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U.S. Government Scientists Go ‘Rogue’ In Defiance Of Trump

(Reuters) – Employees from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies have established a network of unofficial “rogue” Twitter feeds in defiance of what they see as attempts by President Donald Trump to muzzle federal climate change research and other science.

Seizing on Trump’s favorite mode of discourse, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and other bureaus have privately launched Twitter accounts – borrowing names and logos of their agencies – to protest restrictions they view as censorship and provide unfettered platforms for information the new administration has curtailed.

“Can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS,” one anonymous National Park Service employee posted on the newly opened Twitter account @AltNatParkService. “You can take our official twitter, but you’ll never take our free time!”

The @RogueNASA account displayed an introductory disclaimer describing it as “The unofficial ‘Resistance’ team of NASA. Not an official NASA account.” It beckoned readers to follow its feed “for science and climate news and facts. REAL NEWS, REAL FACTS.”

The swift proliferation of such tweets by government rank-and-file followed internal directives several agencies involved in environmental issues have received since Trump’s inauguration requiring them to curb their dissemination of information to the public.

Last week, Interior Department staff were told to stop posting on Twitter after an employee re-tweeted posts about relatively low attendance at Trump’s swearing-in, and about how material on climate change and civil rights had disappeared from the official White House website.

Employees at the EPA and the departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have since confirmed seeing notices from the new administration either instructing them to remove web pages or limit how they communicate to the public, including through social media.

The restrictions have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change skeptic, is out to squelch federally backed research showing that emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are contributing to global warming.

The resistance movement gained steam on Tuesday when a series of climate change-related tweets were posted to the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, administered under the Interior Department, but were soon deleted.

A Park Service official later said those tweets came from a former employee no longer authorized to use the official account and that the agency was being encouraged to use Twitter to post public safety and park information only, and to avoid national policy issues.

Within hours, unofficial “resistance” or “rogue” Twitter accounts began sprouting up, emblazoned with the government logos of the agencies where they worked, the list growing to at least 14 such sites by Wednesday afternoon.

An account dubbed @ungaggedEPA invited followers to visit its feeds of “ungagged news, links, tips, and conversation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to tell you,” adding that it was “Not directly affiliated with @EPA.”

U.S. environmental employees were soon joined by similar “alternative” Twitter accounts originating from various science and health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Weather Service. Many of their messages carried Twitter hashtags #resist or #resistance.

An unofficial Badlands National Park account called @BadHombreNPS also emerged (a reference to one of Trump’s more memorable campaign remarks about Mexican immigrants) to post material that had been scrubbed from the official site earlier.

Because the Twitter feeds were set up and posted to anonymously as private accounts, they are beyond the control of the government.

(By Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. Judge Blocks Transgender, Abortion-Related Obamacare Protections

(Reuters) – A federal judge in Texas on Saturday issued a court order barring enforcement of an Obama administration policy seeking to extend anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act to transgender health and abortion-related services.

The decision sides with Texas, seven other states and three Christian-affiliated healthcare groups challenging a rule that, according to the judge, defines sex bias to include “discrimination on the basis of gender identity and termination of pregnancy.”

In granting an injunction one day before the new policy was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor held that it violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law governing rule-making practices.

The judge also ruled that plaintiffs were likely to prevail in court on their claim that the new policy infringes on the rights of private healthcare providers under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As explained in O’Connor’s 46-page opinion, the plaintiffs argued that the new regulation would “require them to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions, regardless of their contrary religious beliefs or medical judgment.”

The same judge issued a similar court order in August blocking a separate Obama administration policy that would have required public schools, over the objections of 13 states, to allow transgender students to use restrooms of their choice.

It was not immediately clear whether the Obama administration, which has just 20 days left in office, would seek to appeal the latest injunction.

White House spokeswoman Katie Hill decried the ruling.

“Today’s decision is a setback, but hopefully a temporary one, since all Americans – regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation – should have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination,” she said.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010 with an anti-discrimination section designed to prevent insurers from charging customers more or denying coverage based on age, race, national origin, disability or sex.

The rule in dispute on Saturday was adopted by the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department to implement those provisions, including definitions for sex discrimination that encompassed transgender and abortion services.

According to the court opinion, gender identity was defined under that rule as “an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.”

The state of Texas has led a string of legal cases brought by Republican-controlled states contesting various social policies advanced by President Barack Obama, most notably his 2014 executive action to protect millions of immigrants in the United States illegally and give them work permits.

That plan, challenged by Texas and other states, has been barred by the courts. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 issued rulings that kept the Affordable Care Act, his top legislative achievement, intact.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Honolulu; Editing by Mary Milliken)

Goodbye, Princess Leia: Star Wars Actress Carrie Fisher Dies At 60

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Carrie Fisher, who rose to fame as Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” films and later endured drug addiction and stormy romances with show business heavyweights, died on Tuesday, her daughter said through a family spokesman.

“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother Carrie Fisher passed away at 8:55 this morning,” Lourd said in a statement issued by Simon Halls. “She was loved by the world, and she will be missed profoundly.”

Fisher was 60 years old.

Fisher, who had been in England shooting the third season of the British sitcom “Catastrophe,” suffered a heart attack during a flight on Friday from London to Los Angeles. She was met by paramedics and rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

Her death came a month after the actress and author made headlines by disclosing that she had a three-month love affair with her “Star Wars” co-star Harrison Ford 40 years ago.

Fisher revealed the secret to People magazine while promoting her new memoir, “The Princess Diarist,” just before it went on sale. The book is based on Fisher’s diaries from her time working on the first “Star Wars” movie.

Fisher said the affair started and ended in 1976 during production on the blockbuster sci-fi adventure in which she first appeared as the intrepid Princess Leia. Ford played the maverick space pilot Han Solo.

“It was so intense,” Fisher told People. “It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.” She was 19 and Ford was 33 at the time of the affair.

“How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me? I was so inexperienced, but I trusted something about him. He was kind,” she wrote of Ford in the memoir, the latest of several books Fisher authored over the years.

Fisher reprised the role in two “Star Wars” sequels. She gained sex symbol status in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” when her Leia character wore a metallic gold bikini while enslaved by the diabolical Jabba the Hutt.

She returned last year in Disney’s reboot of the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Force Awakens,” appearing as the more matronly General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance movement fighting the evil First Order.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

IMAGE: Actress Carrie Fisher introduces her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, as the recipient of the Life Achievement Award at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California January 25, 2015.REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo