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Colleen LaRose said that her fair skin and green eyes had helped her go unnoticed as she plotted to kill an artist who had depicted the prophet Mohammed as a dog. (Tom Green County Jail/AP)

Why 'Jihad Jane' could be free in four years (+video)

By Staff Writer / 01.06.14

An American-born woman who called herself "Jihad Jane" was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday for plotting with an Al Qaeda-linked terrorism cell to kill a Swedish artist.

Colleen LaRose, who converted to Islam online, pleaded guilty in 2011 to a collection of charges connected to her collaboration with alleged Al Qaeda militants to kill Lars Vilks, the artist who had drawn the prophet Mohammed as a dog. The charges included conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Prosecutors had originally asked for a life sentence for Ms. LaRose but had downgraded their request to multiple decades, citing her extensive cooperation with authorities. Since LaRose has already served four years in prison and could be eligible for time off for good behavior, she is expected to be released in about four years, the Associated Press said. Her sentence also includes five years of supervised release.

In 2007, Mr. Vilks, the artist, had completed a series of drawings of Mohammed as a dog for a local art exhibition. That exhibition ultimately declined to show them, and, following rejections from the several European exhibitions to which Vilks subsequently reached out, the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published just one of the pictures. Outrage simmered throughout the Muslim world. Militants in Iraq put out a $100,000 reward to anyone who killed Vilks.

Vilks, who now has a 24-hour security detail, was never attacked.

Public defenders described LaRose not as a greedy criminal seeking bloodstained cash, but as a “lonely and isolated” woman engaged in a desperate, deluded search of a calling in life, even if that calling came from a terror cell. LaRose’s defense team had cited her traumatic past, including childhood sexual abuse, underage prostitution, a marriage to a much-older man, and heavy drug and alcohol use, as explaining the ease with which violent jihadists had manipulated her into joining their cause.

Vilks told the AP that he believed LaRose had spent enough time in prison, calling the sentence “overkill” for “a person who has been through a lot of difficulties in her life and needs mental care more than anything else.”

US investigators say that LaRose met Ali Charaf Damache in a jihadist chat room, where she used the chat name JihadJane, and was persuaded to join him in Ireland in 2009 to coordinate an attack on the artist. The founder of one of the sites told The New York Times in 2010 that LaRose appeared to be using the chat room like a dating service, as if “looking for a soul mate” and pledging her devotion to jihad as an route toward marrying a jihadist.

Mr. Damache also allegedly recruited a second American woman, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, whom he married. Damache is in custody in Ireland, fighting extradition to the US, and Mrs. Paulin-Ramirez is scheduled for sentencing in the US this week.

LaRose left Ireland after just six weeks, for reasons on which prosecutors and LaRose’s defense team disagree. Prosecutors told the judge that LaRose quit the terror cell when she “grew frustrated because her co-conspirators were not ready for action,” not because she questioned the ethics of the murder plot, the AP reported. For that reason, LaRose should still be considered a threat to public safety, prosecutors said, arguing for a prison sentence multiple decades long.

Prosecutors also said that a stiff sentence could be valuable in helping to change the standard profile of a violent jihadist to include blonde women, like both LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez, whose suspicious activities are less likely to be noticed or reported because of their looks, Reuters said. LaRose had bragged after her arrest that her green eyes and fair skin had let her travel without questioning.

The defense, though, argued that LaRose had returned home on realizing that the terrorists’ mission was not true jihad and that Islam was a peaceful religion. Public defender Mark Wilson said that LaRose’s reformed understanding of the meaning of Islam ensured that she was not a public threat: “There’s virtually no chance that she would ever be involved in violent jihad ever again,” he said, according to the AP.

LaRose told the court that she was “in a trance” during her foray into violent jihad but said that the trace has since lifted and she no longer wishes to be a jihadist, Reuters reported.

LaRose surrendered to authorities in Philadelphia in 2009 after returning from Ireland, but the arrest was not made public until her co-conspirators were arrested in March 2010, AFP said.

Mohammad Hassan Khalid, an honor student from Baltimore and another co-conspirator in the case, has asked that his sentencing scheduled for Tuesday be delayed to allow more time for psychological evaluation. Mr. Khalid, who committed his crimes at ages 15 and 16, is the youngest person in the United States to be charged with terrorism, Reuters reported.

Marvin Winkfield places his arm around his wife, Nailah Winkfield, mother of 13-year-old Jahi McMath. The two have fought a tense legal battle against a California hospital to keep Jahi, declared brain-dead, on a ventilator. (Ben Margot/AP)

Jahi MacMath, brain-dead teenager, is released to her mother (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.06.14

Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old girl at the center of a sensitive battle over what constitutes death, was released from the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Calif., to her mother on Sunday night. The brain-dead teenager is expected to be transferred to a long-term care facility, though her exact whereabouts were not released.

“She is safely out of Children's,” tweeted Christopher Dolan, the family’s attorney, on Sunday night.

Jahi, a California resident, was declared brain-dead on Dec. 12, after complications arose from tonsil surgery three days earlier. After declaring Jahi dead, the hospital sought to have the teenager removed from the ventilator. Jahi’s heart, though, was still beating. To her parents, who cite Christian beliefs, their daughter was still alive.

The tense standoff between the hospital and Jahi’s family has since spun out to include three courts, the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, and multiple long-term care facilities. It has also become more than a fight over Jahi’s fate, unfolding into a broader struggle on the legal definition of death.

The Jahi’s family lawyer, Mr. Dolan, has told the press that Jahi could recover from her injuries with time and proper care, telling CNN that “her brain needs time to heal.” The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, founded in the memory of Terri Schiavo, the woman whose husband had her removed from life support against the wishes of her parents, has also said that Jahi “is a living person,” since she has “a beating heart, circulation and respiration, the ability to metabolize nutrition and more.”

But bioethicists have rejected such statements as confusing the definition of death and as purveying false hope for brain-dead patients.

“Just as there are questions about where life begins,” says Robert Klitzman, a bioethicist at Columbia University, “there are questions about the definition of death.”

In defining death, those questions are a result of technology that keeps the heart beating even while the brain is entirely silent, says Dr. Klitzman. In cases where the person's death was especially unexpected, as was Jahi's death, that heartbeat can furnish a grieving family's hope that the loved one is not, in fact, dead, he says. Still, despite the controversy, there is “clear medical consensus” that total brain death constitutes death, even if the heart has not stopped, he says.

That unambiguous definition is also the one used in the 1981 Uniform Declaration of Death Act, a draft law that most states have adopted, including California. Since Dec. 12, three courts have issued rulings consistent with state law and agreeing with the hospital that Jahi is dead. Multiple doctors, including a court-appointed pediatric neurologist, were called upon to assess Jahi’s condition and testified before the courts that the teenager is brain-dead.

Still, on Dec. 20, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a restraining order that delayed Jahi’s removal from the hospital ventilator until at least Jan. 7.  Before being released to her mother, Jahi was transferred first through the Alameda County coroner's office, which on Friday issued a death certificate for her, with Dec. 12 as the "well-publicized" death date, according to a spokesman.

The stay of removal gave the family more time to identify a long-term care facility willing to take Jahi and care for her as a living person, as opposed to removing her to her a funeral home. But finding such a facility was expected to be a substantial challenge, as any facility that accepted Jahi would have to be willing to accept as a living person what the county was listing a dead body. 

Moreover, the hospital refused to insert a feeding tube to help transport Jahi to a new center, arguing that to do so would be a violation of the practice of medicine, since the institution considers Jahi a dead body. One nursing home in California rescinded its offer to take Jahi after the hospital made this announcement.

The family’s lawyer did not name the facility to which Jahi is being moved, citing death threats the family has received during the high-profile case. But the New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, N.Y., an institute that houses and offers care for patients with traumatic brain injuries, had in letters to the court volunteered itself as a potential caregiver.

“This child has been defined as a deceased person yet she has all the functional attributes of a living person despite her brain injury,” said the center, in a statement on the Jahi case. “We do encourage every citizen to take the time to educate themselves more clearly on the issues of what brain death is and what it is not.”

Jahi left the hospital in an ambulance accompanied by a critical care team and attached to a ventilator, but without a feeding tube, CNN reported.

Fans arrive at Lambeau Field to tailgate before an NFL wild-card playoff football game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

Enjoying the 'Polar Vortex'? Stand by for more. (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.05.14

Except for those crazy guys with their shirts off, most football fans at Lambeau Field for the Packers-49ers game Sunday afternoon in Green Bay, Wisconsin, were bundled up to the eyebrows, some of them gathered around parking lot fires set to warm their tailgate parties.

How come? Let the National Weather Service explain:

“The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central US today behind an arctic cold front. Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero. Also, heavy snow will develop from the eastern Plains to the Great Lakes today, with up to a foot of accumulation possible.”

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As the Weather Channel continues the narrative reminiscent of scenes of the Russian steppes from “Dr. Zhivago” …..

“Morning lows Monday will be in the 20s and 30s below zero over much of eastern Montana, North Dakota, northeast South Dakota, Minnesota, northwest Illinois, and Wisconsin. Relentless northwest winds of 15 to 35 mph (depending on location) will make this an exceptionally dangerous cold, sending wind chills into the minus 50s and even minus 60s across much of this region. At these levels, any exposed skin can suffer frostbite in as little as 5 minutes!

“Subzero cold will plunge as far south as the Ozarks and Ohio Valley, including Cincinnati, Ohio and Springfield, Mo. Daily record lows are possible in at least two dozen major cities from Texas to the Midwest including Minneapolis/St. Paul, Kansas City, and Austin, Texas.”

For those of you who thrill to news about windchill and the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia, go here.

Meanwhile, about 2,855 flights had been delayed nationwide by midday Sunday and 2,332 had been canceled.

In New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport was closed for a couple of hours after a Bombardier jet skidded off a taxiway soon after landing. The Delta Connection flight had landed safely after arriving from Toronto with 35 passengers on board, and no injuries were reported, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs the airport, said.

Officials in several states asked residents to use extra precautions when outdoors.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has ordered all public schools in the state closed on Monday to protect children from dangerously cold weather.

Chicago schools will be open Monday despite the cold, but officials, in a statement, advised parents to "use their own discretion in deciding whether to send their child to school."

Between six inches and one foot of snow was predicted from Chicago to Detroit, AccuWeather said, while icy sleet and rain was forecast for much of the Northeast.

In case you want official advice about how to dress in such weather, here it is from the National Weather Service:

• Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will insulate you.

• Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.

• Wear a hat, because 40 percent of your body heat can be lost from your head.

• Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.

• Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.

• Try to stay dry and out of the wind.

And if you’re a Packers fan, make sure your Cheesehead chapeau is fleece-lined.

"It's going to be a challenge to stay warm, but we're up to it," Jacquie Tucker Braun, who planned to bring her 14-year-old son Gryphon to the game, told Reuters. She is bundling up for the game, wearing four layers on top and three layers on the bottom, along with a two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves.

"We will see the game to the end unless there was some type of emergency," she said. "Being a Packers fan is in your blood, hereditary even."

This report includes material from Reuters.

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'Knockout game' as hate crime? Second Brooklyn man charged. (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.05.14

For the second time in six weeks, New York City police have arrested a man in Brooklyn and charged him with assault as a hate crime in connection with the "knockout game."

The arrest comes as a spate of attacks have focused national attention on the knockout game, in which an assailant tries to knock out an unsuspecting bystander with one punch. The attacks have stirred controversy over whether the game is part of a growing trend or whether national media coverage and social media have inflated isolated incidents.

Moreover, the Obama administration raised eyebrows when the US Justice Department on Dec. 26 charged a white man in Texas with a federal hate crime for attacking a black man as part of a knockout game, though the vast majority of recorded knockout assaults have been by black men against whites.

In the case announced by New York police Friday, Brooklyn resident Barry Baldwin, who is black, was arrested in connection with seven knockout game attacks. The assaults occurred from Nov. 9 to Dec. 27 in predominately Jewish sections of Brooklyn. All the alleged victims were women, including an elderly woman pushing a stroller and a mother walking with her daughter.

The case echoes that of Amrit Marajh, a black man who was arrested on Nov. 23 and also charged with assault as a hate crime. The alleged victim in that case was a young Jewish man.

Both the cases will be turned over to the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force. The two Brooklyn cases and the case in Texas remain the only knockout game assaults that have brought hate crime charges at either the local or federal level.

Many criminologists dismiss the idea that the knockout game is growing, saying this sort of crime has been common for decades. "At least nine suspected knockout attacks have been reported since October in New York, but police have said they see no evidence of a trend," according to CNN.

As frigid weather takes hold on the upper Midwest, Kristy Gruley of Madison, Wis. is well-bundled against the elements while walking in the city Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal/AP)

Snowstorm gone, 'polar vortex' brings deep, deep chill to US

By Staff writer / 01.04.14

With winter storm Hercules all cleared out – the storm left 16 dead, creating deep drifts across northern reaches of the country – a nose-freezing cold front has begun to dominate the mainland US, as Arctic air plunges temperatures to dozens of degrees below normal in places like Atlanta, Fargo, N.D., and even legendary ice box Green Bay, Wisconsin

The deep freeze could break decades-old records in some parts of the country, meaning that many Americans below middle age may never have witnessed, or stood in, such cold.

"All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” Weather Bell meteorologist Ryan Maue told the Associated Press. "If you're under 40 [years old], you've not seen this stuff before."

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Chicago is expecting the kind of low temperatures the city hasn’t seen in decades, raising hypothermia fears. The charge of cold air will reach south as far as north Florida, and Atlanta highs will likely freeze stuck at 25 degrees on Tuesday. Even New Englanders used to bundling up are feeling their eyelashes start to freeze. Some parts of the country could see wind chills well south of minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

After making news for barely selling out its playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers are all set to host a home game played at a projected minus-8 degrees Fahrenheit, an estimated point at which beards freeze.

Until now, the coldest NFL game ever played also happened at Lambeau, in 1967, in the so-called “Ice Bowl” playoff game between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. (Packers won.)

The culprit, meteorologists say, is a rare polar vortex – a counter-clockwise wind pattern that, in essence, amasses cold air at the North Pole, then releases super-chilled air masses to pour molasses-like down onto North America. That effect is contributing to other cold-favorable conditions, including the location of the jet stream and already chilly ground temperatures.

Most of the Great Lakes are expected to freeze in the next few days, which usually ensures a long cold winter at least for those in that part of the country.

The historic chill comes in the same week that a large group of climate researchers looking for signs of climate change around the South Pole got stuck for days in unusually thick Antarctic ice, only to be rescued by helicopter after a rescue ship also got stuck. Indeed, it turns out the Antarctic annual summer ice melt has been the smallest ever recorded.

Winnipeg, Canada, already got a taste of the deep chill, as thermometers this week dipped into the kind of mercury readings usually found on Mars. This week’s NHL Winter Classic, played in Ann Arbor, Mich., set the tone as snow and wind chill pulled on nostalgic memories of what winter used to look and feel like.

A French and Australian study published this week in the journal Nature, meanwhile, suggests that the Earth’s climate is more sensitive to man-made carbon dioxide emissions than previously believed, meaning that the Earth’s temperature could rise by 4 degree Celsius by 2,100.

Studying how carbon dioxide affects cloud formations, researchers Steven Sherwood, Sandrine Bony, and Jean-Louis Dufresne wrote that “real world observations” suggested that regularly cited climate models are low-balling predictions of future global warming.

To be sure, some of the warmest years on record also had extreme cold spells, suggesting that regional and yearly weather and temperature variations don’t necessarily undermine the widely-accepted man-made climate change theory.

For instance, the Twin Cities may see 20-below temperatures on Sunday, but it was only around this time in early 2009, which followed the hottest year on record, where Minnesota temperatures dipped equally low, if not colder.

Just for context, the US record low of minus-79.8 Fahrenheit was recorded on Jan 23, 1971, at the Prospect Creek Camp in northern Alaska. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the contiguous United States, minus-69.7 Fahrenheit, was found at Rogers Pass, Mont., on Jan. 20, 1954.

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A pedestrian walks through drifting snow along Chester Pike in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania on Friday. (Michael Wirtz/The Philadelphia Inquirer/AP)

Snowstorm exits, but temperatures stay frigid. Why so cold?

By Staff writer / 01.03.14

As they lean into their snow-shoveling for warmth, New Englanders might be wondering why a nor'easter that dumped more than a foot of snow across several Eastern states, left such exceptionally cold temperatures in its wake.

Winter storm Hercules, which hit the Eastern Seaboard between Thursday and Friday, was what meteorologists call "well organized," meaning that at least three major factors converged to produce a lot of snow and a lot of cold. An Arctic air mass descended through Canada and hit the warmer Atlantic, where the system both gathered moisture and sucked the water's warm energy upward – at just the same time that a jet stream arrived from Alaska, delivering turbulent, eddy-riddled air.

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"The jet stream moves in response to temperature differences," explains Matthew Belk, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "Nature is always trying to restore balance with itself. Every bit of weather that we have is a result of an imbalance that was generated."

Temperatures on Friday rose no higher than 19 degrees F. in Philadelphia, 13 degrees in Boston, and 8 degrees in Portland, Maine, and the windchill factors prompted warnings about frostbite. reported that Portland's temperature of plus 8 degrees "feels like" minus 8.

How can temperature be so subjective? Air temperature is measurable, and human skin is great at sensing its fluctuations, but wind alters people's perception because it skims away their own body heat, Mr. Belk explains. That's why thick winter clothes can help significantly: they isolate a body's warmth from the wind's thieving fingers.

"If you are shoveling, snow blowing, be sure to take breaks," writes meteorologist David Epstein, adding that it doesn’t take long for frostbite to take effect.

Hercules' strong winds also triggered coastal flooding, by preventing waters from receding completely at low tide. The resulting rush of pent-up waters at high tide flooded streets in some sea-side towns south of Boston.

While those in the East could enjoy a temperature reprieve reaching into the 40s this weekend, those in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest will experience what may be the coldest and most dangerous temperatures of the year, according to the National Weather Service.

The northern polar vortex, which is a semipermanent cyclone that hovers around the north pole, is expected to drop down from central Canada by Saturday, slamming Fargo, N.D., with temperatures between minus 6 degrees and minus 34 degrees – far below the levels at which salt can help keep roads and sidewalks safe.

When that air reaches the East Coast Monday night, as is forecast, New Englanders could experience a sudden temperature plunge – potentially bringing Boston from a Monday high of 50 degrees to a Tuesday high of 15.

"We're kind of oscillating," says Belk. "It's going to bounce back and forth before it balances out."

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Winter storm Hercules made the trek tough for travelers leaving a train and subway station in Boston on Jan. 3. Some parts of Massachusetts had accumulated almost two feet of snow as of Friday morning. (Brian Snyder /Reuters)

Winter storm Hercules sweeps out, leaving Northeast with loads to shovel

By Staff writer / 01.03.14

A storm of herculean strength that unfurled across the Northeast Thursday night and into Friday morning dropped snowfall in many areas that exceeded forecasters' predictions and sent temperatures plunging to bitter lows. 

In a dramatic, if frosty, welcome to 2014, the winter storm, dubbed Hercules, reached its apex overnight Thursday, dumping almost two feet of snow on parts of Massachusetts by Friday and causing parts of upstate New York to shiver in wind chills that notched in the minus 30s. The storm, which has had much of the mid-Atlantic and New England in a de facto hibernation since Thursday morning, scuttled travel plans, thwarted commuters, and prompted school closures around the region on Friday morning.

Eastern Massachusetts had the highest snowfalls as of Friday morning, with the towns of Topsfield and Boxford each accumulating more than 23 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

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A winter storm warning lasted in Massachusetts until 10 a.m. Friday, and the hard-hit eastern portions of the state were also under blizzard warnings, meaning that visibility will be at less than a quarter-mile for at least three hours. The National Guard is on standby to assist along the state's coast, where storm surges of more than two feet are likely in some areas.

Boston, while not under a blizzard warning, is expected to accumulate about 14 inches of snow by Friday evening, at least four inches more than had been forecast one day ago. Jan. 2 was a calendar-day snowfall record for the city, with snowfall reaching 10.6 inches, a total not seen on that date since 1906, the National Weather Service said. All public schools are closed, and a parking ban is in effect while some 500 plows fan through the streets.

Temperatures in Boston hovered in the single digits Friday morning, but winds of about 30 miles per hour are expected to put wind chills as low as 22 degrees F. below zero. The entire state is under a winter chill advisory until Saturday morning.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a statewide state of emergency at about 3:45 p.m. Thursday and, via Twitter, asked residents to “stay off the road if you can.” The measure included closing several major highways until Friday morning, including portions of Interstate 84 and the Long Island Expressway between Nassau County and New York’s Queens borough.

In upstate New York, wind chills are expected to remain between -30 and -40 degrees until Saturday morning, the National Weather Service said. And in New York City, where all public schools are closed, parts of the Bronx piled up about eight inches of snow and Central Park was swaddled in about half a foot of the white stuff. Mayor Bill de Blasio, inaugurated Wednesday, said 2,500 plows were on the streets as of Thursday morning, and city residents could track the plows' progress through their neighborhoods on

In Connecticut, winter storm warnings were in effect for most of the state until Friday morning, and high winds put temperatures at about 20 below zero in parts of the state. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency on Friday, closing state offices, and on Twitter he asked travelers to keep off the roads to keep the way clear for first responders.

Parts of Rhode Island and New Hampshire received more than half a foot of snow, and Chicago was coated in about 12 inches of snow.

Travel was disrupted across the country on Friday because of the storm, with some 1,602 flights canceled and another 640 flights delayed, according to FlightAware. Major airline hubs – JFK International Airport in New York and Logan International in Boston – were both closed Friday morning. Amtrak between Boston and Washington, D.C., and Metro North were running with reduced schedules, and Greyhound bus service was either canceled or delayed between stops in Boston, Maine, New York, and Vermont.

In coming days, the Northeast will experience some “weather whiplash,” with temperatures rising only to plummet again, said a spokesman for the National Weather Service.

The storm’s snowfall should taper off in the Northeast by Friday afternoon, but temperatures will remain frigid, keeping much of the region in the teens and single digits. On Monday, temperatures will rise as high as the mid-40s, and another storm swirling through the area will bring rain. On Tuesday, temperatures will take “another plunge into the icebox,” with wind chills in the negatives, as the region gets smacked with Arctic air, the National Weather Service spokesman said.

The Northeast’s most extreme snowstorm on record was in March 1993. That storm swathed most of the region in between 10 and 20 inches of snow, with some areas racking up more than 30 inches. 

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Sergio Garcia speaks at The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles news conference in Los Angeles, Aug. 27, 2013. (Nick Ut/AP/File)

Undocumented immigrant can practice law, California Supreme Court rules (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.02.14

Sergio Garcia’s immigration status is still pending, but he is now allowed to practice law in the State of California.

The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday to admit Mr. Garcia to the State Bar. A state law passed in the fall, while his application for a license was under review by the court, paved the way for the decision. Taking effect Jan. 1, the new law made California the first state to specifically allow undocumented immigrants to earn law licenses.

Similar cases are pending in Florida and New York.

“I'm speechless, tired, relieved,” Garcia said just after the ruling came down, according to NBC News. “I never in my life imagined it would take me longer to win my right to practice than it took to actually get my degree,” he also said. “I’m glad California is moving forward, and I think we’re setting a good example for the rest of the country.”

Garcia was born in Mexico and brought to the United States as a baby without documentation. Later, his father, who attained lawful permanent-resident status, applied for a visa on Garcia’s behalf. The visa petition was accepted in 1995, but a backlog in the system means it may not be granted for many years.

Garcia lived for a time in Mexico, but graduated from high school, college, and law school in California and passed the bar exam in 2009. When he applied for a law license and indicated his immigration status was pending, the Committee of Bar Examiners investigated his background and recommended that he be admitted to the bar.

The state Supreme Court entertained briefs for and against his admission and heard oral arguments in early September. These focused largely on a federal statute that generally restricts undocumented immigrants from receiving professional licenses, unless allowed by state law.

Shortly after those arguments, the state passed its new law.

The law “removed any obstacle to Garcia’s admission to the State Bar that may have been posed by other provisions of that federal statute,” a press release from the California Supreme Court said on Thursday.

The court also ruled that a variety of other objections to admitting undocumented immigrants to the bar that had been raised in the case lacked merit.

The court had examined Garcia’s particular qualifications, and the ruling quoted from letters of reference submitted to the Committee of Bar Examiners. An attorney for whom Garcia worked as an unpaid intern had advised: “I know with absolute certainty that Mr. Garcia [is] among the most honest, forthright, and moral individuals I have ever met.”

The court concluded that “Garcia met his burden of demonstrating that he possesses the requisite good moral character to qualify for a law license,” the statement said.

A long line of buyers trails from a store selling marijuana in Pueblo West, Colo, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. The nation's first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado on Wednesday, kicking off a marijuana experiment that will be watched closely around the world. (John Wark/AP)

Colorado marijuana sales: Long lines for smooth rollout of legal business (+video)

By Staff writer / 01.02.14

As the first light of 2014 hit the Rocky Mountains, buyers formed long lines in blustery Colorado weather to participate in the first legal sales of recreational marijuana in the United States.

Accompanied by a swell of media coverage and law enforcement officials, sales began at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and "government officials marveled at the calm," according to a report in the Denver Post.

‘‘Everything’s gone pretty smoothly,’’ Barbara Brohl, head of Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, told the Associated Press.

Thirty-seven licensed retailers opened for sales, most of them in Denver, according to the Post. Denver police issued two citations for public marijuana consumption during the day, but the department could not confirm that these were related to the day's sales.

Smoking pot in public remains illegal in Colorado, but the New York Times reports that some of the day's customers got around that problem by buying edible products like pot-laced chocolate truffles and baked goods.

Perhaps the only blip in the new industry's roll-out were inflated prices that customers worried could make the drug less affordable for medical users.  Colorado has not established a statewide pricing structure, the AP reports, and midafternoon Wednesday at least one dispensary was charging $70 for one-eighth of an ounce of high-quality marijuana. The day before, medical marijuana patients paid as little as $25 for the same amount.

‘‘We hope that the focus on recreational doesn’t take the focus away from patients who really need this medicine,’’ Laura Kriho of the patient advocacy group Cannabis Therapy Institute told AP.

Any Colorado resident who is at least 21 can now buy up to an ounce or marijuana legally, and out-of-state visitors can buy up to a quarter ounce, which they must consume in Colorado. To help keep the crop from migrating to states where it remains illegal, the Denver airport has posted signs warning travelers that they cannot take pot with them when they leave.

This was part of the state's effort to meet requirements laid out in August by the US Justice Department. Despite a conflict between federal marijuana law and the recent legalization by Washington State and Colorado, Justice said it would not interfere in the new industry as long as the two states effectively enforced eight regulatory points, which include the following:

• Prevent use by minors.

• Prevent pot that is grown for sale in the state from migrating out of state.

• Prevent the diversion of marijuana revenue to organized crime.

• Prevent state-authorized activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity.

• Prevent drugged driving and other adverse public-health effects.

Colorado has approved 136 licenses for retail sales, three-quarters in Denver County and all sites that were previously selling marijuana for medical purposes. State officials told the Post that recreational pot sales could add over $200 million to the state's economy.

“If Colorado is able to successfully legalize marijuana without causing a social backlash, the tourism, tax, and other considerations are likely to compel several other states to quickly follow suit,” writes the paper.

Supporters told the paper that enough signatures had been collected to let Alaskans vote on legalization this year, likely followed by Oregon. By 2016, ballot measures could be considered in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Nevada.

Colorado's is the only fully legal marijuana industry in the world; in the Netherlands, where it is famously tolerated and sold in cafés, it is not actually legal. Washington State and Uruguay in South America have both legalized pot, but neither government has yet hammered out a regulatory system. Washington's industry, regulated by the state's Liquor Control Board, is expected to open for business by the spring of this year.

Workers install a Waterford Crystal panel on the Times Square New Year's Eve ball in New York last week. (Darren Ornitz/Reuters)

New Year's Eve forecast: where revelers will have to bundle up

By Staff writer / 12.31.13

New Year’s Eve revelers will face radically different weather conditions depending on where they plan to party on the last evening of 2013 with conditions ranging from balmy to bone chilling.

Revelers in New York’s Times Square for the largest of the New Year’s Eve celebrations will encounter a temperature of 23 degrees F and clear skies, the Weather Channel predicts. AccuWeather forecaster Alex Sosnowski writes that party goers will feel like the temperatures are “in the teens” adding, “Nothing more than a flurry will drift across Manhattan in advance of the blizzard of confetti.”

One of the coldest celebrations in the lower 48 may be in Plymouth, Wis., a 50 minute drive from Milwaukee. According to compilation of unusual celebrations assembled by AccuWeather, after a masquerade ball dinner and dance, Plymouth will drop a large ball of cheese to mark the start of 2014. It will be the seventh time this dairy-centric celebration has been held. The expected weather conditions: a temperature of 0 degrees and snow showers.

It won’t be much warmer for those planning to gather at Chicago’s Navy Pier for a midnight fireworks show. Mike Caplan, a meteorologist with Chicago ABC television affiliate WLS, says that a substantial snowfall may hit the area this evening. “We’re forecasting 6" snowfall totals widespread across the area and, in some cases, it will be 10" or more from the looks of it,” he writes. The Weather Channel is predicting evening temperatures of 15 degrees and snow.

The warmest celebration may occur in Key West, Fla., where the New Year’s Eve temperature is expected to be 72 degrees and cloudy. There, for the 21st year, a six-foot queen conch shell will be dropped at midnight from the roof of a bar on Duval Street.

While the White House has not yet released details of how the first family will be celebrating on New Year’s Eve, we know conditions will be balmy in Kailua, Hawaii, where the Obamas have been vacationing on the windward side of Oahu. The weather conditions tonight in Honolulu, the largest nearby city, are slated to be 67 degrees and clear.  

It will be a bit cooler for party goers gathered in Los Angeles’s Grand Park for a New Year’s Eve countdown party. The Weather Channel is predicting a temperature of 48 degrees and clear conditions.

Those who want to start the new year with a dose of love and chocolate will have to brave an expected evening temperature of 24 degrees in Hershey, Pa. That is where a 300 pound, 12-foot-high Hershey’s kiss will be hoisted three stories into the air by the chocolate maker and dropped to celebrate the sweet prospects for 2014.

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