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Air Force's X-37B space plane returns after 2-year top-secret mission

X-37BThe X-37B is coming home, presumably chock-full of secrets. The unmanned Air Force plane -- a sort of space drone that has spent the last two years orbiting the planet -- is expected to return to Earth on Tuesday. At some point during daylight hours, depending on weather, the plane will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

"Team Vandenberg stands ready to implement safe landing operations for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the third time for this unique mission" the Air Force's Col. Keith Baits, 30th Space Wing commander, said in a press release issued last week.

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Texas voter ID law reinstated by federal appeals court

Voter ID TexasA federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated Texas’ tough voter ID law for the November election, which the U.S. Justice Department had condemned as the state’s latest means of suppressing minority voter turnout.

The ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocks last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi, who determined the law unconstitutional and similar to a poll tax designed to dissuade minorities from voting.

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Fracking drives growth in sand mining, raises new health-risk questions

FrackingDemand is exploding for the massive amounts of sand used in fracking, creating a windfall for mines from Texas to Wisconsin but leading to worries about the health impacts of breathing silica dust.

Drillers are expected to use nearly 95 billion pounds of “frac sand” this year. That’s up 30 percent from last year, according to energy specialists at PacWest Consulting Partners, who expect the market to keep growing as drillers increasingly accept that using more sand increases the oil and gas production from each well.

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Judge blocks Wisconsin law used in Walker probe

Scott WalkerA federal judge Tuesday blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin election law that's at the center of an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted the request to block the law from the Milwaukee-based group Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates while the conservative group's underlying lawsuit challenging its constitutionality goes forward.

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WHO: Ebola death rate rises to 70 percent

Ebola death rate at 70 percentThe death rate in the Ebola outbreak has risen to 70 percent and there could be up to 10,000 new cases a week in two months, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

WHO assistant director-general Dr. Bruce Aylward gave the grim figures during a news conference in Geneva. Previously, WHO had estimated the death rate at around 50 percent.

Aylward said the 70 percent death rate was "a high mortality disease" in any circumstance and that the U.N. health agency was still focused on trying to get sick people isolated and provide treatment as early as possible.

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Shia militias 'killing Iraqi Sunnis in reprisal attacks'

Shia now killing SunnisShia militias in Iraq have kidnapped and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months, a report by campaign group Amnesty International has said.

The killings were in apparent revenge for attacks by Islamic State (IS). Amnesty said the militias had been supported and armed by the Iraqi government and operated with impunity.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office last month, has admitted to previous "excesses" by security forces and vowed to govern for all Iraqis.

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UK MPs pass motion to recognize Palestine as a state

UK MP's pass two state solutionThe British parliament voted in favor of a symbolic move to recognize Palestine as an official state, answering impassioned pleas by pro-Palestinian ministers and activists.
The vote, which took place on Monday evening, saw 274 MPs come out in support of the motion, while 12 voted against.

"This House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution," the motion reads.

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North Korea leader makes 1st appearance in 40 days

Korean leaderAfter more than six weeks of global speculation, the people of North Korea can at last relax: their beloved leader has finally been seen in public once more. State media reported early on Tuesday local time that Kim Jong-un visited a newly built residential district and the Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences.

“Our scientists are patriots who are devoting all their lives to building a rich and powerful nation,” he was quoted as saying.

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Catholic bishops show new tolerance toward gays

Catholic bishopsCatholic bishops expressed unprecedented tolerance toward homosexuality and divorce in a document released Monday, a remarkable shift led by Pope Francis that could end the church's rigid stance on those issues.

The new openness to gay unions, though not gay marriage, is considered groundbreaking by supporters and critics alike. It expands on the tolerant tone Francis struck last year when he said, "Who am I to judge?" whether gay and lesbians could be good Christians.

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