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Updated: 1 week 2 days ago

New bill would force TikTok to divest from China, or face US ban

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 20:58

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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are again pushing forward with an effort to prohibit TikTok in the United States.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a new piece of legislation this week that would give the social media app six months to either divest from its Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance, or face a nationwide ban. The bill was reviewed Thursday by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and passed unanimously. It's now poised for a vote on the House floor.

However, lawmakers are already facing backlash from TikTok users, who are flooding their offices with calls. 

Politico reported that person called a Republican official and said, "If you ban TikTok, I will kill myself.” 

This bill is just the latest effort to ban TikTok over national security concerns regarding whether China has direct access to users' data. Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, who heads the House committee investigating China, says after the bill was introduced, some TikTok users were already getting pop-ups on the app allegedly lying about the bill and what it intends to achieve.

"It asks [users] to enter the zip code they're in and then it automatically calls the member of Congress in that zip code saying 'Stop the ban on TikTok,'" Gallagher told a group of reporters. "But of course, if you actually read the bill, it's not a ban. It's a divestiture and it puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist party. And as long as they do that, as long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive."

SEE MORE: TikTok fined $15.9M by UK watchdog over misuse of kids' data

TikTok reports it has more than 150 million users in the U.S., meaning a potential nationwide ban would affect many Americans. According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan platform tracking political spending, TikTok has spent over 10 million dollars in recent years trying to convince lawmakers that TikTok data is safe. 

Several U.S. agencies — including the White House — have already taken moves to prohibit federal workers from downloading TikTok on any government devices, citing national security concerns. The Office of Management and Budget called the guidance a "critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data." 

According to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center, over 50% of Americans believe TikTok is a major or minor threat to U.S. national security. And among TikTok users, about 42% say they believe the platform is a national security concern. 

Spring break travel – here’s what to know and what to watch out for

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 20:45

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The Transportation Security Administration expects this year’s spring break travel season to be record-breaking.

The agency defines the spring break travel period  from March 7 to March 25, and they expect travel volumes to be 6% above last year.

If you plan on traveling to Mexico, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico say to travel smart and be informed of nearby crime, unregulated alcohol, and drownings, to name a few of the risks.

“Check out our travel advice on travel.state.gov. There we have unbiased and objective up-to-date travel advice on virtually every country in the world,” said Rena Bitter, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of Consular Affairs with the Department of State.

“Enroll in our smart traveler enrollment program, STEP, which once enrolled, you'll get information on the destination while you're traveling, information on security,” she said.

Travel warnings, scams, and busy travel are all things to be aware of before hitting the roads or the skies.

@scrippsnews Spring break is upon us, and the Transportation Security Administration expects it to be a busy one. Before you book your trip and pack your bags, here are some #scams to watch out for. #SpringBreak #vacation ♬ original sound - Scripps News

Watch out for scams

Before you head on spring break, keep these tips in mind to avoid scams.

Travel scams happen year-round. But right now, scams can be even worse.

The 2023 Risk Report released this week from the Better Business Bureau shows the median loss for consumers who fall for travel and vacation scams is $543.

And while planning a last minute getaway may sound enticing, vacation rental cons, free vacation scams, and third party booking site scams can be common when demand is high. 

So how can you prevent losing your money to scams?

The BBB says look for reviews and ask friends and family for references. Second, avoid wiring money. Pay with a credit card instead, so you have the option to dispute a fraudulent charge.

Finally, do some research on travel companies and vacation rentals before booking.

Before heading to the airport

Before heading to the airport, TSA recommends arriving early, packing smart, and remembering the 3-1-1 rule: Any liquids over 3.4 ounces must be packed in a checked bag.

Don’t forget to have the proper documentation with you.

“More Americans than ever before have passports, which means more Americans can travel overseas,” Bitter said.

“If you're planning to travel, please go check the validity of your passport. Make sure it hasn't expired," she said.

Many destinations require you to have six months validity on your passport to enter or leave. Right now, Bitter says it takes about 6 to 8 weeks to get a new passport when not expedited.

The State Department has more travel tips here.

SEE MORE: Miami Beach breaks up with spring breakers: 'It's not us; it's you'

Evan Gershkovich's parents will attend State of the Union address

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 20:10

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With an upcoming court date set for their son later this month, Evan Gershkovich's parents will be making an appearance at the State of the Union address as Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson's guests.

Bringing their son home from Russia has support on both sides of the aisle — rare bipartisan support.

In a statement, Gershkovich's parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, said, "We are grateful to Speaker Johnson for inviting us to attend the State of the Union and for providing the opportunity to highlight Evan's wrongful detention. We're also grateful to President Joe Biden for his continued work on Evan's behalf. Evan is an American and he was doing his job as a journalist. He is most importantly a beloved son and brother, and we want him home."

It's a plea echoed by his sister, Danielle Gershkovich, who spoke to Scripps News last month.

"My brother is not a spy. He's a journalist. And he's my brother," she said. "I want him home. Please — whatever, whatever it would take. Please, I just want my brother home."

In a recent interview, Russian president Vladimir Putin said there was the potential to make a deal.

"I believe an agreement can be reached," he said.

It is a deal that could involve a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich and Paul Whelan — another American and a former Marine who is also wrongfully detained by Russia.

The exchange would be for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian security services agent convicted in Germany of a political assassination in 2021.

However, Germany was reportedly only willing to release Krasikov if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were included in the exchange. The recent death of Navalny may complicate any such deal.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal's publisher, Almar Latour, told Scripps News in a statement that he welcomes the bipartisan support to get Evan Gershkovich home.

"It has been nearly one year since Evan was arrested for simply doing his job," Latour said. "Threats to free press are growing at an alarming rate with far-reaching consequences, and Evan's plight should concern all Americans and anyone who values a free and democratic society."

He reiterated that journalism is not a crime.

SEE MORE: WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich's family seeks his release from Russia

Ace Ukrainian FPV drone pilot, Darwin, shows war’s explosive evolution

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 20:10

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At 21 years old, "Darwin," is an ace pilot of first-person view (FPV) “kamikaze” drones with Ukraine’s “Achilles” battalion of the 92nd Brigade. 

Darwin hunts Russian targets, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and individual soldiers. 

FPV pilots like Darwin represent the evolution of Ukraine’s war against Russia. As artillery shells and rockets run short, Ukraine’s military increasingly turns to FPV drones to help hold back the enemy’s renewed offensive, degrade Russian President Vladimir Putin's war machine and strike fear in the enemy.  

Scripps News international correspondent Jason Bellini got rare access, for over 20 hours, to Darwin and his team. They spent most of their time at a secret location just a few miles from one of the most hotly-contested sectors of the front line. 

Alexander Kamyshin, Ukraine’s minister of strategic industries, told Scripps News that FPV drones are becoming “the main battle weapon for our people.” That’s why he is leading an FPV drone production initiative that aims to produce more than a million units for pilots by the end of this year. 

SEE MORE: Russian missile strike narrowly misses Zelenskyy while touring Odesa

At this point, Kamyshin says the cost per kill for Ukraine’s FPV drones averages $1,700 per Russian soldier. He expects the price tag for killing an individual enemy fighter to drop to around $1,000 by the end of 2024. 

Kamyshin also noted that artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies will be integrated this year into his made-in-Ukraine FPV project.  

The hope is that AI will give FPV drones a technological advantage, making them less vulnerable to Russia’s counter-drone measures, which are constantly improving. 

Darwin personifies how this war is evolving — before our eyes. 

An upcoming episode of Scripps News’ documentary series, “In Real Life,” will focus on the first-person experiences of Darwin, a “kamikaze kid.”

February set another record for global warmth

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 19:50

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February was the ninth month in a row that was the warmest on record for the respective month of the year, according to global temperature data provided by the European Union's  Copernicus Climate Change Service. The record followed carbon dioxide and methane levels that were the highest ever in the atmosphere. 

The global temperature was about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the 1991-2020 average for the month of February, and about 0.2 degrees warmer than the previous February record.

Although official records only date back to 1850, scientists say the recent period of record warmth is likely the warmest has been in thousands of years. Although earth does undergo climate changes, the type of climate change seen in recent decades is at an accelerated level, they say. 

Climate officials noted El Niño continued to weaken in the equatorial Pacific, but marine air temperatures, in general, remained at an unusually high level.

SEE MORE: Heat stress safety concerns prompt shift in farmworker treatment

The month was particularly warm for most of North America and Europe. 

This warmth was evident in the Great Lakes as the normally harsh winter of the Upper Midwest failed to arrive this year. The warm winter kept ice from forming over much of the Great Lakes. 

In the past, ice covered over half of the Great Lakes at its peak. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that no more than 20% of the Great Lakes were ice-covered.       

Scientists placed blame on the rise in carbon dioxide and methane gases in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels reached 419 parts per million in 2023, 2.4 ppm higher than in 2022. There were 1,902 parts per billion of methane gas in 2023, an 11 ppb increase over 2022. 

El Niño conditions are expected to wane this spring, but global temperatures are expected to remain warmer than average. 

United plane engine catches fire midflight, passengers fear for lives

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 19:19

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Passengers aboard a United Airlines plane from Texas to Florida feared for their lives as the aircraft's engine caught fire midflight.

Passenger video from United flight 1118 on Monday showed orange flames shooting out from the engine.

"Hey ladies and gentlemen, we realize something happened outside," airline staff can be heard saying over the intercom.

The plane, a Boeing 737-900, was forced to emergency land back at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, where it had departed from, according to FlightAware data. The plane was initially headed to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

The flight took off from Houston at 6:40 p.m., and the "crew reported an engine issue around 6:55 p.m.," the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. The plane arrived back in Houston at 7:13 p.m., according to FlightAware.

In a statement to Scripps News, United said that "the flight landed safely and the passengers deplaned normally."

"We arranged for a new aircraft to take our customers to their destination, which departed for Fort Myers later that evening," said the airline.

Passenger Elliot Trexler described hearing a loud noise while aboard the plane.

"This was a loud explosion. There was no question in any of our minds that something bad had happened. That combined with the plane nosediving and seeing the flames," Trexler said on NBC's "TODAY" show on Thursday.

Another passenger, David Gruninger, also recounted the incident.

"I remember there was just this bright, flashing light that came through the window, and it sounded like a bomb went off, and then it was just a strobe of fire out the window," Gruninger told ABC 13.

"It just turned into chaos," he said. "People were screaming and crying and trying to figure out what was going on."

Trexler, who also spoke with ABC 13, told the station he began composing a goodbye message to his wife.

"I think it's fair to say we all thought we were going to die," Trexler said.

No cause has been revealed, but the FAA says it is investigating the incident.

Jake Paul to fight Mike Tyson in boxing match livestreamed on Netflix

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 19:03

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Social media influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul will fight former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in a boxing match this summer — and the entire event will air exclusively on Netflix.

The streaming giant announced Thursday that it is partnering up with Most Valuable Promotions to put on a live "mega-event" on July 20 at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Netflix said the boxing match will be headlined by the 27-year-old Paul and 57-year-old Tyson, who hasn't entered the ring since his 2020 exhibition fight against Roy Jones Jr. that ended in a draw.

SEE MORE: Lindsay Lohan, Jake Paul among celebs charged for crypto shilling

Paul's rise to stardom as a social media influencer started in the 2010s when he started posting popular videos on the now-defunct platform Vine and then went on to build a massive following of more than 20 million subscribers on YouTube. It wasn't until 2018 when he decided to pivot his career to focus on boxing and turned pro just two years later. 

Paul has gone on to win nine of his first 10 fights — including six wins by knockout — with his only loss coming last year to Tommy Fury, the brother of current heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury. But the social media star has faced criticism over several of his wins, which came against largely unknown opponents in the boxing world and left some critics questioning whether the fights were fixed.

Meanwhile, there's no room for speculations about the validity of "Iron Mike" Tyson's boxing resume.  

SEE MORE: No charges filed against Mike Tyson for punching airplane passenger

Widely regarded as the "Baddest Man on the Planet," Tyson is recognized as ESPN's hardest-hitting heavyweight of all time and became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing history in 1986 at just 20 years old. He went on to produce a career record of 50 wins and six losses — including 44 wins by knockout — before retiring in 2005. 

"My sights are set on becoming a world champion," said Paul. "And now I have a chance to prove myself against the greatest heavyweight champion ever, the baddest man on the planet and the most dangerous boxer of all time. This will be the fight of a lifetime."

Paul and Tyson are also no strangers to one another. In just his second career fight, Paul appeared on the Tyson-Jones undercard in 2020 when he defeated retired NBA star Nate Robinson by knockout. Just four years later, he'll now step into the ring against one of the most feared boxers in the world — regardless of his age.

"I'm very much looking forward to stepping into the ring with Jake Paul at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas,” said Tyson. “He's grown significantly as a boxer over the years, so it will be a lot of fun to see what the will and ambition of a ‘kid’ can do with the experience and aptitude of a GOAT.  It's a full circle moment that will be beyond thrilling to watch."

Biden will address nation in State of the Union. Here's what to know

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 19:03

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President Joe Biden is expected to make some key announcement in his State of the Union address Thursday. The White House said President Biden was personally and closely involved in crafting the speech.

The president's third State of the Union speech marks a significant moment for him to reach a large audience of Americans and tout what he

believes are his administration's accomplishments and vision for the future. 

In addition to announcements about new domestic priorities and policies, President Biden will reveal that the U.S. will build an emergency port on the Gaza coastline to help deliver aid.

The White House said President Biden spent last weekend at Camp David working on the speech and has been fine-tuning it with stories and issues that are important to Americans he's spoken with.

"He's going to talk about our democracy, our freedoms, continue to fight for that reproductive freedom. How that is an issue that the American people truly care about," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre outlined during Wednesday's press briefing. "There's a lot of issues in front, obviously, in front of the American people that they care, and they want to hear directly from the president. And so that's what he's going to focus on."

There are key themes the president is likely to focus on, including the economy. The White House touts the economic recovery under the Biden administration since the pandemic, noting the cooling of inflation, lower unemployment, job growth, bolstered manufacturing and improving supply chains. Despite what the administration sees as progress, President Biden has faced headwinds in polling on the issue.

"President Biden has made clear whose side he's on every day we see him fighting for working people and middle-class families like the ones he grew up with in Scranton. The president will continue to put the middle class first as he lays out his plan for the American economy," said National Economic Advisor Lael Brainard.

President Biden's economic agenda has focused on lowering costs for Americans by capping insulin, getting rid of junk fees and a tax vision that encourages the ultra-wealthy to pay their "fair share."

SEE MORE: State of the Union guest lists show political nature of invitations

President Biden will introduce a budget proposal next week that administration officials say will reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over the next 10 years, in part, by raising the corporate tax rate to 28%, expanding denial of tax breaks for corporations paying people more than $1 million and taxing the ultra-wealthy. 

President Biden will also work to lower health care costs, the White House said. That includes pushing to allow Medicare to negotiate 50 drugs, instead of just 10 per year. He is also expected to call on making Affordable Care Act tax credits permanent.

The Biden administrations hopes to make a stark contrast of the president's vision for America compared to what another Trump administration would look like. White House Communications Director Ben LaBolt claimed a second Trump administration would be the "MAGA Republican agenda: rewarding billionaires and corporations with tax breaks, taking away rights and freedoms, and undermining our democracy."

First Lady Jill Biden's guest box also often speaks to main themes of the night.

This year, she will be joined by Latorya Beasley, a mother who was using In vitro fertilization to expand her family when her embryo transfer was canceled following the Alabama Supreme Court decision; and Kate Cox, who was denied an abortion in Texas, suing the state to obtain one due to her health.

Other notable guests include sister to Uvalde shooting victim Jazmin Cazares, and UAW president Shawn Fain.

Sweden's prime minister — following NATO officially welcoming the country as its 32nd member — will also attend. The expansion of NATO is highlighted as a success for the administration in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

President Biden's speech comes as he has faced an impasse in Congress on key issues, including a bipartisan negotiated border deal in the Senate and a national security supplemental including aid for Ukraine and Israel that House republicans have not moved forward.

President Biden has given multiple speeches urging Congress to pass the supplemental, highlighting the urgent need for Ukraine to receive more U.S. aid as officials warn they're running out of ammunition on the front lines in the face of Russia's continued war. The White House invited Ukraine's first lady, but said she was unable to attend.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's first lady declines State of the Union invitation

As the U.S. works to usher through a second deal for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza, families of Americans held hostage by Hamas will be in attendance as guests of lawmakers.

Officials indicated President Biden will speak to the hostage's plight. 

The White House will work to share the State of the Union message across the country in the days that follow. President Biden is expected to travel to Philadelphia and the Atlanta area and Vice President Kamala Harris will go to Arizona and Nevada, according to a White House official. Cabinet and administration members will also fan out across the country.

TSA to test self-service screening system at busy airport

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 18:22

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The Transportation Security Administration said it will begin testing a self-service screening prototype at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. 

The new option for passengers will be available in mid-March, and officials say checkpoints will still carry the "same rigorous screening standards and rules required of passengers using the TSA PreCheck lanes."

The TSA said the screening system has a video monitor that provides step-by-step instructions for passengers to complete screening at their own pace. The TSA said that although there will be minimal assistance from officers, they will be on hand to assist passengers. 

"The aim is to provide a near self-sufficient passenger screening process while enabling passengers to directly receive on-person alarm information and allow for the passenger self-resolution of those alarms to reduce instances where a pat-down or secondary screening procedure would be necessary," TSA said. 

SEE MORE: Delta Air Lines just raised its baggage fees by 17%

The Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security developed the prototype. Officials said with air travel growing, they are looking for ways to screen passengers efficiently. 

“We are constantly looking at innovative ways to enhance the passenger experience, while also improving security,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “This self-service prototype allows our trusted travelers to complete the screening process at their own pace. Testing at the Innovation Checkpoint in Las Vegas gives us an opportunity to collect valuable user data and insights, and explore opportunities to apply parts of the prototype to other airport security checkpoints."

As of February, Harry Reid International Airport was the 10th-busiest airport in the U.S., according to OAG data. 

In 2021, TSA awarded Harry Reid International its award for Large Airport of the Year.

Biden announces plan for temporary Gaza port for humanitarian aid

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 18:07

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President Joe Biden announced a plan in his State of the Union address Thursday for the U.S. military to help establish a temporary port on the Gaza coast, increasing the flow of humanitarian aid for the beleaguered territory during the Israel-Hamas war, according to administration officials.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement, said the operation will not require that American troops be on the ground to build the pier that is intended to allow more shipments of food, medicine and other essential items.

The officials did not provide details about how the pier would be built. One noted that the U.S. military has "unique capabilities" and can do things from "just offshore."

The move provides one more layer to the extraordinary dynamic that's emerged as the United States has had to go around Israel, its main Mideast ally, and find ways to get aid into Gaza, including through airdrops.

SEE MORE: Biden hopes State of the Union address will show he's up to the job

President Biden last week first raised the idea of establishing a "marine corridor," saying the U.S. was working with allies on how it might provide assistance from the sea to those in Gaza.

Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, that he had briefed officials on such a maritime option.

Also Thursday, the U.S. conducted a third airdrop in the northern part of Gaza, where there is no Israeli presence. Kurilla said Central Command has provided options for increasing the number of trucks taking aid to those areas.

Five months of fighting between Israel and Hamas have left much of Hamas-run Gaza in ruins and led to a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. Many Palestinians, especially in the devastated north, are scrambling for food to survive.

Aid groups have said it has become nearly impossible to deliver supplies within most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, the ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order.

Ex-Congressional candidate wanted in Las Vegas murder turns self in

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 17:56

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A former Nevada Congressional candidate and ex-professional wrestler has been arrested in connection to a murder on the Las Vegas Strip.

Dan Rodimer, 45, turned himself in Wednesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest for the October 2023 death of 47-year-old Chris Tapp — who himself previously served 21 years behind bars before being acquitted of a murder he didn't commit.

According to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, medical personnel received a call in October of last year after a 47-year-old man, later identified as Tapp, was injured due to a "purported accident." He was taken to a local hospital where he died from his injuries on Nov. 5. 

SEE MORE: Vegas' Bellagio pauses fountain show after rare bird spotted in water

Police were notified about the "suspicious death" on Nov. 22. Detectives stated they learned Tapp was in an altercation inside a room at a resort prior to his death. 

The Clark County Coroner's Office ruled Tapp's death a homicide and said that he died due to blunt force trauma to the head. The report states radiology found evidence of multiple brain bleeds.

Court documents claim an argument over cocaine at a Halloween party is what allegedly led to the fatal encounter. According to a criminal complaint, event organizers said they bring "Instagram models" to parties — which they put on for wealthy clients — and then film the parties as social media content.

One witness told police the master bathroom became the "fun room" and was where several people were using cocaine. The complaint states Rodimer went into the bathroom and confronted Tapp about possibly giving his stepdaughter cocaine, allegedly saying "if you give my daughter any of that [expletive], I will [expletive] kill you."

A second witness told police that Rodimer was dressed like "Ken" from the Barbie movie, wearing a fur jacket with no shirt. While watching video from the party with police, the witness pointed out Rodimer and said they saw him turn into "angry Ken," rip off his jacket, and run toward the master bedroom.

The witness told police that she told the host of the party, whom she believed to be an F1 driver, that he needed to stop Rodimer because he was going to fight Tapp.

SEE MORE: Musk's Boring Company fined for violations at Vegas underground tunnel

According to the criminal complaint, a third witness told police that after hearing Rodimer yell at Tapp, he heard two loud banging noises and what sounded like a fight. Cell phone records showed this exchange between one of the witnesses, identified as Ryan, and an event organizer named Mark at 1:16 a.m.

RYAN: Yeah dude. I heard him screaming. I was in the bathroom and he threw something for sure but it definitely got that. I'm sure [party host] will tell you all about it.

MARK: Do I need to come back

RYAN: I think right now you're fine. I have no idea what's going on though. It's all happening behind closed doors so I think [party host] is trying to take care of it.

After returning to the suite later that night, the report states Mark saw Tapp lying on the bed, awake but not speaking. He also told police he noticed Tapp's face was swollen and there was a large mark on the left side of his neck. 

When Mark asked the party host what happened, he was told that Tapp slipped, fell, and hit his head on a coffee table. Mark told police he was concerned since Tapp was trying to fall asleep and that it wasn't good if the person had a history of concussions. That's when they called for help.

Text messages between Rodimer and his wife hours after the incident show the two arguing. At 4:59 a.m., the two were arguing back and forth about their divorce when Sarah brought up the attack against Tapp.

SARAH: I'm not gonna fill out stupid [expletive] paperwork that I don't need to worry about considering you're going to be in prison for attempted murder. I watched you nearly murder. Somebody and I had to take your [expletive] hands off from his neck as he laid there and you ran away, and I spent the next two hours trying to take care of him. Nobody should have to watch their husband murder somebody.

SEE MORE: Las Vegas hotel announces closing date to make room for MLB stadium

On Wednesday, Las Vegas police said they were able to identify Rodimer as the main suspect in the case and issued a warrant for his arrest. Lawyers for Rodimer sent Scripps News Las Vegas the following statement on Wednesday night.

"Mr. Rodimer is voluntarily surrendering to authorities and will post a court ordered bail. He intends on vigorously contesting the allegations and asks that the presumption of innocence guaranteed all Americans be respected."

The attorneys added that their client "intends on vigorously contesting the allegations and asks that the presumption of innocence guaranteed all Americans be respected. Rodimer's bail was set at $200,000.

This story was originally published by Jarah Wright at Scripps News Las Vegas.

Florida officer arrested for child pornography after first day on job

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 17:41

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A newly sworn-in police officer in Florida was arrested for child pornography after his first day on the job.

The Indian River County Sheriff's Office said 19-year-old Kai Cromer was sworn in as a deputy on Monday, and by that night, a search warrant had been issued for his phone.

In a media briefing shared with Scripps News, Sheriff Eric Flowers said Cromer had been on call at a high school when "a brave young female came forward” and alerted police that the officer had been contacting her via Snapchat, asking for naked and topless photos.

She told police “she felt very uncomfortable just even seeing him on campus,” Flowers said.

The sheriff said an investigation began immediately.

The police department reviewed over 100 GB of data and arrested him on one count of possession of child pornography.

“Kai Cromer is no longer an employee of the Indian River County Sheriff's Office,” Flowers said Tuesday. “Our captain terminated him while he was in our cell.”

Flowers said a total of four victims have come forward, who are “very concerned for their safety." They said Cromer had requested explicit photos and videos via Snapchat. 

“He was telling people, 'I’m going to be law enforcement, I’m very powerful.' He was forcing these girls, they said they were very uncomfortable with the entire circumstance, and they felt they had no choice but to do these things, and that’s just completely unacceptable,” Flowers said.

Flowers issued a plea for anyone who has spoken with Cromer via his Snapchat account, @KaiCromer, to come forward: “We need to talk to you.” 

He said there are also other victims they are aware of.

“We are confident that there will be other charges,” Flowers said.

Police said they usually do not release law enforcement mug shots but Flowers wanted to hold up Cromer’s for the public to see, in case they may have been a victim or have additional information.

Flowers said he was proud of the victims who came forward and assured any others that they will be protected and their information will remain confidential.

Cromer is being held on a $15,000 bond. 

Sweden officially joins NATO, ending post-World War II neutrality

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 17:19

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Sweden on Thursday formally joined NATO as the 32nd member of the transatlantic military alliance, ending decades of post-World War II neutrality as concerns about Russian aggression in Europe have spiked following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken presided at a ceremony in which Sweden’s “instrument of accession” to the alliance was officially deposited at the State Department.

“This is a historic moment for Sweden. It's historic for the alliance. It's history for the transatlantic relationship,” Blinken said. “Our NATO alliance is now stronger, larger than it’s ever been.”

Kristersson wrote in a social media post that “we are therefore a safer country.”

Later Thursday. Kristersson will visit the White House and then be a guest of honor at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress.

The White House said that having Sweden as a NATO ally “will make the United States and our allies even safer.”

"NATO is the most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world, and it is as critical today to ensuring the security of our citizens as it was 75 years ago when our alliance was founded out of the wreckage of World War II,” it said in a statement.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described it as “a historic day.”

“Sweden will now take its rightful place at NATO’s table, with an equal say in shaping NATO policies and decisions,” he said in a statement.

SEE MORE: NATO chief says Trump's comments undermine security of all NATO allies

The Swedish flag will be raised outside the military organization’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday. Stoltenberg underscored that the Nordic country “now enjoys the protection granted under Article 5, the ultimate guarantee of allies’ freedom and security.”

Article 5 of NATO’s treaty obliges all members to come to the aid of an ally whose territory or security is under threat. It has only been activated once – by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – and is the collective security guarantee that Sweden has sought since Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Sweden’s accession makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer and the whole alliance more secure,” Stoltenberg said. He added that the move “demonstrates that NATO’s door remains open and that every nation has the right to choose its own path.”

Sweden, along with Finland, which joined NATO last year, both abandoned long-standing military neutrality that was a hallmark of the Nordic states’ Cold War foreign policy after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

President Biden, in his speech to Congress, is expected to cite Sweden’s accession to NATO as evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intent to divide and weaken the alliance has failed as a direct result of the Ukraine invasion. And, the Democratic president is expected to use Sweden’s decision to join to step up calls for reluctant Republicans to approved stalled military assistance to Ukraine as the war enters its third year.

President Biden and his NATO counterparts have vowed that Ukraine will join one day, too.

Sweden’s membership had been held up due to objections by NATO members Turkey and Hungary. Turkey expressed concern that Sweden was harboring and not taking enough action against Kurdish groups that it regards as terrorists, and Hungary's populist President Viktor Orban has shown pro-Russian sentiment and not shared the alliance’s determination to support Ukraine.

After months of delay, Turkey ratified Sweden’s admission earlier this year, and Hungary did so this week.

State of the Union guest lists show political nature of invitations

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 17:03

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The State of the Union guest list generally includes citizens not actively in elected office, but their invitations are generally very political. 

The State of the Union is frequently among the most-watched political events of the year. In 2023, nearly 28 million Americans tuned in to watch President Joe Biden give his second State of the Union. 

Early Thursday, the White House released its list of guests who will join first lady Jill Biden in the gallery. The guest list could indicate issues President Biden could address during his speech. Among the issues could be reproductive rights.

Among the guests on President Biden's list include Kate Cox, a Texas woman denied an abortion after she learned she had a non-viable pregnancy. She eventually left the state of Texas to seek an abortion. 

Latorya Beasley, an Alabama woman who had an in vitro fertilization procedure canceled after a state court issued a ruling stating that Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all children, born and unborn, and without limitation, including frozen embryos, was also invited. The court added that it is not up to them to craft limitations to the act. 

The ruling prompted numerous health care organizations to cancel IVF procedures within Alabama as lawmakers scrambled to change the law to carve out exemptions to IVF procedures.

SEE MORE: Biden hopes State of the Union address will show he's up to the job

The issue of gun violence could also arise during the speech as President Biden invited Jazmin Cazares to the State of the Union. Cazares' Jackie was killed in 2022 during the school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Cazares has been an outspoken proponent of stiffer gun laws. 

The gallery could also include some familiar, more political names. 

Among them is journalist Maria Shriver, who will attend as she is the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and strategic adviser on Women’s Health and Alzheimer’s at Cleveland Clinic. 

Shawn Fain, president of the United Auto Workers, will also attend. In 2023, Fain led a union strike against the Big Three automakers, which came to an end in October. The White House said the strike won "historic pay increases, greater retirement security, more paid leave, and more dignity and respect" for workers. 

The full list of President Biden's invitees is on the White House website. 

SEE MORE: Ukraine's first lady declines State of the Union invitation

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced his guests for the address. 

His guest list could be a good indication of how Republicans plan to respond to President Biden's address. 

Among Johnson's guests include New York Police Lt. Ben Kurian and Officer Zunxu Tian. The two members of NYPD were involved in an encounter with migrants in January of this year. Prosecutors say several people, who have been identified as migrants, assaulted the officers who were trying to disperse a crowd. 

Tammy Nobles, mother of Kayla Hamilton, will be on hand. An MS-13 gang member allegedly killed Hamilton. 

A recent Gallup poll indicated that Republicans are far more likely to list immigration as the No. 1 issue facing the U.S. this year. At the same time, Democrats were more likely to list the economy and abortion. 

Johnson also is inviting several anti-transgender rights activists to his speech. Among them, Chloe Cole, an 18-year-old who has spoken out against gender-affirming care after going through a transition of her own at age 12. Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer who objects to the inclusion of transgender athletes in women's athletics, was also invited by Johnson. 

Johnson is also inviting Orna and Daniel Neutra, who had family captured by Hamas during the attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Mia Schem, a French-Israeli citizen captured by Hamas and released in December, will also be on hand. 

The full list of Johnson's invitees is available on the speaker's website. 

Xcel Energy says facilities likely had role in igniting Texas wildfire

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 16:11

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The utility provider Xcel Energy said Thursday that its facilities appeared have played a role in igniting a massive wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that grew to the largest blaze in state history.

Texas officials have said they are still investigating the cause of the fire that has burned nearly 1,700 square miles and destroyed hundreds of structures. 

“Based on currently available information, Xcel Energy acknowledges that its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire,” the company said in a statement.

SEE MORE: PacifiCorp ordered to pay Oregon wildfire victims another $42 million

The Texas fire was among a cluster of fires that ignited in the rural Panhandle last week and prompted evacuation orders in a handful of small communities.

Officials save said that as many as 500 structures may have been destroyed in the fires that include the Smokehouse Creek fire, which is the largest one in Texas history. That wildfire, which also spilled into neighboring Oklahoma, was about 44% contained as of Wednesday.

A lawsuit filed Friday in Hemphill County had alleged that a downed power line near the town of Stinnett on Feb. 26 sparked the blaze. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Stinnett homeowner Melanie McQuiddy against Xcel Energy Services Inc. and two other utilities, alleged the blaze started “when a wooden pole defendants failed to properly inspect, maintain and replace, splintered and snapped off at its base.”

The Minnesota-based company said in a statement that it disputes claims that “it acted negligently” in maintaining and operating infrastructure.

Electric utilities have taken responsibility for wildfires around the U.S., including fallen power lines that started a blaze in Maui last year. Transmission lines also sparked a massive California wildfire in 2019.

Manslaughter trial begins for father of Michigan school shooter

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 15:55

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The prosecution and defense both delivered opening statements Thursday morning in the trial for James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford High School shooter in Michigan. He's charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

You can watch the trial live starting at 9:30 a.m. ET here.

“That nightmare was preventable and it was foreseeable,” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast told the jury.

The defense attorney argued that James did not know what his son was going to do. 

“James Crumbley was not aware that his son had access to that firearm,” defense attorney Mariell Lehman told the jury.

SEE MORE: Michigan school shooter gets life in prison for killing 4 students

A jury was seated in his case on Wednesday, and it took less than two days to seat the jury. It consists of nine women and six men.

There are a lot of parallels between the trial of James and the trial of his wife, Jennifer, who was convicted on four counts of manslaughter last month. Both trials took two days to select jurors and ultimately both will have a group of mostly women determining their fate.

SEE MORE: Mother of Michigan school shooter found guilty of manslaughter

Thoughts surrounding gun ownership and parenting were some of the top questions from attorneys.

"We're still looking for accountability. It's understood the father is half part of parental accountability and responsibility," Craig Shilling, the father of one of the victims, Justin Shilling, told us.

Craig made it known he wants James to have the same fate as Jennifer.

"I feel solid in that there was definitely gross negligence on behalf of both parents," he said.

The shooter pleaded guilty to the murders of four of his classmates and was sentenced in December. But since he is planning to appeal his life sentence, if he were to get on the stand and plead the Fifth, the judge said it would have triggered a mistrial in his mother's case.

Jennifer’s trial received national attention, specifically from legal experts since the unprecedented charges against the parents could impact how future school shooting cases are handled by prosecutors.

This story was originally published by Scripps News Detroit.

Fewer Americans getting tax refunds this tax season

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 15:35

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Through the first month of tax filing, fewer Americans are claiming tax refunds this season. 

According to Internal Revenue Service data, 44.5 million tax returns were filed through Feb. 23, which is down by 3% from the previous year. Of the returns, there have been 28.9 million returns containing refunds, which is down from 35.1 million a year earlier. 

With the U.S. workforce nearly the same size at the end of 2023 as it was in 2022, the data would indicate that some Americans are opting for less money to be taken out of their paychecks rather than receiving a return in the spring.

The IRS says that $92.9 billion in refunds have been issued from the start of the tax season through Feb. 23. Last year, by the same time, over $108 billion had been refunded.

Despite fewer people claiming refunds in the early weeks of tax season, average refunds are higher this year. The IRS says the average refund is $3,213, which is up from $3,079 a year ago. 

SEE MORE: IRS contacting high-income earners who failed to file taxes

Tax refunds have somewhat normalized after a huge jump for the 2021 tax season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In tax season 2021, which accounted for income earned in 2020, the IRS issued $365 billion in refunds. The prior year, $320 billion in refunds were issued. 

By the end of tax season 2022, $359 billion in refunds were issued. Total tax refunds for the 2023 tax season dropped to $334 billion. 

The 2021 and 2022 tax seasons were heavily influenced by numerous government pandemic-era programs intended to provide Americans with stimulus. Among them were several waves of direct payments from the government and an expanded child tax credit. 

The IRS said that those who utilize direct deposit will generally get their return within 21 days, assuming a return was properly filed. If you have filed your taxes and want to know when to expect a return, you can check on the IRS' website.

Why does the government interfere with big company mergers?

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 15:03

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The government has stepped in on multiple big company mergers in recent years.

JetBlue and Spirit Airlines recently called off their merger agreement, weeks after losing a federal antitrust lawsuit.

And the Kroger-Albertsons merger, announced in 2022 with a target date of finalizing early 2024, is now facing legal challenges.

“Historically, the government has tried to, if you will, balance businesses' pursuit of profit with consumers' pursuit of low prices, lots of variety, convenience, et cetera,” said Dan Roccato, a clinical professor of finance at the University of San Diego.

@scrippsnews JetBlue and Spirit Airlines recently called off their #merger agreement after losing a federal lawsuit. But why does the #government ♬ original sound - Scripps News

In both cases, the companies argued that merging would allow them to be more efficient and pass on savings to customers.

“After mergers and acquisitions, we create higher monopoly power for one company. And that monopoly power can be misused,” said Kishore Kulkarni, a professor of economics at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

This is what experts say caused the airline merger to fail.

“It looked like it was doomed from the start because the government initially said this will probably limit competition, raise prices at certain airports, something we’re going to look very closely at,” Roccato said.

So what could this mean for the Kroger-Albertsons merger?

SEE MORE: US sues to block $24.6B merger of grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons

Kroger’s brands include Ralphs, King Soopers and Fred Meyer, for example. Some of Albertsons' brands include Safeway and Acme.

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the $24.6 billion deal, asking a judge to block the merger temporarily. The FTC claims the deal is anticompetitive, and even cited grocery executives as considering this deal a monopoly. 

Yet Kulkarni explained monopolies exist everywhere in our everyday lives. “There are monopoly powers all over. If you look around, utility is a monopoly power, even your garbage pickup company is a monopoly power,” he said.

Roccato said this specific merger may have a tough time going through for multiple reasons.

“I suspect the government is going to pursue a kind of an anti-takeover on this particular deal, if for no other reason than because some administrations take a little bit more of an assertive stance. And in this case you have the unions at Kroger and Albertsons who are basically saying this is not a good deal for consumers and it's not a good deal for us union members,” Roccato said.

SEE MORE: Capital One to buy Discover in $35 billion deal

Police: Stepfather sexually abused Madeline Soto for years

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 14:26

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Days after the body of a missing 13-year-old Florida girl was found in a wooded area, no charges have been filed in her death; but her stepfather is facing charges that he sexually abused her, and that abuse may have gone on for years.

Madeline Soto’s body was found on March 1 by detectives after having last been seen alive on Feb. 26. Police named Stephan Sterns, identified in court documents as her stepfather, as a prime suspect in her disappearance. While he was charged with sexual battery of a minor, no charges have been filed in Madeline’s death.

In an affidavit obtained by Court TV, a detective for the Kissimmee Police Department said that Sterns consented to having his phone searched, but told officers that he “had accidentally performed a factory reset on his phone on February 26, 2024.”

Despite the deletions from Sterns’ phone, detectives said they found disturbing images and videos showing a child being sexually abused. The detective said that the characteristics of the room where the abuse happened matched those of a room inside Sterns’ home, where he lived with both the victim and her mother.

Metadata from the images indicated that they were recorded in Aug. 2022, when the victim was 11 years old.

SEE MORE: Body of missing Florida teen found after mother's boyfriend charged

At a news conference after Sterns’ arrest, detectives revealed that they had surveillance video showing Madeline in Sterns’ car and that they believed she was already dead in the video. Sterns told WFTV in an interview before his arrest, “I dropped her off. Everything looked fine when I drove away. That’s the last time we saw her.”

WFTV also spoke to Madeline’s mother, Jenn Soto, who gave an alternate version of events, saying that she was told that Madeline was “spotted walking by the church by the middle school on the cameras, and they saw her hang out in the parking lot for a little bit and get up and leave. They didn’t see a vehicle or anything else, they just see her walk away around 9 a.m. towards the school, but she never made it.”

Detectives have not revealed how Madeline died or what may have happened to her, only saying that additional surveillance video appears to show Sterns throwing Madeline’s school laptop and backpack into a dumpster, from which they were recovered.

Osceola County Sheriff Marcos López was forced to apologize after a photo of Madeline’s body was accidentally uploaded as part of a post to social media over the weekend. The photo, which was immediately removed, appeared to show her wearing clothes matching the missing person’s description, The Orlando Sentinel reported. Agency Executive Director Nirva Rodríguez was also forced to apologize after posting a selfie in front of Stephan Sterns to her personal Facebook page, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

While no charges have yet been filed for Madeline’s murder, Kissimmee police said they are diligently working to close the case. “Our detectives and forensic unit are working tirelessly to uncover the truth behind this heartbreaking incident. At this time, we are unable to release any further information as this remains an active and sensitive investigation. We understand the desire for updates, and we assure you that every effort is being made to get justice for Madeline.”

This was originally published by Lauren Silver at Court TV.

Meet the 12 women honored at Time's Women of the Year Gala

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 14:19

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This year’s Time Women of the Year Gala was a night of empowerment, warmth and celebration, as attendees gathered to recognize 12 trailblazing women for their contributions within the realms of sports and entertainment, business and economics, science, medicine and beyond.

The theme for Women’s History Month 2024 is “Women Who Advocate for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” and each of this year’s Time Women of the Year honorees happen to be working toward a more equal future in their own unique way. Time CEO Jessica Sibley said in a statement that all of this year’s recipients are “leading the way in creating a more equal world and are making real change through their commitments to the environment, human rights, fair treatment for all people, and more.”

The 2024 Time Women of the Year honorees

Time magazine released a Women of the Year issue that celebrated the 12 Women of the Year recipients for 2024 and featured “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig on the cover. Whether as a writer or director (or both), Gerwig always brings women’s stories to the foreground in her films. In addition to her storytelling prowess, however, she has proven to be a powerhouse when it comes to box office earnings. “Barbie” was not just a smash hit as a U.S. summer flick in 2023, it made box office history and had an impact on audiences around the world.

SEE MORE: Did the Academy Awards snub 'Barbie' star, director?

Gerwig may have graced the cover, but all of Time’s Women of the Year are making strides toward greater representation and opportunities for women. The 12 honorees for 2024 are:

Greta Gerwig, writer, director and actor

Taraji P. Henson, actor and entrepreneur

Andra Day, singer and actor

Coco Gauff, tennis player

Leena Nair, global CEO of Chanel

Yael Admi, co-founder and leader of Women Wage Peace

Reem Hajajreh, founder and director of Women of the Sun

Nadia Murad, president and chairwoman of nonprofit Nadia’s Initiative

Marlena Fejzo, medical scientist and professor of research on hyperemesis gravidarum

Jacqui Patterson, founder and executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project

Ada Limón, U.S. poet laureate

Claudia Goldin, economic historian and labor economist

SEE MORE: How Women's History Month became an international celebration

Toasting to the future

During the gala, the Women of the Year honorees gave toasts in which they celebrated their own contributions and acknowledged the other strong women in the room and around the world. Taraji P. Henson was honored not simply for her accomplishments as an entertainer, but for her outspokenness about the pay inequity that women face in Hollywood.

“I try to be the light on stage, hoping to burn a fire in someone’s heart so they never forget to dream, to remember, to empathize, to be enraged, just to feel something — anything,” Henson said in her toast. “To my fellow recipients, congratulations. Congratulations, all of you… Keep setting the world on fire with your light. It is needed! Burn, baby, burn.”

Other honorees included Grand Slam winner Coco Gauff and Grammy-winning artist Andra Day, who recently sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the 2024 Super Bowl. Day also performed a song at the Women of the Year Gala, closing out the night.

A special recognition, the Time Earth Award, was given to Jacqui Patterson, who is the founder of the Chisholm Legacy Project. Shailene Woodley presented Patterson with the award, commending Patterson for being a champion for “people who face an unjust burden of risk and complication because of our climate crisis.”

One of the most moving toasts came from poet Ada Limón, who is the first Latina to become U.S. poet laureate. Her toast included a recitation of her poem that will be engraved — in Limón’s own handwriting — on NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. The poem will travel on the spacecraft 1.8 billion miles to Jupiter’s second moon. Watch Limón recite “In Praise of Mystery” in the YouTube video below:

This story was originally published by Kate Emswiler at Simplemost.com.

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