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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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Evelyn Yang, Andrew Yang’s Wife, Says Gynecologist Sexually Assaulted Her

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  • Evelyn Yang, the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang, went public with her sexual assault allegations against a New York gynecologist. 
  • Yang said Robert Hadden, who practiced through Columbia University, sexually abused her during a medical appointment when she was pregnant in 2012.
  • After Yang and several other women’s allegations brought charges against Hadden, he pleaded guilty to two counts in 2016 and lost his medical license, but did not go to prison. 
  • Hadden and Columbia University are facing a lawsuit for abuse allegations and coverups, respectively, filed by at least two dozen women. 
  • Hadden has denied all allegations except the two counts he pleaded guilty to several years ago.

Evelyn Yang’s Story

Evelyn Yang, the spouse of 2020 presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, said she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who is also facing abuse allegations from more than two dozen other former patients. 

In a CNN interview released Thursday, Yang publicly spoke for the first time about her alleged assault by Robert Hadden, a former medical professional with Columbia University.

Yang said she started seeing Hadden in 2012, when she was pregnant with her first child, and described the visits as routine at first. But she said eventually the gynecologist’s behavior grew more and more inappropriate.

The mother claimed the worst case of assault was when she was seven months pregnant. 

“I was in the exam room and I was dressed and ready to go,” she told CNN. “And then, at the last minute, he kind of made up an excuse. He said something about ‘I think you might need a C-section’ and he proceeded to grab me over to him and undress me and examine me internally, ungloved.”

Yang revealed that she didn’t tell anyone about what happened for awhile — not even her husband — even though she knew what the doctor did was wrong. It wasn’t until months later, after she found out that another woman had reported a sexual assault by Hadden, that she told her spouse.

Legal Battles Against Robert Hadden

After telling her husband about what happened to her in the gynecologist’s office, Yang hired a lawyer and discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney had an open case against the doctor as several other women came forward with similar stories. 

In early 2016, after agreeing to a plea deal that saw him admitting to two out of nine charges against him, Hadden was convicted of sex crimes. However, the charges Yang accused him of weren’t among them. In that deal, Hadden had to surrender his medical license and register as the lowest level sex offender, but he did not have to spend any time behind bars. 

Yang was disappointed by the verdict and thought the punishment was not large enough for the crime. 

“They said that the punishment was the same, regardless of how many counts he plead guilty to, that the punishment would’ve been the same, so it didn’t matter,” Yang said. “And I thought, well, it matters to me.”

“The DA’s office is meant to protect us, is meant to serve justice,” she added. “And there was no justice here.”

Now, there are at least 30 women that now accuse Hadden of sexual assault. The majority of them, Yang included, are part of a civil suit against Columbia University, its affiliates, and Hadden. 

The lawsuit claims that the university “concealed Robert Hadden’s abuse for decades” and continued to allow his access to patients.  

Hadden has denied all allegations against him, save for the two counts he pleaded guilty to prior to his 2016 conviction. 

Justification for Going Public Now

Yang chose to bring her story into the public eye now because she felt empowered by the people she met as she accompanied her husband along his campaign trail. 

“Meeting people and seeing the difference that we’ve been making already has moved me to share my own story about it, about sexual assault,” Yang said.

After the CNN interview came out, Andrew Yang posted support for his wife on his Twitter page.

“I’m so proud of Evelyn for sharing her story on behalf of so many women who have had similar experiences, most of whom will never have the same opportunity,” he wrote. “She is the source of strength for our family and she demonstrates it every day.”

In her interview, Evelyn also expressed wanting to use her unique position to speak up about these issues. 

“My experience with the sexual assault… is such a powerful and upsetting example of the truth that women are living with every day,” she said. “And I just happen to be able to have a platform to talk about it. I need to use that voice.”

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (BBC)

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Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally

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  • The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.  
  • The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds. 
  • Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.

State of Emergency Declared

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week. 

“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”

“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” 

In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.  

Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured. 

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”

Monday’s Plans

The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.

On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.

The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms. 

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”

Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (ABC)

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Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo

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  • A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake. 
  • Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
  • The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
  • While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.

Teen’s Expulsion

A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.

Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.

The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.

Credit: Kimberly Alford.

On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.

“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.

“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter. 

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

School’s Rationale

In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation. 

But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.

 “She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post

She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this. 

Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.

The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.

“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”

See what others are saying: (NBC) (WAVE3) (ABC)

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