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Ground cinnamon recalled after testing positive for lead

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 13:22

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The Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday El Chilar Ground Cinnamon “Canela Molida” is being recalled for potentially containing trace amounts of lead. 

The FDA said that La Raza LLC distributed the products in Maryland to retail stores. 

Maryland Department of Health tested the products and discovered the elevated lead concentrations, the FDA said. Investigators believe the lead contamination is due to potentially adulterated raw material from the supplier.

The FDA said there have not been any illnesses reported and that consumers should monitor for possible symptoms of lead exposure. 

The recalled products have lot codes D300 EX1024 and F272 EX1026. Consumers are urged to stop using the products and return to the point of purchase for a refund. 

The FDA said that short-term exposure to lead might not present any symptoms, and increased blood lead levels may be the only apparent sign of lead exposure.

When children are exposed to lead for prolonged periods of time, permanent damage to the central nervous system may occur. Long-term lead exposure can cause learning disorders, developmental defects and other long-term health problems. 

Concerns over lead exposure have led to efforts to remove lead pipes from homes and abatement of homes with lead paint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are no safe levels of lead.

SEE MORE: Trader Joe's recalls frozen product that could contain plastic

Russian missile strike narrowly misses Zelenskyy while touring Odesa

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 13:16

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The sound of a large explosion reverberated around the Ukrainian port of Odesa as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Greece's prime minister ended a tour of the war-ravaged southern city Wednesday.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the delegations were getting into their vehicles when they heard the blast, which he called a “vivid reminder” that Odesa is gripped by the war with Russia. It is one thing to hear about the war and “quite another to experience war firsthand,” Mitsotakis said.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Zelenskyy: 31,000 soldiers have died in war with Russia

Zelenskyy said the explosion caused an unknown number of dead and wounded. “You see who we’re dealing with, they don’t care where to hit," he told reporters.

Russian officials made no immediate comment.

Zelenskyy has regularly visited cities and military units on the front line during the war, always in secrecy until after he has left. Foreign leaders have made numerous trips to Ukraine, and they occasionally have had to take refuge in shelters when air raid sirens sound.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned on X what she called the “vile attack” during the Greek visit. She called it a “new attempt at terror” by Russia.

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

Zelenskyy showed Mitsotakis around the destruction in Odesa, where in the most recent major Russian attack 12 people — including five children — were killed when debris from a Russian drone hit an apartment block on March 2.

Mitsotakis said Odesa held a special place in Greek history as the place where the Filiki Etairia organization was founded that fought for Greek independence from Ottoman rule in the 19th century.

Man sues government after crashing snowmobile into military helicopter

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 12:59

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Jeff Smith was whizzing along on a snowmobile one evening a few years back when something dark appeared in front of him. He hit his brakes but couldn't avoid clipping the rear tail of a Black Hawk helicopter parked on the trail.

The March 2019 crash almost cost Smith his life and is now the subject of a federal lawsuit by the Massachusetts lawyer. He is demanding $9.5 million in damages from the government, money he says is needed to cover his medical expenses and lost wages, as well as hold the military responsible for the crash.

"The last five years, there's been surgery, recovery, surgery, recovery," said Smith, who lost the use of his left arm, suffered respiratory issues since the crash, and hasn't been able to work full time. "Honestly, right now, it feels like I'm in a worse place than when I first had the surgeries in 2019."

A U.S. District Court judge in Springfield is expected to rule on the lawsuit later this year.

Smith's lawyers in the yearslong court case argue that the crew of the Black Hawk helicopter that flew down from New York's Fort Drum for night training was negligent for parking a camouflaged 64-foot aircraft on a rarely used airfield also used by snowmobilers. Smith also sued the owner of Albert Farms airfield in Worthington, Massachusetts — accusing them of both giving permission to snowmobilers to use the trail and the Blackhawk crew to land in the same area. He settled with the farm owner for an undisclosed sum.

Smith argues that the crew didn't do enough to protect him, including failing to warn snowmobilers of the helicopter's presence on the trail, leaving the 14,500-pound aircraft unattended for a brief time and failing to illuminate it. The helicopter landed on an air strip approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the crew members testified that trainings are often conducted in similar locations. But Smith, who said he had snowmobiled on the trail more than 100 times, said the last time an aircraft used it was decades ago when he was a child — and never a military aircraft.

"Our argument from the beginning has been that it's incompatible to have a helicopter land on an active snowmobile trail," Smith's attorney, Douglas Desjardins, said, adding that the lawsuit was filed after the government failed to respond to their damages claim.

"The Army internal investigation showed pretty clearly that the crew knew that they were landing right before or right after on an active snowmobile trail," he said. "What bad could happen there? You know, helicopter on a snowmobile trail where folks go fast."

The government has attempted to dismiss the case several times, arguing that it can't be sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act since this involves a policy decision. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office had no comment.

They also argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the crew wasn't told that they were landing on a snowmobile trail. They also pushed back on claims they could have prevented the accident, saying there was nothing in their policies that required illuminating the helicopter. They also attempted to cast blame on Smith for the accident, claiming he was driving his sled more than 65 mph at the time the crash and that he had taken both prescription drugs and drank two beers before his ride.

In its investigation, the Army concluded the crew wasn't aware they were landing on a snowmobile trail in the crash. It also questioned whether glow stick-like devices known as chem lights used to light up the craft would have made a difference.

"I found no negligence by the crew and believe they complied with all applicable regulations and laws," according to the report. "Furthermore, given the particular circumstances of this incident, I am not convinced that using such chem lights or similar devices would have prevented the collision."

The night of the accident, Smith said he was over at his mom's helping fix a computer. He had a beer with dinner and then another with his dad, before setting off to meet his brother, Richard Smith, on the trail. Smith drove in the dark alongside farm fields and forests before going over a ridge. His headlights reflected off "something," he said, but Smith only knew it was a helicopter after the crash.

The testimony from the crew and the people who had come out to see the helicopter painted a chaotic scene after the crash, in which Smith was thrown from his snowmobile and his sled went flying through the air.

"I found him face down in the snow," Benjamin Foster, one of the crew members, told the court. "We rolled him on his back and I might remember yelling or telling one of my crew chiefs to grab some trauma shears and space blankets from the aircraft. ... I remember him gasping for breath."

"As soon as I heard that somebody on a snowmobile hit the helicopter, I knew it was my brother," Richard Smith said. "My heart hit my stomach. I just knew it was him. I went down there and my father told me he was alive. I didn't sleep that night. I spent that night on my knees praying."

Smith was airlifted to a trauma center, with a dozen broken ribs, a punctured lung and severe internal bleeding. "It was a mess," Jeff Smith said.

The 48-year-old returned home after a month in the hospital. But he continues to struggle with simple tasks, including putting on socks or pulling up his pants. Worse, he no longer golfs or snowmobiles —- including rides with his brother, friends and his 20-year-old son, Anthony. He gets by on federal disability assistance and lives with his parents.

"We went away that winter before the accident a couple times and he had gotten to that age where we were really bonding," he said. "I feel like it got robbed from me."

For Richard Smith, it's meant the loss of his riding partner. "It has destroyed me," he said.

Jeff Smith is now pinning hopes on winning the lawsuit, which he said would help pay for a procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital that attaches an electronically controlled brace that would improve movement in his left arm.

"It would change my life," he said. "I would certainly be able to function and it would easier to do the daily activities of daily life like brushing my teeth, taking out the trash and opening door with one hand."

A joint Applebee's/IHOP could be coming to a neighborhood near you

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 12:38

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Applebee's has seen its footprint shrink throughout the U.S. in recent years. Its parent company, Dine Brands, might have a solution to help regrow the brand. 

In a recent call with investors, Dine Brands CEO John Peyton said the company intends to open locations where IHOP and Applebee's share a location. 

The company has tried out joint locations in Mexico, recently opening its eighth dual-brand restaurant in Leone, just outside of Mexico City. 

"The concept there is a shared back of house and a combined and blended front of house for the two brands," Peyton said. 

With IHOP more of a breakfast spot while Applebee's caters to a lunch and dinner crowd, combining brands can help spread customers throughout the day. 

"What we are seeing on average is that the revenues for the same size box as one brand or the other is two times or more what it was before, what you would expect, because with the two brands, we can address all four day parts and that is a big innovation that we are nurturing overseas and that our intent is to eventually bring to the U.S. when we find the right opportunity to introduce it," Peyton said. 

SEE MORE: No, Wendy's isn't trying surge pricing. Here's what it's changing

As of the end of 2023, Applebee's had 1,536 U.S. locations, which is down from the end of 2022, when it had 1,569. 

The concept of merging restaurant concepts into one location is not a completely new idea. For instance, Focus Brands, the parent company of Auntie Anne's, Carvel, Cinnabon, Jamba, McAlister's Deli, Moe's Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky's, boasted last year about expanding its footprint of dual-branded restaurants. 

The company had opened dozens of Auntie Anne's and Cinnabon combined locations, primarily in shopping centers. But last year, the company announced plans to open a joint Cinnabon/Carvel location. 

"Dual branding is the future of our brands, especially on the specialty side of the business," said Brian Krause, chief development officer at Focus Brands. "There will always be a place in malls, but there is an immense amount of growth opportunity in streetside venues, and, by dual branding, there is more opportunity for enhanced revenue."

Mnuchin's firm leads $1B lifeline to help New York Community Bank

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 12:14

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Embattled New York Community Bancorp has received the cash injection it needed to stay afloat after a $1 billion lifeline came just in time, with a majority of the funds received from former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's firm, Liberty Strategic Capital.

The troubled lender had sought help and while also assessing interest among investors by Wednesday after shares for the bank fell by almost 32%. Various trading pauses had to be initiated citing volatility. The bank will receive over a $1 billion equity investment, with the majority — $450 million — from Mnuchin's company. 

SEE MORE: What do Powell's comments on rate cuts mean for Americans?

The other firms who joined include Hudson Bay Capital, Reverence Capital Partners and Citadel Global Equities. NYCB said Wednesday that "other institutional investors and certain members of the Company's management" would also contribute. 

The bank pledged to reduce its exposure to commercial real estate, revealing last week that it had "material weaknesses" in how it reviewed loans, related to "ineffective oversight, risk assessment and monitoring activities."

Amid the Wednesday volatility on Wall Street, NYCB's stock fell by over 40% at one point earlier in the day. 

The Wall Street Journal was among the first to report that the lender was strongly seeking cash to help put it back on track. 

Citigroup analyst Keith Horowitz wrote last week that the firm did not "see a sale as likely outcome for NYCB." 

Horowitz said, "In our view, NYCB is on its own to figure out how to course correct," Reuters reported.

CNN reported that it is still unclear if clients with the bank will keep their money in NYCB accounts after such a close call. The bank said last month that deposits it held were stable. 

Arizona appoints first-in-nation state heat response officer

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 03:52

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Arizona has appointed a first-of-its-kind state health official to address the effects of extreme heat.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs appointed Dr. Eugene Livar as part of the state's extreme heat preparedness plan. Livar is tasked with coordinating state and municipal health groups, nonprofits and businesses to prepare for and respond to extreme heat events.

Livar has worked for Arizona's health department since 2012, including as assistant director for public health preparedness, where he helped develop the state's heat response.

"I’m excited to take on this role and this important work to make sure Arizona is prepared as possible for this upcoming heat season and beyond," Livar said in a statement on Wednesday.

While Livar's new post is the first statewide heat response officer, Phoenix itself also already has a city-level heat officer and an office of heat response and resiliency.

The heat preparedness plan is also expected to fund and deploy more cooling centers, improve energy grid resilience in the face of high demand, more closely track the public health impacts of high heat and evolve better disaster response across the state's agencies.

In 2023, Arizona's Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, set a new record for heat-related deaths. At least 469 deaths were confirmed as of October of that year, while more were still being investigated as potentially related.

SEE MORE: Phoenix reaches record number of heat-related deaths

Cancer-causing chemical found in Proactiv, PanOxyl, Target acne creams

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 03:29

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Acne products from brands like Proactiv, Clinique, Clearasil and Target's Up & Up contain high levels of a chemical that's been linked to cancer, according to a Connecticut laboratory's testing.

In a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Tuesday, the New Haven-based lab, Valisure, said its testing of dozens of benzoyl peroxide acne products uncovered many had high levels of the known human carcinogen, benzene. It's calling on the federal agency to recall any benzoyl peroxide products while regulators investigate.

Benzene is a colorless chemical that is a natural component of gasoline and cigarette smoke. Once a person is exposed to high or extended amounts of it, the chemical can cause their blood cells to not work properly, potentially leading to anemia, tissue damage, leukemia and other serious health issues. 

Though the major sources of the chemical include second-hand smoke and industrial fume inhalation, Valisure researchers said their testing of 66 different benzoyl peroxide products — including over-the-counter and prescription-type washes, gels, creams and lotions — found high levels of benzene in decomposing benzoyl peroxide products, too.

They note this decomposition stems from the "inherent instability" of the acne product's molecule that breaks down into benzene, not from a specific ingredient contamination. This particularly occurs when the benzoyl peroxide products kept in higher temperatures, like a hot car or steamy bathroom.

SEE MORE: The risks of benzene in personal care products

In some products, this temperature instability led to a more than 800 times the federal regulatory limit for benzene — 2 parts per million — in under three weeks. Proactiv's 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream, for example, contained as much as 1,761 parts per million of benzene, while another from Target showed 1,598 parts per million. Other products the lab identified as containing high levels of benzene included benzoyl peroxide creams from PanOxyl, Walgreens, La Roche-Posay, Equate and Differin.

The lab also believes product packaging could allow the benzene to leak into the air surrounding unopened benzoyl peroxide products, adding to concern over inhalation exposure. 

In a statement to CBS News, an FDA spokesperson said Valisure's data must be verified as "accurate and reproducible before it can be utilized to make regulatory decisions such as recommending product sale suspensions and recalls." 

Meanwhile, Clearasil manufacturer Reckitt told the publication it was "confident that all Clearasil products, when used and stored as directed on their labels, are safe." Other companies involved in the petition did not respond for comment.

This is the latest report to potentially show unhealthy levels of benzene in many Americans' everyday products. As of late, its presence in sunscreens, hand sanitizers, antiperspirants and dry shampoos have led to product recalls from major companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.

Alabama gov. signs bill protecting IVF providers from legal liability

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 03:03

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed new legislation late Wednesday to protect in vitro fertilization services in the state.

Her signature came hours after state lawmakers passed the bill through Alabama's House and Senate. The new legislation protects health care providers from the Alabama Supreme Court's February ruling that held frozen embryos are equal to children.

Under the new legislation, providers could not be sued or held criminally liable for the "damage or death of an embryo" during in vitro fertilization procedures.

The new legislation says that "no action, suit, or criminal prosecution for the damage to or death of an embryo shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity when providing or receiving services related to in vitro fertilization." It would apply retroactively but would not be applied to ongoing litigation.

The new rule would still permit certain civil lawsuits, but not criminal lawsuits, against manufacturers of IVF equipment.

SEE MORE: Alabama lawmakers advance legislation to protect IVF providers

Some hospitals and IVF providers paused treatments after the ruling to protect their workers from legal risk, and to evaluate the rulings. Doctors and patients who had started procedures were left without guidance or forced to make other plans.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents IVF providers across the U.S., says the new legislation doesn't go far enough, since it doesn't address the "fundamental problem" of the court ruling that it views embryos as children.

Alabama House Democrats have proposed legislation that would clarify that an embryo outside of the uterus could not be an unborn child for purposes of state law.

Republicans have not voted on that proposal.

Experts, advocates say corporal punishment in schools must end

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 02:59

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Kameisha Smith says going to school in Mississippi was sometimes quite literally painful. Like that one day in fourth grade.

"I had to lay over a teacher's lap and was beaten with a paddle because we as a class did not make high enough on a test," Smith says. "She lined all of us up and paddled us one by one."

Getting "licks", as the kids called it, was so prevalent, Smith says the school principal even carried a paddle he named "Mr. Feelgood."

"A lot of times people lean toward corporal punishment because in their small minds there aren't any other effective alternatives," said Smith, now a 29-year-old lobbyist with the Mississippi Coalition to End Corporal Punishment.

Mississippi is one of 21 states that either still allow, or haven't officially banned, corporal punishment to discipline children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, the Department of Education says 19,000 were paddled, spanked, or slapped.

Critics, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, say hitting kids does far more bad than good — causing mental health and emotional problems, injuries, and negatively impacting academic achievement.

"The evidence is that corporal punishment is not an effective disciplinary technique. Kids are resentful. Kids are angry, emotionally upset. There's all kinds of problems that follow," says George Holden, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Holden is a developmental psychologist who has studied parenting, corporal punishment and family violence-related topics for 36 years.

"Sometimes you read about medical problems that ensue. But much more common would be the trauma, the negative feelings about school administrators and schools in general," says Holden, who also served on the board of directors for the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, an advocacy group.

Statistics compiled by the Department of Education also show punishments aren't equal: Compared to White students, Black students are more than twice as likely to be hit in school.

"Black students are seen less deserving of grace than less deserving of the mercy and the softness that other students are granted," Smith says.

Smith is now working to ban corporal punishment in Mississippi for good and teach lawmakers and educators that there are alternatives to hitting.

"I don't think they realize the power that they have in the safety that students feel in these schools," Smith says, "to make sure that there is an environment where all of their needs are met."

SEE MORE: School asks Massachusetts National Guard to restore order

Charges dropped midtrial in 'Hotel California' lyrics case

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 02:58

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From the start, the case was highly unusual: a criminal prosecution centered on the disputed ownership of a cache of hand-drafted lyrics to “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits.

Its end was even more unexpected.

In the middle of trial, New York prosecutors abruptly dropped their case Wednesday against three collectibles experts who had been accused of scheming to hang onto and peddle the pages, which Eagles co-founder Don Henley maintained were stolen, private artifacts of the band’s creative process.

In explaining the stunning turnabout, prosecutors agreed that defense lawyers had essentially been blindsided by 6,000 pages of communications involving Henley and his attorneys and associates. Prosecutors and the defense got the material only in the past few days, after Henley and his lawyers apparently made a late-in-the-game decision to waive their attorney-client privilege shielding legal discussions.

"These delayed disclosures revealed relevant information that the defense should have had the opportunity to explore" when Henley and other prosecution witnesses testified late last month, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Aaron Ginandes told the court.

SEE MORE: Taylor Swift is related to poet Emily Dickinson

With that, rare books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and rock memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski were cleared of all the charges. They had included conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property.

The case centered on roughly 100 pages of legal-pad pages, many from the creation of a classic rock colossus. The 1976 album "Hotel California" ranks as the third-biggest seller of all time in the U.S., in no small part on the strength of its evocative, smoothly unsettling title track about a place where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Prosecutors had said the defendants knew the pages' chain of possession was shaky but sought to keep and sell them anyway, contriving to fabricate a provenance that would pass muster with auction houses and stave off Henley's demands for the return of the handwritten sheets.

Through their lawyers, the defendants contended they were rightful owners of pages that weren't stolen by anyone.

"The next step is building back our reputations," Inciardi said in a written statement after the dismissal. Kosinski, leaving court, said only that he felt "very good" about the case's end. Horowitz hugged tearful family members, then left court without commenting.

Henley lawyer Dan Petrocelli, meanwhile, said the musician plans to turn to civil courts.

"As the victim in this case, Mr. Henley has once again been victimized by this unjust outcome," Petrocelli said in a statement.

One of Kosinski's lawyers, Scott Edelman, said they also were going to "evaluate next steps."

The communications that led to the case dismissal weren't released publicly. But in court earlier this week, defense lawyers said the trove had identified additional potential witnesses and raised questions about some testimony from Henley and others.

Judge Curtis Farber said Wednesday that witnesses and their lawyers used attorney-client privilege "to obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging" and that prosecutors "were apparently manipulated."

As Edelman saw it, prosecutors "got blinded by the fame and fortune of a celebrity."

The defense maintained that Henley gave the lyrics pages decades ago to a writer who worked on a never-published Eagles biography and later sold the handwritten sheets to Horowitz. He, in turn, sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski, who started putting some of the pages up for auction in 2012.

"These are three factually innocent men," said Inciardi's lawyer, Stacey Richman.

Henley, who realized the pages were missing only when they showed up for sale, reported them stolen. He testified at the trial that he let the writer pore through the pages for research but "never gifted them or gave them to anybody to keep or sell."

The writer, Ed Sanders, wasn't charged with any crime and wasn't called to testify. He hasn't responded to messages about the trial.

Defense lawyers said in court Monday that newly produced emails showed that Henley initially suspected someone else before being reminded of the decades-old book project.

The defense said emails also indicated that some Henley lawyers and a private investigator initially characterized the pages’ disappearance as a burglary — and didn't mention Sanders’ 1979 book contract — because they believed that referring to a burglary would help their cause. The contract, often mentioned during the trial, said the Eagles would furnish Sanders with material, which would remain the band’s "sole property."

Messages seeking comment were sent to the Henley attorneys involved in the initial 2012 discussions about the lyrics sheets. Another firm that represented Henley in later dealings with the matter, Loeb & Loeb, said in a statement Wednesday that it respects the attorney-client privilege decisions and is "confident that its attorneys acted in accordance with their professional and ethical responsibilities."

Prosecutors said Wednesday that they repeatedly asked various witnesses to waive their attorney-client privilege, but they chose not to until the past few days.

But Horowitz lawyer Jonathan Bach said that while the defendants were accused of not asking enough questions about the pages' ownership, "it appears that the failure to do a full investigation lies with the other side."

Before the case collapsed, the nonjury trial provided sometimes gossipy peeks into the height of the Eagles' career and the music business.

The court heard the band's longtime manager lament on a decades-old tape about dealing with "a pampered rock star." Henley held in his hands aging pages with lyrics-in-the-making for such Eagles songs as "After the Thrill is Gone," "One of These Nights" and "The Long Run."

During testimony that stretched across three days, the Grammy-winning singer and drummer recounted highlights from the band's heyday, such as the writing of "Hotel California." And he discussed personal low points, including his 1980 arrest after authorities reported finding a 16-year-old girl who was ailing from drug use at his home. It happened as the Eagles were breaking up, and Henley was reeling.

"The band was everything to me, and it's something I’d been working towards since I was 15 years old. It was my whole world" and "my identity," he said. "We had accomplished so much in the previous decade."

In the long run, it wasn't the end. The Eagles reunited in 1994 and are still touring.

Weight loss drugs linked to residual stomach content before anesthesia

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 02:32

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A new study is shining light on the potentially negative effects of GLP-1 agonist drugs used for diabetes management, and sometimes weight loss. The study data from the University of Texas in Houston and published in the JAMA Surgery medical journal found that over half of patients on the medications still had significant stomach content before anesthesia, even after properly following fasting protocols beforehand. 

The findings are important because medical professionals worry about the increased potential for aspiration during anesthesia. 

Last year an anesthesiologist group urged patients to stop taking Ozempic before surgery in guidance published by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. The latest study appears to reveal even more data supporting that guidance. 

The study authors said the findings were "quite surprising," writing that the stomach contents in patients who took the GLP-1 agonist drugs were significantly higher than those who did not take them. 

SEE MORE: You can soon buy an over-the-counter continuous glucose monitor

A specialized point-of-care ultrasound was used to assess and discover the gastric contents before patients underwent anesthesia. 

The study looked at over 120 patients who were scheduled for elective procedures between June and July of last year, which was right around the time that the American Society of Anesthesiologists issued their guidance. 

Now, experts are reexamining fasting times for patients on these drugs, indicating they could require longer fasting times before anesthesia.

Dr. Sudipta Sen, a study author, said, "Patients must ensure they disclose their use of this medication to their surgeons and anesthesiologists."

Dr. Sen said, "This information is crucial for us to provide appropriate recommendations."

The study is expected to lead to serious updates to preoperative protocols. 

SEC will require some companies to disclose their greenhouse emissions

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 02:14

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday approved a rule that will require some public companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks, after last-minute revisions that weakened the directive in the face of strong pushback from companies.

The rule was one of the most anticipated in recent years from the nation’s top financial regulator, drawing more than 24,000 comments from companies, auditors, legislators and trade groups over a two-year process. It brings the U.S. closer to the European Union and California, which moved ahead earlier with corporate climate disclosure rules.

The SEC rule passed 3-2, with three Democratic commissioners supporting it and two Republicans opposed.

Since the SEC proposed a rule two years ago, experts had said it was likely to face litigation almost immediately. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler, one of the Democrats, acknowledged that was a factor the agency considered as it worked toward a final rule.

“We’ve seriously considered what people have said about our legal authorities,” Gensler said on Wednesday.

The changes in the rule weren't made public until Wednesday's meeting. The weakened rule doesn't require companies to report some indirect emissions known as Scope 3. Those don’t come from a company or its operations, but happen along its supply chain — for example, in the production of the fabrics that make a retailer’s clothing — or that result when a consumer uses a product, such as gasoline.

It also reduces reporting requirements for other types of emissions known as Scope 1 — direct emissions — and Scope 2, indirect emissions that come from the production of energy a company acquires for use in its operations. Companies would only have to report those emissions if they believe they are “material” — in other words, significant — a decision that allows companies to decide whether they need to disclose. And smaller companies don’t have to report emissions at all.

Companies, business groups and others had fiercely opposed the Scope 3 requirements, arguing that quantifying such emissions would be difficult, especially in getting information from international suppliers or private companies. The SEC cited that opposition in dropping Scope 3.

Environmental groups and others in favor of more disclosure had argued that those emissions are usually the largest part of any company’s carbon footprint and that many companies are already tracking such information.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which strongly opposed the rule and is already suing over California's rule, said it was still reviewing the final version on Wednesday.

“While it appears that some of the most onerous provisions have been removed, this remains a novel and complicated rule that will likely have significant impact on businesses and their investors,” said Tom Quaadman, executive vice president of the chamber’s capital-markets group.

SEE MORE: FAA finalizes new emissions rules for US airplanes

Soon after the SEC's vote, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced that 10 states were filing a challenge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, a Republican who opposed the rule, said it would be burdensome and expensive for companies and would trigger a flood of inconsistent information that would overwhelm, not inform, investors.

“However well-intentioned, these particularized interests don’t justify forcing investors who don’t share them to foot the bill,” Peirce said.

Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw was one of the Democrats who supported the rule, but she called it “a bare minimum" that unnecessarily limits disclosures.

Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren used similar language. She said she was disappointed by the SEC's decision to "significantly weaken the rule in response to an onslaught of corporate lobbying.”

Approval of the rule comes as climate change is contributing to more extreme and costly weather events around the world. The U.S. alone set a record last year for the number of weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more.

The final rule will affect publicly traded companies in the U.S. ranging from retail and tech giants to oil and gas majors. Required disclosures will include the expected costs of moving away from fossil fuels, as well as risks related to the physical impact of storms, drought and higher temperatures intensified by global warming.

The SEC estimates that roughly 2,800 U.S. companies will have to make the disclosures and about 540 foreign companies with business in the U.S. will have to report climate information. The largest companies will have to start reporting emissions for fiscal year 2026. Smaller companies will have to disclose some information for fiscal year 2027, but not emissions.

The SEC has repeatedly said many companies already report such information, and that investors are making decisions based on it.

“It’s in this context that we have a role to play with regard to climate-related disclosures,” Gensler said on Wednesday.

Many Republicans and some industry groups accused Gensler, a Democrat, of overreach. Their criticism has largely centered on whether the SEC went beyond its mandate to protect the financial integrity of security exchanges and investors from fraud.

Coy Garrison, an attorney who advises companies on SEC reporting and disclosure requirements, said dropping Scope 3 was unlikely to deter litigation. Garrison said the amount of information companies will still have to disclose and the related costs “will continue to raise concerns that the SEC is acting beyond its statutory authority."

Suzanne Ashley, a former special counsel and senior advisor to the SEC’s enforcement director and founder of Materiality Strategies, a company that advises companies on issues including regulation, saw it differently.

Ashley said the removal of Scope 3 requirements and other modifications put the final version “squarely within the SEC’s existing statutory authority to require clear and comparable disclosure of information necessary for the protection of investors.”

California's measure passed last October requires both public and private companies operating in the state with more than $1 billion in revenue to report their direct and indirect emissions, including Scope 3. The European Union also adopted sweeping disclosure rules that will soon take effect.

“All public companies need to digest the final rules," said Michael Littenberg, an attorney at Ropes & Gray on the SEC's action. "Based on how the rules are set up, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.”

SEE MORE: Record greenhouse gases make 2023 likely the hottest in 100,000 years

The SAT is now fully digital. Here's what else is changing on the exam

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 01:47

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Say goodbye to the days of perfectly shading in those little answer circles with your No. 2 pencil: The SAT exam is going full digital.

Starting Saturday, students in the U.S. will begin taking the college admissions exam online, whether it be on a personal laptop or tablet or one administered by their school, at designated in-person testing sites.

And on top of gaining back the time it takes to sharpen your lead or fill in those bubbles on each page, test takers will also gain an hour back from the test itself, with it now taking two hours instead of three. It'll also feature shorter reading passages instead of longer texts, as well as digital tool options, like a calculator, to facilitate a smoother experience.

The digital SAT is expected to cover the same concepts as the paper version, but the format will be different. The College Board, the nonprofit that develops and administers the SAT, says the new exam will adopt a "multistage adaptive design." This means its test sections of reading/writing and math will both be divided into two equal-length, separately timed modules, and the questions in the second module will be given based on how the test-taker performed in the first module.

The College Board stresses this format will tailor each question to a test-taker's abilities while making it "practically impossible" to share answers. It notes there won't be disadvantages or lower scores on the test's 1600-point scale just because the second module had an easier set of questions.

It's likely good news for the more than 1.9 million students who took the SAT last year — an increase from the 1.7 million from the class of 2022 who took the exam.

In announcing the switch to digital in January 2022, the College Board said its pilot program two months prior had resulted in 90% of students saying they found the digital exam less stressful, and 100% of educators said it was a positive experience.

SEE MORE: More college admissions are going 'test optional' for SAT, ACT

"The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant," said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments at the College Board. "We're not simply putting the current SAT on a digital platform — we're taking full advantage of what delivering an assessment digitally makes possible. With input from educators and students, we are adapting to ensure we continue to meet their evolving needs."

The College Board faced pressure to change the model of the test in the wake of the pandemic after many questioned the SAT's fairness and ability to gauge a student's abilities. Others argued that basing one's future education on the standardized tests could put lower-income students at a disadvantage if they're unable to get proper equipment or training beforehand.

Yet after many schools previously withdrew their SAT requirements for admissions, some schools have reverted to requiring them again — a sign for the College Board that the tests aren't going anywhere.

"The continued growth of the SAT post-pandemic shows that students value and take the SAT to show what they've learned, to connect with scholarships and colleges, and to open doors to their post-high-school futures," Rodriguez said. "The SAT continues to be a valuable tool for students, educators, and higher education."

In terms of accessibility for the digital SAT, the College Board said it's working to address inequities and will provide devices for students who need them on test day. These will already have the necessary Bluebook app, where students will be taking the exam.

"The SAT allows every student — regardless of where they go to high school — to be seen and to access opportunities that will shape their lives and careers," Rodriguez said. "I am one of those students. I'm a first-generation American, the child of immigrants who came to the U.S. with limited financial resources, and I know how the SAT Suite of Assessments opened doors to colleges, scholarships, and educational opportunities that I otherwise never would have known about or had access to. We want to keep those same doors of opportunity open for all students."

Ukraine's first lady declines State of the Union invitation

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 00:18

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The White House confirmed Wednesday at a press conference Scripps News attended that Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska declined an invitation to Thursday's States of the Union address, and confirmed that the first lady was indeed sent an invitation to the key event. 

The White House had planned for Zelenska to sit near U.S. first lady Jill Biden. It wasn't clear why Zelenska declined to attend, and the White House referred reporters' questions to Ukraine for clarification on that specific point. 

Politico reported that Zelenska said it was because of a scheduling conflict, specifically that the first lady had to be present for "a visit of children from an orphanage to Kyiv, which was planned in advance," during that time. Other reports, including from the Washington Post, speculated, citing sources, that the possibility of Zelenska being seated near Yulia Navalnaya — the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — could have become a complex political issue. Navalny died in an Arctic prison in Russia last month.  

SEE MORE: Following Super Tuesday victories, Trump calls for debate with Biden

It would not have been Zelenska's first trip to Washington, or her first appearance in Congress. In July 2022, the first lady made an emotional appeal before the U.S. Congress, punctuated by pictures of children killed or maimed by Russian attacks. "Russia is destroying our people. These are Russia's hunger games, hunting for peaceful people in peaceful cities in Ukraine," said Zelenska.

Just before that in May 2022, U.S. first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine to hold a surprise Mother's Day meeting alongside Zelenska, as Russia pressed its punishing war in the eastern regions.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed a short-term funding bill hours before a partial government shutdown would have begun. In addition to funding the U.S. government, Biden called on the House to pass a supplemental security bill to provide aid to Ukraine along with Israel as they both fight wars. 

President Biden will address a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday March 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

The White House said the president plans to outline how his administration will face challenges with optimism, and how he remains hopeful about the future of the country. 

On Wednesday, GOP front-runner and former President Donald Trump used his momentum in the run-up to the State of the Union to urge President Biden to join him on the debate stage as the two run in the 2024 race for the White House, both eager for a second term in office. 

"It is important, for the good of our country, that Joe Biden and I debate issues that are so vital to America, and the American people. Therefore, I am calling for debates, anytime, anywhere, anyplace," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. 

No incumbent president has stood for a primary debate, going all the way back to President Gerald Ford. 

Barbie marks 65th anniversary with dolls honoring trailblazing women

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 23:56

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Barbie's turning 65 and Mattel's throwing a party fit for the queen we all know she is. 

Just in time for International Women’s Day, the company announced the launch of a brand-new, one-of-a-kind doll collection honoring global role models and storytellers who inspire girls, spread positivity and make a difference.

Viola Davis

Leading the pack is none other than Viola Davis, a celebrated EGOT recipient, artist, activist, producer, philanthropist, and bestselling author. Mattel says it selected Davis, renowned for her roles in "Fences" and "The Help," for her commitment to inclusive storytelling through her JuVee Production company and her efforts to combat childhood hunger in the U.S. Her doll will feature her iconic look from the 2018 Golden Globes, where she stunned the red carpet with her natural afro, a black velvet Brandon Maxwell gown, silver jewelry and matching clutch.

Shania Twain

Mattel will also create a doll in honor of Shania Twain, the five-time Grammy winner and celebrated songwriter recognized worldwide for her chart-topping hits like "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and her influential contributions to the world of fashion. With over 100 million albums sold globally, Twain holds the title of the top-selling country-pop artist of all time and the first artist ever to release three consecutive diamond-certified albums. Her doll, of course, will feature her famous “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” outfit and standing microphone.

Dame Helen Mirren

Renowned actress Helen Mirren is not only being celebrated by Mattel for her stellar performances as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen" and for being the narrator in the record-breaking "Barbie the Movie," but also for her advocacy in embracing self-expression, aging, and fashion.

Helen also serves as a patron for several organizations dedicated to supporting women and children, and was appointed a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. Her doll features the custom periwinkle gown by Del Core that Mirren wore at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and matching color hair. 

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue snagged her first Grammy this year and now she's getting a doll for being the only female artist with a No. 1 album in five consecutive decades in the U.K. Her dazzling career boasts 80 million records sold, 5 billion streams, and 9 U.K. No. 1 albums, and Mattel believes that as a pop icon, her "reinventions and explorations" keep her rooted in the present while celebrating our collective past. Her doll will feature her iconic red outfit from the music video "Padam Padam," the song that won her the best pop dance recording Grammy. 

More role models

Alongside the four entertainers in the Barbie Role Models line, Mattel is also honoring four other women worldwide: Lila Avilés, a Mexican director, producer, and screenwriter whose work has won over 30 international festivals; Maira Gomez, a Brazilian content creator from the Tatuyo ethnic group in Amazonas who shares her culture and traditions with nearly 7 million social media followers; Nicole Fujita, a Japanese model whose apparel brand CALNAMUR will open its first retail store this month; and Enissa Amani, an Iranian-German comedian and political activist who uses her voice to create and produce viral shows that address racism and other issues..

“Barbie’s story has never been just about her. It’s about the countless young kids she’s inspired and the millions of stories she helped them imagine along the way,” said Krista Berger, senior vice president of Barbie and global head of dolls, in a press release. “For the past 65 years, Barbie has used her global platform to empower girls to dream big, explore their limitless potential, and direct their own narrative to shape their future. As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we recognize over six decades of stories Barbie has helped write and the doll that continues to give everyone the opportunity to dream — and dream big.”

Jury finds 'Rust' armorer guilty of involuntary manslaughter

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 23:19

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A jury convicted Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, a 24-year-old armorer, of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film "Rust." 

The jury found Gutierrez-Reed not guilty on an additional charge of evidence tampering.

Closing arguments were delivered on Wednesday. Gutierrez-Reed faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Prosecutors alleged Gutierrez-Reed brought live ammunition onto the movie set, which later found its way into a prop gun that went off when actor Alec Baldwin pointed it at Hutchins. The incident also injured director Joel Souza.

Prosecutors said the armorer skipped gun-safety steps that are meant to catch risks such as those from live rounds.

The defense argued no one on set was aware of the live rounds, and no one could have predicted that Baldwin would have pointed the gun as he did. They say he went "off-script" when he pointed the revolver.

To demonstrate this behavior, prosecutors played video from the film set that showed Baldwin continue to fire a gun loaded with blanks after the director called "cut."

The 10-day trial included testimony from FBI firearms experts and a camera dolly operator who witnessed the shooting of Hutchins.

Baldwin will also face a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the case, scheduled for trial in July. He has pleaded not guilty.

SEE MORE: Alec Baldwin to stand trial in July for deadly shooting on 'Rust' set

Following Super Tuesday victories, Trump calls for debate with Biden

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 22:28

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In a post on Truth Social, former President Donald Trump called for debates against President Joe Biden, his anticipated rival for the 2024 presidential election.

"It is important, for the good of our country, that Joe Biden and I debate issues that are so vital to America, and the American people. Therefore, I am calling for debates, anytime, anywhere, anyplace," Trump wrote.

Trump said the debates could be run by the Democratic National Committee, which he alleges is corrupt, or by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan nonprofit that has sponsored all of the presidential debates since 1988.

But no incumbent president has stood for a primary debate, going all the way back to President Gerald Ford. 

In 2023 before the field narrowed, Democratic challengers to President Biden called for primary debates, which did not take place. 

Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson wrote in Newsweek at the time that failing to hold primary debates amounted to "candidate suppression."

Williamson suspended her 2024 campaign in February, but later "unsuspended" it, saying she had to respond to the threat posed by Trump.

President Biden's closest Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, suspended his campaign and endorsed President Biden on Wednesday.

SEE MORE: Mitch McConnell endorses Donald Trump for president

Trump is the only major Republican candidate remaining in the race following a near-sweep of Super Tuesday contests. 

His closest challenger, former U.N. ambassador and North Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, formally suspended her campaign Wednesday after winning only one state contest on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Biden campaign has not responded to Trump's comments.

NTSB: Boeing hasn't turned over key records in Alaska Airlines probe

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 22:23

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Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board argued Wednesday over whether the company has cooperated with investigators looking into the blowout of a door-plug panel on one of its planes during a flight in January.

The safety board's chair, Jennifer Homendy, told a Senate Committee that for two months Boeing repeatedly refused to identify employees who work on door panels on Boeing 737s. Investigators want to interview them.

Homendy also said the company has failed to provide documentation about a repair job that included removing and reinstalling the panel on the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 that suffered the blowout — or even whether Boeing kept records.

"It's absurd that two months later we don't have that," Homendy said. "Without that information, that raises concerns about quality assurance, quality management, safety management systems" at Boeing.

Shortly after the Senate hearing ended, Boeing responded that it gave the NTSB the names of all employees who work on 737 doors — and had previously shared some of them with investigators.

"Early in the investigation, we provided the NTSB with names of Boeing employees, including door specialists, who we believed would have relevant information," a company spokesman said in a statement. "We have now provided the full list of individuals on the 737 door team, in response to a recent request."

NTSB fired back, saying that Homendy "stands behind her accurate testimony" to the Senate Commerce Committee.

It is still not clear whether Boeing kept records about who removed the plug — a panel that takes the place of extra emergency doors when those doors are not required — on the Alaska plane last September.

"If the door plug removal was undocumented there would be no documentation to share," Boeing said.

SEE MORE: Passengers file $1 billion lawsuit against Alaska Airlines, Boeing

Boeing has been under increasing scrutiny since the Jan. 5 incident in which a panel that plugged a space left for an extra emergency door blew off an Alaska Airlines Max 9. Pilots were able to land safely, and there were no injuries.

In a preliminary report last month, the NTSB said four bolts that help keep the door plug in place were missing after the panel was removed so workers could repair nearby damaged rivets last September. The rivet repairs were done by contractors working for Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, but the NTSB still does not know who removed and replaced the door panel, Homendy said Wednesday.

Homendy said Boeing has a 25-member team led by a manager, but Boeing has declined repeated requests for their names. The manager of the team is on medical leave and unavailable, and security-camera footage that might have shown who removed the panel was erased and recorded over 30 days later, she said.

Lawmakers seemed stunned.

"That is utterly unacceptable," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., accused Boeing of failing to emphasize safety, which "endangered the lives of the 180 passengers and crew aboard the Alaska Airlines flight."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who represents the state where Max jetliners are assembled, said she would press Boeing to cooperate with NTSB. She also noted that Boeing is a leading U.S. exporter and major defense contractor.

"We need to get this right," Cantwell said. "We need to help with the investigation so we can find out what in our system needs to be improved."

The Federal Aviation Administration recently gave Boeing 90 days to say how it will respond to quality-control issues raised by the agency and a panel of industry and government experts. The panel found problems in Boeing's safety culture despite improvements made after two Max 8 jets crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

8 teens shot at Philadelphia bus stop, 4th transit shooting in 4 days

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 22:10

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Police say eight Philadelphia high school students waiting to board a city bus after classes Wednesday were wounded by gunshots from suspects who jumped from a car and opened fire, the fourth shooting on the transit system in as many days.

The previous three shootings each involved a fatality. At least one student was critically wounded at the bus stop, a 16-year-old who was hit nine times, Kevin Bethel, the city’s police commissioner, said at a news conference. The other victims were in stable condition.

Bethel said the Northeast High School students, ranging in age from 15 to 17, were waiting for the bus at around 3 p.m. when three people emerged from the car, which was waiting at the scene, and fired more than 30 shots.

Police received numerous 911 calls about a "mass shooting on the highway near Dunkin' Donuts," in northeast Philadelphia, according to police spokesperson Tanya Little.

The injured teens were taken to Einstein Medical Center and Jefferson Torresdale Hospital, according to John Golden, a spokesperson for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, or SEPTA. Two buses — a Route 18 bus and a Route 67 bus — were hit by gunfire, but there were no reports of injuries to passengers or drivers.

Northeast High School is more than a mile from where the shooting took place and the largest public high school in the city, with more than 3,000 students.

SEE MORE: New York to deploy National Guard to subways after string of violence

Monique Braxton, deputy chief of communications for the Philadelphia school district, said the shooting occurred near Crossan Elementary, which was dismissing students at the time but pulled them back inside and locked down. It later got an all-clear from police.

Mayor Cherelle Parker, standing at the scene with the city police commissioner and prosecutor and the school superintendent, said she wanted people to know that "we will not be held hostage, that we will use every legal tool in the toolbox to ensure the public health and safety of the people of our city."

Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. said officials were "absolutely heartbroken and angry that innocent children walking home from school would be impacted by gun violence, and we agree with the mayor: Enough is enough."

The scene was cordoned off with yellow police tape in the aftermath of the shooting, with dozens of evidence markers lying on the rain-slicked pavement.

Neighborhood resident Jessica Healy, who was with her 2-year-old daughter, said the area has become more unsafe in recent years, and she has neighbors who are already in the process of moving due to previous incidents.

"I think it's really sad and just dangerous that I don’t even want to walk my daughter out here," Healy said.

"It's not safe … I don’t like it here. I would like to move. But my boyfriend has a good job here, so this is why we stay," she added.

Another longtime resident, Brenda Keith, said she doesn't take extraordinary measures to stay safe, other than being aware of her surroundings in case she suddenly needs to get away from trouble. She understands if people don’t feel safe in the city right now or are uneasy about riding SEPTA, but she's determined not to let shootings stop her from living her life.

"But we’re not the only city that’s going through this … I've been here a long time and things have gotten worse, but that’s the way life is," Keith said.

Wednesday's shooting followed shootings the previous three days in which someone was killed while riding, entering or leaving a SEPTA bus.

Tuesday's shooting occurred at around 6:35 p.m., when police said a verbal argument and then a physical fight began. One of the two passengers exited, turned and fired two shots from a 9 mm handgun, hitting a man later identified as 37-year-old Carmelo Drayton, who died shortly afterward at a hospital.

The shooter, who officials said was wearing a kind of mask not allowed on the transit system, fled. Authorities were investigating a possible motive, and no other injuries were reported.

SEPTA's chief of transit police, Charles Lawson, said the shots were fired at the victim while the driver was "immediately behind."

On Monday, a 17-year-old student was killed and four other people were wounded when gunfire erupted at a bus stop. The victims included two women who were riding on a bus.

And on Sunday, at around 11:30 p.m., a 27-year-old man was killed by another passenger moments after they both got off a bus. Witnesses said the two had argued, but a motive remains under investigation.

No arrests have been made in any of the shootings, Frank Vanore, deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia police department, said Wednesday.

While serious crime overall is down along the transportation system, Lawson said, a pattern has emerged over the past year and a half involving people carrying weapons, usually illegally, getting into an argument and then opening fire. He vowed that officials would enforce crime aggressively and unapologetically and use "every legal means at our disposal to target illegal gun possession."

"We're going to target individuals concealing their identity. We're going to target fare evasion. We're going to target open drug use," Lawson said. "We're going to target every criminal code on the books."

Officials are increasing monitoring of security cameras and looking into ways to let employees report potential problems discreetly and safely, Lawson added.

House passes $460 billion spending bills before shutdown deadline

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 22:03

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The House passed a $460 billion package of spending bills Wednesday that would keep money flowing to key federal agencies through the remainder of the budget year. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation before a midnight Friday shutdown deadline.

Lawmakers are negotiating a second package of six bills, including defense, in an effort to have all federal agencies fully funded before a March 22 deadline. In the end, total discretionary spending set by Congress is expected to come in at about $1.66 trillion for the full entire year.

A significant number of House Republicans have lined up in opposition to the spending packages, forcing House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to use an expedited process to bring the bill up for a vote. That process requires two-thirds of the House to vote for the measure for it to pass.

The House passed the measure by a vote of 339-85.

The nondefense spending in this year's bills is relatively flat compared to the previous year. Supporters say that keeping that spending below the rate of inflation is tantamount to a cut, forcing agencies to be more frugal and focus manpower on top priorities. Johnson cited a 10% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 7% cut to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a 6% cut to the FBI.

But many Republican lawmakers were seeking much steeper cuts and more policy victories. The House Freedom Caucus, which contains dozens of the GOP's most conservative members, urged Republicans to vote against the first spending package and oppose the second one being negotiated.

"Despite giving Democrats higher spending levels, the omnibus text released so far punts on nearly every single Republican policy priority," the group said.

SEE MORE: What is impacted by a 'partial' government shutdown?

Johnson countered that House Republicans have just a two-vote majority in the House while Democrats control the Senate and White House.

"We have to be realistic about what we're able to achieve," Johnson said.

Democrats staved off most of the policy riders that House Republicans sought to include in the package. For example, they beat back an effort to block new rules that expand access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Democrats also said the bill would fully fund a nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children, providing about $7 billion for what is known as the WIC program. That's a $1 billion increase from the previous year.

As part of those negotiations, House Republicans pushed to give a few states the ability to disallow the purchase of non-nutritious food, such as sugary drinks and snacks, in the food stamp program known as SNAP. The GOP's effort was unsuccessful for now, but supporters say they'll try again in next year's spending bills.

"The bill certainly doesn't have everything that we may have wanted, but I am very proud to say we successfully defeated the vast majority of the extreme cuts and hundreds of harmful policy riders proposed by the House Republicans," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

House Republicans were able to achieve some policy wins, however. One provision, for example, will prevent the sale of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China. Another policy mandate prohibits the Justice Department from investigating parents who exercise free speech at local school board meetings.

Another provision strengthens gun rights for certain veterans.

SEE MORE: Lawmakers announce deal on government appropriations

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs must send a beneficiary's name to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System whenever a fiduciary is appointed to help manage someone's benefits because they lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. This year's spending package prohibits the department from transmitting that information unless a relevant judicial authority rules that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or herself, or others.

Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said a finding of mental incompetency by the VA is typically based on "very serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia and dementia."

"They wanted so badly to make sure that vulnerable veterans could access more firearms," Takano said. "This is wrong. Lives are on the line. Veterans' lives are on the line, and I will not agree to legislation that will cause more people's lives to be lost to gun violence."

Republicans have argued that current VA policy deters some veterans from seeking the care and benefits they have earned.

In a closed-door meeting with the House GOP, Johnson, looking to show that Republicans did get some policy wins in the negotiations, read from a news report about how Democrats were having "heartburn" about the gun provision, according to a Republican familiar with the discussion who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

The bills to fund federal agencies are more than five months past due with the budget year beginning Oct. 1. House Republicans are describing an improved process nevertheless, saying they have broken the cycle of passing all the spending bills in one massive package that lawmakers have little time to study before being asked to vote on it or risk a government shutdown.

But critics of the bill, such as Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., were dismissive about how much the process really changed.

The first package covers the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior and Transportation, among others.

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