps, had reportedly been trying to complete his business with the website domain.

Influencer Tries to Buy Domain

An influencer who operated a social media company known as State Snaps was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Monday after being found guilty of extortion.

That influencer, Rossi Adams, had planned to steal a website domain to use to market State Snaps; however, the domain had already been bought. After unsuccessfully trying to buy the domain, he convinced his cousin to break into the owner’s house and steal it at gunpoint in June 2017.

Source: Linn County Jail

Adams first launched State Snaps while he was a student at Iowa State University in Cedar Rapids. Spread across Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, State Snaps contained videos and photos of “young adults engaged in crude behavior, drunkenness, and nudity,” according to court records.

As State Snaps then took off at Iowa State, many students began using the hashtag #DoItForState, which in turn, allowed the company to grow outside of the campus.  

At its height, Adams actually collected over a million followers. During that time, Adams began raking in money. At one point, he even earned the nickname “Polo” because he reportedly started buying and wearing Ralph Lauren Polo clothes en masse.

“The nudity, that’s what draws the attention, that’s what got it going, you know?” he said in an investigative piece with KCCI in 2015. “Sex sells.”

Adams, however, lacked a website, so he attempted to create doitforstate.com, but that domain name was already registered with GoDaddy.com. 

At the same time State Snaps went viral, two brothers—Ethan and Chris Deyo—reportedly wanted to bank off its success by selling merchandise and promoting parties. Thus, they purchased doitforstate.com, with the sale was being officially in Ethan’s name.

Ethan Deyo, who had also been living in Cedar Rapids, had also previously worked for GoDaddy.com and at the time, was making a side hustle by buying domains that might be popular.

Within the next few months, Adams reached out to the Deyo’s and met with them on several occasions to buy the domain from them. At one point, they had discussed a potential partnership, but it repeatedly fell through when neither side could reach a deal.

However, for the next two years, Adams continued to contact Deyo.

Adams Tries to Claim Domain at Gunpoint

In June 2017, Adams and his cousin, Sherman Hopkins Jr., exponentially escalated the situation when they drove to Ethan Deyo’s home to hold him hostage.

Hopkins, who was already a convicted felon at the time, reportedly armed himself with both a stolen gun and a taser.

The plan had been for Hopkins to deliver a note from Adams on how to transfer the domain to his name while Adams waited in the car and acted as the getaway. According to court documents, the two had purchased burner phones to communicate.

Source: The Register

Meanwhile, Deyo was in his home office on the second floor. He said when his dog cocked its head and picked up its ears, he stepped outside the room to see what was happening. That’s when he then saw Hopkins standing in his foyer.

Reportedly, Hopkins—while wearing pantyhose over his head as well as sunglasses and a baseball cap—shouted, “Come here, motherfucker!”

Deyo raised his hands to surrender but then ran and locked himself in his bedroom. Hopkins, however, kicked through the door and grabbed Deyo, reportedly by the neck. 

He then asked Deyo where his computer was. In turn, Deyo to lead him back to his office. All the while, Hopkins pointed the gun against Deyo’s back. 

Once in the office, Hopkins opened Deyo’s Macbook and told him, “Okay, motherfucker. GoDaddy.com.”

Hopkins then handed Deyo the note from Adams. While Deyo followed commands, GoDaddy also requires the physical address of new owners when transferring domains. When he attempted to explain that to Hopkins, the intruder tased him in the neck.

“You don’t need no fucking address,” Hopkins reportedly said.

Eventually, however, Hopkins put Deyo on call with Adams, who gave him the address. In court, Deyo said he recognized Adams’ voice from previous conversations. 

But there’s actually another reason why this plan was doomed from the start. To prevent theft, GoDaddy requires a second, later confirmation of transfer. That process can take up to a few business days, but Adams was sitting in his car on his iPhone waiting for the transfer to go through.

Deyo, piecing together that Hopkins would be waiting for Adams’ command to leave, began concocting a plan to fight back. 

“My thought is that, you know, they’re not going to be happy until they see the domain in their account,” he said in court. “And if it’s a three-day period of that happening, you know, what are they going to do? Sit here for three days and hold me at gunpoint? So I decided to get out of it.”

Finding an opening, Deyo grabbed the gun and swung it away from his head. He and Hopkins then reportedly struggled over the gun, crashing through a table. At one point, Deyo ended up getting shot in the leg, but he was ultimately able to gain control of the gun.

He then reportedly shot Hopkins three times in the chest before running downstairs to call police. When he couldn’t find his phone, he then ran back upstairs to call 911 using Hopkins’ burner.

Within minutes, police and paramedics arrived. Hopkins ended up surviving that shooting but also suffered permanent nerve damage in his spine.

He was ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison for burglary, robbery, and kidnapping.

Adams Convicted and Sentenced to 14 Years

Meanwhile, for the next three days, Adams continued checking GoDaddy to see if the domain had been transferred to him. It never was. 

It wasn’t until September 2018 that police arrested Adams after Hopkins revealed Adams’ full plan in court in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Adams was then charged with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by force, threats, and violence.

In April, he was actually found guilty of that crime, leading to his sentencing on Monday. He’s also been ordered to pay around $35,000 in legal fees. 

Doitforstate.com, the website which inflamed the entire fiasco, has been nothing more than a blank page since 2018. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (One Zero) (Des Moines State Register)

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AOC and Sanders Ask for HIV Medicine Patent to be Rejected

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  • A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that biotech company Gilead Sciences suspended the development of a potentially safer HIV prevention drug for five years in 2005 so they could continue to profit from their current monopoly on the market, despite the fact that it was less safe. 
  • Gilead is asking now asking to extend the patent on the new drug while PrEP4All is asking for this patent to be rejected. 
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also wrote a joint letter urging the Trump administration to reject this request, calling the alleged practice a “disgrace.”
  • Gilead has denied these accusations.

Petition Filed Against Gilead

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling on the Trump administration to reject a patent extension request from Gilead Sciences after the company was accused of delaying the development of a safer HIV prevention drug. 

A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that when Gilead suspended the development of a newer and potentially safer HIV prevention drug in 2005, it did so in order to maximize its monopoly on profits from its less-safe drug that was already on the market. The petition says they wanted to leave this old drug on the market until its patent expired, and before generic competition came up. The company did not submit the new drug, tenofovir alafenamide, or TAF, to the Food and Drug Administration until 2010. It was approved in 2015. 

According to a report from the Washington Post, Gilead is currently requesting that its patent on TAF be extended for another three years. PrEP4All is asking the Patent and Trademark Office to reject this request because of this allegation. 

TAF is meant to prevent HIV infections via a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. Extending the patent would make sure they had a monopoly on the drug. 

Letter from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez

PrEP4All’s fight got a new push of support on Monday when Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez gave their support. In a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office obtained by The Guardian, the leaders condemned Gilead for these accusations. 

“It is an absolute disgrace that in America, a greedy drug company like Gilead can deprive hundreds of thousands of Americans of lifesaving HIV medicine to extract more profit, lie about it, and then have the audacity to ask the US government to award it with a longer monopoly to reap tens of billions more in profits,” Sanders wrote. 

Ocasio-Cortez said this practice “inhibited efforts to end the HIV epidemic.”

Together, the two urged the Trump administration to “not reward Gilead for this immoral behavior.” 

If the Trump administration followed their requests, it would not be the first time they took action against Gilead. In November, the administration sued the company in a patent infringement case. They accused the company of profiting off of taxpayer-funded research without giving taxpayer money back. 

Statements From Those Involved

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have not been the only ones to speak out. 

“Gilead has not only intentionally delayed clinical development of a drug to artificially manipulate its eligibility for a patent-term extension, but it has done so despite the apparent harm to patients,” said attorney Christopher Morten, who filed PrEP4All’s petition in a statement to the Washington Post. 

The Post says that the petition cites statements made by the company’s executives in 2011, where some indicated a desire to “avoid cannibalizing sales of the old drug” with the expectation that TAF could maintain the patent longevity of their HIV drug franchise. The petition also says that Gilead stated that clinical trials had indicated that TAF is safer than older drugs. A study funded by them found that restricting patients from the new drug could cause 16,000 deaths over the course of nine years.

Still, the Washington Post said the outcome of PrEP4All’s petition is not set in stone. 

“Odds of success are steep because the patent office will review such third-party petitions only in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, according to its rules,” their report said. 

“Patient safety is of foremost importance to us, and any implication that Gilead delayed the development of a drug known to be safer than [the older drug] is false,’’ Gilead spokesperson Ryan McKeel said in a statement obtained by the Post.  

See what others were saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Advocate)

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