Scripps News Headlines The Latest Videos From Scrippsnews.com https://scrippsnews.com/ <![CDATA[What key recent events led to Iran's assault on Israel?]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 20:22:00 -0400
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 Iran's dramatic aerial attack on Israel follows years of enmity between the countries and marks the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel. The hostility between the countries has only worsened in the six months since Hamas launched its attack on Israel, which set off a war that continues to threaten to drag the entire region toward a broader conflict.

Here is a look at the key events leading up to Iran's assault:

Hamas attacks Israel

Oct. 7 - Thousands of Hamas-led militants storm across the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 captive, according to Israeli authorities. The assault triggers a devastating war that has killed more than 33,700 people, mostly women and children, according to local health officials. In launching the assault, Hamas hopes other regional enemies of Israel's will join. U.S. President Joe Biden warns Israel's regional foes not to get involved and sends military support to the Middle East.

Hezbollah joins the war, at a low level

Oct. 8 - A day after Hamas' attack, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah begins firing toward Israel, setting off months of low intensity but deadly cross-border fighting that displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

Houthis stage attacks

November - The Yemeni rebels, who are supported by Iran, launch a campaign of drone and missile attacks on shipping assets in the Red Sea beginning in November, describing their efforts as a way to pressure Israel to end the war against Hamas. They also fire missiles toward Israel, although those largely fall short or are intercepted.

Israel widely blamed for Damascus strike

Apr. 1 - Two Iranian generals with the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guards are killed in the Syrian capital in a strike on an Iranian consular building that is widely blamed on Israel, although it does not publicly acknowledge it. Iran promises revenge.

Iran launches major aerial assault on Israel

April 14 - Israel says more than 300 drones, cruise and ballistic missiles are launched by Iran, an extraordinary assault that is thwarted almost entirely by Israel's aerial defense array and a coalition of countries repelling the onslaught. While no major damage is caused, the world braces for Israel's response.

SEE MORE: US will not participate in any potential Israeli counterattack on Iran

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<![CDATA[Scottie Scheffler unstoppable and wins another Masters green jacket]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 19:52:28 -0400
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Scottie Scheffler had no doubts about this Masters, and neither did anyone watching. He pulled ahead with magnificent shots Sunday and poured it on along the back nine at Augusta National for a 4-under 68 to claim his second green jacket in three years.

Scheffler is simply unstoppable at the moment, and he had help from a faltering cast of contenders to make it look easier than it was.

He won by three shots in 2022 with a meaningless four-putt on the final hole. He won by four this time, allowing for the most enjoyable uphill climb in golf toward the 18th green.

SEE MORE: Tiger Woods finishes Masters with his highest score as a pro

Masters newcomer Ludvig Aberg of Sweden gave him his stiffest challenge, losing ground with an approach into the water on the 11th hole for a double bogey. Against a player like Scheffler, those mistakes are not easy to overcome.

Aberg close with a 69 and was the runner-up.

The 27-year-old Scheffler is the fourth-youngest player to have two green jackets. And he stretches his lead at No. 1 in the world to levels not seen since the prime of Tiger Woods. Scheffler now has three victories against the strongest fields in his last four starts. The other was a runner-up finish in Houston.

Woods closed with a 77 and finished at 16-over 304, the highest 72-hole of his career.

Scheffler said he was in tears before the final round in 2022 when he had a three-shot lead going for his first major. His wife, Meredith, gave him the assuring words and he sailed to victory. His wife had to watch this one from home in Dallas, where she is expecting the couple's first child at the end of the month.

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<![CDATA[US will not participate in any potential Israeli counterattack on Iran]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 18:47:09 -0400
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U.S. President Joe Biden called a virtual meeting of the G-7 nations on Sunday, to coordinate, "a united diplomatic response" to Iran's attack on Israel.

As the attacks appeared imminent on Saturday, President Biden met with senior advisers in the situation room and returned to the White House after cutting his weekend trip to Delaware short.

In a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the attacks, President Biden said the U.S. would not be participating in any potential Israeli counterattack on Iran and administration officials reiterated that point on Sunday.

"The President has been clear, we don't want to see this escalate," said National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby on NBC's Meet the Press. "We don't want a wider war with Iran. The coming hours and days will tell us a lot."

In a statement after the attacks began, President Biden said, "I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms... Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles."

SEE MORE: Israel hails 'success' in blocking Iran's unprecedented attack

It wasn't just the U.S. military that helped Israel take down some of the incoming attack drones and missiles. On a call with reporters on Sunday, administration officials said it was a coalition effort involving other countries, including the U.K., France and Jordan.

As for American soldiers who are currently in the region, in a statement after the attacks, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, "Our forces remain postured to protect U.S. troops and partners in the region, provide further support for Israel's defense, and enhance regional stability…. We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defense of Israel."

Addressing Israelis on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they are prepared for whatever comes next

"Our defensive systems are deployed; we are ready for any scenario, both defensively and offensively," Prime Minister Netanyahu said. "The state of Israel is strong. The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is strong. The public is strong."

All of it, though, stems from the wider issue of the Israel-Gaza war and an attack by Israel earlier this month on an Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed a dozen people – including commanders in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

So far, damage from Iran's retaliation appears to be minor, with one person injured.

On Sunday afternoon, the United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting at Israel's request. The UN's Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an immediate end to the hostilities, and reminded all member states that the UN Charter forbids the use of force against any state's territorial integrity or political independence.

"The Middle East is on the brink. The people of the region are confronting a real danger of a devastating full-scale conflict. Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate. Now is the time for maximum restraint," said Guterres.

Meanwhile, U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood reaffirmed Biden's administration's support for Israel's defense.

"In the coming days, and in consultation with other Member States, the United States will explore additional measures to hold Iran accountable here at the United Nations,” said Wood. "Let me be clear – if Iran or its proxies take actions against the United States or further action against Israel, Iran will be held responsible."

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<![CDATA[Tiger Woods finishes Masters with his highest score as a pro]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 17:02:54 -0400
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Tiger Woods finished the Masters on Sunday with a record he could do without, walking off the course with a 16-over 304, his highest 72-hole score in a career that spans three decades.

Woods' previous high was 302 at the Memorial in 2015. He has only failed to break 300 one other time at the Masters two years ago when he shot 78-78 on the weekend and finished at 301.

Despite the score, Woods called it a "good week" and said he's going to begin preparing for the other three majors including the PGA Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July.

"This is a golf course I knew going into it, so I'm going to do my homework going forward at Pinehurst, Valhalla and Troon," Woods said. "But that's kind of the game plan."

Overall, he wasn't unhappy with how he played.

"Coming in here, not having played a full tournament in a very long time, it was a good fight on Thursday and Friday," Woods said. "Unfortunately (Saturday) didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it to."

It hardly mattered to the crowd.

The 48-year-old Woods, who is still dealing with the effects of numerous surgeries that have impacted his body and limited his playing time on the PGA Tour, received a huge roar from the crowd as he pitched close to the hole on No. 18 and made par.

Wearing his traditional Sunday red, Woods tipped his hat the crowd.

Woods has played only 24 holes in one tournament going into the Masters

"I'm just going to keep lifting, keep the motor going, keep the body moving, keep getting stronger, keep progressing," Woods said. "Hopefully the practice sessions will keep getting longer."

Woods was in last place among the 60 players who made the cut when he finished. The previous time he finished in last place was in the 2020 Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

Still, the patrons flocked to see the man who took golf's popularity to new heights, even if he isn't been the dominant player he once was at Augusta National.

Woods hasn't really been competitive here since 2020 when he finished tied for 38th one year after his stunning fifth victory at age 43.

He finished 13 over two years ago, then was forced to withdraw in 2023 in the third round due to injuries that weren't helped by the cold, rainy weather that had taken an obvious physical toll on his body.

For a short time this week Woods showed glimpses of past greatness, relying mostly on his knowledge of the course.

SEE MORE: The history of the famous Masters green jacket

He played the first two rounds in 1 over to make the cut for a record 24th time. But the final two rounds were a struggle for Woods, who posted his worst round of his career at a major with an 82 on Saturday.

"It's always nice coming back here because I know the golf course, I know how to play it," Woods said. "I can kind of simulate shots. Granted, it's never quite the same as getting out here and doing it."

He played the final 36 holes in 15 over, shooting 77 on Sunday in his 100th career round at the Masters.

Before the round Woods appeared to receive some swing tips from his 15-year-old son Charlie on the practice range.

Things started off well enough, but that didn't last long.

After playing the first two holes in 1 under, Woods made a bogey on No. 3 before things started to unravel on the par-4 fifth hole when he took an unplayable lie and had to be driven back to the tee box in a golf cart to hit again. He wound up with a triple-bogey 7.

He added another bogey on the 6th.

He nearly chipped in from the sand on No. 16, giving fans a thrill and bringing back fond memories of his iconic chip in in 2005 en route to the fourth of his five championships at Augusta.

Woods said the toughest part of the week for him was battling the wind, which reached 45 mph at times with gusts.

"What it was doing out here to the golf shots and the balls and putting, how difficult the course was playing," Woods said. "It doesn't take much to get out of position here. Unfortunately, I got out of position a lot (Saturday) and a couple times today."

The once-dominant Woods played with Neal Shipley, the only amateur to make the cut at the Masters.

It was a stark reminder of just how long Woods has been around.

Woods' streak of cuts made at the Masters began in 1997, before the 23-year-old Shipley was born.

Even with Woods being out of contention he still attracting the usual huge throng of fans eager just to get a glimpse of the player that became the face of the sport. Fans applaud after every Woods' shot — good or bad — and continue to shout encouragement his way.

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<![CDATA[Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 16:35:06 -0400
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House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week as he attempts the difficult task of winning House approval for a national security package that also includes funding for Ukraine and allies in Asia.

Johnson, R-La., is already under immense political pressure from his fellow GOP lawmakers as he tries to stretch between the Republican Party's divided support for helping Kyiv defend itself from Moscow's invasion. The Republican speaker has sat for two months on a $95 billion supplemental package that would send support to the U.S. allies, as well as provide humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine and Gaza and funding to replenish U.S. weapons provided to Taiwan.

The attack by Iran on Israel early Sunday further ratcheted up the pressure on Johnson, but also gave him an opportunity to underscore the urgency of approving the funding.

Johnson told Fox News Channel's "Sunday Morning Futures" that he and Republicans "understand the necessity of standing with Israel" and he would try this week to advance the aid.

"The details of that package are being put together right now," he said. "We're looking at the options and all these supplemental issues."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference also said that President Biden held a phone call Sunday with the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, including Johnson. The New York Democrat said there was consensus "among all the leaders that we had to help Israel and help Ukraine, and now hopefully we can work that out and get this done next week."

"It's vital for the future of Ukraine, for Israel and the West," Schumer said.

Johnson has also "made it clear" to fellow House Republicans that he will this week push to package together the aid for Israel, Ukraine and allies in Asia and pass it through the House, said GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The speaker has expressed support for legislation that would structure some of the funding for Kyiv as loans, pave the way for the U.S. to tap frozen Russian central bank assets and include other policy changes. Johnson has pushed for the Biden administration to lift a pause on approvals for Liquefied Natural Gas exports and at times has also demanded policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

But currently, the only package with wide bipartisan support in Congress is the Senate-passed bill that includes roughly $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby called on the speaker to put that package "on the floor as soon as possible."

"We didn't need any reminders in terms of what's going on in Ukraine," Kirby said on NBC. "But last night certainly underscores significantly the threat that Israel faces in a very, very tough neighborhood."

As Johnson searches for a way to advance the funding for Ukraine, he has been in conversations with both the White House and former president Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

SEE MORE: Rep. Jason Crow talks Ukraine, backing Speaker Johnson on 'The Race'

With his job under threat, Johnson traveled to Florida on Friday for an event with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club. Trump expressed support for Johnson and said he had a "very good relationship" with him.

"He and I are 100% united on these big agenda items," Johnson said. "When you talk about aid to Ukraine, he's introduced the loan-lease concept which is a really important one and I think has a lot of consensus."

But Trump, with his "America First" agenda, has inspired many Republicans to push for a more isolationist stance. Support for Ukraine has steadily eroded in the roughly two years since the war began, and a cause that once enjoyed wide support has become one of Johnson's toughest problems.

When he returns to Washington on Monday, Johnson also will be facing a contingent of conservatives already angry with how he has led the House in maintaining much of the status quo both on government spending and more recently, a U.S. government surveillance tool.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing Republican from Georgia, has called for Johnson's ouster. She departed the Capitol on Friday telling reporters that support for her effort was growing. And as Johnson on Sunday readied to advance the aid, Greene said on X that it was "antisemitic to make Israeli aid contingent" on aid for Ukraine.

While no other Republicans have openly joined Greene in calling to oust Johnson, a growing number of hardline conservatives are openly disparaging Johnson and defying his leadership.

Meanwhile, senior GOP lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine are growing frustrated with the months-long wait to bring it to the House floor. Kyiv's troops have been running low on ammunition and Russia is becoming emboldened as it looks to gain ground in a spring and summer offensive. A massive missile and drone attack destroyed one of Ukraine's largest power plants and damaged others last week.

"What happened in Israel last night happens in Ukraine every night," said Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on CBS's "Face the Nation."

The divided dynamic has forced Johnson to try to stitch together a package that has some policy wins for Republicans while also keeping Democrats on board. Democrats, however, have repeatedly called on the speaker to put the $95 billion package passed by the Senate in February on the floor.

Although progressive Democrats have resisted supporting the aid to Israel over concerns it would support its campaign into Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians, most House Democrats have gotten behind supporting the Senate package.

"The reason why the Senate bill is the only bill is because of the urgency," Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week. "We pass the Senate bill, it goes straight to the president's desk and you start getting the aid to Ukraine immediately. That's the only option."

Many Democrats also have signaled they would likely be willing to help Johnson defeat an effort to remove him from the speaker's office if he puts the Senate bill on the floor.

"I'm one of those who would save him if we can do Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and some reasonable border security," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat.

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<![CDATA[How to get rid of cicadas, according to bug experts]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 16:04:46 -0400
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The cicadas are coming. In fact, trillions of them are expected to emerge this spring.

On top of the “annual” cicadas that show up every spring, there are also “periodical” broods of cicadas that rarely emerge to the surface — only once every 10 to 20 years. But this spring, a rare double brood event that hasn’t occurred since 1803 will bring out lots of extra bugs, especially in Midwest states and a scattering of Eastern states. (See this map that shows where the cicadas will emerge.)

While they don’t pose any health threats — cicadas don’t bite people or pets because they’re herbivores, says Emma Grace Crumbley, an entomologist for Mosquito Squad — these buggers can be quite noisy, and if you’re in an area that’s getting an invasion, you’ll see them swarming the air, perched in trees and will find their crunchy exoskeletons shed on the ground.

“Some people find adult cicadas annoying because of their stridulation, which is the way they scream,” Crumbley says. “In the South, though, cicadas are thought of more fondly as a tell-tale sign of summer.”

SEE MORE: Map shows where billions of cicadas will soon emerge in the US

The other downside of cicadas is their larvae can be garden pests, especially if you’ve got young trees or saplings in your yard, she adds.

“Larvae will feed on the roots and sap of plants, which can be fatal for weak and young vegetation,” Crumbley says.

It turns out prevention is the best way to avoid a swarm of these noisy creatures. Read on as bug experts explain how to get rid of cicadas.

Can you get rid of cicadas?

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to eliminate cicadas, says James Agardy, technical and training manager at Viking Pest Control. Pesticide applications aren’t effective in eliminating them, he says, and can actually do more harm than good because they could deter beneficial insects if applied incorrectly.

Hoping to at least keep cicadas out of your yard? That’s a tough task, too.

“Given that cicadas fly from area to area, there is nothing that can be done to keep them from entering the yard,” he explains.

The good news is cicadas are unlikely to intrude into your home because they feed on sap of trees, Agardy says. That being said, make sure that cracks and crevices are sealed, and window and door screens are in good shape because Agardy advises this will help you keep all types of pests out of your home.

Take away their landing spots

Getting rid of cicadas comes down to creating an environment that doesn’t suit them, says Nicole Carpenter, president of Black Pest Prevention. They like yards and gardens where they can lay their eggs, and they’re attracted to young trees and shrubs that have branches with small diameters.

Carpenter suggests protecting your new or young trees with mesh that has 1/4-inch cells or smaller. Any bigger and they can easily sneak through the gaps.

When you’re putting up mesh, cover the entire canopy of the plant, making sure the netting reaches the ground on all sides, she says. Secure the mesh at the base with a stake to prevent cicadas from entering underneath.

“This method works by physically blocking the cicadas from accessing the plants they prefer for egg-laying,” Carpenter says.

Why will there be so many cicadas in 2024?

There are two types of cicadas when it comes to emergence: annual cicadas and periodical cicadas. Annual cicadas emerge every year. The exact emergence will vary from region to region (just as temperature will), but cicadas usually start appearing around late spring and into summer, Crumbly explains. Annual cicadas tend to be large, green insects with dark eyes. Periodical cicadas have red eyes and orange accents.

Periodical cicadas are broods that emerge every 13 or 17 years. Currently, there are 15 different periodical broods, each notated by a Roman numeral. The last significant cicada emergence was during the summer of 2021 when the Great Eastern Brood (Brood X) emerged from its 17-year lifecycle.

This year’s rare double brood event will see annual cicadas and two broods of periodical cicadas emerge together. It’s the first such event since the turn of the 19th century. (Is this year just full of once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomena, or what?)

This year marks an exceptionally unique event for periodical cicadas. Two broods, the Northern Illinois Brood (Brood XIII) and the Great Southern Brood (Brood XIX), will emerge at the same time. Despite emerging in the same year, only some areas will experience both broods at once.

• States affected by Brood XIII: Northern Illinois and parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana.

• States affected by Brood XIX: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

States outside these lists will still experience cicada presence typical to their region, but not periodical cicadas.

This story was originally published by Brittany Anas at Simplemost.

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<![CDATA[Chicago shooting kills 8-year-old girl, wounds 10, police say]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 14:29:47 -0400
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Eleven people standing outside a family gathering Saturday night were shot including a young girl who was killed in what Chicago police believe was gang-related violence on the city's South Side, police said Sunday.

Four victims were children. An 8-year-old girl was shot in the head and died, while a 1-year-old boy and an 8-year-old boy were each shot multiple times and listed in critical condition. A 9-year-old boy was also injured with a graze wound to his finger and hospitalized, police said Sunday.

The department's Sunday statement updated the number of shooting victims to 11 from 8 and gave new ages for the victims compared with a news conference late Saturday.

No one was in custody Sunday.

Department Deputy Chief Don Jerome told reporters Saturday that the shooting happened when shots were fired at a crowd standing outside a family gathering around 9 p.m.

"This was not a random act of violence. It was likely gang-related," Jerome said. "The offenders' actions, make no mistake, are horrific and unacceptable in our city."

Police responding to a gunfire alert applied tourniquets and chest seals to victims, who also included adults between the ages of 19 and 40, Jerome said.

A 36-year-old man who was shot in the arms and back was listed in critical condition. The other adults were listed in good condition, police said Sunday.

The investigation was still in the preliminary stages but witnesses told police that a black sedan approached and someone fired shots into the crowd before fleeing, police said Sunday. Jerome also told reporters Saturday that witness accounts described two possible shooters on foot.

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<![CDATA[Tax day is Monday. Here's how to reduce stress and get your taxes done]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 14:26:06 -0400
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For many people, tax season isn't only about gathering W-2 forms or calling an accountant. It can also bring intense feelings of stress or anxiety about dealing with finances.

Financial stress during tax season can manifest in different ways, whether that's procrastinating on your tax return until the last minute or experiencing intense stress about filing incorrectly. If you're dealing with financial stress right now, you're not alone.

"Many Americans experience high stress during tax times, and many Americans are dealing with financial stress," financial wellness expert Joyce Marter said.

You might think emotions and money don't go together, but they often affect each other, said Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, financial therapist and founder of Mind Money Balance.

"Our money and mental health intersect because they're two parts of our overall wellness," said Bryan-Podvin.

Here are recommendations from experts to reduce financial stress during tax season while still getting your return done by the deadline:

Don't avoid, plan

Financial stress can happen all year long. While tax season is only a window of time, it comes with something that can be daunting: a deadline. Some might find a deadline motivates them to get things done, while others can feel paralyzed by it, said Dr. Tanya Farber, a psychologist at McLean Hospital, a mental health facility in Massachusetts.

"If we're overwhelmed by our anxiety, that's where it may lead us to avoid thinking about finances or trying to avoid thinking about taxes," Farber said.

Although you do have an option of filing for an extension, Farber doesn't recommend prolonging the period when you have to worry about taxes. Instead, a good first step is to make a detailed plan to tackle them.

Farber recommends you break down all of the steps and start completing them one by one. A key step is to start gathering all of your documents, such as your W-2 or 1099 forms, savings and investment records, eligible deductions and tax credits, ahead of sitting down to file your taxes. Once you have a list of steps, scheduling times to complete the tasks will make it easier to build momentum.

If you need help making a plan, search for tax checklists, which can be a great tool to make sure you have everything you need.

Face your fears

For many, anxiety over filing taxes comes from fear, Farber said. Whether it's fear of making a mistake in your return or unexpectedly owing thousands of dollars, these fears can overwhelm you to the point of avoiding even looking at your taxes.

If you identify that fear is what's stopping you from filing, Farber recommends that you ask yourself if whatever you're afraid of is likely to happen.

"When we have fears, they're possible, probable or definite," Farber said. "And oftentimes anxiety is the highest when we're assuming the worst-case scenario."

If thinking about your fears by yourself is not helping, Bryan-Podvin recommends you discuss them with a friend or a family member. In many cases, talking with someone else might help you focus on what might actually happen rather than focusing on the worst-case scenarios.

Focus on self-care

If tax season brings a lot of financial stress for you, Bryan-Podvin recommends that you increase the amount of self-care activities you're doing. Activities such as taking a walk, spending time with your dog or getting enough sleep can help soothe stress.

"We are going to be doing things that are difficult and depleting and anxiety-provoking so doing more things that are restorative can help us balance that," Farber said.

Doing restorative activities can work as a toolbox of coping skills when you're in the middle of a stressful situation, like filing taxes.

Ask for support

You might feel like you'll be judged if you talk about money, but that's often not the case. Talking about finances with your friends or family can be a moment to receive support, she said.

"Talking with others is going to give you access to more information and resources and also helps remove the shame and stigma because you're not alone," Marter said.

Whether it's talking with a tax professional or reaching out to your most tax-savvy family member, proactively seeking support will help you avoid being stressed if you're filing very close to the deadline.

Additionally, if you are experiencing mental health struggles, there are several resources you can use to find professional help.

In the U.S., you can dial 211 to speak with a mental health expert, confidentially and for free.

Other mental health resources include:

Veterans Crisis Line: call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: Text the word 'Home' to 741-741

The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ Youth: 1-866-488-7386

The Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

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<![CDATA[Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese headline highly-anticipated WNBA draft]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 14:18:07 -0400
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Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Cameron Brink and others make this one of the most anticipated WNBA drafts in recent years. There are several impact players up for grabs, but their talent is nearly eclipsed by their popularity among basketball fans.

"Caitlin is kind of in a world of her own, but I don't know that we have seen this kind of excitement across the board," ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. "You know, Angel Reese has a massive following. Cameron Brink has a large following of people, whether it's following them on social media or following them throughout the course of their college career.

"We have women coming into the draft this year, who people are very much aware of and eager to see how their game is going to translate at this level."

Clark has helped bring millions of new fans to the game with her signature logo shots and dazzling passing ability. The Iowa star was a big reason why a record 18.9 million viewers tuned in to the NCAA championship game where South Carolina beat the Hawkeyes.

The NCAA Division I all-time scoring leader will go first to the Indiana Fever on Monday night when the draft takes place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in front of 1,000 fans.

"This is the first time we're going to have fans at the draft, so I think that's going to be special," ESPN analyst Andraya Carter said. "For people watching at home to see and hear a crowd and fans and people there, I think it'll be really exciting."

While Clark is a lock to go first, Brink, Tennessee's Rickea Jackson and South Carolina's Kamilla Cardoso have all been in the discussion to be taken at No. 2 by Los Angeles. The Sparks also own the No. 4 pick with Chicago choosing third.

"They are foundational. They're an incredible opportunity for our organization," Sparks GM Raegan Pebley said. "We definitely want to see two players that not only have the skill set to make an impact early, but also a long runway ahead of them, opportunities to develop, opportunities to, not only be excellent in what they do, but how they impact the other pieces around them as we continue to build this team."

Dallas is fifth and Washington sixth. Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas, Connecticut, New York and Atlanta close out the first round. In all, there are three rounds and 36 picks in total.

SEE MORE: University of Iowa to retire Caitlin Clark's No. 22 jersey

All-Americans Mackenzie Holmes of Indiana and Elizabeth Kitley of Virginia Tech won't be able to play in the WNBA this season because of knee injuries. Holmes said on social media that she is having surgery next month.

"At this time to ensure my body is healthy and my playing career is as long and successful as possible, I have decided to get the necessary surgery in May to prevent further issues and alleviate the pain it has caused," she said. "I have declared for the 2024 WNBA draft and pray that a team honors me with a selection knowing I will be ready for the start of 2025 training camp."

Kitley tore the ACL in her left knee in Virginia Tech's final regular season game and missed the entire postseason.

"Whenever you see any player go through an injury at any point in their career, but especially at that point, this special season that Virginia Tech was having. But I think she's a player that has, I'll use this word 'track' again," Pebley said. "Just a lot of runway ahead of her. She's going to, I think, have a great career with her versatility, her footwork abilities. And I think her impact around the rim."

The WNBA invited 15 players to the draft Monday, including Clark, Reese, Brink, Jackson, Cardoso and Kitley. The others are Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl of UConn; Charisma Osborne of UCLA; Celeste Taylor and Jacy Sheldon of Ohio State; Alissa Pili of Utah; Marquesha Davis of Mississippi; Dyaisha Fair of Syracuse; and Nyadiew Puoch of Australia.

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<![CDATA[Woman pleads guilty to shipping body parts stolen from Harvard morgue]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 12:35:33 -0400
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The wife of a former Harvard Medical School morgue manager has pleaded guilty to a federal charge after investigators said she shipped stolen human body parts — including hands, feet and heads — to buyers.

Denise Lodge, 64, of Goffstown, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to a charge of interstate transportation of stolen goods, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors last year announced charges against Lodge, her husband Cedric and five other people in an alleged scheme in which a nationwide network of people bought and sold human remains stolen from Harvard and a mortuary in Arkansas.

Prosecutors allege that Denise Lodge negotiated online sales of a number of items between 2028 and March 2020 including two dozen hands, two feet, nine spines, portions of skulls, five dissected human faces and two dissected heads, PennLive.com reported.

Authorities said dissected portions of cadavers donated to the school were taken between 2018 and early 2023 without the school's knowledge or permission. A Pennsylvania man, Jeremy Pauley of Thompson, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last year to conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen property.

Denise Lodge's attorney, Hope Lefeber, told WBUR in an interview in February that her client's husband "was doing this and she just kind of went along with it." She said "what happened here is wrong" but no one lost money and the matter was "more of a moral and ethical dilemma ... than a criminal case."

Bodies donated to Harvard Medical School are used for education, teaching or research purposes. Once they are no longer needed, the cadavers are usually cremated and the ashes are returned to the donor's family or buried in a cemetery.

SEE MORE: Harvard removes human skin binding from a book in its library

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<![CDATA[Small earthquake shakes Coachella music festival in California]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 07:46:00 -0400
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A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles, the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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<![CDATA[Israel hails 'success' in blocking Iran's unprecedented attack]]> Sun, 14 Apr 2024 07:34:49 -0400
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Israel on Sunday hailed its air defenses in the face of an unprecedented attack by Iran, saying the systems thwarted 99% of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched toward its territory. Regional tensions were high amid fears of an Israeli counter-strike that could fuel further escalation.

U.S. President Joe Biden convened a meeting of the Group of Seven advanced democracies "to coordinate a united diplomatic response." The participants unanimously condemned the attack and said they "stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives."

The U.S. made clear it would not participate in any offensive action against Iran. "We don't seek a war with Iran. We're not looking for escalation here," White House national security spokesman John Kirby told NBC.

Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria earlier this month and killed two Iranian generals. Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Israel's War Cabinet held a meeting.

"We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us," said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

The two foes have for years been engaged in a shadow war marked by attacks such as the Damascus strike. But Sunday's assault, which set off air-raid sirens across Israel, was the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the United States — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already bogged down in its war against Hamas in Gaza and engaged in low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon's Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

Israeli and U.S. officials praised the response to the aerial assault.

"Iran launched more than 300 threats and 99% were intercepted," said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman. "That is a success." Asked if Israel would respond, Hagari said the country would do what was needed to protect its citizens.

Hagari said none of the drones and cruise missiles reached Israel and that only a few ballistic missiles got through. Of the cruise missiles, 25 were shot down by the Israeli air force, he said.

Hagari said minor damage was caused to an Israeli airbase, but he said it was still functioning. Rescuers said a 7-year-old girl was seriously wounded in southern Israel, apparently in a missile strike, though police were still investigating the circumstances.

SEE MORE: Biden to convene G7 leaders after Iran's 'brazen' attack on Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a message on X: "We intercepted. We blocked. Together, we will win." Defense Minister Yoav Gallant thanked the U.S. and other countries for their assistance.

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, said the operation was over, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. "We have no intention of continuing the operation against Israel," he was quoted as saying.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be "minimalistic." Turkey said it acted as an intermediary for the messages.

Iran's president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that "any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard issued a new threat against the U.S., saying "any support or participation in harming Iran's interests" will be followed by a decisive response by Iran's armed forces.

The success of Israel's defense stands in sharp contrast to the failures it endured during Hamas' attack on Oct. 7. Facing a far less powerful enemy in Hamas, Israel's border defenses collapsed, and the military took days to repel the militants — an embarrassing defeat for the Middle East's strongest and best-equipped army.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel's image, what it does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals.

In Washington, Biden said U.S. forces helped Israel down "nearly all" the drones and missiles and pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain's air force shot down a number of Iranian drones. Jordan, which sits between Israel and Iran, indicated that its military also assisted.

Biden later spoke with Netanyahu. "I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks — sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel," Biden said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies in the coming days.

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel's six-month war against Hamas militants in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. An Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

In other developments, negotiations meant to bring about a cease-fire in exchange for the release of the hostages appeared to hit a setback. Netanyahu's office said Hamas rejected the latest proposal for a deal, which had been presented to Hamas a week ago by mediators Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

A Hamas official said the group wants a "clear written commitment" that Israel will withdraw from Gaza during the second of a three-phase cease-fire deal. The deal presented calls for a six-week cease-fire in Gaza, during which Hamas would release 40 of the more than 100 hostages the group is holding in the enclave in exchange for 900 Palestinian prisoners from Israel's jails, including 100 serving long sentences for serious crimes.

Hamas welcomed Iran's attack, saying it was "a natural right and a deserved response" to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Almost immediately after the war erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel's northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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<![CDATA[Biden convenes G7 to discuss the Iranian threat and prevent escalation]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 23:13:21 -0400
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President Joe Biden convened the Group of Seven advanced democracies on Sunday to coordinate a rebuke to Iran for its unprecedented and largely unsuccessful aerial attack on Israel and to prevent a wider regional escalation.

The United States assisted Israel in shooting down dozens of drones and missiles fired by Tehran in what was the first time that Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel. Israeli authorities said 99% of the inbound weapons were shot down without causing any significant damage.

"At my direction, to support the defense of Israel, the U.S. military moved aircraft and ballistic missile defense destroyers to the region over the course of the past week," Biden said in a statement late Saturday. "Thanks to these deployments and the extraordinary skill of our servicemembers, we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles."

SEE MORE: US shoots down Iran-launched attack drones, Biden pledges 'support'

Read President Joe Biden's full statement:

Biden, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that night, urged that Israel claim victory for its defense prowess as the president aimed to dissuade America's closest Mideast ally from a larger retaliatory strike against Iran. Biden, according to a senior administration official, told Netanyahu that the U.S. would not participate in any offensive action against Iran. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks -– sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel," Biden said in his statement.

The G7 meeting, Biden said, is intended "to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran's brazen attack."

The effort to encourage Israel to show restraint mirrored ongoing American efforts to curtail Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, which is now in its seventh month, and to do more to protect civilian lives in the territory.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized the White House for "leaking it to the press" that Biden told Netanyahu to take the win and not retaliate.

Rubio told CNN's "State of the Union" that it was "part of the White House's efforts to appease" people calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

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<![CDATA[Biden wins Wyoming, Alaska primaries, states announce]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 20:40:46 -0400
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President Joe Biden has won both the Wyoming and Alaska primaries moving him further towards claiming the Democratic party nomination in the race for reelection to the White House, state election officials announced on Saturday. 

DDHQ reported that both the Alaska Democratic Party and the Wyoming Democratic county parties said President Biden won those state primaries based on results election officials provided. 

SEE MORE: Trump challenges Biden to debate after dodging GOP rivals

President Biden had essentially nabbed the Democratic nomination with his Georgia primary win on March 12, the Associated Press reported. It is very likely that the current president will face former President Donald Trump, a Republican, in November. 

As Scripps News reported, the Supreme Court ruled that states can't disqualify former President Donald Trump from the ballot. President Biden, 81, has sought support as he prepares to face former President Trump once again in the 2024 race for the White House. 

The primary wins in Alaska and Wyoming — two very sparsely populated U.S. states — will play a very small role in general election voting.

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<![CDATA[Oldest living conjoined twins die at 62]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 17:46:04 -0400
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The world's oldest living conjoined twins — Lori and George Schappell — have died. They were from the United States, and died at 62. 

The twins were listed — and their story followed — by Guinness World Records. They died on April 7 at a hospital in Pennsylvania. They were born on Sept. 18, 1961, West Reading, Pennsylvania and both graduated from high school and took college classes. 

SEE MORE: Formerly conjoined twins head home after risky procedure

Their obituaries were published by a funeral home who named them as Lori L. Schappell and Dori A. Schappel, the children of Franklin G. Schappell, Perry Twp., and the late Ruth G. (Reppert) Schappell.

The twins died at exactly the age of 62 years and 202 days old, Guinness said

The two had partially fused skulls and shared 30% of their brains along with vital blood vessels. 

George had spina bifida, while Lori lived as an able-bodied adult. The siblings lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Pennsylvania and each had their own room and would alternate spending nights in each to work and preserve as much of their independence as possible, Guinness wrote. 

In their obituary, the funeral home wrote that they tried to live as independently as possible with one of the siblings performing as a country singer at various gigs across the United States. 

Lori was a trophy-winning bowler. 

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<![CDATA[US shoots down Iran-launched attack drones, Biden pledges 'support']]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 16:21:10 -0400
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President Joe Biden and his national security team monitored Iran’s aerial attack against Israel on Saturday as U.S. forces joined efforts to down explosive-laden drones launched by Tehran.


With tensions at their highest since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago, Biden pledged that American support for Israel's defense against attacks by Iran and its proxies is “ironclad.”


U.S. forces shot down some Iran-launched attack drones flying toward Israel, according to a U.S. defense official and two other U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.


The defense official said the effort to intercept the attack was continuing.


Biden had cut short a weekend stay at his Delaware beach house to meet with his national security team at the White House on Saturday afternoon, returning to Washington minutes before Israeli officials confirmed that they had detected drones being launched toward their territory from Iran.


He convened a principals meeting of the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room to discuss the unfolding situation, the White House said, before speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Saturday.


The attack marked the first time Iran has launched a direct military assault on Israel, risking a wider regional conflict.

For days, the U.S. and Israel had braced for an attack — claimed by Iran as retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including two senior Iranian generals in the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force.


The Pentagon reported that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats ... and made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies." National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington's “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”


National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a Saturday statement that “Iran has begun an airborne attack against Israel.” She added: “The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran.”


Biden on Friday said the United States was "devoted” to defending Israel and that “Iran will not succeed.” Asked by reporters what his message was for Iran, the president’s only reply was: “Don’t.”


He ignored a question about what would trigger a direct U.S. military response, and when asked how imminent an Iranian attack on Israel was, Biden said he did not want to get into secure information, “but my expectation is sooner than later.”


The U.S., along with its allies, have sent direct messages to Tehran to warn against further escalating the conflict.

SEE MORE: Iran continues to threaten Israel, Biden returns to Washington

During the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group along the Israel-Lebanon border. U.S. officials have recorded more than 150 attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria on U.S. forces at bases in those countries since war started on Oct. 7.


One attack in late January killed three U.S. service members in Jordan. In retaliation, the U.S. launched a massive air assault, hitting more than 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria.


Meantime, on Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.

Watson, the NSC spokesperson, said the U.S. strongly condemned the seizure and urged Iran to release the ship and crew immediately.


“We will work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its actions,” she said.


Also Saturday, the Israeli-occupied West Bank also saw some of the worst violence since Hamas' attack on Israel.

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<![CDATA[26 barges break loose in Pittsburgh, causing damage and closing bridge]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 14:26:18 -0400
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A large group of river barges broke loose and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, damaging a marina and prompting at least one bridge closure before the boats were pinned to the riverbank or went over a dam downstream, officials said.

Pittsburgh police, fire and emergency medical services responded around 11:25 p.m. Friday to reports of the barges "floating uncontrolled" down the river, Pittsburgh Public Safety said in a statement. The area had been hit by flooding after heavy rains Thursday.

Cmdr. Justin Jolley of the Coast Guard marine safety unit in Pittsburgh said that 26 barges broke free from moorings near a bridge and that 11 were quickly contained to one side by another towing vessel just downstream. Nine others were collected at the Emsworth lock and dam downstream.

Five or six barges went through the dam. Four ended up just downstream at a lock and dam, while another ended up on the bank of the river and was stabilized. Marine safety units were searching for one barge unaccounted for, Jolley said.

No injuries were reported, and there were no reports of damage to bridges or to Army Corps locks and dams, Jolley said. Pittsburgh public safety officials reported damage to Peggy's Harbor, a marina on the river. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the McKees Rocks Bridge was closed as a precaution but later reopened following inspection.

Twenty-three of the barges were carrying dry cargo, mostly coal, and at least one was loaded with fertilizer, according to the owner, Jolley said. Three were empty. There were no hazardous materials on any of the vessels, the city said.

The Coast Guard put out a broadcast notice to mariners to inform them about the potential hazard, but high water conditions were preventing traffic on the river, Jolley said.

The barges were owned or operated by Campbell Transportation Co., the city's statement said. Jolley said Coast Guard officials were working with the owner on a salvage plan. Pennsylvania State Police and other agencies were also alerted.

SEE MORE: 'Foolishness': How Baltimore bridge conspiracy theories obscured facts

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<![CDATA[Inside the Race: Arizona's ruling on abortion could impact election]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 14:17:39 -0400
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On this edition of “Inside the Race Weekend,” Politico National Reporter Elena Schneider joined Scripps News Congressional Correspondent Nate Reed and Scripps News White House Correspondent Haley Bull to discuss how the ruling on abortion access in Arizona will affect the presidential election. 

Schneider highlighted how President Joe Biden is historically uncomfortable addressing the issue of abortion head on and often avoids using the word. 

Bull explained the balancing act former President Donald Trump is performing when discussing abortion on his campaign trail. 

Reed discussed the role of Congress when it comes to this issue.

SEE MORE: Inside the Race: GOP fundraising in March, issues impacting campaigns

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<![CDATA[Iran continues to threaten Israel, Biden returns to Washington]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 13:50:24 -0400
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President Joe Biden returned to Washington on Saturday to consult with his national security team about events in the Middle East as tensions in the region elevate even further amid threats from Iran. 

On Saturday Israel's military said Iran had launched drones toward Israel that were expected to arrive within hours of their launch. 

Earlier this week Israel's foreign minister made strong statements warning that his country would strike Iran directly if the Islamic Republic attacked its territory. 

President Biden was on a weekend trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware when he returned to the White House Saturday afternoon. 

The White House later released a statement acknowledging "airborne strikes" against Israel were started, and said the president's national security team members were in constant contact with Israeli officials. 

The White House said Saturday afternoon "this attack is likely to unfold over a number of hours." 

The statement said, "President Biden has been clear: our support for Israel's security is ironclad. The United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran."

The president was seen boarding Marine One after leaving Gordons Pond in Rehoboth Beach, headed back to Washington. His motorcade was seen later arriving in Washington to head back to the White House. 

SEE MORE: Hunter Biden's bid to dismiss gun case rejected by judge

Israel Katz said in a post on X in both Farsi and Hebrew, "If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack in Iran."

Gallant said, "we are determined to take any measures required to defend the citizens of the State of Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "We appreciate the U.S. standing alongside Israel, as well as the support of Britain, France and many other countries. We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination."

The statement said Israel has "added new capabilities — on land, in the air, at sea" in its "intelligence directorate, within the State of Israel and together with" partners "led by the United States."

On Saturday commandos from Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were seen in video boarding a ship from a helicopter. The vessel was an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz. Commandos seized the vessel Saturday, the Associated Press reported. 

Iran vowed to retaliate after Israel attacked its embassy compound in Damascus, Syria last week. 

President Biden told reporters on Friday he expected a possible attack on Israel to happen "sooner rather than later." 

Tensions have been high in the Middle East since the conflict between Israel and Hamas flared up after the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel. 

In late January President Biden vowed to respond after three American troops were killed and dozens were injured in a drone strike in Jordan near the Syrian border. 

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<![CDATA[Bird flu is spreading to more farm animals. Are milk and eggs safe?]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 13:48:06 -0400
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A bird flu outbreak in U.S. dairy cows has grown to affect more than two dozen herds in eight states, just weeks after the nation's largest egg producer found the virus in its chickens.

Health officials stress that the risk to the public is low and that the U.S. food supply remains safe and stable.

"At this time, there continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health, or that it affects the safety of the interstate commercial milk supply," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement.

Here's what you need to know about bird flu and food:

Which states have found bird flu in dairy cows? 

As of Friday, the strain of bird flu that has killed millions of wild birds in recent years has been found in at least 26 dairy herds in eight U.S. states: Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and South Dakota.

The virus, known as Type A H5N1, has been detected in a range of mammals over the last few years, but this is the first time it has been found in cattle, according to federal health and animal agencies. Genetic analysis of the virus does not show that it has changed to spread more easily in people, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

How is bird flu affecting food production? 

Agriculture officials in at least 17 states have restricted imports of dairy cattle from states where the virus has been detected, but, so far, government agencies say it's had little effect on commercial milk production. Officials believe cows likely have been infected by exposure to wild birds, but said cow-to-cow spread "cannot be ruled out."

Farmers are testing cows that show symptoms of infection, including sharply reduced milk supply and lethargy. Animals that show signs or test positive for illness are being separated from other animals on the farms. The animals appear to recover within two weeks.

U.S. egg producers are watching the situation closely after bird flu was detected in chickens in Texas and Michigan. Millions of birds have been killed, but the FDA said the risk of affected eggs getting into the retail market or causing infections in humans is low because of federal inspections and other safeguards.

Does pasteurization kill bird flu? 

Scientists say there's no evidence to suggest that people can contract the virus by consuming food that's been pasteurized, or heat-treated — or properly cooked."It's not a food safety concern," said Lee-Ann Jaykus, an emeritus food microbiologist and virologist at North Carolina State University.Two people in U.S. have been infected with bird flu to date. 

A Texas dairy worker who was in close contact with an infected cow recently developed a mild eye infection and has recovered. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program caught it while killing infected birds at a Colorado poultry farm. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered.

Is grocery store milk safe from bird flu? 

Yes, according to food safety experts and government officials.

U.S. producers are barred from selling milk from sick cows and must divert and destroy it. In addition, milk sold across state lines is required to be pasteurized, or heat-treated using a process that kills bacteria and viruses, including influenza.

"We firmly believe that pasteurization provides a safe milk supply," Tracey Forfa, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine told a webinar audience this week.

Is raw milk safe from bird flu? 

The FDA and the CDC are less certain about unpasteurized, or raw, milk sold in many states, saying there's limited information about the possible transmission of the H5N1 virus in such products.

So far, no herds linked to raw milk providers have reported cows infected with bird flu, but the agencies recommend that the industry not make or sell raw milk or raw milk cheese products made with milk from cows that show symptoms — or are exposed to infected cows.

U.S. health officials have long warned against the risk of foodborne illness tied to raw milk, which the CDC said caused more than 200 outbreaks that sickened more than 2,600 people between 1998 and 2018.

Still, raw milk proponents like Mark McAfee, owner of Raw Farm USA in Fresno, Calif., said the outbreak of H5N1 in commercial cows appears to have spurred higher sales of the products, despite federal warnings.

Can you catch bird flu from eggs or meat? 

Only dairy cows, not beef cattle, have been infected or shown signs of illness to date, agriculture officials said.

The largest egg producer in the U.S. temporarily halted operations on April 2 after finding bird flu in its chickens. Cal-Maine Foods culled about 1.6 million laying hens and another 337,000 pullets, or young hens, after the detection.

The company said there was no risk to eggs in the market and that no eggs had been recalled.

Eggs that are handled properly and cooked thoroughly are safe to eat, said Barbara Kowalcyk, director of the Center for Food Safety and Nutrition Security at George Washington University.

"A lot of people like runny eggs. Personally, if I eat an egg, it's very well cooked," she said.

Still, Kowalcyk and others cautioned that the situation could change.

"This is an emerging issue and clearly this pathogen is evolving and there's a lot that we don't know," she said. "I do think that everybody is trying to figure it out as quickly as possible."

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<![CDATA[Executor of O.J. Simpson's estate plans to fight payout]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 13:00:26 -0400
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The executor of O.J. Simpson's estate says he will work to prevent a payout of a $33.5 million judgment awarded by a California civil jury nearly three decades ago in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Simpson's will was filed Friday in a Clark County court in Nevada, naming his longtime lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne, as the executor. The document shows Simpson’s property was placed into a trust that was created this year.

LaVergne told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the entirety of Simpson's estate has not been tallied. Under Nevada law, an estate must go through the courts if its assets exceed $20,000.

Simpson died Wednesday without having paid the lion’s share of the civil judgment that was awarded in 1997 after jurors found him liable. With his assets set to go through the court probate process, the Goldman and Brown families could be in line to get paid a piece of whatever Simpson left behind.

LaVergne, who had represented Simpson since 2009, said he specifically didn't want the Goldman family seeing any money from Simpson's estate.

SEE MORE: Some of O.J. Simpson's assets could go to Goldman, Brown families

"It's my hope that the Goldmans get zero, nothing," he told the Review-Journal. "Them specifically. And I will do everything in my capacity as the executor or personal representative to try and ensure that they get nothing."

LaVergne did not immediately return phone and email messages left by The Associated Press on Saturday.

Although the Brown and Goldman families have pushed for payment, LaVergne said there was never a court order forcing Simpson to pay the civil judgment. The attorney told the Review-Journal that his particular ire at the Goldman family stemmed in part from the events surrounding Simpson’s planned book, titled "If I Did It." Goldman's family won control of the manuscript and retitled the book "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer."

Simpson earned fame and fortune through football and show business, but his legacy was forever changed by the June 1994 knife slayings of his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles. He was acquitted of criminal charges in 1995 in a trial that mesmerized the public.

Goldman's father Fred Goldman, the lead plaintiff, always said the issue was never the money, it was only about holding Simpson responsible. And he said in a statement Thursday that with Simpson's death, "the hope for true accountability has ended."

The Goldman and Brown families will be on at least equal footing with other creditors and will probably have an even stronger claim, as Simpson's estate is settled under terms established by the trust created in January. The will lists his four children and notes that any beneficiary who seeks to challenge provisions of the will "shall receive, free of trust, one dollar ($1.00) and no more in lieu of any claimed interest in this will or its assets."

Simpson said he lived only on his NFL and private pensions. Hundreds of valuable possessions had been seized as part of the jury award, and Simpson was forced to auction his Heisman Trophy, fetching $230,000.

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<![CDATA[Rep. Jason Crow talks Ukraine, backing Speaker Johnson on 'The Race']]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 09:00:00 -0400
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Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, a Democrat who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Intelligence Committee, appeared on Scripps News’ "The Race" this weekend to talk Ukraine aid and the fight to pass aid in the House of Representatives.

Crow discussed the need for additional assistance with moderator Joe St. George.

“The situation is very dire in Ukraine,” Crow said. “We are starting to see the impact on the battlefield.” 

“This is not a charity bill,” Crow added. “This is for American national security.” 

St. George asked if a Ukraine vote is expected this coming week.

“I just don’t know what is going on in the mind of Speaker Johnson,” Crow said.

“I’ve heard his intent is to put a bill on the floor next week."

St. George asked if Crow was worried about corruption, as a number of conservatives have expressed concern about the $100 billion plus in American taxpayer dollars that has already been given to Ukraine. The Senate-passed bill would give an additional $60 billion to Ukraine.

“There is no evidence of any large-scale diversion or misuse of this aid,” Crow said.

A major political question facing Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is whether putting a bill to help Ukraine on the floor might cost him the gavel. A number of Republicans have said that any new aid to Ukraine could result in another speaker fight.

St. George asked Crow if he would be willing to vote for Johnson as Speaker if he agreed to put aid to Ukraine on the floor.

“I am not going to answer a hypothetical unless Speaker Johnson comes and asks that,” Crow said.

As far as whether Crow and other Democrats would accept changes to the bill to make it a loan to Ukraine as opposed to outright aid to Ukraine, Crow said that the House should take the Senate bill up first.

“If they aren’t willing to do this, then yes we have to look at what we can negotiate and what we are able to do,” Crow said.

SEE MORE: Japanese PM Fumio Kishida urges unity in address to US Congress

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<![CDATA[Man fatally stabs 6 people at Sydney mall before being shot by police]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2024 07:10:58 -0400
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A man stabbed six people to death at a busy Sydney shopping center Saturday before he was fatally shot, police said. Multiple people, including a small child, were also injured in the attack.

The suspect stabbed nine people at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Bondi Junction, which is in the city's eastern suburbs before a police inspector shot him after he turned and raised a knife, New South Wales Assistant Police Commissioner Anthony Cooke told reporters. Six of the victims and the suspect died. Police had no specific details on the condition of the injured.

Cooke said he believed that the suspect acted alone, and he was "content that there is no continuing threat." He said officials didn't know who the offender was. "This is quite raw," he said, and a "lengthy and precise" investigation was just beginning.

He said there was "nothing that we are aware of at the scene that would indicate any motive or any ideology." When asked whether officials were ruling out terrorism, he said: "We're not ruling anything out."

Cooke said the police inspector, a senior officer, was alone when she confronted the suspect and engaged him soon after her arrival on the scene, "saving a range of people's lives."

Video showed many ambulances and police cars around the shopping center, and people streaming out.

Paramedics were treating patients at the scene.

Witness Roi Huberman, a sound engineer at ABC TV in Australia, told the network that he sheltered in a store during the incident.

"And suddenly we heard a shot or maybe two shots and we didn't know what to do," he said. "Then the very capable person in the store took us to the back where it can be locked. She then locked the store and then she then let us through the back and now we are out."

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<![CDATA[Harvard, top universities fail on ADL's antisemitism report card]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 23:02:47 -0400
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In a new survey of 85 colleges by the Anti-Defamation League, some of the most recognizable academic institutions, including Harvard, were seen as not doing enough to prevent antisemitism on their campuses. 

The colleges represented campuses with some of the highest Jewish student populations in top schools, the ADL said. 

In the latest findings, institutions, including Harvard — along with at least 12 other schools — received an F grade, with just two schools receiving an A. 

SEE MORE: Germany redesigning soccer jerseys with 44 because of Nazi symbolism

The ADL said letter grades will help students, guidance councilors and parents better understand how these schools are performing. 

The ADL said just because a school has an A or B grade doesn't mean antisemitism doesn't exist on its campus. 

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement, "school leadership must make serious changes to support Jewish communities on their campus; we expect nothing less. Along with the report card, we're providing guidelines and resources for how schools can improve campus climate and therefore improve their grades, and we look forward to working with them and other partners to achieve that reasonable goal."

Jewish and Jewish Heritage Greek organizations said the tool would help raise awareness. 

In November, the Biden Education Department said it would take action to aggressively address "the alarming nationwide rise in reports of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and other forms of discrimination and harassment on college campuses" since the Oct. 7 Israel-Hamas conflict began.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, "Hate has no place in our schools, period. When students are targeted because they are—or are perceived to be—Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn."

ADL said its approach positions it to better assess in future years more universities attended by Jewish students. 

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<![CDATA[1 dead after shuttle bus crashes at a Honolulu cruise ship terminal]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 22:36:37 -0400
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One person died and multiple people were injured when a shuttle bus collided with pedestrians and concrete barriers at a Honolulu cruise ship terminal, authorities said Friday.

The crash occurred when the shuttle bus driver mistook the gas pedal for the brake, Honolulu police said in statement.

The driver had dropped off customers at Pier 2 when bystanders noticed the bus was moving forward, police said. The driver jumped in the driver's seat and attempted to stop the vehicle when he stepped on the gas, police said.

One pedestrian, a 68-year-old woman, died. Paramedics took four others in their 50s and 60s to the hospital in serious condition. They also took a man in his 70s to the hospital in stable condition.

Paramedics evaluated and bandaged six others who declined transportation to the hospital, said Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokesperson Shayne Enright.

Police said speed does not appear to be a factor in the crash. It's unknown if drugs or alcohol were involved, police said.

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<![CDATA[Judge orders ex-interpreter for Ohtani to get gambling treatment]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 21:58:53 -0400
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A federal judge on Friday ordered the former longtime interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani to undergo gambling addiction treatment in a sports betting case stemming from allegations he stole $16 million from the Japanese baseball player's bank account to pay off debts.

Ippei Mizuhara exploited his personal and professional relationship with Ohtani to plunder millions from the two-way player’s account for years, prosecutors said, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers.

Mizuhara only spoke on Friday to answer the judge’s questions, saying “yes” when the judge asked if he understood several parts of the case and his bond conditions.

Hours after court, his attorney Michael G. Freedman issued a statement saying Mizuhara hopes to “reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility.” He further added Mizuhara “wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family.”

Ohtani told the Los Angeles Times on Friday he was “very grateful for the Department of Justice’s investigation.”

“For me personally, this marks a break from this, and I’d like to focus on baseball," he said from the field at Dodger Stadium ahead of the team’s game against the San Diego Padres.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was happy that Ohtani was exonerated and that everyone can move forward.

Roberts also said he had not seen the investigation affect Ohtani or anyone on the Dodgers.

“He’s handled it with flying colors. He’s done a great job of just focusing on playing baseball and not letting it be a distraction for him,” Roberts said. “Our guys, as well, have handled it really well as far as that noise and not letting it affect play.

“I think for us, we’ve already moved past it, to be quite honest with you. He addressed us earlier, we felt good about it and supported him. Nothing has changed.”

United States Magistrate Judge Maria A. Audero also ordered Mizuhara to be released on an unsecured $25,000 bond, colloquially known as a signature bond. That means that Mizuhara does not have to put up any cash or collateral to be released. If he violates the conditions of his bond, then he will be on the hook for $25,000.

Mizuhara turned himself in Friday ahead of his initial court appearance. He is charged with one count of bank fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Wearing a dark suit and a white collared shirt, he entered the courtroom with his ankles shackled, but was not handcuffed. The judge approved his attorney’s request to remove the shackles.

Freedman and the prosecutors declined to answer questions from the media outside the courthouse after the hearing concluded.

SEE MORE: Shohei Ohtani's interpreter charged with bank fraud in betting case

Other bond conditions stipulate that Mizuhara cannot gamble, either electronically or in-person, or go inside any gambling establishments, or associate with any known bookmakers.

Mizuhara is also prohibited from contacting any victim or witness in the case in any form. He is scheduled to be arraigned on May 9.

Freedman told the judge that his client already planned to undergo gambling addiction treatment.

The hearing lasted about 10 minutes inside a courtroom packed with press, much of it Japanese media.

The judge told Mizuhara to let her know if he did not understand any of the bond conditions as she read them.

Mizuhara was ordered to submit to drug testing and surrender his passport and remain within the Central District of California’s jurisdiction. The judge noted his family ties to the area, his longtime residency here and his self-surrender Friday morning when she approved the bond.

The judge also noted that Mizuhara does not have a criminal history.

Ohtani was not identified by name in the proceeding. Prosecutor Jeff Mitchell, in response to a question from the judge, only said “the victim has been notified.”

Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara's gambling, and authorities said Ohtani is cooperating with investigators.

Mizuhara was not asked to enter a plea during Friday's brief court appearance in downtown Los Angeles. A criminal complaint, filed Thursday, detailed the alleged scheme through evidence that included text messages, financial records and recordings of phone calls.

While Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s, his losing bets were around $183 million — a net loss of nearly $41 million.

In a message to his illegal bookmaker on March 20, the day the Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the federal investigation, Mizuhara wrote: “Technically I did steal from him. it’s all over for me.”

Major League Baseball opened its own investigation after the controversy surfaced, and the Dodgers immediately fired Mizuhara.

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<![CDATA[Survey: 1 in 4 teachers experienced gun-related lockdown recently]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 21:48:58 -0400
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A significant number of educators in the U.S. — about 1 in 4 — said they have experienced their school going on a gun-related lockdown in the last year, according to data published online by the Pew Research Center this week. 

School shootings are at record levels. Education Week said the overall number of school shooting incidents in 2023 was the second-highest for any year since the organization began tracking them in 2018. 

According to the CNN school shootings database — which Pew used in its published findings — by early March, 2024 had seen at least 16 school shootings. 2023 saw 82 shootings, and 79 were recorded for 2022. There were 73 in 2021, and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 there were still 22 shootings. Just 7% of teachers surveyed by Pew in the latest study data said they were not worried at all about a shooting happening at their school, even with statistical data at such a high level in recent years. 

Meanwhile, 31% of teachers said they were not "too worried" about a shooting occurring at their school, Pew said. 

SEE MORE: Pandemic changed older adults' fears, social lives, data finds

The findings showed that around a quarter of teachers — around 23% — said they had experienced a lockdown during the 2022-2023 school year, either because of an actual firearm on campus or because of the suspicion that a firearm was present and presenting some danger. 

Pew found that high school teachers were most likely to report having experienced a gun-related lockdown, while 22% of middle school teachers and 16% of elementary school teachers reported the same situation for their grade levels. The survey data found that around 4 in 10 teachers — just around 39% — reported believing their school had done a fair to poor job in terms of providing training and resources needed to handle a possible active shooter. 

Just 30% of those surveyed said their school performed at an excellent level when it came to providing resources and knowledge to deal with an active shooter. 

Just around 13% of teachers said they believed allowing educators and administrators to be armed in schools would be "extremely or very effective at preventing school shootings." Around 7 in 10 teachers reported believing carrying a gun would be "not too or not at all effective" in preventing school shootings. 

Pew found that most parents — 63% — believed that improving mental health screenings and mental health treatment would be the only strategy that would turn out to be "extremely or very effective at preventing" a shooting at their child's school. 

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<![CDATA[Stolen mail and East Palestine's diaspora | Scripps News Investigates]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 21:30:00 -0400
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Downwinders

If you're a movie enthusiast, you've heard of "Oppenheimer" — the Hollywood epic that dominated this year's Oscars about the first test of a nuclear bomb during World War II. But for many in New Mexico living near that test site, the film doesn't tell the full story. 

They're known as downwinders, and they've been trying to convince the U.S. government for years that toxic fallout from that first blast poisoned their land and made generations of people sick.

Now a scientist is on the hunt for evidence of the problem in the New Mexico desert.

Stolen mail

For more than a century, the unofficial U.S. Post Office motto has pledged that neither rain nor snow nor heat would prevent letter carriers from delivering the mail. But now the Postal Service is facing a more urgent threat: crime.

Thieves are targeting mail carriers at an increasing rate. They're after the carriers' keys, which they use to open mailboxes and steal mail.

East Palestine's diaspora

Most Americans probably hadn't heard of East Palestine, Ohio, until a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed there last year, unleashing an environmental disaster and upending thousands of lives.

From the beginning, Scripps News Cleveland investigative reporter Tara Morgan has been following the story from the very beginning.

She's stayed in touch with residents who have called the town home since childhood, but who may now never return.

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<![CDATA[Judge dismisses lawsuit against Drake over deadly Astroworld concert]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 21:18:20 -0400
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Hip-hop artist Drake has been dismissed from a lawsuit over the deadly 2021 Astroworld festival in Houston in which 10 people were killed, a judge has ruled.

Drake was a special guest of rap superstar Travis Scott, who had headlined the festival. He performed with Scott at the end of the concert on Nov. 5, 2021, as the crowd surged and attendees were packed so tightly that many could not breathe or move their arms or legs. Authorities and festival organizers were trying to shut down the show.

The families of the 10 people who died during the concert, as well as hundreds who were injured, sued Drake, Scott and Live Nation — the festival's promoter — as well as dozens of other individuals and entities.

Many of those who were sued, including Drake and Scott, have asked state District Judge Kristen Hawkins to dismiss the lawsuits against them. On Wednesday, Hawkins dismissed Drake from the case in a brief order.

Lawyers for Drake, whose full name is Aubrey Drake Graham, had argued during a court hearing April 1 in Houston that he was not involved in putting the concert together so was not liable for the deaths and injuries that had occurred.

During a deposition he gave in November in Toronto, the Canadian rapper said in the moments before he took the stage, no one told him that people in the crowd were suffering cardiac arrests or other injuries. He said when he was on stage, the crowd looked like a blur and he couldn't make out any details.

In the deposition, Drake was shown a video that the youngest victim, 9-year-old Ezra Blount, took as he sat on his father's shoulders.

"Do you see the panic in those people's eyes?" an attorney asked Drake about the video.

"I do, sir," the rapper responded.

SEE MORE: Astroworld tragedy: Rapper Travis Scott won't face criminal charges

Later, when asked by an attorney for Blount's family about whether it would be important for him to hear from those who put the concert together about why Blount died, Drake said, "I think I would want answers for what happened, yes."

On Monday, Hawkins dismissed seven companies and individual people who had been sued. But she denied motions to dismiss that were filed by 10 other companies and individuals, including Apple Inc., which produced a livestream of the concert, and two companies associated with Scott. Hawkins was set to hear other motions to dismiss, including one related to Scott as an individual, on Monday.

Following an investigation by Houston Police, no charges were filed against Scott. A grand jury in June declined to indict him and five other people on any criminal counts related to the deadly concert. Police Chief Troy Finner declined to say what was the overall conclusion of his agency's investigation.

In July, the police department made public its nearly 1,300-page investigative report in which festival workers highlighted problems and warned of possible deadly consequences.

Those killed, who ranged in age from 9 to 27, died from compression asphyxia, which an expert likened to being crushed by a car.

The first trial from the lawsuits is scheduled for May 6.

Some of the lawsuits have since been settled, including those filed by the families of four of the people killed during the concert. The most recent settlement related to a person who was killed was announced in court filings on Feb. 5, with lawyers for the family of 23-year-old Rodolfo "Rudy" Peña saying they had settled their case.

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<![CDATA[Hunter Biden's bid to dismiss gun case rejected by judge]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 21:01:00 -0400
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A federal judge in Delaware refused Friday to throw out a federal gun case against Hunter Biden, rejecting the president's son's claim that he is being prosecuted for political purposes as well as other arguments.

U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika's ruling increases the prospect that Biden could face trial in the case as early as June, in the midst of his father’s reelection campaign. His efforts to scuttle the other criminal case he faces in California involving tax allegations have also failed.

Norieka denied several defense requests to dismiss the case that charges Biden with lying about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun that he kept for about 11 days.

His lawyers had argued the case was politically motivated and asserted that an immunity provision from an original plea deal that fell apart still holds. They had also challenged the appointment of Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss as special counsel to lead the prosecution.

Noreika, who was appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump, has not yet ruled on a challenge to the constitutionality of the gun charges.

Biden has pleaded not guilty. A representative for his legal team didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The president's son has acknowledged struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine during that period in 2018, but his lawyers have said he didn't break the law and another nonviolent, first-time offender would not have been charged.

SEE MORE: In visit to Arizona, VP Harris rebukes Trump on abortion

The yearslong investigation had looked ready to wrap up with a plea deal last year, but the agreement imploded after a judge raised questions about it. Biden was subsequently indicted.

Under the deal, he would have gotten a plea deal in which he would have gotten two years’ probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax charges. He also would have avoided prosecution on the gun charge if he stayed out of trouble. He was subsequently indicted.

Hunter Biden's attorneys have argued that prosecutors bowed to political pressure to indict the president’s son amid heavy criticism of the plea deal from Trump and other Republicans.

Prosecutors countered the evidence against him was "overwhelming," including cocaine residue found in the pouch where he stored his gun, and noted that charges had been filed during the presidency of his father, Joe Biden.

Norieka said in her ruling that Biden's team provided "nothing concrete" to support a conclusion that anyone actually influenced the special counsel's team.

"The pressure campaign from Congressional Republicans may have occurred around the time that Special Counsel decided to move forward with indictment instead of pretrial diversion, but the Court has been given nothing credible to suggest that the conduct of those lawmakers (or anyone else) had any impact on Special Counsel," the judge wrote. "It is all speculation."

Hunter Biden faces separate tax counts in Los Angeles alleging he failed to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes over three years while living an “extravagant lifestyle” during his days of using drugs. The judge overseeing that case knocked down eight motions to dismiss those charges earlier this month. That trial is scheduled to begin in June.

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<![CDATA[NYC wants to give rats birth control to curb the rodent population]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 20:42:16 -0400
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It seems New York City leaders have again concluded that they can't kill enough rat lives to solve their problem, so why not try to nip the issue at the bud instead?

The metropolis' city council introduced a bill Thursday that would establish a "rat contraceptive" pilot program (yes, those two words are really right next to each other).

The program would require the state's Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene alongside Sanitation to deploy pellet-like contraceptives in two designated "rat mitigation zones," each stretching at least 10 city blocks. Then each month for a year, the DOHMH will have to inspect the areas to tally "all rat signs" and report the findings to the mayor and council speaker.

Councilmember Shaun Abreu, the bill's prime sponsor, says the "humane alternative to rodenticides" is more effective at reducing the number of rats in the city and is safer for other animals. It's a particular issue after Flaco, an owl who escaped the Central Park Zoo, died in part due to ingesting too much rat poison. 

SEE MORE: Flaco, the iconic New York City owl, had rat poison in his system

"Flaco deserved a city that doesn't poison its own wildlife," Abreu said in a post on X announcing the legislation, which is nicknamed "Flaco's Law."

It's the latest attempt New York City has made to control its bustling rat population. Besides poison, they've tried traps, keeping trash in containers, a "rat czar" and even "rat academies" to teach about rodent mitigation. 

But even though the introduction of contraceptives might sound like a wild addition, it's not the first time the city's tried it. Last year, the city tried using the same contraception method but in liquid form in Bryant Park, and it failed. Abreu told Gothamist the pellet form is more successful and that the other program was too short.

If Abreu's pilot program is successful, providing enough contraceptives to the entire rat population in the city might prove another obstacle according to Loretta Mayer, a scientist working with Abreu who created the contraceptive, per The New York Times. But she told the outlet the cost is low; it'd just be a matter of production.

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<![CDATA[Robert MacNeil, creator and first anchor of PBS 'NewsHour,' dies at 93]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 20:38:07 -0400
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Robert MacNeil, who created the even-handed, no-frills PBS newscast “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” in the 1970s and co-anchored the show with his late partner, Jim Lehrer, for two decades, died on Friday. He was 93.

MacNeil died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, according to his daughter, Alison MacNeil.

MacNeil first gained prominence for his coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings for the public broadcasting service and began his half-hour “Robert MacNeil Report” on PBS in 1975 with his friend Jim Lehrer as Washington correspondent.

The broadcast became the “MacNeil-Lehrer Report” and then, in 1983, was expanded to an hour and renamed the “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour.” The nation's first one-hour evening news broadcast, and recipient of several Emmy and Peabody awards, it remains on the air today with Geoff Bennett and Amna Nawaz as anchors.

It was MacNeil’s and Lehrer’s disenchantment with the style and content of rival news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC that led to the program’s creation.

“We don’t need to SELL the news,” MacNeil told the Chicago Tribune in 1983. “The networks hype the news to make it seem vital, important. What’s missing (in 22 minutes) is context, sometimes balance, and a consideration of questions that are raised by certain events.”

MacNeil left anchoring duties at “NewsHour” after two decades in 1995 to write full time. Lehrer took over the newscast alone, and he remained there until 2009. Lehrer died in 2020.

When MacNeil visited the show in October 2005 to commemorate its 30th anniversary, he reminisced about how their newscast started in the days before cable television.

“It was a way to do something that seemed to be needed journalistically and yet was different from what the commercial network news (programs) were doing,” he said.

MacNeil wrote several books, including two memoirs “The Right Place at the Right Time” and the best seller “Wordstruck,” and the novels “Burden of Desire” and “The Voyage.”

“Writing is much more personal. It is not collaborative in the way that television must be,” MacNeil told The Associated Press in 1995. “But when you’re sitting down writing a novel, it’s just you: Here’s what I think, here’s what I want to do. And it’s me.”

MacNeil also created the Emmy-winning 1986 series “The Story of English,” with the MacNeil-Lehrer production company, and was co-author of the companion book of the same name.

Another book on language that he co-wrote, “Do You Speak American?,” was adapted into a PBS documentary in 2005.

SEE MORE: Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli dies at 83

In 2007, he served as host of “America at a Crossroads,” a six-night PBS package exploring challenges confronting the United States in a post-9/11 world.

Six years before the 9/11 attacks, discussing sensationalism and frivolity in the news business, he had said: “If something really serious did happen to the nation — a stock market crash like 1929, ... the equivalent of a Pearl Harbor — wouldn’t the news get very serious again? Wouldn’t people run from `Hard Copy’ and titillation?”

“Of course you would. You’d have to know what was going on.”

That was the case — for a while.

Born in Montreal in 1931, MacNeil was raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955 before moving to London where he began his journalism career with Reuters. He switched to TV news in 1960, taking a job with NBC in London as a foreign correspondent.

In 1963, MacNeil was transferred to NBC’s Washington bureau, where he reported on Civil Rights and the White House. He covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas and spent most of 1964 following the presidential campaign between Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, and Republican Barry Goldwater.

In 1965, MacNeil became the New York anchor of the first half-hour weekend network news broadcast, “The Scherer-MacNeil Report” on NBC. While in New York, he also anchored local newscasts and several NBC news documentaries, including “The Big Ear” and “The Right to Bear Arms.”

MacNeil returned to London in 1967 as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp.’s “Panorama” series. While with the BBC, he covered such U.S. stories as the clash between anti-war demonstrators and the Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and the funerals of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert Kennedy and President Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1971, MacNeil left the BBC to become a senior correspondent for PBS, where he teamed up with Lehrer to co-anchor public television’s Emmy-winning coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973.

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<![CDATA[Libraries get insight on how censorship, library access impacts teens]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 20:15:21 -0400
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The Brooklyn and Seattle public libraries asked a simple question to those signing up for free digital access to their libraries: Why do you want this library card?

What they received was hundreds of personal stories from young people about not just the state of book and library access across the country, but stories that gave a unique look at how limited access to some books impacts young people.

Amy Mikel, who helped design the program, didn't expect to be opened up to so many personal stories of what access to books meant to these young people.

"What's even more shocking and frankly very hard emotionally for me to begin to process was that so many of these young people were simply telling us, begging us for a library card because they had such limited access to books and reading material," said Mikel. 

Last year, Scripps News learned about the initiative called Books Unbanned, started by the Brooklyn Public library in 2022. The library said it was aiming to combat book censorship in some parts of the country. The initiative makes their entire collection available digitally to any young person in the country under 18. Four other libraries have followed suit, including libraries in the Seattle area, with similar programs.

This week, the Brooklyn and Seattle Public Libraries released the findings from asking that simple question. 

A total of 14,050 young people have signed up for the Books Unbanned card from the libraries and they have checked out more than 360,000 items according to program leaders.

SEE MORE: Pink to give away thousands of banned books at Florida concerts

From the 855 stories analyzed in the report, they found that young people living in areas where certain titles have been censored were seeking a card, but others said that they wanted access because they don't have a library nearby that they can access for free, or their local libraries are underfunded and don't carry many books to begin with.

"Say the young person didn't have access to a school library at all, or maybe they're homeschooled, or there's other reasons why they don't have ready access to that school library collection, or the school library collections of books are being pulled off the shelf or is severely limited in other ways," she said. 

They've also received stories from teens who liked accessing digital books because of a disability they have, or they just liked the fact they could check out books without judgment from others.

"Over and over again, we heard people say how important the privacy was to them, that they were afraid of being seen reading certain books, especially those who identified as LGBTQIA," said Mikel. 

The issue of book censorship and limiting young people's access to books has become a growing and contentious issue.

Many across the country believe that elected school district boards of directors or parents should have a say in what titles belong on a school or public library shelf.

In 2022, an Oklahoma teacher resigned after backlash from providing the QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library's Books Unbanned program to students.

Mikel and her team say their findings are important to understand why people seek access through the programs these libraries offer.

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<![CDATA[Pandemic changed older adults' fears, social lives, data finds]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 19:50:14 -0400
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Researchers say the effects that the months and years of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns had on us can still be felt in society, particularly with the population of older adults in the U.S., new study data found. 

Research from the University of Colorado Boulder found that today, more than half of older adults spend more time at home and less time out socializing in public compared to how they lived their lives before the pandemic began. 

"We found that the pandemic fundamentally altered neighborhoods, communities and everyday routines among aging Americans," Jessica Finlay, an assistant professor of geography said. 

Finlay and other researchers who worked on the study said older adults appear to be more fearful of infections and find that they're more uncomfortable in certain social environments. 

SEE MORE: Are dating apps bad for your mental health?

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made his alarm known when he released a report on the "devastating impact of the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States." The notice, released just days before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced the official end of the COVID-19  public health emergency on May 11, 2023, said the crisis of loneliness in the United States had become a major matter of public health. 

Dr. Murthy said, "Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight — one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives."

He added, "Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected." 

Researchers in this latest study out of Colorado said they began their data-collection with baseline and monthly surveys, and were able to get nearly 7,000 people over age 55 from all 50 states in the U.S. to participate, they said in a paper published online by the university

Those who worked on the study found some good news in their data, discovering that at least 10% of older adults said they exercised outdoors more frequently since the pandemic. A small group of those surveyed said they found that their lives opened up more as they went to concerts, classes and other events. 

Religious faith could also contribute to increasing the health of older adults. 

As Muslim's holy month of Ramadan came to a close and as Christians recently marked Good Friday, Pope Francis said many religious faithful were feeling a "sense of worth," that "only the Lord can give."

Researchers on the study out of Colorado found that the pandemic had a significant effect on how much civic engagement adults made a part of their lives. In 2019, a Pew Research study found that those who are religiously active in congregations appear to enjoy more civic engagement than those who are not affiliated with a religion — and that they tend to drink less alcohol and smoke less, habits which are often correlated with depression or anxiety, according to government health experts.

Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the University Hospital Essen published findings in the journal Nature Human Behavior after conducting a large-scale review and analysis of hundreds of touch-intervention studies. They found that touch can benefit human physical and mental health no matter one's age or current state of wellness, though some specifications can provide higher benefits than others.

The Colorado researchers found that as in-person interactions wane, it could become "increasingly rare" for adults with "differing sociopolitical perspectives, to collectively hang out and respectfully converse." 

The Population Reference Bureau published findings online last year that said data from Emily Wiemers of Syracuse University and colleagues found that adults between 50 and 64 were "more likely" to experience mental and economic difficulties in the first year of the pandemic than those who were 65 and older. 

The American Psychological Association signaled that any attempted interventions into the issue of loneliness might be based on assumptions, because "strong evidence supporting interventions addressing loneliness remains limited. The increase in loneliness associated with the pandemic highlights the need for a concerted effort to strengthen that evidence base," researcher Mareike Ernst said. 

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<![CDATA[Trump set to begin criminal trial, first ever in the US]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 19:30:11 -0400
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Former President Donald Trump is set to begin jury selection Monday in his first  criminal trial, and the first Americans have seen of a former commander in chief. The indictment includes 34 criminal counts detailing 11 invoices by Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, and dozens of allegedly false business records.

They consist of payments that happened during the 2016 election to allegedly silence stories from a doorman from Trump Tower, former playmate Karen McDougal, and adult film star Stormy Daniels. These payments all occurred before voters went to the polls.

The crux of the case centers around the more than $400,000 Michael Cohen received as repayment during Trump's first year in the Oval Office. 

The alleged hush money payments were listed in the Trump ledger as a "legal retainer," something prosecutors say was done to hide the expenses.

"What they're going to try to establish is that he was trying to be deceptive in how he put that in his checkbook register, as opposed to just kind of generally putting in their legal expense," said former federal prosecutor Andrew Cherkasky.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. initially declined to bring charges against Trump, but when Alvin Bragg assumed office, he picked the case back up. Both Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen could testify during the six-week trial.

But the former President isn't heading into Monday's trial date without a fight. He's made numerous failed attempts to get the case dismissed, including as recently as Wednesday.

"We want delays," he said back in February. "I'm running for election. How can you run for election when you're sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?"

SEE MORE: Manhattan court needs jurors for its criminal case against Trump

Trump's team has also made multiple efforts to push Judge Juan Merchan to recuse himself because of his daughter's involvement with Democratic politics. Merchan has denied the requests, saying he will be able to be impartial. He sought insight from a judge panel last summer which also approved the move.

"That gives the judge a good basis to remain on the case. It doesn't, though, extinguish the concern of the defense," Cherkasky explained. "And so no matter how many times the judge assures a defense team that they can be fair and neutral, obviously, that defense team, if they think that things are not going their way or if they think that the judge is acting in an unfair manner, may continue to come back to that."

Trump has not taken the decision well. He's continually posted on his Truth Social accounts criticizing the judge, his family, the district attorney and others. Merchan responded by imposing a partial gag order. Cherkasky says that could have an impact during the sentencing phase should he be found guilty.

"If he makes the judge mad enough, if he is wild enough in his antics in the courtroom or in the way in which he portrays himself if he were to testify in this case — if he is particularly indignant, a judge does have some room with a conviction like this to order some amount of jail time," Cherkasky said.

Cherkasky added that there is at least one last potential delay tactic left: Trump could fire his entire defense team as late as the morning of the trial. He'd tell the judge he's lost confidence in his team. That would give him time to find new counsel and have them prepare.

"I'm sure the judge would feign some degree of frustration over, and probably the prosecutors as well. But that is not something that there is much wiggle room in the law on if he chooses to do it," he added.

Cherkasky says despite the fact that there are nine times more Democratic voters than Republicans in Manhattan, he doesn't believe it's a slam dunk case for Bragg's team.

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<![CDATA[Americans struggling to afford groceries due to increasing prices]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 19:20:41 -0400
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New numbers show consumers aren't changing their feelings much about the economy compared to last month. The University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers data came out Friday, and the Consumer Sentiment Index came in at 77.9%.

That measurement is down 1.9% from last month. The University considers that a small change, saying it shows consumers perceived few meaningful changes in the economy.

One area in which consumers have been paying close attention is in the cost of certain products most families buy. This week's 3.5% year to year increase in the Consumer Price Index was pushed by higher costs for gas, housing and car insurance — but another place folks feel the pinch is in their regular trips to the grocery store.

"I went grocery shopping this morning and I spent 150 bucks," said Hannah Cupples, a private chef and owner of For Chef's Sake based in Colorado. "But I mean, that puts my monthly grocery budget at like 5 or 600 bucks. That's a lot of money."

When it comes to prices, many are finding the cost of groceries hard to swallow.

"I can make one chicken into four or five different meals," Cupples said. "But the other thing that comes with that is I have the luxury of time on that, that most people don't have because a lot of this is my job."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said this week overall food prices were flat between February and March, giving consumers some relief.

Year-over- year, the Fed reported that groceries were up by 1.2%. But an analysis by the St. Louis Fed shows food-at-home costs are up nearly 25% since the pandemic shutdown in March of 2020.

SEE MORE: Inflation rate ticks higher, could delay interest rate drop

"Of course, there are goods which have increased as much as 10%, or even 21% in the case of say, fruits, for example, or eggs and milk," said Kishore Kulkarni, an economist at Metro State University of Denver.

Kulkarni said factors over recent years like drought, avian flu, labor costs and the lowest cattle numbers in decades have led to increased food prices.

"So, the goods that have to be shifted from one location to another tend to have a much higher price," Kulkarni said. "So, even the California fruits and vegetables are getting more expensive. So those are the reasons why specific items will have a much higher, or sometimes even lower increase in price than the general price."

Savvy shoppers know food prices are extremely volatile. The price of eggs between February and March, according to the CPI report, rose 4.6%.

But year-to-year eggs are down nearly 7%, while fruits and vegetables jumped 2% annually, whole chickens are up 3% and ground beef is 6.2% more expensive.

And for food away from home, the bill is 4.2% up over last year.

"I think restaurants are feeling that more than most places," Cupples said. "There are certain levels of restaurants where things are already out of most people's price ranges that the second that they start to go up beyond that, I mean, you're cutting out 75% of your client base."

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<![CDATA[Tennessee lawmakers vote on bill to ban first-cousin marriages]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 18:40:14 -0400
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The Republican-led Tennessee Legislature has overwhelmingly voted to send GOP Gov. Bill Lee a proposal that would ban marriage between first cousins.

The House cast a 75-2 vote Thursday on the bill after the Senate previously approved it without any opposition.

But a particularly vocal opponent, Republican Rep. Gino Bulso, took up most of the debate time, as he argued for an amendment to allow first-cousin marriages if the couple first seeks counseling from a genetic counselor.

In a previous committee hearing on the bill, Bulso lightheartedly shared a story about how his grandparents were first cousins who came to the U.S. from Italy in the 1920s, then traveled from Ohio to Tennessee to get married. He and other lawmakers laughed, and Bulso voted for the bill in that committee.

Then during Thursday's floor debate, the socially conservative attorney argued that the risk of married cousins having a child with birth defects does not exist for gay couples. He contended there is no compelling government interest to ban same-sex cousins from getting married, saying that would run afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision.

He also couched his argument by saying that he thought the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage was "grievously wrong." Bulso has supported legislation aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. That includes a bill he is sponsoring that would largely ban displaying Pride flags in public school classrooms, which civil liberties advocates have contended runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

"The question is, is there a public health issue with a male marrying a male first cousin?" Bulso said. "And I think the answer is no."

Ultimately, lawmakers voted down Bulso's amendment and approved the ban proposed by Democratic Rep. Darren Jernigan.

"I hope it's safe to say that in 2024, we can close this loophole," Jernigan said.

Jernigan said a 1960 attorney general's opinion determined that an 1820s Tennessee law restricting some marriages among relatives does not prevent first cousins from marrying. He responded to Bulso that there was no violation to the gay marriage ruling in his bill.

Republican Rep. Monty Fritts was the other lawmaker to vote against the bill.

SEE MORE: Ciara learns she's related to Derek Jeter after surprising DNA test

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<![CDATA[Fatou, the world's oldest gorilla, celebrates her 67th birthday]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 18:16:18 -0400
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The most visited zoo in Europe is celebrating another milestone for one of its most special residents: Fatou, believed to be the oldest gorilla in the world, is turning 67 years old.

Born in 1957, Fatou came to the Berlin Zoo at 2 and years later gave birth to Dufte, the first gorilla to be raised in Germany's capital city. The elder primate is now a grandmother of two through Dufte, a great-grandmother of 13 — though only five are still living — and a great-great and great-great-great-grandmother to more than 20 total, dead and alive.

But even with all that family, Fatou prefers to live in her own enclosure, and the zoo's oldest resident should get what she wants.

"Fatou is free to contact her neighbors at any time if she would like to, but instead she purposefully seeks solitude and stays away from the other gorillas," said Ruben Gralki, the zoo's deputy division head, last year.

Fatou became the Berlin Zoo's oldest resident earlier this year when Ingo the flamingo died after at least 75 years. 

But the primate became the oldest living gorilla in 2019 after the death of Trudy, who lived in Little Rock's Zoo in Arkansas. Then on Fatou's 63rd birthday in 2020, the Berlin primate became the oldest gorilla ever, passing Trudy's final age. And two years ago, she gained another milestone, being the last surviving gorilla born in the 1950s.

Fatou's birthday, which is on Saturday, is celebrated every year with a special feast, though her treats are probably healthier than ours would be. In lieu of cake, she digs in on an array of fruits, vegetables and edible flowers — all soft due to Fatou's lack of teeth.

Gorillas are almost exclusively vegetarian, acting as "gardeners" in their African rainforest home, the zoo says. But gorillas can have fruit on rare, special occasions because they have to limit their sugar/fructose intake, the Berlin Zoo states.

So when you make your morning breakfast tomorrow, throw a couple berries in there for Fatou's birthday.

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<![CDATA[Manhattan court needs jurors for its criminal case against Trump]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 18:07:34 -0400
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Of the 1.4 million adults who live in Manhattan, a dozen are soon to become the first Americans to sit in judgment of a former president charged with a crime.

Jury selection is set to start Monday in former President Donald Trump's hush money case — the first trial among four criminal prosecutions of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The proceedings present a historic challenge for the court, the lawyers and the everyday citizens who find themselves in the jury pool.

“There is no question that picking a jury in a case involving someone as familiar to everyone as former President Trump poses unique problems,” one of the trial prosecutors, Joshua Steinglass, said during a hearing.

Those problems include finding people who can be impartial about one of the most polarizing figures in American life and detecting any bias among prospective jurors without invading the privacy of the ballot box.

There's also the risk that people may try to game their way onto the jury to serve a personal agenda. Or they may be reluctant to decide a case against a politician who has used his social media megaphone to tear into court decisions that go against him and has tens of millions of fervent supporters.

Still, if jury selection will be tricky, it's not impossible, says John Jay College of Criminal Justice psychology professor Margaret Bull Kovera.

"There are people who will look at the law, look at the evidence that’s shown and make a decision," says Kovera, whose research includes the psychology of juries. “And the job of the judge and the attorneys right now is to figure out who those people are.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to fudging his company’s books as part of an effort to conceal payments made to hide claims of extramarital sex during his 2016 campaign. He denies the encounters and contends the case is a legally bogus, politically engineered effort to sabotage his current run.

He will go on trial in a criminal court system where juries have decided cases against a roster of famous names, including mob boss John Gotti, disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein and Trump's own company.

Over the last year, writer E. Jean Carroll's sex assault and defamation civil suits against Trump went before juries in a nearby federal courthouse. New York state's fraud lawsuit against the ex-president and his company went to trial without a jury last fall in a state court next door.

But the hush-money case, which carries the possibility of up to four years in prison if he's convicted, raises the stakes.

Trump lived for decades in Manhattan, where he first made his name as a swaggering real estate developer with a flair for publicity. As Steinglass put it, “There is no chance that we’re going to find a single juror that doesn’t have a view” of Trump.

But the question isn't whether a prospective juror does or doesn't like Trump or anyone else in the case, Judge Juan M. Merchan wrote in a filing Monday. Rather, he said, it's whether the person can “set aside any personal feelings or biases and render a decision that is based on the evidence and the law."

SEE MORE: Judge denies Trump bid to dismiss classified documents prosecution

The process of choosing a jury begins when Merchan fills his New Deal-era courtroom with prospective jurors, giving them a brief description of the case and other basics. Then the judge will excuse any people who indicate by a show of hands that they can’t serve or can’t be fair and impartial, he wrote.

Those who remain will be called in groups into the jury box — by number, as their names won't be made public — to answer 42 questions, some with multiple parts.

Some are standard inquiries about prospective jurors' backgrounds. But the two sides have vigorously debated what, if anything, prospective jurors should be asked about their political activities and opinions.

Merchan emphasized that he won’t let the lawyers ask about jurors’ voting choices, political contributions or party registration.

But the approved questionnaire asks, for example, whether someone has “political, moral, intellectual or religious beliefs or opinions” that might “slant your approach to this case." Another query probes whether prospective jurors support any of a half-dozen far-right or far-left groups, have attended Trump or anti-Trump rallies, and have worked or volunteered for Trump or for organizations that criticize him.

Potential jurors also will be quizzed about any “strong opinions or firmly held beliefs” about Trump or his candidacy that would cloud their ability to be fair, any feelings about how Trump is being treated in the case and any “strong opinions” on whether ex-presidents can be charged in state courts.

The process of choosing 12 jurors and six alternates can be chesslike, as the opposing sides try to game out whom they want and whom their adversaries want. They must also weigh which prospective jurors they can challenge as unable to serve or be impartial and when it’s worth using one of their limited chances to rule someone out without giving a reason.

“A lot of times you make assumptions, and arguably stereotypes, about people that aren't true, so it’s important to listen to what they say” in court and, if possible, online, says Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton law professor who studies juries.

In prominent cases, courts and attorneys watch out for “stealth jurors," people trying to be chosen because they want to steer the verdict, profit off the experience or have other private motives.

Conversely, some people might want to avoid the attention that comes with a case against a famous person. To try to address that, Merchan decided to shield the jurors' names from everyone except prosecutors, Trump and their respective legal teams.

The six jurors and three alternates in each of Carroll’s federal civil cases against Trump were driven to and from court through an underground garage, and their names were withheld from the public, Carroll, Trump, their attorneys and even the judge.

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, says that if she were involved in the hush-money case, she would ask the court to do everything possible to ensure that jurors stay anonymous and don’t fear being singled out online or in the media.

“The main concern, given the world we live in, has to be the potential for juror intimidation,” Kaplan said.

Jurors were chosen within hours for both trials of Carroll's claims, which Trump denies. Carroll's lawyers later tried midtrial to boot a juror who had mentioned listening to a conservative podcaster who criticized Carroll's case. The judge privately queried the juror, who insisted he could be fair and impartial.

He remained on the panel, which unanimously found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation and awarded Carroll $5 million. Eight months later, the second jury awarded Carroll an additional $83.5 million for defamation.

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<![CDATA[Colorado lawmaker leaves loaded pistol in state Capitol bathroom]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 17:52:45 -0400
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Colorado state Rep. Don Wilson left a loaded 9mm handgun in a bathroom at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

The Colorado State Patrol said it received a report on Tuesday night about a gun left on a shelf in a bathroom. The agency said the gun was unsupervised for more than 20 minutes before cleaning staff discovered it.

The gun was located after 9 p.m. The Colorado capitol building closes to the public at 7 p.m.

According to Colorado State Police, no laws were broken and no one will be charged in the incident.

Wilson, a Republican, released a statement on Wednesday.

"I want to be clear I take full and complete accountability for the incident. I made a mistake and am very sorry," Wilson said. "I take firearm safety very seriously. This is a humbling experience and I will reaffirm my commitment to responsible handling procedures."

Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskie warned that “this incident created a dangerous situation.”

The Colorado Senate is currently considering a bill, introduced in February, that would expand bans on carrying firearms into certain public spaces, including the state Capitol, state government buildings, schools and courthouses. Violation would be considered a misdemeanor punishable by $1,000 fine or jail time not to exceed one year.

SEE MORE: New Biden administration rule aims to end gun show 'loophole'

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<![CDATA[In visit to Arizona, VP Harris rebukes Trump on abortion]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 17:17:07 -0400
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Vice President Kamala Harris directly blamed former President Donald Trump for an abortion ban in Arizona during a campaign stop in Tucson Friday.  

The Biden-Harris campaign has sought to underscore the stakes of reproductive rights with the 2024 election, and draw a sharp contrast between President Biden and former President Donald Trump.  

The Arizona Supreme Court's decision to allow a Civil War-era abortion ban to take effect put the issue front and center in the Southwestern swing state.  

"Donald Trump is the architect of this health care crisis," Harris said. "That is not a fact, by the way, that he hides. In fact he brags about it. Just this week he said that he is 'proudly' the person responsible for overturning Roe. Proudly responsible for the pain and suffering of millions of women and families. Proudly responsible that he took your freedoms."

“Here’s what a second Trump term looks like: more bans, more suffering, less freedom. But we are not going to let that happen,” Harris said.

Harris has taken a prominent role in sharing both the campaign and the White House’s message on the issue.  

Harris late last week made clear that the focus of this visit would be on reproductive rights, a pivot from an initial focus on student debt, according to a source familiar with the vice president's plans.  

She visited Arizona last month as part of a reproductive freedoms tour that took her to several battleground states, after touring colleges.  

Harris has taken part in more than 80 official engagements since the overturn of Roe v. Wade. That includes meetings with state legislators and conversations with impacted patients and reproductive rights groups, as well as providers. She shared concerns over the potential impacts of the overturn of Roe on IVF and contraception going back to 2022, as courts now grapple with rulings on mifepristone and IVF.  

Trump, who touts the overturn of Roe v. Wade and his appointment of the Supreme Court justices who facilitated it, has recently said that Arizona went too far, while sharing a view that he supports states' rights.  

“So now the Governor and the Arizona Legislature must use HEART, COMMON SENSE, and ACT IMMEDIATELY, to remedy what has happened. Remember, it is now up to the States and the Good Will of those that represent THE PEOPLE,” Trump wrote on Truth Social hours ahead of Harris’ stop.  

Trump has also said he would not sign a federal abortion ban if he were reelected. 

SEE MORE: How will Arizona's near-total ban on abortion be enforced?

The Biden-Harris campaign, however, is launching a new media investment in Arizona focused on abortion rights, underscoring Trump’s record. The message notably features a direct-to-camera message from President Biden, who promises to “fight like hell” for reproductive freedom. The ad is expected to target younger, female, and Latino voters. 

Democrats see abortion as an issue that could sway independent and moderate voters.  

Biden narrowly won Arizona in 2020, but has trailed Trump in recent polls. The campaign hopes abortion will be a motivating factor to change the polls.

Biden-Harris 2024 campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez wrote in a memo on Monday, “Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, voters have turned out time and again to defend reproductive freedom.” She added, “Headed into the 2024 election, President Biden and Vice President Harris remain on the right side of voters when it comes to fighting back against extreme MAGA bans — including in the key states that will determine this election.” 

In Tucson, Harris spoke in front of state leaders, leaders of reproductive rights groups, patients and providers. Her remarks were livestreamed to supporters on a campaign-organizing call. Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff was expected to hold a conversation with allied young men on the sidelines of the event.  

Harris is also expected to focus on reproductive rights on the campaign trail when in Nevada next week, according to a campaign official.  

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<![CDATA[Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli dies at 83]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 16:53:01 -0400
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Designer Roberto Cavalli, "loved and respected by all" and celebrated for his choices of excess and glamor in the world of fashion, has died. He was 83. 

His company wrote on social media final goodbyes were said with "great sadness" after the founder's death. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Cavalli was thought to have been in poor health for a significant period of time. 

Cavalli was known for a signature style that utilized animal prints and "molto Italiano" aesthetics to portray a look of opulence for his clients. 

Starting out with "humble beginnings" in Florence, his brand writes, he "succeeded in becoming a globally recognized name."

SEE MORE: Barbara Rush, co-star to Frank Sinatra and Paul Newman, dies at 97

Cavalli began his career designing jackets in the 1970s, the New York Times reported. His famously haute hippie frocks are displayed in museums now, but were a part of his product line for elegant event and street wear in the vein of St. Tropez's French Riviera elegance, worn by the likes of entertainers including Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot.

He was called "naturally talented and creative," and was known to believe "that everyone can discover and nurture the artist within themselves."

The Business of Fashion called Cavalli's brand flamboyant and intricate, as he later went on to design gowns with an "unapologetic glamour" and with "fluidity." Stars new and old would don his designs. 

In 2007 he appeared with American pop singer Jessica Simpson and kissed her on the red carpet at that year's Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala in New York.

Born in the historic Italian city of Florence in the Tuscany region, Cavalli enrolled at a local art institute to learn textile printing. He would later go on to invent and patent a leather-printing procedure in the early 1970s and began creating patchworks. 

He was able to take those innovations to Paris where he caught the attention of brands like Pierre Cardin and Hermès. It was in Paris where Cavalli, at 30, presented his first collection using his name at the Salon for Prêt-á-Porter, according to the Business of Fashion.

His career in the years to come would face obstacles, including a near closing of one of his factories. In the 1990s he was credited with a reinvention of high-end denim, adding Lycra to jeans to make them fit tighter and move with more stretch. After the mid-1990s he was seen as one of the most recognizable names in fashion, the New York Times reported.

Cavalli is survived by his longtime partner Sandra Bergman Nilsonn and his six children, according to the Hollywood Reporter. 

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<![CDATA['Magic Mike' center stage of Jenna Dewan, Channing Tatum divorce]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 16:03:40 -0400
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The divorce between two Hollywood stars may head to trial, with both listed as potential witnesses, as they battle over rights and money relating to the "Magic Mike" franchise.

Actor Jenna Dewan filed for divorce from actor Channing Tatum on Oct. 26, 2018, but their case is far from closed. While both have moved on and are engaged to others, they remain legally married. 

But the "Magic Mike" franchise remains an outstanding issue for the couple nearly six years into their divorce proceedings. In a filing on April 11, Dewan asked the judge to separate the subject of the intellectual property and derivative assets from "Magic Mike," saying it is the "primary financial issue in this case."

A witness list filed by Tatum's attorneys and obtained by Court TV ahead of an as-yet unscheduled trial included both Tatum and Dewan as witnesses, along with Hollywood producer Steven Soderbergh and Dewan's current fiancé, Steve Kazee.

SEE MORE: 'Golden Bachelor' couple Gerry and Theresa are getting divorced

Tatum famously starred in "Magic Mike," as well as its sequels and live show. Dewan did not appear on screen or work on the project as a producer, but claims in her filing that it "was developed and co-financed by Channing with community effort and marital funds." The movie was shot in 2011, and Tatum participated in the 2015 sequel, "Magic Mike XXL," as well as the 2023 sequel, "Magic Mike's Last Dance." The first two movies alone grossed more than $300 million in ticket sales worldwide, according to The Associated Press.

Dewan also alleges in the filing that Tatum engaged in transactions designed to "disguise" the income from "Magic Mike" as "performance and consulting fees," as well as transferred ownership of some of the property without her consent.

The couple announced their separation more than six years ago in a post on social media saying, "We have lovingly chosen to separate as a couple." In the statement, the two said, "There are no secrets nor salacious events at the root of our decision — just two best-friends (sic) realizing it's time to take some space and help each other live the most joyous, fulfilled lives as possible."

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<![CDATA[Drug shortages hit all-time high in the US, pharmacists group finds]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 15:39:58 -0400
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A record number of prescription drugs are in short supply in the United States.

A total of 323 active drugs are experiencing a shortage, according to statistics from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The organization said this is the highest number of shortages since they started tracking in 2001. The previous record was 320 shortages in 2014.

The CEO of the organization, Paul Abramowitz, wrote a response to the shortage in a blog post this week saying, “Much work remains to be done at the federal level to fix the root causes of drug shortages.”

So what drugs are affected?

@scrippsnews Have you been impacted by any drug shortages? According to statistics from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, 323 active drugs are experiencing a shortage — the highest number of shortages since tracking began in 2001. The previous record was 320 shortages in 2014. #drugshortage #pharmacy #healthtok ♬ original sound - Scripps News

The report shows certain basic lifesaving products are in short supply, including oxytocin and pain and sedation medications.

ADHD medications as well as certain chemotherapy drugs are also in short supply.

The ASHP said some of the reasons behind all of these drug shortages include supply-and-demand issues, manufacturing problems, and business decisions.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services outlined possible suggestions to help prevent drug shortages.

One of the recommendations included collaboration with the private sector to implement two programs: a Manufacturer Resiliency Assessment Program and a Hospital Resilient Supply Program. The HHS believes these initiatives could create more transparency in the market.

SEE MORE: More local pharmacies expected to disappear in 2024

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<![CDATA[US military veteran seemingly joins Russian army amid criminal probe]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 15:23:37 -0400
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A former U.S. Air National Guardsman and former city councilor from Massachusetts is believed to have enlisted in the Russian military while he faces child pornography charges in the United States, according to multiple reports, including Military.com.

Wilmer Puello-Mota, 28, was seen in undated video posted to pro-Kremlin media sites that appears to show him signing papers in a military enlistment office in Siberia, The Associated Press reported

Puello-Mota is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a former elected official in Massachusetts who U.S. officials say fled the country after he was charged with possessing sexually explicit images of children.

Reports say he informed his lawyer that he had joined the Russian military and could be made a part of its fight against Ukraine. 

In a statement to Scripps News, the Massachusetts National Guard said, "We are aware Mr. Puello-Mota left the country in response to civil criminal charges filed against him. These charges are very serious and led to his separation from service in October 2022. Criminal activity is not compatible with our values as an organization and will not be tolerated in our ranks."

The Holyoke City Council in Massachusetts confirmed that Puello-Mota served with them after being elected in November 2021. Beginning in January 2022, he served as the area's Ward 2 councilor until the end of his term in January 2024, a spokesperson for the council told Scripps News. It was noted that while serving on the Holyoke City Council he went by the name Will Puello.

SEE MORE: House votes to reauthorize FISA spy program amid political pushback

A message was sent out on the secure messaging platform Telegram with a video that appeared to show Puello-Mota at the Russian military enlistment center. A message read, "An American signed a military contract at the patriots center in Khanty-Mansiysk," the Guardian reported

As the Associated Press reported, Puello-Mota's lawyer, John M. Cicilline, said he called his client on Jan. 8, a day before he was expected to plead guilty, according to the Boston Globe. He learned that his client had boarded a flight from Washington, D.C. to Turkey just a day before. 

"He said, 'I joined the Russian army,' or something like that," according to an account from Cicilline to the Boston Globe. “I’m sure he joined the Russian army because he didn’t want to register as a sex offender,” he said. 

The National Guard said it revoked Puello-Mota's security clearance before the completion of the civil proceedings against him "due to the seriousness of the charges." The Guard said Puello-Mota willfully disregarded the "ongoing legal process he is involved in," and said before his legal troubles he served as a Tech Sgt. and a Security Forces airman with the 104th Fighter Wing.

The National Guard said that more extensive records on Puello-Mota's service were not available due to his level of discharge from the military and said it had no further information about the case to provide, referring any other questions to the Attorney General in Rhode Island.

The Associated Press reported that Puello-Mota was arrested in Warwick, Rhode Island, in 2020 after police, who were investigating reports of a stolen gun, allegedly found nude images of a 17-year-old on Puello-Mota's phone. 

Rhode Island prosecutors told the Associated Press that they couldn't independently authenticate other videos and still images that appeared to show Puello-Mota in both Ukraine and Russia. 

"If they are accurate the defendant is well beyond the jurisdiction of this court and, if false, the defendant is engaged in an elaborate ruse to conceal his whereabouts,” prosecutors said. 

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<![CDATA[Viewer Spotlight: Our commitment to balanced political coverage]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 15:14:43 -0400
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Many of you are making your voices heard by calling into our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline. And the messages we receive reflect a deep partisan divide over how you view our political coverage.

John from Colorado said: “It seems to me you guys are becoming shills for the Republican Party. You show the face of Donald Trump about 10 times more often than you do Joe Biden’s. I’m really starting to worry about your news service because you’re starting to sound like the fake news for Donald Trump.”

Meanwhile, Michael from Connecticut said: “I listened to your news, but apparently it’s starting to sway towards the Biden administration, instead of the Trump … And I’m starting to turn it off, because it’s not equal to both sides.”

SEE MORE: Viewer Spotlight: Our effort to present fact-based, unbiased news

In our highly polarized climate, it is our goal to present the news to you straight down the middle, and that means presenting the opportunities and challenges facing both candidates this election cycle. Yet through all that seems to divide us, among the thousands of calls and comments we receive, we actually find some commonalities: a desire for fairness, honesty and transparency in our coverage, and a hunger for reliable, fact-based information.

SEE MORE: Viewer Spotlight: Choosing topics that matter to you

Then there are news-making moments like this week's total solar eclipse that bring us all together, regardless of where we live or who we vote for.

Jan said: “I’m just calling with compliments on your coverage on the eclipse. That was possibly one of the most neutral topics you could have covered and it really seemed to have brought people together. It’s wonderful when we can find things that bring us together rather than apart.”

Our goal each and every day is to present the world to you — from the White House to Wall Street, and from global war zones to local communities like your own. So let us know how we're doing and give us a call anytime on our toll-free Scripps News Viewer Hotline.

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<![CDATA[Why the national security community wants FISA reauthorized]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 15:00:13 -0400
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Congress is facing another deadline. This time, lawmakers are trying to reauthorize an intelligence capability that advocates call an "essential tool in the war on terror."

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, has been around since 1978. Section 702 of FISA was enacted after 9/11 with the goal of making it easier for the government to monitor foreign threats around the world.

The National Security Agency says section 702 is "the most significant tool in the NSA collection arsenal for the detection, identification, and disruption of terrorist threats." In 2022, it was used to collect the electronic communications, like emails, phone calls and texts, of nearly 250,000 foreigners.

"The information goes into the president's intelligence daily briefing. About 65% of that material comes from 702 collections. The idea that we would let that expire would be the height of national security irresponsibility," explained Sen. Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But data on Americans is inadvertently collected alongside the foreign targets. The government says protocols exist to protect Americans' privacy. But some argue those rules aren't enough and they want to see more reforms.

"Every agency that receives Section 702 data routinely searches through the data for the express purpose of finding and reviewing Americans' communications. The FBI conducted 200,000 of these backdoor searches in 2022 alone," said Elizabeth Goitein, the senior director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Some lawmakers want to leave the program as it is. Others want new procedures and rules to better protect Americans' privacy. That debate is what's slowing down reauthorization.

One reform considered, but voted down in the House of Representatives, would have required U.S. law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before searching data collected by Section 702.

"The only reason that the government was able to get these communications in the first instance without a warrant was by certifying that it was targeting only foreigners overseas. So if that premise shifts, and if the government is now trying to locate and find an American's communications, it should have to go back and get the warrant that it skipped at the front end," said Goitein. 

FBI Director Christoper Wray opposed the warrant requirement, saying it would slow down the agency's ability to disrupt terrorist and cybersecurity threats. Sen. Warner agrees, saying, "Those who either want to kill this legislation or cripple it with this warrant requirement, I think are just dead wrong."

Congress has until April 19 to reauthorize Section 702 surveillance and ensure the program can continue without disruptions. The House passed the reauthorization on Friday. It's now up to the Senate to meet the deadline. 

SEE MORE: House votes to reauthorize FISA spy program amid political pushback

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<![CDATA[Buffaloes in Kenya electrocuted by low-lying power lines, agency says]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 14:19:15 -0400
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Kenyan wildlife officials said Friday that at least eight wild buffaloes came into contact with low-lying power lines as they were walking in Lake Nakuru National Park and were electrocuted. 

According to reports, including in Kenyan media, the Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed that broken cross-arms or support poles caused the high-voltage lines to hang low enough that the wild animals came in contact with them. 

At least 33 lines were involved after the poles fell because of heavy rainfall. 

SEE MORE: 'Elusive creature' captured on camera by wildlife officials

In a statement from the country's wildlife service, reported on by Kenya's Standard Media, officials said the eight buffaloes "were electrocuted near Wildlife Clubs of Kenya" in the park, "killing them on the spot."

Officials with Kenya's power operator were able to replace the support poles with another material that would help prevent a similar issue, Standard Media reported. 

As the Associated Press reported, the issue of the danger posed by power lines to wildlife has been brought up by conservationists in the past. Giraffes in Kenya were electrocuted by power lines in 2021. 

Kenya's President William Ruto announced on Friday that the government would put forth a new initiative to address "human-wildlife conflict."

In the announcement he said the Kenyan government plans to construct nearly 218 miles of electric fencing around game reserves and national parks across six counties in the country. 

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<![CDATA[Do you actually need $1.46 million to retire comfortably?]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 14:19:04 -0400
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Up until retirement, most of what you budget for in life is pretty straightforward. You can set up savings goals to put a certain percentage down on a new home purchase. You might have a fraction of your income filtering into a 529 college savings plan for your kids’ education, or a preset number of dollars rerouted to savings to pay for a vacation.

But the formula for how much to squirrel away for retirement is tricky and loaded with lots of variables. What will your lifestyle be like? How much will inflation be? And, for millennials and younger generations, there’s the looming question of what Social Security benefits of the future will look like if reserves run dry in the next decade.

So, how much money do you need to have saved for retirement? That’s the million-dollar question — which most Americans believe will actually cost them more than a cool million, according to a new study from Northwestern Mutual. The financial services company found that Americans think they’ll need $1.46 million saved in order to retire comfortably. This figure is an all-time high, and up from $1.27 million when Northwestern Mutual did a similar survey last year. In 2020, survey respondents thought having $951,000 stashed away for retirement would provide a good enough cushion.

SEE MORE: One surprising state dominates list of top places to retire

The study, which involved surveying 4,588 U.S. adults in January 2024, also found that Americans across the board have an average of $88,400 saved for retirement.

“People’s ‘magic number’ to retire comfortably has exploded to an all-time high, and the gap between their goals and progress has never been wider,” said Aditi Javeri Gokhale, chief strategy officer, president of retail investments and head of institutional investments at Northwestern Mutual, in a press release. “Inflation is expanding our expectations for retirement savings, and putting the pressure on to plan and stay disciplined.”

But do you really need nearly $1.5 million saved up for a comfortable nest egg? Simplemost asked certified financial planners and retirement experts about magic numbers. Not surprisingly, retirement goals are subjective and personal, so while a certain figure may be more than enough for some, it may fall short for others. In some scenarios, you may need just a fraction — about $500,000 saved — for a comfortable retirement, one expert told us. Here’s what experts have to say about the “magic number.”

How much do you really need saved for retirement?

The amount needed for retirement, also known as the “magic number,” depends on personal and financial circumstances, says Marguerita Cheng, CFP, and expert contributor for Annuity.org, an advocate for financial planning.

For example, what will your expenses be in retirement? Consider both your essential expenses and your lifestyle and variable expenses, she says.

Then, you can assess how much income you can expect to receive once you retire. Are you eligible for income from a pension? Do you have a spouse, partner or family member who will help offset living expenses? Other considerations include when you’ll start receiving Social Security benefits. What are your savings and investments? If you feel more comfortable with increasing their sources of guaranteed lifetime income, you can consider annuities.

“Some individuals can retire with $500,000 in savings and investments if they defer Social Security to full retirement age and own their home outright,” Cheng says.

SEE MORE: Retirees are returning to the workforce in droves: Here's why

Others may need to downsize to reduce costs associated with having a larger home, such as property taxes, utilities and maintenance, she adds.

One of her best tips: Don’t forget to consider the impact of taxes and inflation.

To offset costs, some might even relocate to a state with no state income tax. Nine U.S. states have no income tax, according to AARP. They are: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

What else to consider when saving for retirement

Studies often attempt to offer an average or ballpark figure for retirement, but generalized numbers can be misleading, cautions Chad Gammon, a financial planner at Arnold and Mote Wealth Management. That’s because they fail to factor in things like lifestyle, where you’ll retire, life expectancy, how much inheritance you want to leave behind and other variables.

Relying on these average figures, he says, can lead to financial anxiety or misplaced confidence.

“Those who find themselves below the threshold might worry unnecessarily about their ability to retire, while those above it might falsely assume they are completely free of financial concerns in retirement,” Gammon says.

Northwestern Mutual’s findings that reveal Americans’ nest egg aspirations are at a record high comes at an interesting time. Inflation has slowed to under 3%, down from over 9% in June 2022, and 401(k) balances have been shooting up. The average 401(k) account balance, according to figures from Fidelity, was $118,600 in the final quarter of 2023, which is a 14% increase from the year prior and up 24% since 2018.

SEE MORE: The best and worst states to retire, ranked

Ask yourself the 'magic' question

People often ask themselves, “Do I have enough to retire?” But the better question to ask yourself first is: “How much will I be spending in retirement?” says Chris Urban, CFP, and founder of Discovery Wealth Planning.

It’s also wise to consider what type of accounts your investments are in, he says.

For example, is your money in tax-deferred accounts like 401(k)s and a Traditional IRA, which will be reduced by taxes when money is withdrawn? Or, do you have cash stashed away in Roth accounts where qualified withdrawals will not be taxed? Do you have money in regular taxable brokerage accounts that might be able to take advantage of capital gains tax rates in some situations?

To get a ballpark figure, there are a number of retirement calculators online that ask questions about how much you have in savings, what age you want to retire, what percentage of your current salary you think you’d be comfortable living off of and more.

But your best bet for a more tailored “magic number” goal is to meet with a financial planner who can take your unique situation into consideration to help you plan for the future.

This story was originally published by Brittany Anas at Simplemost.com.

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<![CDATA[1 dead, multiple injured after semitrailer crashes into TX building]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 14:08:55 -0400
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A Texas semitrailer driver rammed a stolen 18-wheeler into a public safety building where his renewal for a commercial driver’s license had been rejected, killing one person and injuring 13 others, authorities said Friday.

The driver — identified as Clenard Parker, 42 — was pulled out of the truck by authorities after smashing into a Texas Department of Public Safety office in the rural town of Brenham, outside of Houston, Sgt. Justin Ruiz said.

Authorities say Parker was taken into custody but did not say which charges he would face.

“This deliberate, heinous act is a reminder of the dangerous work done by our law enforcement and licensing agencies that work to provide public safety and services,” Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst said in the statement.

Of those injured, two people were flown to CHI St. Joseph's Hospital in Bryan, one was flown to Memorial Hermann in Houston and three people were transported to Baylor Scott and White in Brenham but have since been released. Eight people were treated on the scene. Kolkhorst said in the statement that no DPS staff suffered serious injuries and one staffer was trapped “for a period of time” in the building.

SEE MORE: Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice surrenders to authorities after car crash

Texas DPS officials said in a social media post on X that the crash happened at the agency's office in Brenham, Texas, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Houston and requested people avoid the area to clear the way for responding medical personnel.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the incident and there is no further threat, DPS officials said Friday.

Images from the scene showed a large, red tractor-trailer hauling material on a flatbed in the parking lot of the building. The front end of the 18-wheeler was damaged and covered with debris from the front doors of the office. Debris was also scattered out front near a gaping hole in the entrance.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is a sprawling agency and one of the largest state law enforcement operations in the country. It includes troopers who are a central part of a massive border security operation on the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigators. But the department also has offices across the state that issue driver’s licenses.

City of Brenham officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking further information.

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<![CDATA[Taylor Swift's music returns to TikTok despite feud with UMG]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 13:58:50 -0400
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Some of Taylor Swift’s songs are back on TikTok.

Her music had been removed from the platform in January along with Universal Music Group’s entire catalog of 78,000 albums after UMG and TikTok failed to reach an agreement on a new contract.

TikTok sounds featuring music from artists like Drake, Bad Bunny and Billie Eilish had been wiped from the platform. But songs like Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” "Cardigan"and “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” among others, are back.

Notably, it seems only songs by Swift have reappeared.

As pointed out by Variety, it’s likely the pop star may have reached a separate deal with TikTok. Because the artist owns her masters and has been rerecording old music to own it, it's possible she had the power to negotiate her own deal with the platform.

This comes a week before Swift’s new album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” is set to drop on April 19.

TikTok’s previous contract with UMG expired on Jan. 31. During negotiations, UMG accused TikTok of offering artists and songwriters a fraction of what other similarly situated social media platforms do.

TikTok fired back at the time, saying its platform of well over 1 billion users served as a free promotional tool for talent. The social media company called it “sad and disappointing” that UMG put its own greed above the interests of their artists.

Scripps News has reached out to both TikTok and Universal Music Group for comment and has not heard back yet. 

SEE MORE: Universal Music Group pulls entire catalog from TikTok

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<![CDATA[Tom Brady coming out of retirement? QB says he's 'not opposed']]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 13:29:48 -0400
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Just a year after legendary quarterback Tom Brady announced he was retiring from the NFL "for good," he's now admitting that he hasn't closed the door entirely on a potential return to professional football.

Appearing on an episode of the "DeepCut with VicBlends" podcast, the 46-year-old future Hall of Famer said he's "not opposed" to at least answering a phone call from an NFL team in need of a quarterback this upcoming season.

"I don't know if they're gonna let me if I become an owner of an NFL team, but I don't know," Brady said. "I'm always going to be in good shape, always be able to throw the ball. "

Brady compared the scenario to NBA legend Michael Jordan coming out of retirement in 2001 to join the Washington Wizards following a historic career with the Chicago Bulls.

"To come in for a little bit, like MJ coming back, I don't know if they'd let me," he said. "But I wouldn't be opposed to it."

SEE MORE: Tom Brady is flying high with a new gig as Delta's strategic adviser

However, a few other ventures seem to be standing in the way of Brady strapping on the pads next season. 

For one, he is currently in the process of finalizing a deal to become a part-owner of the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders, and NFL players are prohibited from owning any equity in NFL teams. Additionally, Brady has a reported $375 million deal to become the lead color commentator for Fox Sports this upcoming NFL season.

 So the odds of Brady coming out of retirement may be slim. But it's not like he hasn't done it before.

In 2022, Brady returned to play quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just 40 days after announcing his first retirement. He would go on to lead them to the playoffs that season before hanging up the cleats "for good" last February.

During his 23-year NFL career, Brady won seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl MVP awards, three NFL MVP awards, and was a 15-time Pro Bowler. He also set all-time NFL records for games won by a quarterback, career passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions.

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<![CDATA[House votes to reauthorize FISA spy program amid political pushback]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 12:00:45 -0400
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The House of Representatives passed the reauthorization a national security surveillance tool.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is running up against an April 19 deadline for reauthorization after lawmakers punted its renewal at the end 2023. 

The intelligence authority has received bipartisan scrutiny by lawmakers who have sought reforms. The authority allows targeted intelligence collection of non-Americans outside the U.S. and does not allow targeting of a U.S.citizen. However, it can incidentally include information concerning a U.S. person in contact with a non-American.

The House voted 273 to 147 on Friday to approve the reauthorization, sending it to the Senate. 

While the administration is supportive of a reauthorization bill, it is strongly opposed an amendment that would have required a warrant to query U.S. persons communication in the database. The amendment, which ultimately failed, brought some Republicans and progressive lawmakers together over the opposition to warrantless searches.  

The administration warned the amendment "would prohibit U.S. officials from reviewing critical information that the Intelligence Community has already lawfully collected, with exceptions that are exceedingly narrow and unworkable in practice."

FBI Director Christopher Wray said it was “crunch time,” warning lawmakers Wednesday, “failure to reauthorize 702 or gutting it with some kind of warrant requirement would be dangerous and put American lives at risk." 

SEE MORE: FBI director warns of potential terrorist attack against US

The reauthorization comes amid multiple global conflicts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza and tensions in the Middle East.  

The timing also coincides with a “viable threat” from Iran which the administration has said it is watching “very closely.”  

While national security spokesman John Kirby would not comment on the use of 702 in monitoring that “potential attack,” he did emphasize during a press briefing it is “critical for all threats.” 

"It helped us uncover Russian atrocities in Ukraine, including the forced relocation to Russia of Ukrainian children, and attacks on Ukrainian refugees. And they've helped us disrupt an assassination plot on U.S. soil against a dissident by a hostile foreign power, which helps save the life of the intended victim,” Kirby said. “So, it is vital to our ability to defend ourselves, defend the American people.” 

The reauthorization has become entangled in Republican infighting in the House as Speaker Mike Johnson has navigated holding on to his seat amidst a razor-thin majority and challenges from members of the House Freedom Caucus and several conservative holdouts. An effort to bring the reauthorization bill to the floor Wednesday failed, though later passed along party lines on Friday. 

During debate on the House floor Friday, conservatives and progressives alike pushed for amendments which would require the U.S. Government to seek a warrant before conducting searches of American citizens’ data online. 

“We cannot pass this bill without additional protections,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal rallied Friday, adding, “We cannot pass this bill without requiring intelligence agencies to ensure that Americans privacy rights are upheld at every turn.” 

SEE MORE: Want to be a CIA security guard? Try to pass this physical test first

There is concern within the administration that “ultimately it’s not right to the country and our protecting of the American people to have critical national security lapse in that,” a senior administration official said.  

The warrant requirement could have been problematic given the time it would require when hours matters, explained Harding.  

Harding noted many of the searches are looking for a victim of a crime and “…the other piece is that it is in fact a US person that somehow involved in a plot against the United States. The way that you're going to find out about that to begin with is by looking at the collection, you're not going to have enough information upfront to get that warrant ahead of time, you don't know what you don't know yet.” 

While the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved a one year extension, officials do not see that as changing the urgency of passing reauthorization before the deadline. Though certifications would remain, a senior administration official warned that others may not share the view, and companies may challenge It in court.  

Harding said national security lawyers "feel very confident that the April 19th extension will hold up in court, when you talk to them about pushing that out for the entire year, it's like they can see the potential judicial challenges coming down the pike and they just really don't want to have to go there. They feel like they are on okay national security grounds by pursuing that one year extension, but it could be heavily litigated by those who oppose the program.” 

"I can't imagine working in today's counterterrorism environment without FISA Section 702, and I don't know how we would replace it if it were gone. Our number one mission is to protect the United States homeland from a diverse array of threats, and speed is of the essence to fulfill this mission,” said Christy Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

A board of intelligence advisors warned failure to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act could be “one of the worst intelligence failures of our time,” while also recommending more limits on the FBI’s use of the intelligence database and more oversight in a report released last year.  

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<![CDATA[Family sues restaurants for serving underage son alcohol before coma]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 11:38:16 -0400
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“It’s not hard to be safe and card people.”

That's what a Northern Kentucky family's attorney is saying after he says alcohol contributed to a March 2023 incident that left a young man in a coma.

The Smith family is suing two restaurants — Twin Peaks and KickShot Billiards — for serving alcohol to minors and gross negligence after their underage son drank at the establishments. They're also suing FAT Brands for negligence, which is the company that owns Twin Peaks.

“In this case, this Twin Peaks chose not to card a table full of kids. They chose to serve him shots and beers,” said David Barber, the attorney representing the family.

Barber said alcohol contributed to an incident in March 2023 that resulted in Sean Smith suffering severe and potentially fatal injuries. 

After 19-year-old Sean and his group left the restaurants they went to a state park. Sean was sitting on the back of a car when the driver took off, and Sean hit the ground. Barber said he was conscious for a short period of time before he was airlifted to the hospital.

“Sean… broke multiple bones in his skull and in his spine, and suffered [a] brain stem injury that has left him basically in a coma ever since,” Barber said.

He said Sean was with other minors at the time.

“This Twin Peaks was known locally to this group of kids that Sean was with as a place where they can go and order alcohol without being carded, that's why they went there,” Barber added. “Kentucky law says if Twin Peaks makes that choice to serve a minor then they’re responsible for what happens later.”

He said the group then briefly stopped at KickShot after they were served at Twin Peaks.

“The group was served a bucket of alcoholic beverages without being ID'ed and then those were shared. That’s also against Kentucky law,” Barber said, adding that Sean's condition is getting worse. "They’re going to have to make some really tough choices before long."

He said the family's medical bills are approaching $3 million and that they are seeking to hold the restaurants accountable to prevent this from ever happening to another family.

Scripps News Cincinnati has reached out to Twin Peaks, KickShot and FAT Brands for statements. We have yet to get a response.

This story was originally published by Jessica Hart at Scripps News Cincinnati.

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<![CDATA[Some of O.J. Simpson's assets could go to Goldman, Brown families]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 11:23:36 -0400
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O.J. Simpson died Thursday without having paid the lion’s share of the $33.5 million judgment a California civil jury awarded to the families of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Acquitted at a criminal trial, Simpson was found liable by jurors in a 1997 wrongful death lawsuit.

The public is now likely to get a closer look Simpson's finances, and the families are likely to have a better shot at collecting — if there is anything to collect.

Here's how the next few months may play out.

The probate process

Whether or not he left behind a will, and whatever that document says, Simpson's assets will now almost certainly have to go through what's known as the probate process in court before his four children or other intended heirs can collect on any of them.

Different states have different probate laws. Generally, the case is filed in the state where the person was living when they died. In Simpson's case that's Nevada. But if significant assets are in California or Florida, where he also lived at various times, separate cases could emerge there.

Nevada law says an estate must go through the courts if its assets exceed $20,000, or if any real estate is involved, and this must be done within 30 days of the death. If a family fails to file documents, creditors themselves can begin the process.

A stronger claim in death?

Once the case is in court, creditors who say they are owed money can then seek a piece of the assets. The Goldman and Brown families will be on at least equal footing with other creditors, and will probably have an even stronger claim.

Under California law, creditors holding a judgment lien like the plaintiffs in the wrongful death case are deemed to have secured debt, and have priority over creditors with unsecured debt. And they are in a better position to get paid than they were before the defendant's death.

Arash Sadat, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in property disputes, says it is “100%” better for the claimant to have the debtor be deceased and their money in probate.

He said his firm had a jury trial where their clients got a $9 million jury award that the debtor appealed and delayed endlessly.

”He did everything he could to avoid paying this debt," Sadat said. "Three or four years later, he died. And within weeks, the estate cuts a check for $12 million. That’s the $9 million plus interest that I had accrued over this time.”

The executor or administrator of the estate has much more of an incentive to dispense with debts than the living person does. “That’s why you see things like that happening,” Sadat said.

But of course that doesn’t mean payment will be forthcoming.

“I do think it’s going to be quite difficult for them to collect,” attorney Christopher Melcher said. “We don’t know what O.J. has been able to earn over the years.”

Neither Sadat nor Melcher is involved with the Simpson estate or the court case.

What assets did Simpson have?

Simpson said he lived only on his NFL and private pensions. Hundreds of valuable possessions were seized as part of the jury award, and Simpson was forced to auction his Heisman Trophy, fetching $230,000.

Goldman's father Fred Goldman, the lead plaintiff, always said the issue was never the money, it was only about holding Simpson responsible. And he said in a statement Thursday that with Simpson's death, “the hope for true accountability has ended.”

What about trusts?

There are ways that a person can use trusts established during their life and other methods to make sure their chosen heirs get their assets in death. If such a trust is irrevocable, it can be especially strong.

But transfers of assets to others that are made to avoid creditors can be deemed fraudulent, and claimants like the Goldman and Brown families can file separate civil lawsuits that bring those assets into dispute.

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<![CDATA[Harvard again requiring standardized test scores for applicants]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 10:55:37 -0400
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Harvard University announced Thursday that it is reinstating standardized tests as a requirement for admission beginning with students applying for fall 2025 admission. Harvard joins other colleges that are again mandating tests for those hoping to enter the schools.

In June 2020, Harvard began a temporary test-optional policy under which students could apply to the college without submitting scores. The change was adopted as access to standardized testing during the pandemic became limited.

Other schools like Yale, Dartmouth, Brown and MIT are also again requiring standardized tests for those seeking admission.

Harvard had initially said it was going to maintain its test-optional policy through the entering class of fall 2026.

Under the change announced Thursday, students applying to Harvard for fall 2025 admission will be required to submit standardized test scores from the SAT or ACT exams to satisfy the testing component of the application.

SEE MORE: The changing state of college admissions

In what the school called “exceptional cases” when applicants are unable to access SAT or ACT testing, other eligible tests will be accepted, including Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.

School officials said test scores are weighed along with information about an applicant’s experiences, skills, talents, and contributions to their communities, as well as their academic qualifications in relation to the norms of their high school, and personal recommendations.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi Hoekstra said in a news release that standardized tests are a means for all students — regardless of background or life experience — to provide information that is predictive of success in college.

“In short, more information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range,” Hoekstra said.

The school said that all along it welcomed those seeking admission to submit test scores if they had them. Most of those accepted into the college during the past four years submitted test scores, according to the school.

The school also pointed to research that they said found that standardized tests are a valuable tool to identify promising students at less well-resourced high schools, particularly when paired with other academic credentials.

SEE MORE: Got kids in college? This FAFSA discount is going away

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<![CDATA['Golden Bachelor' couple Gerry and Theresa are getting divorced]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 10:08:57 -0400
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"The Golden Bachelor" couple Gerry Turner and Theresa Nist are headed for divorce. 

The pair made the announcement together on "Good Morning America" Friday.

"Theresa and I have had a number of heart-to-heart conversations, and we've looked closely at our situation, our living situation," Turner said, "and we've kind of come to the conclusion mutually that it's probably time for us to dissolve our marriage." 

The news comes just three months after their live televised wedding on Jan. 4. 

Turner and Nist made history as the first couple to come out of "The Bachelor" spinoff, a show that gave hope for love at later stages in life. Turner, 72, and Nist, 70, got engaged during the show's finale that aired in November.

"We have received so much love and support from so many people who watched 'The Golden Bachelor,' and I don't think we can tell you how many people told us that it gave them so much hope," Nist said. "We want none of that to change for anybody." 

During the show, the couple acknowledged being from separate states — with Turner from Indiana and Nist from New Jersey — but committed to finding a plan to make things work. On "GMA," the couple said they had looked at several homes to move into together, but never ended up pulling the trigger. Both wanted to be close to their families.

During their sit-down interview, Turner and Nist held hands in solidarity as they talked through their split. They both said they did not fall out of love.

"I still love this person, there is no doubt in my mind," Turner said. "I still am in love with her. I root for her every day."

The couple still hopes that people inspired by the show's message of finding love later in life hold on to hope.

"Don't give up. We say stay in it, stay hopeful," Nist said.

Both said they will continue to look for love.

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<![CDATA[Police say fentanyl killed 8-year-old, not reaction to strawberries]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:30:17 -0400
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An 8-year-old Kentucky boy died of a fentanyl overdose last month, not from eating a batch of strawberries, authorities said this week. The family had told police they believed the boy had an allergic reaction and took him to a hospital with a rash.

Police in the city of Madisonville charged 33-year-old Antonio M. Person with manslaughter on Wednesday after investigators determined the boy died of “fentanyl intoxication.”

Person was living in the same house as the boy and had fentanyl in the home, a Madisonville police report said, without elaborating on their relationship. Person was charged with drug trafficking and illegal gun possession in late March when police searched the home following the boy’s death.

When the boy developed the rash, his family gave him the antihistamine Benadryl and soaked him in a bath at home, but it did not go away, according to Madisonville police. The family took him to the emergency room but brought him home several hours later, according to police. He died the next morning on March 15.

The strawberries were sold at a high school fundraiser and the episode prompted the county's health department to issue an advisory to dispose of the fruit. On Tuesday, the Hopkins County health department said testing on samples of the strawberries by the Food and Drug Administration showed they were safe to eat.

Person is in custody at Hopkins County Jail on a $1 million bond for the manslaughter charge.

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<![CDATA[A congressman wanted to understand AI. So he went back to college]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 09:22:07 -0400
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Don Beyer's car dealerships were among the first in the U.S. to set up a website. As a U.S. representative, the Virginia Democrat leads a bipartisan group focused on promoting fusion energy. He reads books about geometry for fun.

So when questions about regulating artificial intelligence emerged, the 73-year-old Beyer took what for him seemed like an obvious step, enrolling at George Mason University to get a master’s degree in machine learning. In an era when lawmakers and Supreme Court justices sometimes concede they don't understand emerging technology, Beyer's journey is an outlier, but it highlights a broader effort by members of Congress to educate themselves about artificial intelligence as they consider laws that would shape its development.

Frightening to some, thrilling to others, baffling to many: Artificial intelligence has been called a transformative technology, a threat to democracy or even an existential risk for humanity. It will fall to members of Congress to figure out how to regulate the industry in a way that encourages its potential benefits while mitigating the worst risks.

But first they have to understand what AI is, and what it isn't.

“I tend to be an AI optimist,” Beyer told The Associated Press following a recent afternoon class on George Mason's campus in suburban Virginia. "We can't even imagine how different our lives will be in five years, 10 years, 20 years, because of AI. ... There won’t be robots with red eyes coming after us any time soon. But there are other deeper existential risks that we need to pay attention to.”

SEE MORE: Congress plans to tackle AI in 2024 in 'bite-sized' pieces

Risks like massive job losses in industries made obsolete by AI, programs that retrieve biased or inaccurate results, or deepfake images, video and audio that could be leveraged for political disinformation, scams or sexual exploitation. On the other side of the equation, onerous regulations could stymie innovation, leaving the U.S. at a disadvantage as other nations look to harness the power of AI.

Striking the right balance will require input not only from tech companies but also from the industry's critics, as well as from the industries that AI may transform. While many Americans may have formed their ideas about AI from science fiction movies like “The Terminator” or “The Matrix,” it's important that lawmakers have a clear-eyed understanding of the technology, said Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., and the chairman of the House's AI Task Force.

When lawmakers have questions about AI, Obernolte is one of the people they seek out. He studied engineering and applied science at the California Institute of Technology and earned an M.S. in artificial intelligence at UCLA. The California Republican also started his own video game company. Obernolte said he's been “very pleasantly impressed” with how seriously his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are taking their responsibility to understand AI.

That shouldn't be surprising, Obernolte said. After all, lawmakers regularly vote on bills that touch on complicated legal, financial, health and scientific subjects. If you think computers are complicated, check out the rules governing Medicaid and Medicare.

SEE MORE: Artificial intelligence introduces new ethical issues to newsgathering

Keeping up with the pace of technology has challenged Congress since the steam engine and the cotton gin transformed the nation's industrial and agricultural sectors. Nuclear power and weaponry is another example of a highly technical subject that lawmakers have had to contend with in recent decades, according to Kenneth Lowande, a University of Michigan political scientist who has studied expertise and how it relates to policy-making in Congress.

Federal lawmakers have created several offices — the Library of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, etc. — to provide resources and specialized input when necessary. They also rely on staff with specific expertise on subject topics, including technology.

Then there's another, more informal form of education that many members of Congress receive.

"They have interest groups and lobbyists banging down their door to give them briefings,” Lowande said.

Beyer said he's had a lifelong interest in computers and that when AI emerged as a topic of public interest he wanted to know more. A lot more. Almost all of his fellow students are decades younger; most don't seem that fazed when they discover their classmate is a congressman, Beyer said.

He said the classes, which he fits in around his busy congressional schedule — are already paying off. He's learned about the development of AI and the challenges facing the field. He said it's helped him understand the challenges — biases, unreliable data — and the possibilities, like improved cancer diagnoses and more efficient supply chains.

SEE MORE: The next front in the AI wars: The courtroom

Beyer is also learning how to write computer code.

“I’m finding that learning to code — which is thinking in this sort of mathematical, algorithmic step-by-step, is helping me think differently about a lot of other things — how you put together an office, how you work a piece of legislation," Beyer said.

While a computer science degree isn't required, it's imperative that lawmakers understand AI's implications for the economy, national defense, health care, education, personal privacy and intellectual property rights, according to Chris Pierson, CEO of the cybersecurity firm BlackCloak.

“AI is not good or bad,” said Pierson, who formerly worked in Washington for the Department of Homeland Security. “It's how you use it.”

The work of safeguarding AI has already begun, though it's the executive branch leading the way so far. Last month, the White House unveiled new rules that require federal agencies to show their use of AI isn't harming the public. Under an executive order issued last year, AI developers must provide information on the safety of their products.

When it comes to more substantive action, America is playing catchup to the European Union, which recently enacted the world's first significant rules governing the development and use of AI. The rules prohibit some uses — routine AI-enabled facial recognition by law enforcement, for one — while requiring other programs to submit information about safety and public risks. The landmark law is expected to serve as a blueprint for other nations as they contemplate their own AI laws.

As Congress begins that process, the focus must be on “mitigating potential harm,” said Obernolte, who said he's optimistic that lawmakers from both parties can find common ground on ways to prevent the worst AI risks.

“Nothing substantive is going to get done that isn’t bipartisan,” he said.

To help guide the conversation lawmakers created a new AI task force (Obernolte is co-chairman), as well as an AI Caucus made up of lawmakers with a particular expertise or interest in the topic. They've invited experts to brief lawmakers on the technology and its impacts — and not just computer scientists and tech gurus either, but also representatives from different sectors that see their own risks and rewards in AI.

Rep. Anna Eshoo is the Democratic chairwoman of the caucus. She represents part of California's Silicon Valley and recently introduced legislation that would require tech companies and social media platforms like Meta, Google or TikTok to identify and label AI-generated deepfakes to ensure the public isn't misled. She said the caucus has already proved its worth as a “safe place” place where lawmakers can ask questions, share resources and begin to craft consensus.

“There isn’t a bad or silly question," she said. “You have to understand something before you can accept or reject it.”

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<![CDATA[Yoto Mini speaker, a popular toddler toy, recalled due to fire risk]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 08:31:12 -0400
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The Yoto Mini portable speaker, a popular toddler and children’s toy, is under recall.

In a notice, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the product’s lithium-ion battery “can overheat and catch fire, posing burn and fire hazards to consumers.” 

Designed for kids ages 3 to 12, the Yoto Mini bluetooth player can be used to listen to audiobooks, music and educational sounds. It can also be used as a sound machine, meaning adults may set it down as children rest, and may not be in the room in the event of danger. 

The speakers, which are light gray with orange knobs, were sold with a charging cable but no adapter or charger. 

CPSC said kids and parents should immediately stop using the Yoto Mini and contact the company for a free replacement charging cable, which should remedy the issue. Customers can send Yoto a photo of the original cord cut down the middle to receive a replacement. 

While Yoto said no injuries have been reported in connection with the product, it is aware of six cases in the U.S. and one in the U.K. of overheating or melting. 

The products were sold online at Amazon, Target and Maisonette, as well as toy stores nationwide between November 2021 and April 2024 for around $70.

About 251,165 speakers were sold in the U.S., in addition to 18,932 in Canada.

Details about ordering a replacement cable can be found on the Yoto website.

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<![CDATA[Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice surrenders to authorities after car crash]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 08:00:41 -0400
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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice turned himself in to authorities Thursday on an arrest warrant in connection to an injury car crash last month.

Rice's attorney confirmed his client was released on bond after being booked into a jail in Glenn Heights, Texas, a city in the southern part of the Dallas metroplex. A warrant for Rice's arrest was issued by police Wednesday in connection to a six-vehicle injury crash on March 30 in Dallas.

"I want to re-emphasis Mr. Rice’s continued cooperation with law enforcement," attorney Royce West said in a statement. "Mr. Rice acknowledges his actions and feels deeply for those injured as a result of this accident. Our legal team is now tasked with reviewing all legal documents."

SEE MORE: Lawyer: Chiefs' Rashee Rice was driving Lamborghini involved in crash

Rice is charged with one count of aggravated assault, one count of collision involving serious injury and six counts of collision involving injury.

Last week, West announced in a press conference that Rice admitted to driving a Lamborghini SUV that was involved in the crash. The Lamborghini, along with a Chevrolet Corvette, lost control while driving at high speeds and caused a chain reaction collision. Four people were transported to area hospitals with minor injuries.

An arrest warrant was also issued Wednesday for 21-year-old Theodore Knox, the driver of the Corvette. Knox faces the same charges as Rice. Authorities said nobody else involved in the crash is expected to be charged in connection to the incident.

"I take full responsibility for my part in this matter and will continue to cooperate with the necessary authorities," Rice said in a social media statement last week. "I sincerely apologize to everyone impacted in Saturday's accident."

The Kansas City Chiefs had no comment after the arrest warrant was issued Wednesday.

This story was originally published by Steve Kaut and Jack Anstine at Scripps News Kansas City.

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<![CDATA[Biden admin. announces another round of student loan cancellation]]> Fri, 12 Apr 2024 07:18:58 -0400
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The Biden administration is canceling student loans for another 206,000 borrowers as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster route to forgiveness.

The Education Department announced the latest round of cancellations Friday in an update on the progress of its SAVE Plan. More people are becoming eligible for student loan cancellation as they hit 10 years of payments, a new finish line for some loans that’s a decade sooner than what borrowers faced in the past.

Casting a shadow over the cancellations, however, are two new lawsuits challenging the plan's legality. Two groups of Republican-led states, fronted by Kansas and Missouri, recently filed federal suits arguing that the Biden administration overstepped its authority in creating the repayment option.

“From day one of my Administration, I promised to fight to ensure higher education is a ticket to the middle class, not a barrier to opportunity,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “I will never stop working to cancel student debt — no matter how many times Republican elected officials try to stop us.”

With the latest action, the Education Department has now approved cancellation for about 360,000 borrowers through the new repayment plan, totaling $4.8 billion.

The SAVE Plan is an updated version of a federal repayment plan that has been offered for decades, but with more generous terms.

Congress created the first income-driven repayment option in the 1990s for people struggling to afford payments on standard plans. It capped monthly payments to a percentage of their incomes and canceled any unpaid debt after 25 years. Similar plans were added later, offering cancellation in as little as 20 years.

"He's using the law as he found it when he came into office to try to make the student loan system work for people, and it's having effect," said Pierce.

Arguing that today's borrowers need even more help, the Biden administration merged most of those plans into a single repayment option with more lenient terms.

The SAVE (Saving on a Valuable Education) Plan allows more borrowers to pay nothing until their income rise above certain limits. It also lowers payments more than past plans, eliminates interest growth and cancels unpaid debt in as little as 10 years.

Biden announced the plan in 2022 alongside his broader proposal for a one-time cancellation of up to $20,000 for more than 40 million people. While the one-time cancellation was struck down by the Supreme Court, the SAVE Plan moved forward and initially escaped legal scrutiny.

SEE MORE: Biden promotes new 'life-changing' student loan relief plan

The repayment plan opened for enrollment last fall, with certain provisions scheduled to be phased in later this year. The faster path to cancellation was among those slated to start this summer, but the Biden administration fast-tracked that benefit early this year, announcing forgiveness for 153,000 borrowers who had hit 10 years of payments.

Almost 8 million Americans have enrolled in the plan, including 4.5 million who pay nothing because they have lower incomes.

In a call with reporters, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the plan provides relief and prevents borrowers from falling behind on their loans.

“Now they have some money back in their pockets, instead of a bill that too often competed with basic needs like groceries and health care,” he said.

"For borrowers that took out $13,000 or less, they get their debt cancelled in 11 years. For people that took out $14,000 or yet less, they get their debt cancelled in 12 years and that goes on all the way up to 20," said Mike Pierce, executive director for the Student Borrower Protection Center.

The Biden administration says it's designed to help those who need it most. Counterintuitively, those with smaller student loan balances tend to struggle more. It’s driven by millions of Americans who take out student loans but don’t finish degrees, leaving them with the downside of debt without the upside of a higher income.

In two separate lawsuits, Republican attorneys general in 18 states are pushing to have the plan tossed and to halt any further cancellation. They say the SAVE Plan goes beyond President Biden’s authority and makes it harder for states to recruit employees. They say the plan undermines a separate cancellation program that encourages careers in public service.

It’s unclear what the suits could mean for loans that have already been canceled. A court document filed by Kansas' attorney general says it's “unrealistic to think that any loan forgiveness that occurs during this litigation will ever be clawed back.”

The lawsuits don't directly address the question, and the attorneys general didn't immediately respond to an Associated Press request.

The Education Department says Congress gave the agency power to define the terms of income-driven payment plans in 1993, and that authority has been used in the past.

Along with the repayment plan, President Biden is trying again at a one-time student loan cancellation. In a visit to Wisconsin on Monday, he highlighted a proposal to reduce or cancel loans for more than 30 million borrowers in five categories.

It aims to help borrowers with larges sums of unpaid interest, those with older loans, those who attended low-value programs, and those who face other hardships preventing them from repaying student loans. It would also cancel loans for people who are eligible for other forgiveness programs but haven't applied.

The Biden administration says it will accelerate parts of the proposal, with plans to start waiving unpaid interest for millions of borrowers starting this fall. Conservative opponents have threatened to challenge that plan, too.

On Friday the administration also said it's canceling loans for 65,000 borrowers who are enrolled in older income-driven repayment plans and hit the finish line for forgiveness. It also announced cancellation for another 5,000 borrowers through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Through a variety of programs, the Biden administration says it has now provided loan relief to 4.3 million people, totaling $153 billion.

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<![CDATA[White House commits $830 million to new climate resilience projects]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 22:55:22 -0400
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The Biden administration announced on Thursday $830 million in new grants to harden old U.S. infrastructure against the effects of ongoing climate change.

Eighty projects will improve roads, rail, ports, transit systems and other surface transportation infrastructure in 37 states with a special focus on those under particular threat from the effects of extreme weather.

The funds will help counter flooding impacts, upgrade stormwater drains, replace emergency bridges, and help cities set new plans to improve coastlines and transit projects.

Funds fall into one of four categories: $621 million for resilience improvement, $119 million for coastal infrastructure improvements, $45 million for community resilience and evacuation improvements and $45 million for planning-stage projects.

SEE MORE: US announces $6 billion for new emissions-cutting technologies

The end goal, officials say, is to make transportation safer from the indirect effects of worsening flooding and fires.

"We have seen far too many examples of transportation infrastructure being shut down or damaged by extreme weather, which is more extreme and more frequent in this time of climate change," Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg told reporters. "America’s infrastructure was not built for the climate that we have today, and the consequences of this are very real and being felt by people in every part of the country."

The funds are the latest to be distributed through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that passed in 2021, which together with the Inflation Reduction Act budgets some $50 billion for climate projects.

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<![CDATA[Game on: Margot Robbie is producing a live-action 'Monopoly' movie]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 22:41:29 -0400
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Margot Robbie is trading in her pink wardrobe for a top hat and mustache. 

The "Barbie" producer and star is now working on a live-action "Monopoly" movie under her LuckyChap production company. The banner is co-headed by her husband, Tom Ackerley, and Josey McNamara, and is the same company that got the 2023 flick based on our other favorite childhood pastime to the big screen.

Robbie's new project won't be under Mattel's eye, but Hasbro Entertainment, the maker of the money-hungry game, will co-produce alongside Lionsgate as a distributor.

"I could not imagine a better production team for this beloved and iconic brand than LuckyChap," said Adam Fogelson, chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, in a statement. "They are exceptional producers who choose their projects with great thought and care, and join Monopoly with a clear point of view."

Fogelson said he believes this could be LuckyChap's "next blockbuster" — and boy does it have big shoes to fill, as "Barbie" made more than $1.4 billion in global ticket sales.

But LuckyChap believes "Monopoly is a top property — pun fully intended," per a statement.

The rest of the details about the adaptation are under wraps, so we don't know who will actually wear that top hat. Nonetheless, hopefully this means another run of fun red carpet looks are in store for Robbie and replicated by moviegoers.

SEE MORE: New Scrabble edition aims to make game more inclusive, less intimidating

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<![CDATA['Elusive creature' captured on camera by wildlife officials]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 22:34:09 -0400
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U.S. forestry officials got a rare sight when they spotted a small "elusive" federally protected creature, usually around 17 inches long, scurrying across the ground in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest. 

Seen in dark, somewhat grainy video, the little species, once common to Pennsylvania's mountains, has now dwindled to only around an estimated 100,000 left in the wild, the U.S. Forest Service said. 

Neotoma magister, or the Allegheny woodrat, has "nearly disappeared" in areas where it once thrived, and the reason is largely a mystery. Experts say it could be a mix of factors though, including habitat destruction

Scientists believe the gypsy moth is also to blame, because they harm their beloved acorn-producing oak trees. 

Why small species matter

Small species are often the part of an ecosystem that maintain "the fabric of the world around us," as Michael Samways wrote in an article published by Smithsonian Magazine

Pollinating soil and flowers, spreading seeds and maintaining the fertility of the land are key results of the behaviors of small species. As Samways writes, animals like birds would lose food sources, and soil formation would halt in many areas without small species. 

Native rodents play a key role in the health of grasslands and the forest, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes. These species are also an important source of food for predators and scavengers like bobcats, wolves, foxes and hawks. 

SEE MORE: From failed police officer to tiny hero: Meet Roger, Taiwan's fave pup

The Allegheny woodrat is a relative to the packrats of the West, and is more mouse-like in the appearance of its tail and color. They are considered to be largely solitary creatures who tolerate each other during mating season. 

The species of rodent has been tracked since at least the early 1900s when it was determined that the American chestnut may have been a significant and important source of food, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported. They nest deep into rock outcrops and mostly bear litter sizes of only around two or three offspring. 

In the 1990s a study found that an increase in great horned owls — as the barriers between forested areas and agricultural fields increasingly grew — put woodrat populations under more pressure to survive. And tiffs over den sites in rocky areas and caves between the rodents, and increasing populations of porcupines could have also had an effect on the woodrats' dwindling numbers over the years. 

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<![CDATA[Mali's junta bans media reporting on political activity in the country]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 21:54:57 -0400
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Mali’s junta on Thursday banned the media from reporting on activities of political parties and associations, according to a copy of the notice distributed on social media in the latest restrictive step by the country's rulers.

The order applied to all forms of the media, including television, radio, online and print newspapers. It followed a decision on Wednesday that banned all political party activities until further notice.

Mali has experienced two coups since 2020, leading a wave of political instability that has swept across West and Central Africa in recent years. Along with its political troubles, the country is also in the grip of a worsening insurgency by militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Thursday's order was issued by the high authority for communication.

The scope of the ban — or how it would be applied in practice — was not immediately clear. It was also not known if journalists would still be allowed to report on issues such as the economy, which are closely tied to politics, and who would monitor their work.

The umbrella organization that represents journalists in Mali responded with an unusually stern rebuttal.

The group, known as Maison de la Presse, or Press House, said it rejects the order and called on journalists to continue to report on politics in the country. It also urged them to “stand tall, remain unified and to mobilize to defend the right of citizens to have access to information.”

Mali’s national commission for human rights also expressed regret and profound concern over the decision in a statement published late Thursday. It warned the junta the decision could prove harmful.

“Instead of calming the social climate, these restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms could potentially stir up trouble and tension, which the country does not need,” it said.

SEE MORE: Young people are increasingly getting their news online

The clampdown on the media followed similar action on Wednesday, when the junta ordered the suspension of all activities by political parties until further notice, citing a need to preserve public order. The news was broadcast on state television as the population was celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan in which observant Muslims fast from dawn until dusk.

Analysts said the move was likely a backlash against political figures, civil society and students who have expressed frustration with the junta’s failure to return the country to democratic rule as promised.

“Recent weeks saw mounting pressure by political parties and figures,” Rida Lyammouri of the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank, told The Associated Press. “For the first time, the public and politicians have publicly criticized junta leaders and accused them of a lack of seriousness.”

Col. Assimi Goita, who took charge after a second coup in 2021, promised to return the country to democracy in early 2024. But in September, the junta canceled elections scheduled for February 2024 indefinitely, citing the need for further technical preparations.

The junta has vowed to end the insurgency that emerged in 2012 after deposing the elected government. It cut military ties with France amid growing frustration with the lack of progress after a decade of assistance, and turned to Russian contractors, mercenaries from the Wagner group, for security support instead. But analysts say the violence has only grown worse.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the ban on political activities. “Freedom of expression and freedom of association are critical to an open society,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.

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<![CDATA[FBI director warns of potential terrorist attack against US]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 21:43:00 -0400
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Addressing members of the House Appropriations Committee, FBI director Christopher Wray put the agency's budget request in stark terms.

"We need all the tools, people and all the resources required to tackle these threats and keep Americans safe," Wray said.

Wray's warning comes in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and the subsequent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. He said those overseas events could embolden small groups or a lone wolf targeting America.

"Our most immediate concern has been that individuals or small groups will draw twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home," Wray said.

One concern is the terrorist group, ISIS. Just this month, law enforcement in Idaho arrested Alexander Mercurio. In court documents, federal officials say the 18-year-old pledged allegiance to ISIS, attempted to provide material support to the group and planned to conduct attacks on churches in Idaho.

"Now, increasingly concerning is the potential for a coordinated attack here in the homeland, akin to the ISIS-K attack we saw at the Russia concert hall a couple weeks ago," Wray said.

ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the attack at the Crocus City concert hall outside of Moscow which killed more than 140 people.

"You've recently testified that threats, 'have gone to another level' and foreign terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaida, have renewed calls for attacks here in the U.S. — can you expand on that?" asked Rep. Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Wray responded by saying that all the terrorist groups share something in common.

"These are terrorist orgs that don't typically see eye to eye, but they seem to be pretty united in calling for one thing: calling for attacks on us," Wray said.

At the hearing, Wray also urged Congress to renew FISA – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"It's critical in securing our nation, and we're in crunch time," he said.

Wray also said the U.S.-designated terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas are also threatening to attack, by potentially hitting U.S. interests in the Middle East.

SEE MORE: Idaho teen planned church attacks to support Islamic State group

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<![CDATA['HELP' sign on remote island leads to rescue of 3 stranded fishermen]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 21:40:09 -0400
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Three men stranded on a remote Pacific island for more than a week were finally rescued thanks to the makeshift "HELP" sign they created from palm leaves.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy were in the middle of scouring an initial search area of 78,000 square nautical miles when an aircraft located the castaways and their distress signal on Pikelot Atoll, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, 100 miles northwest of where the trio had departed a week earlier. 

Lt. Chelsea Garcia, who coordinated the search and rescue mission the day the men were found, said the "HELP" sign in the sand was "crucial in their discovery" and a "remarkable testament to their will to be found."

"This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location," Garcia said.

Crews began looking for the men on April 6 after a relative reported her three uncles, who are all in their 40s, hadn't returned from their March 31 voyage to Pikelot from Polowat Atoll, which is also part of the Federated States of Micronesia. 

The experienced mariners planned the 100-mile journey with hopes of fishing around the uninhabited Pikelot, but the outboard motor on their 20-foot open skiff became damaged, the Coast Guard said. Once stuck on Pikelot, their battery ran out of power before they could send a real distress signal, resulting in the palm leaf arrangement.

Officials told CNN and Stars and Stripes the men lived off coconut meat and water from a well until the U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft discovered them on April 7. The crew dropped "survival packages" to sustain the trio until more help could arrive, and the next day, a Coast Guard aircraft dropped them a radio to establish communication. 

The men confirmed they were healthy but wanted to return to Polowat, according to the Coast Guard. Then April 9, they were successfully rescued by Coast Guard cutter Oliver Henry and taken back to Polowat.

But it wasn't just any rescue mission; it was a reunion, too, per CNN. The outlet states one of the first rescuers on the Pikelot beach discovered the three men were his relatives. One man was a third cousin, the others fourth cousins, CNN reports.

"This recent operation near Pikelot Atoll hits home the kind of difference we can make," said Lt. Ray Cerrato, commanding officer of USCGC Oliver Henry. "It's about more than just performing a duty; it's about the real human connections we forge and the lives we touch."

And even though Pikelot is extremely remote and only 31 acres, this isn't the first time a story like this has occurred on its beaches. CNN and Stars and Stripes report an almost identical rescue occurred there four years ago after three stranded sailors wrote out "SOS" in palm leaves.

The Coast Guard said it recommends all mariners equip their vessels with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon to reduce these events and make time on the water more safe.

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<![CDATA[Scripps News Reports: Baltimore's Bridge]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 21:30:00 -0400
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It's the collapse nobody saw coming, as an economic lifeline in Baltimore became a deathtrap in seconds. Now the Port of Baltimore is blocked, cutting off a key economic engine for the U.S. East Coast.

Just over two weeks after the collapse, Marylanders are still in shock. How did the iconic Key Bridge come down? Could more have been done to save the lives of the six construction workers who died? How and when will it be rebuilt?

Scripps News hears from Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott about how the city plans to recover, investigates why a collision was previously deemed “unlikely” and explains how more bridges across the country are at risk from similar critical vulnerabilities. 

SEE MORE: Officials will meet to discuss rebuilding collapsed Baltimore bridge

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<![CDATA[Woman disturbed over eclipse kills husband, throws kids on freeway]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:33:15 -0400
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A woman who authorities say fatally stabbed her partner at their Los Angeles apartment Monday then threw her two children from a moving SUV onto the freeway, killing her infant daughter, was an astrologer who called the impending solar eclipse "the epitome of spiritual warfare" in an online post days earlier.

Los Angeles police believe Danielle Cherakiyah Johnson, 34, posted on X as an astrology influencer and recording artist with the moniker " Ayoka," in the days leading up to the violence, which began hours before the eclipse peaked in Southern California, said Lt. Guy Golan.

While detectives have reviewed Johnson's posts, police are not considering the eclipse to be a precipitating or contributing factor to the slayings "because we just don't know why she did what she did," Golan told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"We've taken all the facts we can, but without being able to interview her and without having something more tangible than a post on X, I don't know how much weight you can give to somebody [saying] there's an apocalypse and attribute it to one of the most horrific murders we've had in LA," Golan, who is head of the homicide unit investigating the case, said.

Authorities say Johnson and her partner, 29-year-old Jaelen Allen Chaney, had an argument around 3:40 a.m. Monday in their apartment in Woodland Hills, about 25 miles northwest of downtown LA. Johnson stabbed Chaney and fled with her kids, an 8-month-old girl and her 9-year-old sister, in a Porsche Cayenne.

SEE MORE: Doctor dies after flying out of trailer on way to see solar eclipse

Johnson then drove along Interstate 405 in Culver City and threw her daughters out of the moving SUV around 4:30 a.m., police said. The baby was pronounced dead on the road, but the older daughter — who witnessed the stabbing — survived with moderate injuries.

Johnson traveled southwest to Redondo Beach, where a half-hour later she was driving over 100 miles per hour and crashed into a tree. The LAPD is investigating whether the solo crash was an apparent suicide.

The Los Angeles Times first reported on Johnson's social media activities in connection with the killings.

"Get your protection on and your heart in the right place," she posted April 4 to more than 105,000 followers on X. "The world is very obviously changing right now and if you ever needed to pick a side, the time to do right in your life is now. Stay strong you got this."

On April 5, she posted in all caps, "Wake up wake up the apocalypse is here. Everyone who has ears listen. Your time to choose what you believe is now."

Her social media also included a mix of antisemitic screeds, conspiracy theories about vaccines and warnings about the end of the world alongside astrological predictions and positive affirmations. Also on April 5, she posted the word "LOVE" dozens of times. Her personal website offers a variety of services including "zodiac healing work," "alcohol balancing system" and an "aura cleanse."

Johnson's internet presence and online following dates back years. The Fader, a music magazine, interviewed her in 2016 as an astrology personality.

"She was very standoffish," said Norman Linder, a Woodland Hills neighbor. He only saw Johnson and her daughters a few times before in the apartment complex.

Another neighbor, Anita Mazer, told the AP that when she saw the family, "I just said 'hello.' The baby was really cute," she said Wednesday. "It's horrible."

Golan said there were no calls for police to respond to the couple's apartment prior to Monday's killing, when neighbors called 911 after seeing the door open. Johnson did not have a felony criminal record in California and there were no indications of reported domestic violence.

Detectives did not immediately link the Woodland Hills slaying to the daughters, Golan said. He was in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood when he started getting push alerts from news organizations on his cellphone about the infant's death on the roadway in Culver City. Investigators realized there might be a connection between two missing children from the family's apartment and the tragedy on the interstate.

"I was like 'Oh, there's two young girls who were stranded on the 405 Freeway.' That is such a random and terrible thing to hear about. And we knew there were two young children," Golan continued. "We were setting up an Amber Alert."

Golan said detectives discovered candles and cards inside the apartment, but he was not sure whether they were tarot cards.

"They didn't look like your standard deck of cards that you would play poker with," he said.

The solar eclipse's path of totality stretched from Mazatlán, Mexico, to Newfoundland, Canada, a swath approximately 115 miles  wide. Revelers were engulfed in darkness at state parks, on city rooftops and in small towns when the moon blocked out the sun, though Southern California only saw a partial eclipse that peaked at 11:12 a.m.

Across the globe, the celestial event spawned fears of the apocalypse and other suspicions rooted in religion and spirituality. But Golan noted that others who posted online about their eclipse-related worries did not commit violence like Johnson.

"How many people wrote about it," he said, "and didn't go out and murder somebody?"

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<![CDATA['Foolishness': How Baltimore bridge conspiracy theories obscured facts]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:29:51 -0400
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Within hours of a cargo ship striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge, viral conspiracy theories exploded online. They overshadowed updates from authorities like the FBI and officials who were eventually on the scene that morning.  

In the time it took for authorities to confirm that the deadly collapse wasn’t intentional or an act of terrorism, conspiracy theories racked up tens of millions of views. Here’s how it unfolded.  

A timeline of conspiracy theories

In the aftermath of the bridge collapse, disinformation sought to cast blame on the southern U.S. border, elusive foreign enemies, DEI, and the Obamas.  It started after a ship named Dali lost power and crashed into the bridge just before 1:30 a.m.  By 7:30 a.m., authorities had said there was “absolutely no indication” of terrorism or that the bridge was intentionally hit. A statement from the White House around the time and later remarks from President Joe Biden also reiterated there was “no indication of any nefarious intent."  

But none of these statements from on the ground or over at the White House would matter — because also at around 7 a.m., about six hours after the crash, one of first conspiracy theories started to spread, falsely stating the Dali had been cyberattacked by "foreign agents of the USA.” 

Ten minutes later, it was bizarrely suggested on a live TV news program that a “wide-open border” could be linked to the disaster when, notably, all the victims of the collapse were immigrants. An hour after that, at 8:25 a.m., an online influencer falsely claimed DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — or so-called “anti-white business practices” were the root cause, while sharing the DEI page of the ship’s company

When later asked about this theory in a CNN interview, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said, “My response is I have no time for foolishness.” 

Sandy Hook conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones would post on X: “Looks deliberate to me. A cyber-attack is probable. WW3 has already started.” 

Before the first 24 hours were up, another conspiracy theory would draw connections between an apocalyptic Netflix film produced by former President Barack Obama and footage of the bridge collapse. Michael Flynn, who was national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, a state representative and a former Newsmax correspondent would all weigh in broad speculations that went relatively viral. By the time Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott would ask the public to “have a little bit of decency and respect” and stop spreading misinformation, it would be too late.  

When the truth ‘is a lot less interesting’

Conspiracy theories around the bridge collapse. Many of them were on X (formerly known as Twitter), posted by popular accounts with many followers and verified checks, making them easier to engage with or, alarmingly, to believe, experts said. “They have a real legitimacy when they when they come from somebody who has hundreds of thousands of followers or when they come from somebody like an Alex Jones,” Mike Rothschild, conspiracy theory researcher and author of "The Storm Is upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything," told Scripps News.  

“These names have built up a lot of trust in these communities,” Rothschild continued. “These are news sources for the people who look at an event and see hidden conspiracies and wheels turning and plots and things like that. They don't trust the mainstream media; they don't trust mainstream experts. They trust these people who they think are telling them the real truth. And those are often very popular figures.” 

Some of the earliest social media posts spreading disinformation gained upward of 15 million views, compared to a post by FBI Baltimore which received just over 110,000 views. 

The spread of conspiracy theories during a disaster isn’t new, especially on social media. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, disinformation soared in an attempt to explain where the virus originated, how it could be treated, and the number of people who were dying. 

Typically, conspiracy theories try to capitalize on the silence between a not-yet-explained event and the release of facts. According to Rothschild, even when there is an explanation, it may be too simplistic to be considered true or, at the very least, interesting. 

“You're just trying to find an explanation for something that really has an explanation. It's just kind of a boring one,” Rothschild said. “A ship hitting a bridge column by accident because the power went out is a lot less interesting and a lot less compelling, than ‘It's a cyberattack carried out by the deep state in order to distract us from what's happening in Ukraine' or whatever it is.” Beyond sowing distrust and confusion, conspiracy theories and disinformation during a time of tragedy, destroy a sense of unity, experts said. 

“What they're saying is: ‘No, actually, this wasn't just an accident for which we should all help out our fellow man who's suffering right now,’” Imran Ahmed, founder and CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, told Scripps News. 

Instead, disinformation “undermines the solidarity that we need in order to respond effectively to moments of tragedy by putting the blame on something else,” Ahmed said. 

Officials, in rare calls to the public, appeared to reinforce a sense of solidarity by calling out misinformation and underscoring that the bridge collapse was a human tragedy. 

“We are not in the habit as a Department of Transportation, of being in the business of dealing with conspiracies, or conspiracy theories or that kind of wild thinking,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a CNN interview. “But unfortunately, it is a fact of life in America today. What’s really upsetting is when misinformation or disinformation circulates, that is not without victims.” 

"Some of those victims are people targeted by conspiracy theories and disinformation," Ahmed said.  

'Dipping into a toxic well’

When Baltimore resident and community organizer Kim Trueheart woke up early on March 26 to the news that Francis Scott Key Bridge had collapsed, she didn’t want stories or theories. She wanted the facts. 

“My first thought was, ‘Oh, God, were the people on the bridge at the time?'” Trueheart recalled. “And come to find out the only ones who were on the bridge were workers who happened to be immigrants. I thought about their children, their families. And that was heartbreaking.” 

Trueheart, who runs the Liberty Village Project community center 30 minutes from where the Francis Scott Key Bridge stood, said she gets her news from local stations and social media — particularly Instagram “because I think it's less political.” She was upset to see the kind of disinformation later being shared about the victims. 

“Their immigration status seemed to be the big issue,” Trueheart told Scripps News she noticed online. “As opposed to human life, and dignity, and respect for the potential loss of life. There was a lot of commentary around the immigration status, and I just thought that was so wrong.” 

For this reason, Trueheart said she’s slow to share what she sees online.  

“We'll hit that button and we tweet something, and then come to find out that it wasn't true,” Trueheart said. “We've got to be careful with what we repeat, what we share, what we disseminate."

"Every time you take information from social media, you are dipping into a toxic well, which can be full of lies [and] disinformation, deliberately sent by people and conspiracy theories that might drag you down a rabbit hole,” Ahmed said.  

It’s this hole Trueheart said she must dig her way through.  

“The fortunate thing is that if you dig deep enough, there is an unbiased set of facts out there. You've got to dig often,” she said. 

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<![CDATA[From failed police officer to tiny hero: Meet Roger, Taiwan's fave pup]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:24:30 -0400
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Despite flunking his police drug-sniffing duties, this pup still managed to become a hero by sniffing out the last victim trapped after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in Taiwan last week.

Meet Roger, the 8-year-old Labrador retriever who, like any dog, loves a good sniff. As a puppy, he was trained by the Customs Administration's Detector Dog Breeding & Training Center in Taichung to sniff out drugs for customs, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency. But he completely failed that mission due to being too much of a social butterfly, so he was scouted by the Kaohsiung Fire Bureau team to help them instead. 

“He was very agile, his movements were very bold, and he didn’t let anything fence him in,” his handler Lee Hsin Hung told The New York Times.  “He thought he could overcome any difficulties.” 

Earlier this month, Taiwan was rocked by a powerful earthquake, claiming 13 lives and leaving hundreds stranded and mass destruction. That's when four dogs, including Roger, were called to help.

While Roger was trained to find survivors, he caught a whiff of something interesting during the search. He passed it at first, but then doubled back, showing he found something important, his handler told the Times. Unfortunately, it was not a survivor this time, it was the body of the 13th victim of the earthquake, a 21-year-old woman in the rubble. 

Roger has been working since the tender age of 1. His first rescue mission was in 2018  following a 6.0-magnitude earthquake, and since then, he has worked in seven rescue missions, and passed the International Search and Rescue Dog Organization's advanced rubble search certification with flying colors. But his career may soon come to an end, according to CNA, as by law, he must retire at the age of 9. 

But this pup's playful spirit and unwavering determination will always be working in our hearts.

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<![CDATA[Iowa Supreme Court hears arguments on 6-week abortion ban]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:06:06 -0400
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The abortion law up for debate in Iowa bans most abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant. There are exceptions for rape, incest, saving the life of the mother and life-threatening fetal abnormalities. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law last July, and abortion rights advocates immediately filed suit. This week, Iowa lawmakers approved the rules to enforce the ban, to take effect April 24.

The state Supreme Court's hearing Thursday was to determine whether enforcement should be allowed while the larger legal battle over the law continues. Peter Im, the staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said, "It is emphatically this court's role and duty to say ... how the Iowa constitution protects individual rights, how it protects bodily autonomy and how it protects Iowans' rights to exercise dominion over their own bodies." 

Iowa's Solicitor General Eric Wessen argued, "They're seeking a carve out to treat abortion rights differently than other rights."

For now, abortion is legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks.

Iowa's abortion battle comes as shouting erupted in Arizona's state house Wednesday after Republican leaders shut down discussion on repealing that state's 1864 law criminalizing abortion. Arizona's Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for that law to be enforced. 

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs said the state's voters will be able to vote on a ballot measure this November that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.

SEE MORE: Tensions rise as Arizona lawmakers debate abortion ban

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<![CDATA[US measles cases are up in 2024. What's driving the increase?]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 20:05:04 -0400
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Measles outbreaks in the U.S. and abroad are raising health experts' concern about the preventable, once-common childhood virus.

One of the world's most contagious diseases, measles can lead to potentially serious complications. The best defense, according to experts? Get vaccinated.

Here's what to know about the year — so far — in measles.

How many measles cases has the U.S. seen this year?

Nationwide, measles cases already are nearly double the total for all of last year.

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention documented 113 cases as of April 5. There have been seven outbreaks and most of the U.S. cases — 73% — are linked to those flare-ups.

Still, the count is lower than some recent years: 2014 saw 667 cases and 2019 had 1,274.

Why is this a big deal?

The 2019 measles epidemic was the worst in almost three decades, and threatened the United States' status as a country that has eliminated measles by stopping the continual spread of the measles virus.

The CDC on Thursday released a report on recent measles case trends, noting that cases in the first three months of this year were 17 times higher than the average number seen in the first three months of the previous three years.

While health officials seem to be doing a good job detecting and responding to outbreaks, “the rapid increase in the number of reported measles cases during the first quarter of 2024 represents a renewed threat to elimination,” the report’s authors said.

Where is measles coming from?

The disease is still common in many parts of the world, and measles reaches the U.S. through unvaccinated travelers.

According to Thursday’s report, most of the recent importations involved unvaccinated Americans who got infected in the Middle East and Africa and brought measles back to the U.S.

Where were this year's U.S. measles outbreaks?

Health officials confirmed measles cases in 17 states so far this year, including cases in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

More than half of this year's cases come from the Chicago outbreak, where 61 people have contracted the virus as of Thursday, largely among people who lived in a migrant shelter.

How does measles spread?

Measles is highly contagious. It spreads when people who have it breathe, cough or sneeze and through contaminated surfaces. It also can linger in the air for two hours.

Up to 9 out of 10 people who are susceptible will get the virus if exposed, according to the CDC.

Measles used to be common among kids. How bad was it?

Before a vaccine became available in 1963, there were some 3 million to 4 million cases per year, which meant nearly all American kids had it sometime during childhood, according to the CDC. Most recovered.

But measles can be much more than an uncomfortable rash, said Susan Hassig, an infectious disease researcher at Tulane University.

“I think that people need to remember that this is a preventable disease," Hassig said. “It is a potentially dangerous disease for their children.”

In the decade before the vaccine was available, 48,000 people were hospitalized per year. About 1,000 people developed dangerous brain inflammation from measles each year, and 400 to 500 died, according to the CDC.

Is the measles vaccine safe? Where do vaccination rates stand?

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and effective. It is a routine and recommended childhood vaccine that is split into two doses.

Research shows it takes a very high vaccination rate to prevent measles from spreading: 95% of the population should have immunity against the virus.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, national vaccination rates for kindergartners fell to 93% and remain there. Many pockets of the country have far lower rates than that. The drop is driven in part by record numbers of kids getting waivers.

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<![CDATA[Japanese PM Fumio Kishida urges unity in address to US Congress]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 19:42:15 -0400
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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol on Thursday, urging them to consider the importance of global commitments at a time of tension in the Asia-Pacific and deep skepticism in Congress about U.S. involvement abroad.

Kishida is in Washington this week visiting President Joe Biden as the White House completes hosting each leader of the Quad — an informal partnership between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India that is seen as important to countering China's growing military strength in the region. Kishida highlighted the value of the U.S. commitment to global security and offered reassurances that Japan is a strong partner.

On Capitol Hill, his audience included many Republicans who have pushed for the U.S. to take a less active role in global affairs as they follow the “America First" ethos of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The Republican-controlled House has sat for months on a $95 billion package that would send wartime funding to Ukraine and Israel, as well as aid to allies in the Indo-Pacific like Taiwan and humanitarian help to civilians in Gaza and Ukraine.

“As we meet here today, I detect an undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what your role in the world should be,” Kishida told Congress.

He sought to remind lawmakers of the leading role the U.S. has played globally since World War II. After dropping two nuclear weapons on Japan to end the war, the U.S. helped rebuild Japan, and the nations transformed from bitter enemies to close allies.

“When necessary, it made noble sacrifices to fulfill its commitment to a better world,” Kishida said of the U.S.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week that he hoped Kishida's visit would underscore “that we’re in a worldwide situation here against the enemies of democracy — led by China, Russia and Iran.”

Japan has taken a strong role in supporting Ukraine's defense against Moscow as well as helping humanitarian aid get to Gaza. It is also seen as a key U.S. partner in a fraught region where China is asserting its strength and North Korea is developing a nuclear program.

“Japan is a close ally — critical to both our national and economic security,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement. "This visit will continue to deepen the diplomatic and security relationship between our two countries and build on the strength of decades of cooperation.”

Kishida offered reassurances that Japan is also committed to global security and human rights. He said that since recovering from the “devastation of World War II,” Japan has transformed from a reticent ally to a strong partner “standing shoulder-to-shoulder” with the U.S.

The prime minister called China’s stance “unprecedented” and “the greatest strategic challenge, not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large.”

Kishida was also attending a U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit on Thursday in another effort to bolster regional cooperation in the face of China’s aggression. The United Kingdom also announced Thursday that it would hold joint military exercises with Japan and the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific next year.

Beijing has pushed back strongly on those actions during Kishida's visit.

Mao Ning, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said, “Despite China’s serious concerns, the U.S. and Japan attacked and smeared China on the Taiwan question and maritime issues, grossly interfered in China’s domestic affairs and violated the basic norms in international relations.”

Meanwhile, Kishida cast the future of the conflict in Ukraine as having far-reaching consequences. He emphasized that Japan has committed to providing Kyiv with $12 billion in wartime aid, including anti-drone detection systems.

“Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow,” Kishida told lawmakers, and later added: “Japan will continue to stand with Ukraine.”

SEE MORE: Japan is giving Washington 250 new cherry trees

The statements drew standing ovations from much of the chamber but a group of hardline conservatives remained seated. Other lawmakers skipped the speech and Capitol staff filled empty chairs with congressional aides.

Those moments encapsulated the pressure that House Speaker Mike Johnson is facing as he searches for a way forward for the foreign security package. It will be a difficult task to navigate the deep divides among Republicans. Making matters worse for the Republican speaker, he is already facing the threat of being ousted from the speaker's office.

Kishida, who was elected in 2021, arrived in Washington while facing political problems of his own in Japan. Polls show his support has plunged as he deals with a political funds corruption scandal within his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The nation's economy has also slipped to the world's fourth-largest last year, falling behind Germany.

This is the first time a Japanese prime minister addresses Congress since Shinzo Abe traveled to Capitol Hill in 2015. Kishida is the sixth foreign leader to address Congress during Biden's presidency.

He relished the moment and highlighted his ties to the U.S. He told lawmakers how he spent his first three years of elementary school in New York City while his father worked there as a trade official. Lawmakers applauded and laughed as he recalled American pastimes like attending baseball games and watching the Flintstones.

“I still miss that show,” Kishida told them. “Although I could never translate, ‘Yabba dabba doo.’”

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<![CDATA[Library says it may have distributed counterfeit solar eclipse glasses]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 19:31:36 -0400
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A New Jersey library may have given out counterfeit solar eclipse glasses ahead of Monday's celestial event.

Moorestown Library shared the warning in a Facebook post that day just before noon E.T., which was about three hours before totality began over the neighboring state of New York.

In the post, the library said it had purchased the glasses from Walmart's website, and "though they are labeled as having been manufactured by Medical King, they may be counterfeit."

"We advise against using these and apologize profusely for the error," the post continued.

Viewing the solar eclipse without proper glasses could put a person at risk for solar retinopathy. This untreatable consequence of looking at the sun occurs when the retina is burned, creating a hole in your vision. 

The library urged anyone who used a form of solar eclipse glasses to test them using instructions from CNET, which lists steps like ensuring the ISO standard is a correct level and checking for the product's inclusion on the American Astronomical Society's list of reputable vendors.

The AAS's list on its website does include Walmart as an authorized retailer, but it states that "some (not all)" sell ISO-compliant eclipse glasses in stores though "not necessarily on their websites," as some chains use different suppliers for different selling channels.

SEE MORE: 30% unaware solar eclipses can cause eye damage, survey finds

In this case, Moorestown Library said in a comment that it suspects the glasses it distributed came from a "counterfeit manufacturer" and told one person who said they tested the glasses to an "okay" result that they "cannot be certain of their effectiveness."

The "counterfeit manufacturer" would be Medical King, which the AAS also lists as an authorized importer and dealer of solar eclipse glasses. It gives a link to Medical King's website that also states its product adheres to the AAS's safety protocols.

The glasses have a 3-of-5-star rating on the manufacturer's website, with many saying they were too dark to see the eclipse. Another said the glasses worked fine, but when compared to others the customer had to see the eclipse, the product "hurt eyes a little bit whereas the other ones did not affect vision afterward at all. Not sure what this means for if they're actually good or not."

In the end, whenever that next total solar eclipse comes to the U.S. (you've got 20 years, according to NASA), it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to test your glasses before staring into the sun.

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<![CDATA[Real estate tycoon sentenced to death in Vietnam's largest fraud case]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 19:20:24 -0400
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A Vietnamese real estate tycoon was sentenced to death Thursday in the country's biggest ever financial fraud case, a shocking development in an intensifying anti-corruption drive in the Southeast Asian nation.

Truong My Lan, a high-profile businesswoman who chaired a sprawling company that developed luxury apartments, hotels, offices and shopping malls, was arrested in 2022. The 67-year-old was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Death sentences are not uncommon in Vietnam, but it is a rare sentence in financial crime cases and for someone this well known.

SEE MORE: Shohei Ohtani's interpreter charged with bank fraud in betting case

Lan was born in 1956 and started out helping sell cosmetics with her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, in Ho Chi Minh city's oldest market, according to state media outlet Tien Phong.

She and her family established the Van Thinh Phat company in 1992, when Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented one that was open to foreigners. Over the years VTP grew to become one of Vietnam's richest real estate firms.

Today the company is linked to some of Ho Chi Minh's most valuable downtown properties including the glittering 39-story Times Square Saigon, the five-star Windsor Plaza Hotel, the 37-story Capital Place office building and the five-star Sherwood Residence hotel where Lan lived until her arrest.

Lan met her husband, Hong Kong investor Eric Chu Nap-kee, in 1992. They have two daughters.

Lan was involved in the 2011 merger of the beleaguered Saigon Joint Commercial Bank, or SCB, with two other lenders in a plan coordinated by Vietnam’s central bank.

She is accused of using the bank as her cash cow, illegally controlling it between 2012 to 2022, and using thousands of "ghost companies" in Vietnam and abroad to give loans to herself and her allies, according to government documents.

The loans resulted in losses of $27 billion, state media VN Express reported Thursday.

She was accused of paying bribes to government officials — including a former central official who has been sentenced to life in prison for taking $5.2 million in bribes — and violating banking regulations, government documents said.

The court sentenced her to death, saying her actions "not only violate the property management rights of individuals but also pushed SCB into a state of special control, eroding people's trust in the leadership of the [Communist] party and state."

Lan's arrest in October 2022 is among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has ramped up since 2022.

Weeks after her trial started in early March, former President Vo Van Thuong resigned after being implicated in the so-called "Blazing Furnace" campaign that has been the hallmark of Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the country's most powerful politician.

While Lan's arrest and the scale of the scam shocked the nation, the case also raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam's economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery.

This is happening as Vietnam tries to argue its case for being the ideal home for businesses trying to move away from neighboring China.

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<![CDATA[More than 500,000 stroke deaths are linked to extreme temperatures]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 18:47:37 -0400
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As we continue to witness the earth's temperature constantly fluctuating, a new study reveals that climate change is playing a significant role in the increase in stroke-related deaths annually. 

According to a study published in the medical journal Neurology, in 2019, the number of strokes caused by extreme weather conditions, like chilling cold fronts and scorching heat waves, led to a staggering 521,031 deaths — a figure that has surged significantly since 1990.

"Dramatic temperature changes in recent years have affected human health and caused widespread concern," study author Dr. Quan Cheng said in a press release."Our study found that these changing temperatures may increase the burden of stroke worldwide, especially in older populations and areas with more health care disparities."

Researchers say they gathered data from 204 countries and territories and found that 474,002 stroke deaths were attributed to low temperatures, whereas high temperatures were associated with 48,030 stroke deaths across the world.

Furthermore, they found that men had a tougher time with temperature changes than women. For men, they showed a stroke death rate of 7.7 per 100,000, while women had a rate of 5.9 per 100,000. 

So why is this happening?

In the study, scientists say that cold temperatures make your body's sympathetic nervous system kick in, which constricts your blood vessels and increases high blood pressure, leading to strokes. Meanwhile, the hotter temperatures cause dehydration and thicken the blood, which can also lead to strokes. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 795,000 people have strokes each year in the U.S., and about 87% of all these strokes are caused by blocked blood flow to the brain.

SEE MORE: Experts warn climate change is making your allergies worse

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<![CDATA[Small business applications have surpassed 17M, White House says]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 18:36:14 -0400
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The White House said U.S. small business applications have surpassed 17 million new filings since President Joe Biden took office.

In a statement on Thursday, U.S. Small Business Administration head Isabel Casillas Guzman called it a "historic small business boom."

The federal government said earlier this year that average monthly new businesses applications were 440,000 for the first three years of the Biden administration.

In March, Vice President Kamala Harris said the administration had set a goal of increasing federal contracts for minority-owned businesses by 50%. The vice president made the remarks at an event in North Carolina focused on growing small businesses. 

SEE MORE: Harris promises 50% increase goal in contracts for minority businesses

The administration made the announcement while touting what it calls record job creation and "cooling inflation."

On Thursday a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that U.S. producer prices increased for the 12-month period ending in March by their largest year-over-year hike since April of last year. 

According to U.S. government data, in the last year, "Americans across the country and in a wide range of industries filed a record 5 1/2 million new business applications, bringing the total number under this administration to a record-breaking 16 million."

Census Bureau data shows that Black-owned businesses increased by around 13% between 2017 to 2020. Between 2017 and 2021, their revenues jumped by 43%, Scripps News reported

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<![CDATA[No link between sudden cardiac deaths and COVID vaccine, CDC says]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 18:13:23 -0400
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New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID vaccines don't have any link to heart problems that can kill younger people.

The top line, the CDC says, is that "the data do not support an association of COVID-19 vaccination with sudden cardiac death among previously healthy young persons."

The CDC investigated data on COVID vaccinations and heart-related deaths after reports of myocarditis affecting young men following vaccination for COVID-19.

The agency collected death records and vaccine status from 1,292 cases of death in Oregon in which people between 16 and 30 years old had died from "cardiac or undetermined" causes between June 2021 and December 2022.

COVID was shown to have killed 30 of the people.

A total of 101 people who died had experienced cardiac events that "could not be excluded" as the cause of death. The CDC found three of these people had received a COVID-19 shot within 100 days of death.

Among 40 people who had died and also received COVID vaccinations, three of them got their shots within 100 days of death. Two of those people were reported to have died from chronic underlying conditions, and one had an undetermined cause of death.

COVID-19 vaccination was not listed as a cause of death in any of the cases.

The CDC also noted that for those 5 years or older, "the risk for cardiac complications was significantly higher after COVID-19 infection than after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination."

SEE MORE: Man vaccinated 217 times against COVID shows no side effects

In early 2023, Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field after being tackled.

Study co-author Dr. Paul Cieslak told NBC News there had been unfounded discussion that Hamlin's collapse was related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Cieslak said the new analysis was meant to address such conspiracy theories.

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<![CDATA[Goldman family, Caitlyn Jenner, more react to O.J. Simpson's death]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 18:04:24 -0400
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Lovable football star, occasional actor, father of five, unsettling murder suspect — reflecting on the public and private-turned-public life of O.J. Simpson paints a complicated picture.

Simpson succumbed to prostate cancer at the age of 76 on Thursday, a post on his X account said. And while typically a celebrity death draws heartfelt tributes in droves — which in this case would focus on the first three attributes listed above — many for Simpson chose to focus on the last. 

While the football community and others in the entertainment space remained largely quiet, the overshadowing headlines and social media reactions to Simpson's death were filled with callbacks to what's now called the "trial of the century," in which Simpson was ultimately acquitted of fatally stabbing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. 

The jury's 1995 decision after the lengthy publicized trial was and still is considered controversial, particularly after Simpson was found liable for the deaths three years later in a civil suit from the victims' families, after which Simpson paid little of the $33.5 million judgment.

SEE MORE: O.J. Simpson dead from cancer at age 76, family says

The Goldman family's attorney, who has been pursuing the judgment for more than a decade, said in a statement to The Associated Press, "He died without penance. We don't know what he has, where it is or who is in control. We will pick up where we are and keep going with it."

But Goldman's father, Fred, told NBC News that Simpson's death is "just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years. It's no great loss to the world."

In a comment to TMZ, Brown Simpson's family attorney, Gloria Allred, appeared to call back to spousal abuse charges Simpson faced while the two were married, to which he pleaded no contest in 1989.

"Simpson's death reminds us that the legal system even 30 years later is still failing battered women and that the power of celebrity men to avoid true justice for the harm that they inflict on their wives or significant others is still a major obstacle to the right of women to be free of the gender violence to which they are still subjected," the comment read. 

Allred added that she sends her condolences to Simpson's children and "the very brave family of Nicole Brown Simpson. The truth about OJ Simpson can never be erased and should never be forgotten. OJ Simpson is dead. May his victims finally rest in peace."

In a short statement to multiple outlets, Marcia Clark, who served as the lead prosecutor during the murder trial, said "I send my condolence to Mr. Simpson's family."

A similar message came from Kato Kaelin, a witness who testified during the trial. He expressed his condolences to the football player's kids and his "love and compassion" to the Goldmans, who he hoped would find closure in a post on social media. To Brown Simpson's family, he requested "we always cherish her memories."

"Nicole was a beacon of light that burned bright, May we never forget her."

As for those in the sports and entertainment world who did comment on Simpson's death, the focus appeared to continue to be on his family and his achievements — if they weren't also commenting on the murder trial. 

Jim Porter, Pro Football Hall of Fame President, spoke of Simpson's "on-field contributions" in a statement to AP, while The Heisman Trophy posted on X saying it "mourns the passing" of its 1968 winner.

Joe Delamielleure, Simpson's Buffalo Bills teammate, said in a statement to AP that he'll still remember him as "an icon in the nation."

"He wasn't Muhammad Ali or anything, but he was doing things for athletes and not just Black athletes, but he kicked us into a really big thing. That's what I think of him. He was a groundbreaker," the statement read. 

Caitlyn Jenner, who was married to Kris Jenner at the time of the trial, said "Good Riddance" to Simpson in a post on X. Kris Jenner and her late ex-husband, Robert Kardashian, were known to be good friends of Nicole and O.J. But during the trial years later, Kris Jenner defended Brown Simpson and her family, while Kardashian was famously part of the legal "Dream Team" that defended Simpson. 

Alan Dershowitz, who served as an adviser on the Dream Team, told NBC News Thursday he was upset to hear of his client's death, though he was aware of Simpson's illness.

"I got to know him fairly well during the trial," Dershowitz told the outlet. "It was one of the most divisive trials in American history along racial lines. He'll always be remembered for the Bronco chase, for the glove and for the moment of acquittal."

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<![CDATA[How AI could help with the shortage of mental health professionals]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 16:37:25 -0400
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Can AI help with the shortage of therapists the country is experiencing?

The short answer: There’s potential.

“I think the need to aid in therapy is definitely there, but those just, the risks at the same time are great,” said H. Andrew Schwartz, an associate professor at Stony Brook University. He is also the director of the Human Language Analysis Lab.

Schwartz was also an author on research released this year that looks at how large language models could change the future of behavioral health care.

He said there are pros and cons to using AI in the therapy space.

@scrippsnews How would you feel if your therapist was an #ArtificialIntelligence chatbot? With the rise in AI technology, companies are looking at how the tech can be used to help in the mental health space. Experts say there are pros and cons. #MentalHealth ♬ original sound - Scripps News

While its best use may not be to replace the act of therapy between a client and clinician, there are other aspects of the job it can help with, "such as summarizing therapy sessions,” Schwartz said.

Another use could be in the assessment process.

“There's also less risk because it's not an interactive task, there’s less risk of giving someone bad, risky instructions,” he said.

Around 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

One study found that the psychiatrist workforce would see a shortage of 14,280 to 31,091 psychiatrists by 2024.

Health companies have begun to experiment with using AI to help with the shortage of mental health care providers, but it hasn’t always gone well.

Last year, the National Eating Disorders Association took down their AI-powered chatbot after it “may have given information that was harmful," the organization wrote in an Instagram post.

“I think they have enormous potential for helping therapists and helping more people get treatment, especially personalized treatment for their unique situation. On the other hand, to get there, to get it to have the most help the fastest, I think we’re many years away from doing that in a way that's risk-free,” Schwartz said.

SEE MORE: FDA clears AI stethoscope technology that can detect heart failure

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<![CDATA[The history of the famous Masters green jacket]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 16:15:28 -0400
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Elite-level sports really nailed their symbols of triumph: The Stanley Cup. The Heisman Trophy. The enormous pewter plate at women’s Wimbledon.

Each one is instantly recognizable for what it is — a token that marks the highest achievements in sport. But you can’t exactly tote them around town, now, can you?

The Masters golf tournament, held every spring at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, boasts a wearable trophy — the famous green jacket awarded to the winner. It’s an iconic trophy and a fashion statement. But if you think winners can just tool around town, bragging about their wins forever, it’s not quite that simple. With this year’s tourney going on right now, read on for a little more on the history — and the strict protocol — behind that beautiful blazer.

Augusta National was founded in 1932 by financier Clifford Roberts and golf hero Bobby Jones. Later that decade, the club began presenting members with the exclusive green jacket.

According to Augusta National’s Masters 101, each jacket is made to the same specifications: Three buttons, a notched lapel, a single vent, made of tropical-weight wool in its own Pantone shade, Masters Green. The Masters logo appears on the left breast pocket and each button. Though a few tailoring changes have come and gone — lapels growing and shrinking, for example — it’s stayed basically the same since the 1930s. All of the jacket components are made in the United States.

In 1949, golf legend Sam Snead was the first Masters winner to be awarded a green jacket. Every year since, the Masters winner gets a stand-in jacket in a ceremony after the match. Later, the winner receives a custom-made green jacket as their prize.

SEE MORE: Masters underway after delayed start due to storms

The list of Masters winners is a list of all-time greats including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and loads of other luminaries. But since the Masters is a men’s-only tournament, no women champions have donned the jacket. (Augusta National only began admitting women to the club in 2012, making green jackets in women’s sizes quite rare.)

In fact, becoming a member at Augusta National is a mysterious process. There is no application form. No one’s totally sure how much it costs, though some estimate the initiation fee to be about $40,000 plus monthly dues and other charges.

Nonmembers may only visit the club with an invitation from a member, who must accompany them at all times. The only way to become a member is to be invited by a current member, undergo a rigorous vetting process and pony up the cash — or win the Masters tournament.

But even Masters champions must abide by the rules of the jacket. The big one: You may not wear your green jacket outside of the club. Ever. It stays at Augusta National in your personal locker.

The one exception? The current Masters champion may wear their coat in public, but only for the year after they win. After that, the regular rules apply — sort of. Masters winners, when they’ve been deposed by the next champ, must store their jacket at the club in a special Champions Locker Room until their next visit to the tournament.

Probably for the best as Masters Green doesn’t look as good with globs of mustard dried on a lapel.

We’re being silly, but it’s true — all that pomp and exclusivity is what makes the Masters so special. Whoever wears the jacket next will go down in history as one of golf’s greatest. And that person will be crowned this weekend — this year’s Masters tournament started April 8 with three days of pre-tournament play, and begins in earnest April 11 with Round 1, concluding on April 14 with Round 4. You can watch live coverage on ESPN from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST, catch the replays on ESPN from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST and watch highlights from the tournament on CBS from 11:35 p.m. to 11:50 p.m. EST. Or, you can listen to the action on the radio via SiriusXM from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Wherever you watch, keep an eye out for this year’s winner — they’ll be wearing green!

This story was originally published by Kathleen St. John at Simplemost.

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<![CDATA[Fight for more parental leave for teachers intensifies]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 16:11:32 -0400
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The fight over paid parental leave is not new in the United States, but it is not expected to get addressed nationally until after the election at the earliest. That means the debate is happening more at the state level, especially when it comes to teachers.

Let's start with the data.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality and their 2022 survey of the country's 148 largest school districts, only about 18% offered some form of parental leave.

For many teachers, that means planning to have a child means figuring out when summer break is or accruing enough sick time to take a significant amount of time off.

Shannon Holston is the chief of policy and programs at the National Council on Teacher Quality and says the lack of a comprehensive paid family policy is an issue nationally, but it's especially an issue in the teaching profession, where recruiting teachers and keeping them is a challenge.

"Teachers now largely rely on unpaid leave," Holston said. "Paid parental leave helps districts keep great teachers in the classroom."

California is currently at the center of the debate, where educators are excluded from any fully paid parental leave. California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation to change that in 2019, citing cost issues. Money is largely the main reason legislation for teachers' parental leave hasn't passed in more states.

Holston says if organizers can convince California to pass this legislation, it could inspire more states and school districts to do the same. 

A bill advanced in the California State Capitol last month, but it is still far from law.

"The International Labor Organization actually recommends 18 weeks of parental leave. We are far from that for teachers," Holston added. 

The movement is gaining steam in other parts of the country, however. Chicago began offering paid parental leave to teachers this year. 

As a sign of how this isn't your typical Democrat versus Republican issue, Tennessee, South Carolina and other conservative states like Arkansas have passed some form of paid leave for teachers in recent years. 

Holston expects the issue to become an even bigger one when local teachers unions negotiate new contracts. That's happening in Cleveland, Ohio presently. 

SEE MORE: Should teachers be armed? The Tennessee Senate says yes

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<![CDATA[85-year-old woman cleared after killing home intruder]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 15:43:05 -0400
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Authorities in Idaho say the killing of a suspected home invader by an 85-year-old woman, who says she was woken up by the intruder, has been deemed justifiable homicide by a state prosecuting attorney. 

The office for Idaho Prosecutor Ryan Jolley said in a statement that video, photographs, information collected from search warrants and witness statements led his office to determine that Christine Jenneiahn was justified and acted within the law when she shot and killed 39-year-old Derek Condon. 

Jenneiahn told police Condon made entry into her home in eastern Idaho's Bingham County as she slept. She said he woke her up shining a flashlight and pointing a gun at her while wearing a "military jacket" at around 2 a.m. on the morning of March 13, the state's prosecuting office said. 

Authorities said the only other person in Jenneiahn's home lawfully at that time was her disabled son David. 

SEE MORE: Paramedics using ketamine on patients | Scripps News Investigates

Jolley's office said Condon placed Jenneiahn in handcuffs and led her into the living room, where he handcuffed her to a wooden chair. Detectives noticed what appeared to be blood on her pillow and the floor in her room, and Jenneiahn said Condon had struck her in the head while she was awake, but couldn't immediately recall exactly when, authorities said in a report. 

When Condon asked Jenneiahn where in the home she kept her valuables, she said she didn't have much, and he held a gun to her head, she told police. She eventually told him she had two safes in a lower part of the home. 

According to prosecutors, Condon began rummaging through Jenneiahn's home while she was in handcuffs and discovered that her son David was in the home. At some point while Condon was looking for valuables, Jenneiahn was able to drag herself and the chair she was handcuffed to into her room to retrieve her revolver from under her pillow, authorities said. 

She then went back into the living room and hid the firearm between an armrest and a cushion and waited for Condon, prosecutors said. She told detectives that during all of this time Condon threatened to kill her multiple times. When Condon reentered the room with Jenneiahn, that is when she says she fired multiple shots striking him at least twice with gunfire as Condon returned fire.

Jenneiahn was struck multiple times in various areas of her body by Condon's return gunfire, prosecutors said. 

Police said Jenneiahn remained on the floor wounded and in handcuffs for around 10 hours before she was able to call 911 when her son came upstairs and gave her a phone. Police said they later discovered a broken window at the back of Jenneiahn's home with tools at the scene that indicated how Condon likely made entry into the residence. 

Investigators found a lock-picking set, a car key, a handcuff key and a bag with items stolen from the home on Condon. 

Authorities praised Jenneiahn for her "heroism, fortitude" and "will to live." They plan to honor her in the future.

"We wish her well in her recovery and look forward to finding a way to honor her at a later date," the Bingham County Sheriff's Office wrote in a Facebook post.

Scripps News has reached out to the sheriff's office for more information on the extent of her injuries and is waiting to hear back.

Bingham County includes the town of Blackfoot, where Condon is from. The town of 37,000 has a radius of just 15 miles. The area had just four robberies in 2021 and 2022, and 39 instances of stolen property in those same years, according to state records. From that same time period, there is just one homicide on record.

Idaho's legal code states that "no person" in the state "shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting" themselves, prosecutors noted in their report. 

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<![CDATA[Stamps are about to get more expensive again]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:52:32 -0400
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Stamps are about to get a bit more expensive this summer — before getting another price increase in January 2025. The U.S. Postal Service announced its new prices for first-class mail Forever stamps this week, which will go up by a nickel in July.

Stamps will jump from their current price of 68 cents to 73 cents on July 14, according to the USPS. This is a 7.8% increase in price, and is the same total increase stamps saw in the year from January 2023 to January 2024, when they increased from 63 cents to 68 cents.

Here’s the full breakdown of price changes for USPS services that are expected to go into effect in July:

Not every USPS service will see a price increase this summer, however. The organization says post office box rental fees will stay the same, and there will be a 10% decrease in the cost for postal insurance when mailing an item.

The latest price increase for stamps sticks to the schedule USPS announced in September 2021, which is for cost adjustments to be made twice every year — once in January and once in July.

The financial state of the USPS has long been an issue in need of addressing, with the Government Accountability Office having the organization on its High Risk List since 2002. The 2022 Postal Service Reform Act was passed to help strengthen the financial future of the USPS, and price increases like these are a direct result of those efforts.

The USPS says its postage prices are still “among the most affordable in the world” and this claim holds water when compared to Europe. The average price of first-class stamps across Europe is the equivalent of $2.09, while the price of stamps in the United Kingdom is the equivalent of $1.70.

If you want to get stamps for 68 cents, stock up on them before the increase happens on July 14.

This story was originally published by Clint Davis at dontwasteyourmoney.com.

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<![CDATA[Researchers testing vibrating technology to help stroke patients]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:29:32 -0400
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Nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A common challenge for stroke patients in recovery is spasticity, or severe muscle stiffness. Spasticity affects roughly a quarter of all stroke patients.

In the days following a stroke, a patient's muscles, especially in the arms and legs, are often weak and limp. Then a few weeks later, this involuntary stiffness sets in. It peaks at about three months after, and patients can get stuck in positions that hurt badly and lead to disability.

Researchers are testing vibrating technology to help patients get unstuck.

Ho Wei Tsang suffered a stroke in October of 2000 while in China. It left much of his left side paralyzed.

“They have a very good therapist and they teach me how to walk again. It’s very frustrating. But luckily I still have my right side,” he said.

He still deals with spasticity. The severe muscle spasms keep his arm stiff, his wrist chronically curved and his hand firmly in a fist.

Scripps News spoke with Stanford neurologist Dr. Maarten Lansberg, who both cares for stroke patients and conducts stroke research at Stanford and for the National Institutes of Health.

“You or I could open our hand if we want to. They can’t — even if they use their other hand,” said Landsberg. “We don’t know exactly what’s causing spasticity. To some extent the brain may not be even that involved. It may be a reflex that sort of goes through your spinal cord and causes this cramping up, and the spasticity of the hand and the leg. It’s a totally involuntary process.”

Lansberg and researchers at Stanford’s mechanical engineering CHARM Lab run by Professor Allison Okamura just published research on a medical glove to counteract spasticity.

“While we call it a glove, it’s not exactly a glove. And that’s on purpose, because a regular glove would be almost impossible for someone with spasticity in a hand to put on,” said Okamura.

It uses strategically placed motors to emit vibrations, similar to the buzz when your cellphone rings. The vibrations feel more intense than a tickle, lighter than a massage gun and come in different patterns. The technical term is vibrotactile stimulation.

“We always use the same amount, the same intensity of the vibration. But absolutely, you can kick it up and kick it down. You can also change the patterns of vibration, and maybe how intense it is on the palm versus another part of the hand,” said Okamura.

Right now, the standard of care for patients can include physical therapy, muscle relaxers, and Botox injections. They’re temporary, require routine clinical visits, and can get expensive.

In a clinical trial, stroke patients with spasticity used the vibrating glove. Researchers compared its effectiveness to Botox. Patients used the device three hours each day over 8 weeks before or after they had their standard Botox. The lab tested stiffness once a week.

“And we found that our device was as good as or better than Botox in the trial,” said Okamura. “I’m most excited about is how much it seems to have already impacted the lives of the participants that were in our clinical trials. Sometimes they don’t want to give us the glove back after they use it.”

One of those trial participants was Ho Wei Tsang.

“It’s like magic!. When I wear that and turn it on, I don’t know why but my muscle is soft completely,” said Wei Tsang.

So when can you get the product? Okamura says, “It’s far off to have a product that someone can just buy and or have their insurance pay for, but, we are hoping to run new clinical trials in the future where patients could potentially sign up to have access to one of the gloves.”

The hope is something could be available to patients in the next two to three years.

SEE MORE: Study: Many cancer drugs remain unproven after accelerated approval

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<![CDATA[Shohei Ohtani's interpreter charged with bank fraud in betting case]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:26:27 -0400
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The former longtime interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani is being charged with federal bank fraud for crimes involving gambling debts and theft of millions of dollars from the Japanese sensation, federal authorities said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada announced the charges Thursday.

Ippei Mizuhara served as Ohtani's interpreter after Ohtani came to the U.S. to play baseball. Estrada says Mizhuara "acted as Mr. Ohtani's de facto manager."

Estrada says Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up a bank account for Ohtani's baseball salary. Estrada says Mizuhara stole more than $16 million from Ohtani's bank accounts to pay for his own sports betting and lied to the bank to access the account.

"Due to the position of trust he occupied with Mr. Ohtanti" he was able to "use and abuse" that trust "in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani's bank account," Estrada said, also confirming that when Ippei would win on sports bets, he did not deposit the money into Ohtani's account.

"Mr. Mizuhara did all this to feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting," Estrada said, adding the complaint alleges he committed fraud "on a massive scale."

SEE MORE: Ohtani 'beyond shocked' at allegations of gambling by his interpreter

Estrada says there is no evidence that Ohtani was aware of his interpreter's actions, adding that Ohtani has cooperated fully and completely with investigators.

"I want to emphasize this point: Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case," he said.

Mizuhara is expected to appear in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles for his initial appearance in the near future, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office press release.

An email seeking comment on the allegations against Mizuhara was sent to his attorney, Michael G. Freedman.

The maximum penalty for the bank fraud charge Mizuhara faces is 30 years in prison.

Mizuhara was abruptly fired by the team after the scandal surfaced last month, catalyzed by an IRS Criminal Investigation of an alleged illegal bookmaker. Major League Baseball opened a separate investigation.

Ohtani subsequently laid out a version of events that placed responsibility entirely on Mizuhara, who had given conflicting accounts of whether Ohtani had paid off Mizuhara's gambling debts.

Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels in December to sign a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers. Ohtani and Mizuhara had been daily companions since Ohtani joined the Angels in 2018.

Mizuhara told ESPN on March 19 that Ohtani paid his gambling debts at the interpreter's request, saying the bets were on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. But ESPN said Mizuhara changed his story the next day, saying Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

SEE MORE: Is baseball star Shohei Ohtani a victim of theft, or is he in trouble?

On March 25, Ohtani told a Dodger Stadium press conference that he never bet on sports or knowingly paid any gambling debts accumulated by his interpreter.

"I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this," the Japanese star said through a new interpreter.

"Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies," Ohtani said. "I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker."

Ohtani said he first became aware of Mizuhara's gambling problem during a team meeting after a season-opening victory over the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

The investigation moved at a quick speed, with the charges coming about three weeks after news of the scandal broke.

"We understood there was a significant amount of public interest in this case," Estrada said. "While we were able to work on this case rapidly, it was a very thorough investigation."

There has been no information about the status of baseball's separate investigation. MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering — even legally — on baseball. They also ban betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Ohtani earned around $40 million in salary from the Los Angeles Angels before becoming a free agent and getting his $700 million deal, although it's also expected he earns tens of millions at least in endorsements each year, too.

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<![CDATA[Baker may have lost diamond in batch of cookies sold to customers]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:11:55 -0400
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A baker in Kansas was at a loss when she realized the diamond from her wedding ring was missing after working on batches of cookie dough.

Dawn Monroe, owner of Sis' Sweets Cookies and Café, told local news stations that the missing center diamond was picked out by her husband nearly 40 years ago.

“I was crying, and all he could say was, ‘You still have me,’ so that made it all better,” Monroe told KMBC. 

Monroe issued a call to customers to check for her diamond in their baked goods.

“My heart is beyond broken. It’s been on my hand for 36 years,” she wrote in a post from her bakery’s Facebook page. “If you happened [to] find it, I would forever be in debt if you would return it. It’s a marquis cut. I’m sorry if you find it but I don’t take my ring off for anything.” 

A photo showed a gold band on Monroe's hand with a hole where the center diamond should be. The post received hundreds of shares online.

Monroe also told KMBC she was worried a customer could bite into it.

“I didn’t want anybody to break a tooth,” she said.

She told the station it could be in a batch of chocolate chip, sugar or peanut butter cookies.

Monroe said the diamond is worth more than $4,000, and she is offering a reward for its return. 

"I would definitely make it worth your while bringing it back," Monroe told KMBC with a laugh. 

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<![CDATA[Ex-NFL star Terrell Suggs faces weapons charge for Starbucks feud]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 14:04:54 -0400
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Former NFL star Terrell Suggs was arrested Tuesday in Arizona, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's office, in relation to an incident earlier this year in a Starbucks drive-thru.

Scottsdale police say Suggs, 41, was taken into custody and booked on charges of threatening and intimidating and disorderly conduct with a weapon. They add that the incident took place on March 10, but he was just arrested for the incident this week.

SEE MORE: Chiefs' Rashee Rice to surrender after warrant issued by Dallas police

According to police documents, Suggs brandished a firearm during a verbal altercation in which he threatened to kill another driver after a minor collision in a Starbucks drive-thru. The incident was reportedly captured on a camera within the victim’s vehicle. 

"I was getting coffee. I was not looking for any trouble," Suggs said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press. "When the man in the other vehicle escalated the situation, I feared for my safety not knowing what his intentions were. Throughout the incident, I was the one who felt in danger, while fearing I would be followed home and for the safety of my family nearby at my residence."

Suggs has since been released from custody and is expected to appear in court later this month. 

The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker played 17 seasons in the NFL after being drafted 10th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2003. He spent almost all of his career in Baltimore before splitting his final season between the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs.

This story was originally published by Scripps News Phoenix.

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<![CDATA[Millions of Americans impacted by flash flooding and tornadoes]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 13:38:17 -0400
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Powerful storms rumbled over parts of the U.S. Southeast on Thursday, prompting a few tornado warnings, causing flash flooding, and delaying the start of one of the world's biggest sporting events, in Georgia.

The storm system, which has already been blamed for at least one death in Mississippi, demolished buildings and flooded streets in the New Orleans area Wednesday. It continued to spawn flash flood and tornado warnings in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina on Thursday.

More than 100,000 customers lacked power Thursday afternoon nationwide. That included more than 60,000 in Louisiana, which was hit hard by storms Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us.

Now, forecasters say parts of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia will be near the bull's-eye of a new area of concern Thursday. Those areas could see some tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail, according to the latest outlooks from the Storm Prediction Center.

The entire state of Ohio was under a flood watch Thursday afternoon. The ground there is already saturated with the potential for heavy rainfall on the way, said James Gibson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Ohio.

Public school students in at least a dozen counties in West Virginia were sent home early Thursday due to the arriving storms. Southern West Virginia was hit by 10 tornadoes April 2. It was a record for one day in the state, which gets two tornadoes in an average year.

In Augusta, Georgia, the start of the Masters golf tournament was delayed, tournament officials announced. Forecasters predict wind gusts as high as 45 mph.

"Those wind speeds could easily knock down branches here and there," said Brad Carlberg, a National Weather Service forecaster. "Just be aware of the weather and gusts, especially if you are near trees, because a branch could fall down at any time."

Torrential rains early Thursday made roads impassable in Valdosta, Georgia, an emergency manager reported. In Tallahassee, Florida, storms toppled trees and caused significant street flooding, the weather service said.

SEE MORE: Are you prepared for a natural disaster? Do these things now

Emergency responders Thursday afternoon were assessing damage near St. Augustine, Florida, where the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down earlier that day. Photos shared by St. Johns County Fire Rescue showed fences ripped apart, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported. Fire Rescue Chief Sean McGee said one person went to a local hospital with storm-related injuries, but they were not transported by rescue workers.

Meteorologist Ben Nelson said National Weather Service teams were surveying the area to determine the cyclone's intensity.

Storm damage has been reported from Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

A tornado struck Slidell, about 30 miles  northeast of New Orleans, on Wednesday. It ripped roofs off buildings and partially collapsed others in and around the city of about 28,000. Authorities said first responders had to rescue people trapped in one apartment building.

Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer estimated at a news conference Wednesday night that about 75 homes and businesses were damaged. St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper estimated that hundreds more homes were damaged outside the city.

Police video showed tree limbs littering the streets and flooded yards that resembled swamps. Outside a McDonald's restaurant, a car was on its side, power poles leaned, and large pieces of the trademark golden arches were strewn about.

"I've never talked to God so much before in my life," Robin Marquez said after huddling with co-workers in a two-story building where the roof was ripped away and walls caved in.

There were no reports of deaths or critical injuries in Slidell. The weather service posted on social media Wednesday that initial surveys indicate the area was hit by an EF-1 tornado, with winds from 86 mph to 110 mph.

Close to 8 inches of rain fell in parts of New Orleans. It came as the system of pipes and pumps that drains the city dealt with problems with its power generating system, forcing workers to divert power as needed.

"During intense rain, the mission sometimes shifts from keeping the streets dry to draining them as quickly as possible," the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board said in a statement.

A woman died in central Mississippi when a power outage shut down her oxygen machine, officials said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 72 homes were damaged.

In Texas, several people were rescued from homes and vehicles early Wednesday when flooding inundated parts of Jasper County, near the Louisiana line, authorities said.

In the Houston suburb of Katy, strong thunderstorms collapsed part of the roof of an auto repair shop. Storms also damaged businesses and cars in a strip mall, sending a large air conditioning unit on the roof crashing to the parking lot, officials said. Some of the damage was preliminarily determined to have been caused by a weak tornado, officials said.

"We were blessed that no lives were lost," Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said. Only minor injuries were reported.

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<![CDATA[Instagram testing tools to block nude direct messages]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 13:24:37 -0400
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For years, Meta has had the ability to limit the overwhelming majority of nude and obscene photos being exchanged on one of its platforms. The company now appears ready to utilize technology to stop the spread of these images. 

Meta announced on Thursday it will be testing a nudity protection feature on Instagram. Meta said that directly messaged images detected as containing nudity will be automatically blurred. The tool also encourages people to think twice before sending nude images. 

Meta said that the warnings and blurring will be default settings for users under 18. Meta will also instruct adults on how to make changes to their settings. 

The company said that the changes will cut down on instances of sextortion, the practice where scammers try to obtain nude images and then use those images to extort money from victims. 

The social media company said that the changes have gotten the endorsement from a variety of advocates.

“As an educator, parent, and researcher on adolescent online behavior, I applaud Meta’s new feature that handles the exchange of personal nude content in a thoughtful, nuanced, and appropriate way," said John Shehan, senior vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "It reduces unwanted exposure to potentially traumatic images, gently introduces cognitive dissonance to those who may be open to sharing nudes, and educates people about the potential downsides involved. Each of these should help decrease the incidence of sextortion and related harms, helping to keep young people safe online.” 

SEE MORE: Senate Judiciary Committee grills social media CEOs on child safety

The changes come amid lawsuits filed against Meta. In 2023, the state of Vermont filed a lawsuit against the company claiming its platforms were harming the mental health of children and young adults. 

The lawsuit claimed that 11.9% of all users received unwanted sexual advances, including 13% of teens ages 13-15 and 14.1% of teens 16-17. 

The lawsuit also claimed that 16.3% of users viewed nudity that they “did not want to see" in the prior seven days of an internal survey. 

According to a 2021 congressional report, on Facebook, a sister platform of Instagram, artificial intelligence has the capability of flagging over 99% of violent and graphic content posted and child nudity without users flagging it. 

Meta's content monitoring process has also drawn scrutiny from Congress, which held a hearing earlier this year on the harm social media poses to young people. 

"It is unbelievable, indescribable material. And these platforms are absolutely awash with it," said Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican. 

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<![CDATA[Missing teenage twins found after woman reports stolen debit card]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 12:37:57 -0400
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Runaway 14-year-old twin sisters who were reported missing in Detroit were recovered after a month.

Police body camera video from Monday morning shows the moments the juveniles were found at a hotel in Allen Park, Michigan, with a man who has a criminal past. They were found after a woman in Nebraska reported a stolen debit card to police and the hotel where her card was charged.

"I swear for about a week, I've been telling them something bad would happen on Monday," Megan McQuain said.

McQuain, from Omaha, Nebraska, was right. Sunday night and Monday morning, her daughter Abigale received unexpected text messages on her cellphone that connected the family in Nebraska to a Comfort Inn hotel in Allen Park.

"I was very concerned and confused," Abigale said. "I was on the phone with my boyfriend. And my boyfriend said, 'Go tell your mom.'"

Around 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Abigale received a text from her bank, which was one of many showing that her debit card was used at several hotels including one in Allen Park. Her mother immediately called the hotel and law enforcement.

"It's after midnight at this point and as I'm doing a police report with our officer, I got a call from the detective that they had the man in custody that had taken my daughter's debit card information,'" said McQuain.

But what unfolded next in Allen Park made everyone's heart stop.

Police body camera video shows moments when officers find teens at hotel:

Allen Park Police Department Officer James Vanderaa recognized the two teenagers who were found in a 30-year-old man's hotel room.

"I know who you guys are, I know who is looking for you and we will have to solve this tonight," Vanderaa told the girls.

The 14-year-old twins ran away on March 8 while visiting their grandmother.

The twins were reunited with their father right away. The suspect, Marcus Peoples, has been charged with computer crime, credit card fraud and harboring runaway children.

"I was shocked," Abigale said. "It turned out to be so much more. I thought it was just a stolen debit card."

The investigation is ongoing as to how the teens connected with the suspect and how the suspect acquired Abigale's debit card information.

Meanwhile, in a statement to Scripps News Detroit, Allen Park Police Department Chief Christopher Egan said:

"I am extremely proud of these officers, professionalism, and tenacity to follow through on a case working as a team that allowed them to observe these missing girls. Their quick actions may have prevented a more serious situation."

This story was originally published by Faraz Javed and Brandon Speagle at Scripps News Detroit.

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<![CDATA[O.J. Simpson dead from cancer at age 76, family says]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 10:50:35 -0400
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O.J. Simpson, a football star who would later be a defendant in arguably the biggest murder trial in U.S. history, has died at the age of 76, according to a post on his X account. 

"On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer," the post reads. "He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. During this time of transition, his family asks that you please respect their wishes for privacy and grace. The Simpson Family." 

In February, Simpson denied reports that he was in hospice care as he was reportedly quietly battling prostate cancer. WPLG-TV had reported that Simpson was undergoing chemotherapy. 

His last post on X came on Feb. 11 when he predicted that San Francisco would beat Kansas City in the Super Bowl.

Simpson rose to fame in the late 1960s because of his skills on the football field, and he captured the attention of the nation again after the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

Simpson was charged with their murder in June 1994, days after the two were found dead. Simpson's friend Al Cowlings was behind the wheel of a white Ford Bronco carrying Simpson that led police on a slow-speed chase back to Simpson's residence, where he was subsequently arrested. 

The trial would last for about a year, concluding with Simpson's acquittal in October 1996. 

Although Simpson was found not guilty in the criminal trial, he was later found liable for the deaths in a civil trial.  

In the years to follow, Simpson found himself in more legal trouble. He was convicted in 2008 for an armed robbery in Las Vegas. Prosecutors said Simpson was among a group of people who broke into a hotel room and stole memorabilia at gunpoint. According to The Associated Press reports, Simpson claimed that he was taking back memorabilia stolen from him.

He was sentenced to 33 years in prison but was released in 2017 after being granted parole.

Before his infamous legal issues, Simpson was one of football's most recognizable faces, even well after his retirement. His popularity soared in 1967 and 1968 when he led USC to back-to-back Rose Bowls and won the 1968 Heisman Trophy. 

He was then drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he spent nine seasons. Simpson was a five-time Pro Bowler while in Buffalo and won the league's MVP award in 1973. 

Simpson spent his final two years in the NFL as a member of the 49ers. 

Meanwhile, Simpson's Hollywood profile also rose. He appeared in dozens of films, with his most notable role as Detective Nordberg in the "Naked Gun" films. 

The Pro Football Hall of Fame reacted to Simpson's death. 

“O.J. Simpson was the first player to reach a rushing mark many thought could not be attained in a 14-game season when he topped 2,000 yards,” said Hall of Fame President Jim Porter. “His on-field contributions will be preserved in the Hall’s archives in Canton, Ohio.”

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<![CDATA[Study says remote work could cause drop in carbon emissions]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 10:31:41 -0400
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Is remote work the answer to solving climate change? A new University of Florida study indicates that increasing remote work could reduce Americans' carbon footprint. 

According to research published this week in Nature Cities, a 10% reduction in on-site workers from 2019 levels could cause an annual reduction of 191.8 million metric tons in CO2 emissions. 

The researchers, however, noted that a reduction in on-site work would cause a significant drop in public transit revenue. They said a 10% decline in on-site workers would cause transit systems to lose $3.7 billion nationally every year, a 27% drop.

Numerous studies have indicated that mass transit can help combat climate change given buses and trains are capable of carrying a large number of passengers. 

“Transit agencies need to be very concerned,” Shenhao Wang, a professor of urban planning at University of Florida who supervised the study, said in a press release. “Yet overall we would expect less energy consumption from reduced car travel. So the picture is very complicated, and whether the effects are positive or negative depends on the stakeholder.”

SEE MORE: Court rules Switzerland's inaction on climate violated human rights

The study follows previous studies that show that at-home work helps reduce carbon emissions. Last year, Cornell University and Microsoft researchers published findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that indicated employees who work from home could have a 54% lower carbon footprint than employees who work in an office. 

Hybrid work can also help lower someone's carbon footprint. Their study found that working from home two to four days a week helps someone reduce their carbon footprint by 11% to 29% compared to on-site workers.

University of Florida researchers said that studying the impact of remote work on carbon emissions was challenging before the pandemic because of the limited number of people working from home. They were able to use a time period from April 2020 to October 2022 in their study. 

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<![CDATA[Florida woman starts company to help teachers switch careers]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 09:56:31 -0400
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For months, investigative reporter Katie LaGrone with Scripps News Tampa has shared what teachers describe as specific reasons driving them out of the profession.

But now, she is sharing the story of how one woman is helping some of these teachers find a new start away from the classroom.

“I’m not trying to convince teachers to leave; I’m helping those who want change.”

You might call Lisa Harding a teacher’s teacher.

She spent years as CEO of an online teacher training and development company and was even born into the profession.

“I came from a family of teachers. My parents both met teaching in middle school,” she explained.

So, it got our attention when Harding told us that after 15 years of working to place educators in the classroom, she stumbled on her latest venture, which is squarely focused on helping teachers get out.

“Teachers started reaching out to me asking for help making a career transition into the field that I just left, and I couldn't keep up with the demand,” she explained, adding how the opportunity that was right in front of her posed a personal dilemma.

“I kind of had a moral, ethical question to ask myself, but I realized I’m not trying to convince teachers to leave the classroom; I’m just helping those that want to make a change and giving them the skills that they need to do so,” she said.

Harding and her business partner moved forward, starting the Teacher Career Transition Academy.

It’s an online subscription-based program that offers a step-by-step approach to helping educators switch careers.

Services include a wide range of help, from rewriting resumes to make them less teacher-focused to specialized coaching on negotiating salaries that are above average teacher pay. Annual membership is $500, and members can pay a monthly $57 charge.

“We've had teachers that, since they've left, they've already been promoted or gotten new jobs, and they've doubled their teaching salary within 12 months. It's pretty wild,” Harding said.

Sign of the times

Her company is a sign of the times as Florida struggles to hire new teachers or keep the ones it has.

Last school year, more than 18,000 Florida teachers resigned, representing about 10% of the state’s publicly employed teachers at the time.

Our recent investigation found that some of the top reasons teachers decided to leave the profession included pay, politics, student behavior and overall burnout.

A principal's story

“I absolutely thought I was a lifer. I loved my job, and I think probably if COVID didn't hit, I would still be a principal,” said Michelle Auger, who’s among the thousands of Florida educators who have left the industry in the last few years.

Auger spent her entire professional career, more than 35 years, in education.

Most recently, she was a principal at an elementary school near Tampa.

But after watching her own teaching staff burn out, “it was just so disheartening to me. I think that's really the bottom line for me,” she explained about what ultimately led her to leave.

Auger signed up with the Career Teacher Transition Academy to help revamp her resume by highlighting skills she used every day on campus but didn’t know how to sell outside the profession.

“Project management is probably the biggest one of all. As an administrator, that was one I never would have thought to even put on there, but I’m like, gosh, I do that every day, all day,” she explained about Harding’s services.

Today, Auger is the educational program coordinator for a camp in central Florida. She describes it as a dream job and credits Harding’s company for helping her as the pressures of teaching in Florida continue to leave so many exploring life outside the classroom and how to get there.

“I’m not going anywhere. There's definitely a niche here,” said Harding. I think teachers are going to start to see more and more of their peers thriving in careers beyond the classroom, where they have more flexibility, better working conditions, and better pay. This is only the beginning,” she said.

This story was originally published by Katie LaGrone at Scripps News Tampa.

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<![CDATA[University of Iowa to retire Caitlin Clark's No. 22 jersey]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 09:19:26 -0400
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Fans of Caitlin Clark got a final chance to bid farewell to the basketball superstar Wednesday night when the University of Iowa held its end-of-year celebration.

Some 8,000 screaming fans packed into Iowa's home arena to commemorate the Hawkeyes' season. During the festivities, Iowa athletics director Beth Goetz announced that Iowa will be retiring Clark's No. 22 jersey, making it just the third in program history to be memorialized. 

"There's been a lot of really good 22s to come before me and play for this program, whether it's Kathleen Doyle or Sam Logic," Clark said after the announcement. "So, that number holds a lot of weight, far beyond my name, and I guess I'm just really grateful."

SEE MORE: Caitlin Clark offered $5M to join Ice Cube's BIG3 basketball league

Despite falling one game short of a national title for a second consecutive year, it was a storybook season for Clark. From breaking the all-time college basketball scoring record to drawing the largest women's basketball regular season television audience of the past 25 years, there's no denying Clark's indelible impact on not only college basketball, but women's sports as a whole. 

Next up for Clark is the WNBA draft on April 15, when she is widely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick. The Indiana Fever have the first selection for the second year in a row, meaning Clark may find herself staying in the Midwest. 

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<![CDATA[North Carolina clears rape kit backlog; other states still have 1,000s]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 09:08:42 -0400
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The backlog of untested rape kits that once numbered over 16,000 has been cleared, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced this week. 

The kits take DNA from victims of sexual assault and attempt to match it with potential suspects, which can aid in prosecution.

State officials said in 2017 that 16,000 untested kits "sat on the shelves of local law enforcement agencies." However, efforts to clear the backlog after that remained uncoordinated. 

In 2019, there remained about 12,000 untested rape kits. After lawmakers in North Carolina passed House Bill 29 in 2019 to provide officials with resources to test the kits, the backlog slowly dwindled. 

Officials said 5,075 samples have been entered in the national Combined DNA Index System database, and CODIS has matched the samples to 2,702 hits. The attorney general's office said that 2,024 of those samples "had hits to offenders whose DNA is in the database because of previous convictions or arrests."

North Carolina officials said those hits led to 114 arrests. 

"Today is a great day: North Carolina has ended the rape kit backlog. I am incredibly proud of the bipartisan and collaborative effort that produced this achievement – Republican and Democratic legislators, district attorneys, and law enforcement officers all played a critical role in ending the backlog," Stein said. "I also want to thank the scientists at the State Crime Lab who have worked countless hours to get these kits tested. Most importantly, I thank the victims for their bravery in submitting the evidence so we can hold their rapists accountable."

SEE MORE: US mail theft often begins with a stolen key

Advocates say some victims of sexual assault had to wait decades to have their rape kits tested. 

According to the advocacy group Joyful Heart Foundation's End the Backlog campaign, North Carolina will join 19 states that have cleared their backlogs of rape kits. Several states, including California, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Iowa, still have thousands of untested kits, the group says. 

The organization said North Carolina had one of the largest state backlogs it had seen. 

“Every untested rape kit represents a survivor waiting for justice, some for decades,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Testing each kit has been and will always be the primary goal of End the Backlog. By ending the backlog of rape kits in North Carolina, the state has signaled to every survivor that they matter and what happened to them matters."

While there have been several states that have passed reforms to end the backlog of untested rape kits, Congress has provided funds to support testing efforts through the Debbie Smith Act. In 2019, the act was reauthorized through the end of the 2024 fiscal year. 

The Senate voted in October to reauthorize funding, but the House has yet to take up the measure. Anti-sexual violence organization Rainn has been advocating for Congress to reauthorize the act. 

“The Debbie Smith Act has been the most effective anti-rape legislation that Congress has ever passed,” said Scott Berkowitz, Rainn's founder and president. “It has helped law enforcement test hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA evidence, identified serial rapists, and helped in the prosecutions of the nation’s most dangerous sexual predators.”

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<![CDATA[New internet 'nutrition label' helps customers with confusing bills]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 08:37:48 -0400
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Tired of opening your internet bill and trying to figure out precisely what you’re paying for each month? You’re not alone, and the federal government now requires internet service providers to be more transparent with their fees.

A new Federal Communications Commission rule that just went into effect mandates ISPs to provide an easy-to-read breakdown of internet fees. And, the new graphic has a familiar look: a nutrition label.

Whether you’re opening your next bill or visiting an internet provider’s store, you will find this new visual aid that looks almost identical to what you see on food packaging.

The new internet “nutrition label” comes from a 2023 FCC ruling with the promise to help consumers receive “easy-to-understand, and accurate information about the cost and performance of broadband services.”

“Consumers will finally get information they can use to comparison shop, avoid junk fees, and make informed choices about which high-speed internet service is the best fit for their needs and budget,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in the ruling’s press release.

The April 10 deadline applies to internet service providers with at least 100,000 subscribers. Smaller ISPs have until Oct. 10 to meet the new requirement, according to the FCC broadband label fact sheet.

While the new label provides a quick glance at broadband fees, it can be tricky to navigate some of the terms listed on the label. Terms like introductory rates, monthly price, length of contract and early termination fees are common in our everyday language. However, the label also has line items that may leave some customers scratching their heads, like “pass-through fees.”

We had no idea what that meant. So we looked it up on the FCC’s helpful glossary (which is also available in Spanish) on their internet label information page. All of the terms listed on the new labels are included on this reference page.

By the way, a “pass-through fee” simply means extra fees related to government programs (universal service or regulatory fees) that providers “pass through” to their customers.

While we may not be able to avoid all those fees, at least now these labels will keep us informed about what our internet provider is charging us for and give us more power to comparison shop.

This story originally appeared on Simplemost.

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<![CDATA[Israeli strike kills 3 sons and 4 grandchildren of Hamas' top leader]]> Thu, 11 Apr 2024 08:11:53 -0400
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Israeli aircraft killed three sons of Hamas’ top political leader in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, striking high-stakes targets at a time when Israel is holding delicate cease-fire negotiations with the militant group. Hamas said four of the leader's grandchildren were also killed.

Ismail Haniyeh ’s sons are among the highest-profile figures to be killed in the war so far. Israel said they were Hamas operatives, and Haniyeh accused Israel of acting in “the spirit of revenge and murder.”

The deaths threatened to strain the internationally mediated cease-fire talks, which appeared to gain steam in recent days even as the sides remain far apart on key issues.

The slayings also come as Israel is under intensifying pressure — increasingly from its top ally, the U.S. — to change tack in the war, especially when it comes to humanitarian aid for desperate people in Gaza.

Haniyeh said Hamas would not cave to the pressure leveled by the strike on his family.

“The enemy believes that by targeting the families of the leaders, it will push them to give up the demands of our people,” Haniyeh told the Al Jazeera satellite channel. “Anyone who believes that targeting my sons will push Hamas to change its position is delusional.”

SEE MORE: Report: Hamas doesn't have 40 living hostages for cease-fire deal

Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV station aired footage of Haniyeh receiving the news of the deaths through the phone of an aide while visiting wounded Palestinians who have been transported to a hospital in Qatar, where he lives in exile. Haniyeh nodded, looked down at the ground and slowly walked out of the room.

Hamas said Hazem, Amir and Mohammed Haniyeh were killed in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, where Ismail Haniyeh is originally from. The militant group said three of Haniyeh's granddaughters and a grandson were also killed, without disclosing their ages.

Al-Aqsa TV said the brothers were traveling with family members in a single vehicle targeted by an Israeli drone.

The Israeli military said Mohammed and Hazem were Hamas military operatives and that Amir was a cell commander. It said they had conducted militant activity in the central Gaza Strip, without elaborating. It did not comment about the grandchildren killed.

The strike on Haniyeh’s family is the latest bloodshed in a war with no end in sight.

SEE MORE: Tracking airstrikes: Inside the Israel-Hamas war

Earlier, Israeli War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz claimed Hamas has been defeated militarily, although he also said Israel will fight it for years to come.

“From a military point of view, Hamas is defeated. Its fighters are eliminated or in hiding” and its capabilities “crippled,” Gantz said in a statement to the media in the southern Israeli city of Sderot.

But he added: “Fighting against Hamas will take time. Boys who are now in middle school will still fight in the Gaza Strip.”

Gantz reiterated the Israeli government’s commitment to go into Rafah, the city at the far southern tip of the Gaza Strip where more than half the territory’s 2.3 million people are now sheltering.

For Palestinians, the strike on Haniyeh’s family darkened an already grim Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Palestinians marked the holiday by visiting the graves of loved ones killed in the war. In the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, people sat quietly by graves surrounded by buildings destroyed in Israel’s offensive, which was launched in response to the deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

As misery in Gaza lingers, Israel has faced increasing pressure, including from its own top ally, the U.S., to change tack in the war, especially with regard to the delivery of humanitarian aid.

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