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Study finds 1 in 10 US children don't have a primary care doctor

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 15:53

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Dr. Steven Furr has been a family physician in Jackson, Alabama, for 39 years. He is also the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. 

"At one time we had five board-certified family physicians. Now we only have three and we're struggling to find anybody to join our practice," said Furr.

The demand continues to increase. Research shows it can take an average of 26 days to get to see a family doctor in the U.S. 

A new report out Wednesday shows how that impact hits patients. More than 1 in 10 U.S. children don't have a primary doctor, and more than 1 in 4 adults don't have one either. There has been a 36% jump in the share of U.S. children without a usual source of care over the last decade.

Dr. Yalda Jabbarpour is the lead author of the study and medical director of the Robert Graham Center.

"Especially for first time parents who really don't have any idea if this is normal, it's so important to have your primary care clinician there to help you through that. Vaccinations can be missed and those are critical for children," said Jabbarpour.

Jabbarpour says this impacts the continued rise seen in growing mental health issues in children and adults.

"Primary care is the first place where that gets identified. So not having a primary care clinician can be really detrimental in terms of getting on top of those issues early," said Jabbarpour.

Burnout and lower reimbursements add to the struggle to keep family doctors — or to appeal to medical students who may find specialties more lucrative. But Furr says he and doctors like him are specialists, and they need more company.

"It's not uncommon for me to treat their diabetes and hypertension while treating their UTI at the same time they're there for a visit. And that's the kind of personalized care we can give. At the same time, we know there are other problems. We know they recently got divorced. They're struggling to meet their light bills. They can't afford all the medicines that we might like to give them. So that is a unique specialty in that we really focus on the whole patient," said Furr.

Each March, medical students match to hospital residency programs, picking a specialty. 2023 saw the largest class matching to family medicine programs — about 4,500 future doctors. Experts hope this March it will be more of the same — worrying it still won't meet demand. 

SEE MORE: Rising child care costs creating dilemma for working parents

Burger King trolls Wendy's for implementing dynamic pricing

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 15:47

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As Wendy's made headlines for introducing dynamic pricing for its menus, Burger King trolled its red-haired rival by saying, "We don't believe in charging people more when they're hungry."

Burger King looked to take advantage of the controversy by offering a free Whopper with a $3 purchase through Friday at participating stores. The free burgers are available through Burger King's app and website. 

QSR Magazine lists Wendy's as the No. 5 fast food chain in the U.S. based on sales, with Burger King ranking No. 8.

Burger King's response came after Wendy's said on an investor call earlier this month that it would test dynamic pricing using artificial intelligence. A Wendy's spokesperson on Monday also confirmed that the company would implement dynamic pricing.

Dynamic pricing is a practice commonly used by ride-sharing apps and ticket-selling platforms where the price can change based on demand. 

"Dynamic pricing can allow Wendy's to be competitive and flexible with pricing, motivate customers to visit and provide them with the food they love at a great value," a Wendy's spokesperson said. 

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

These statements led many to believe that Wendy's would follow a model similar to Uber and Lyft, where prices can surge to be much higher during busy periods. 

Wendy's said implementing dynamic pricing does not mean it's implementing a "surge pricing" model. 

"Wendy’s will not implement surge pricing, which is the practice of raising prices when demand is highest," the company said. "We didn't use that phrase, nor do we plan to implement that practice."

Ticketmaster is a company that commonly uses dynamic pricing as many sporting events and concerts no longer have a fixed face value. Depending on when you look for tickets for an event, the price to get in could vary depending on numerous factors, including demand.

"Unlike fixed pricing models, dynamic prices are constantly in flux, driven by complex pricing rules or machine learning algorithms that take in large data sets from historical sales and competitor price data to arrive at an appropriate price point for any number of product and customer segments," Ticketmaster said.

Texas battles historic wildfires as snow covers scorched land

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 15:36

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A dusting of snow covered a desolate landscape of scorched prairie, dead cattle and burned out homes in the Texas Panhandle on Thursday, giving firefighters brief relief in their desperate efforts to corral a blaze that has grown into the largest in state history.

The Smokehouse Creek fire grew to nearly 1,700 square miles. It merged with another fire and is just 3% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Gray skies loomed over huge scars of blackened earth in a rural area dotted with scrub brush, ranchland, rocky canyons and oil rigs. In Stinnett, a town of about 1,600, someone propped up an American flag outside a destroyed home.

Dylan Phillips, 24, said he hardly recognized his Stinnett neighborhood, which was littered with melted street signs and the charred frames of cars and trucks. His family's home survived, but at least a half a dozen others were smoking rubble.

“It was brutal,” Phillips said. “The street lights were out. It was nothing but embers and flames.”

The Smokehouse Creek fire's explosive growth slowed Thursday as snow fell and winds and temperatures dipped, but it was still untamed and threatening. The largest of several major fires burning in the rural Panhandle section of the state, it has also crossed into Oklahoma.

Firefighter Lee Jones was helping douse the smoldering wreckage of homes in Stinnett to keep them from reigniting when temperatures and winds increase Friday and into the weekend.

“The snow helps,” said Jones, who was among a dozen firefighters called in from Lubbock to help. “We’re just hitting all the hot spots around town, the houses that have already burned.”

Authorities have not said what ignited the fires, but strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fed the blazes.

“The rain and the snow is beneficial right now, we’re using it to our advantage,” Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Juan Rodriguez said of the Smokehouse Creek fire. “When the fire isn’t blowing up and moving very fast, firefighters are able to actually catch up and get to those parts of the fire.”

 

SEE MORE: Wildfires in Texas prompt evacuations, disaster declaration

Authorities said 1,640 square miles  of the fire were on the Texas side of the border. Previously, the largest fire in recorded state history was the 2006 East Amarillo Complex fire, which burned about 1,400 square miles and resulted in 13 deaths.

Two women were the only confirmed deaths so far this week. But with flames still menacing a wide area, authorities had yet to conduct a thorough search for victims or tally the numerous homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.

Cindy Owen was driving in Texas' Hemphill County south of Canadian on Tuesday afternoon when she encountered fire or smoke, said Sgt. Chris Ray of the state's Department of Public Safety. She got out of her truck, and flames overtook her.

A passerby found Owen and called first responders, who took her to a burn unit in Oklahoma. She died Thursday morning, Ray said.

The other victim, an 83-year-old woman, was identified by family members as Joyce Blankenship, a former substitute teacher. Her grandson, Lee Quesada, said deputies told his uncle Wednesday that they had found Blankenship’s remains in her burned home.

President Joe Biden, who was in Texas on Thursday to visit the U.S.-Mexico border, said he directed federal officials to do “everything possible” to assist fire-affected communities, including sending firefighters and equipment. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has guaranteed Texas and Oklahoma will be reimbursed for their emergency costs, the president said.

“When disasters strike, there’s no red states or blue states where I come from,” Biden said. “Just communities and families looking for help. So we’re standing with everyone affected by these wildfires and we’re going to continue to help you respond and recover.”

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties and planned to visit the Panhandle on Friday.

Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, said the weekend forecast and “sheer size and scope” of the blaze are the biggest challenges for firefighters.

“I don’t want the community there to feel a false sense of security that all these fires will not grow anymore,” Kidd said. “This is still a very dynamic situation.”

Jeremiah Kaslon, 39, a Stinnett resident who saw neighbors’ homes destroyed by flames that stopped just on the edge of his property, seemed prepared for what the changing forecast might bring.

“Around here, the weather, we get all four seasons in a week,” Kalson said. “It can be hot, hot and windy, and it will be snowing the next day. It’s just that time of year.”

Encroaching flames caused the main facility that disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal to pause operations Tuesday night, but it was open for normal work by Wednesday. The small town of Fritch, which lost hundreds of homes in a 2014 fire, saw 40 to 50 more destroyed this week, Mayor Tom Ray said.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller estimated cattle deaths to be in the thousands, with more likely to come.

“There’ll be cattle that we’ll have to euthanize,” Miller said. “They’ll have burned hooves, burned udders.”

Miller said individual ranchers could suffer devastating losses. But he predicted the overall impact on the Texas cattle industry and on consumer prices for beef would be minimal.

Biden and Trump to host dueling border visits on migrant crisis

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 14:55

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We are about eight months out from the general election, and while it's too early to say what will be the defining issue of 2024 for voters, at this stage it's clear that border security will be near the top.

The hot-button issue will be on full display Thursday with dueling border visits by the two leading presidential candidates.  President Joe Biden will be making his second border visit in the town of Brownsville, Texas. Some 320 miles away, former President Donald Trump will be in Eagle Pass, Texas.

So how do both presidencies compare when it comes to the issue of border security?

SEE MORE: 14 GOP governors at Texas border pressure Biden over crossings

Under President Biden, each year there have been more and more crossings at the southwest border. According to the Office of Homeland Security Statistics, there were around 2.46 million encounters by border patrol agents in fiscal year 2023 — up from 2.34 million encounters in 2022 and 1.7 million in 2021. 

In the four years under Trump, border encounters averaged around 572,000 per year. However, it's important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic did have an impact on the last year of data in his presidency.

Whether it's Democratic governors like Jared Polis of Colorado, or the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Speaker Mike Johnson, it seems like everybody in politics is talking about the border. But what can be done? 

SEE MORE: Biden says he would shut down border if Congress sends him a deal

One option is a bipartisan congressional deal. But the chances of that seem to be close to zero percent until at least after the election.

Option two is for Democrats to adopt Johnson's border bill. It passed in the House last year, but Democratic Senate leadership has criticized it as too extreme.

The final option would require executive action. The White House has hinted at the possibility of that happening, but legal questions remain.

For instance, when Trump tried to limit border crossings through an executive order, he was ultimately sued and lost the case in court. President Biden faces the same legal hurdles.

With polls showing the border as a top issue on more and more voters' minds, expect more regarding this issue from leading candidates between now and November.

Cat Janice, who made viral song for son during cancer battle, dies

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 14:37

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Cat Janice, who went viral for dedicating her final song to her son during her grueling cancer battle, has died. She was 31.

Janice's family announced the news of her passing on her Instagram.

"This morning, from her childhood home and surrounded by her loving family, Catherine peacefully entered the light and love of her heavenly creator," said the statement. 

"We are eternally thankful for the outpouring of love that Catherine and our family have received over the past few months. Cat saw her music go places she never expected and rests in the peace of knowing that she will continue to provide for her son through her music. This would not have been possible without all of you," the family said.

After posting that "cancer has won," Janice asked social media users in January for help pre-saving her last song, "Dance You Outta My Head," with all proceeds going to her 7-year-old son Loren. She posted an update that same day that she had entered hospice at home.

Janice received an outpouring of support, as "Dance You Outta My Head" climbed to No. 1 on the TikTok Billboard Top 50. The song has garnered nearly 12.9 million streams on Spotify as of Thursday morning.

"I never thought I would live to see the day where my art is No. 1 Billboard charting. Thank you. Thank you for giving us this moment at such a time," Janice had written on Instagram in February.

In a final Instagram post from the singer, Janice posted a cover of her song by another artist, Sarah Cothran.

"The past few weeks have been so hard for me. I'm unable to walk, trapped in my body. It's been emotionally the most difficult thing I've had to go through," Janice captioned the post. "But this beautiful cover reminded me the significance of this song. Soon I will be free ... soaring in the next dimension, glowing like a million fireflies, flying through the heavens, dancing with God and my Nonnie. This song reminded me that's coming."

After finding a lump in her neck months prior, Janice was first diagnosed in 2022 with a rare aggressive cancer called sarcoma, a type of malignant tumor that rises in bones and connective tissue. She underwent surgery, traveled hundreds of miles from D.C. to New York for treatment, and said the chemotherapy and radiation were perhaps worse than the cancer itself.

Through pain, hope and resilience, Janice was inspired to release her first album, "Modern Medicine," last summer.

Janice was declared cancer-free in 2023, but the illness came back with a vengeance. Despite her declining health, she married her husband Kyle Higginbotham at the end of the year, saying on Instagram, "he has given me a gift that I know transcends space and time and will last forever."

With what she came to learn was little time left, Janice released "Dance You Outta My Head" a day before her 31st birthday this year. The song initially began as a mother-son bonding moment, with little Loren appearing on the track. It became the final piece she left for the world, and her son.

SEE MORE: She released a song on her deathbed to benefit her son. It went viral

Israeli forces kill 104 people in Gaza waiting for aid

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 14:12

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More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war nearly five months ago, the Hamas-run health ministry and Gaza said. The surge in numbers came after witnesses said Israeli troops on Thursday fired at a crowd of people waiting for aid in Gaza City, killing scores and wounded hundreds.

At least 104 people were killed as Palestinians lined up for humanitarian assistance, said Gaza's Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra. Another 760 people were wounded, he said. 

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food.

“We’ve been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd, causing it to scatter, with some people hiding under nearby cars. After the shooting stopped, they went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

The war has driven 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and U.N. officials say a quarter of the population is starving.

Gaza’s Health Ministry, which said Thursday the Palestinian death toll from the war in the territory has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded, does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has caused widespread devastation in Gaza City, largely isolating it from the rest of the territory for months, with little aid entering.

SEE MORE: Images show Egypt constructing wall near Rafah border

The war has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and sparked global concern over the situation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety from Israel's daily bombardments.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

Dobbs decision has had little impact on total number of US abortions

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 13:31

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The number of abortions performed each month in the U.S. is about the same as before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the nationwide right to abortion more than a year and a half ago, a new report finds.

The latest edition of the #WeCount report conducted for the Society of Family Planning, a nonprofit organization that promotes research on abortion and contraception, finds that between 81,150 and 88,620 abortions took place each month from July through September of last year, the most recent period for which survey results are available. Those numbers are just slightly lower than the monthly average of about 86,800 from April through June 2022, before Roe and just after was overturned.

But abortion data is seasonal, and the same survey found more abortions across the U.S. in the spring months of 2023 than it did in the period the year before leading up to the court's decision.

The report also finds that prescriptions of abortion pills by telemedicine have become common, accounting for about one in every six abortions in the most recent three months of survey results.

SEE MORE: Thousands of US women stockpile pills amid medication abortion threats

“Even when a state bans abortion, people continue to need and seek abortion care,” Alison Norris, a professor at Ohio State University's College of Public Health and one of the co-chairs of the study, said in a statement. "We can’t let the overall consistent number of abortions nationally obscure the incredible unmet need and disastrous impact of abortion bans on people who already have the least access.”

The report estimates that if states had not been allowed to ban abortion, there would have been a total of 120,000 more during the survey period in the 14 states where bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy are now in place.

Although the number of monthly abortions has dropped to nearly zero in states with bans, they have risen in states that allow abortion, including Florida, Illinois and Kansas, which border states with bans.

The tracking effort collects monthly data from providers across the country, creating a snapshot of abortion trends after Roe v. Wade was overturned. In some states, a portion of the data is estimated. The effort makes data public with less than a six-month lag, giving a picture of trends far faster than annual reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where the most recent report covers abortion in 2021.

The report does not cover self-managed abortions obtained outside the formal health care system — such as if someone gets abortion pills from a friend without a prescription.

SEE MORE: Post-Roe reality: Anti-abortion activists push for 'whole life' policy

The Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson ruling in June 2022 brought about immediate change in state policies. Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion in all stages of pregnancy and two more have bans that kick in after the first six weeks — often before women realize they're pregnant. Other Republican-controlled states have imposed lighter restrictions. Enforcement of some bans has been put on hold by courts.

Meanwhile, most Democrat-controlled states have taken steps to protect access to abortion. Several have executive orders or laws that seek to keep states with bans from reaching across state lines in abortion-related investigations. And five — Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington — have laws seeking to protect providers who give abortion care via telehealth.

The report's total numbers includes cases where providers in those states prescribed medication abortion to patients in states with abortion bans or restrictions on the pill versions in its national count but does not break down how many there were by state.

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether mifepristone, one of the two drugs most commonly prescribed in combination to cause abortions was properly approved.

CDC says seniors should get second COVID shot of 2023-24

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 13:18

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said adults age 65 and older should get a second COVID-19 shot during the 2023-24 season. 

An updated COVID-19 shot was released in September that focuses on more recent virus strains. 

The new recommendations come as the CDC continues to say those ages 65 and up face more significant risks from COVID-19. The virus continues to kill thousands on a monthly basis. 

According to CDC data, nearly 21,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19 since November. The CDC adds that more than half of COVID-related hospitalizations from October through December 2023 were among Americans over age 65. 

“Today’s recommendation allows older adults to receive an additional dose of this season’s COVID-19 vaccine to provide added protection,” said Mandy Cohen, CDC director. “Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk.”

SEE MORE: Scientists may now know what is causing long COVID

Data from the CDC indicates that Americans are largely shying away from updated COVID shots. As of Feb. 3, 31.1 million adults have gotten an updated COVID-19 shot since the updated vaccine was released in September, representing about 12% of the adult population. 

Health officials have said that the updated shot has been safe and effective. Earlier this month, the CDC reported that the updated vaccine provided approximately 54% increased protection against symptomatic COVID-19. 

"These early estimates include the period only through 119 days since vaccination, a relatively brief postvaccination period, with no substantial waning. Because consistent patterns of waning (vaccine effectiveness) VE were observed after original monovalent and bivalent COVID-19 vaccination, waning of VE is expected with more time since updated vaccination, especially against less severe outcomes such as symptomatic infection," the report says. "Additional analyses conducted at longer intervals since authorization of updated vaccines are needed for continued monitoring of expected waning and to determine how well vaccines are working to prevent severe disease."

Putin threatens global nuclear conflict over Western troops in Ukraine

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 12:31

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Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to fulfill Moscow's goals in Ukraine and sternly warned the West against deeper involvement in the fighting, saying that such a move is fraught with the risk of a global nuclear conflict.

Putin's warning came in a state-of-the-nation address ahead of next month's election he's all but certain to win, underlining his readiness to protect Russian gains in Ukraine.

In an apparent reference to French President Emmanuel Macron's statement earlier this week that the future deployment of Western ground troops to Ukraine should not be "ruled out," Putin warned that it would lead to "tragic" consequences for the countries who decide to do that.

Putin noted that while accusing Russia of plans to attack NATO allies in Europe, Western allies were "selecting targets for striking our territory and selecting the most efficient as they think striking assets and talking about the possibility of sending a NATO contingent to Ukraine."

"We remember the fate of those who sent their troop contingents to the territory of our country," the Russian leader said. "Now the consequences for the potential invaders will be far more tragic."

Speaking before an audience of lawmakers and top officials, Putin said the West should keep in mind that "we also have the weapons that can strike targets on their territory, and what they are now suggesting and scaring the world with, all that raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilization."

"Don't they understand it?" he said, alleging that Western leaders are playing with options of deeper involvement in the conflict, as in a simulation. "Those people haven't been through any tough challenges and they have forgotten what war means."

The strong statement followed earlier warnings from Putin, who has issued frequent reminders of Russia's nuclear might since he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 as he sought to discourage the West from expanding its military support for Kyiv.

Putin emphasized that Russia's nuclear forces are in "full readiness," saying that the military has deployed potent new weapons, some of them tested on the battlefield in Ukraine.

The Kremlin leader said they include the new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile that has entered service with Russian nuclear forces, along with the Burevestnik atomic-powered cruise missile and the Poseidon atomic-powered, nuclear-armed drone, which are completing their tests.

He added that the Kinzhal and Zircon hypersonic missiles have proven their efficacy on the battlefield in Ukraine.

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

At the same time, he rejected Western leaders' statements about the threat of a Russian attack on NATO allies in Europe as "ravings" and again dismissed Washington's claim that Moscow was pondering the deployment of space-based nuclear weapons.

Putin charged that the U.S. allegations were part of a ploy to draw Russia into talks on nuclear arms control on American terms even as Washington continues its efforts to deliver a "strategic defeat" to Moscow in Ukraine.

"Ahead of the U.S. election, they just want to show their citizens, as well as others, that they continue to rule the world," he said. "It won't work."

In his speech that focused heavily on economic and social issues ahead of the March 15-17 presidential vote, Putin argued that Russia was "defending its sovereignty and security and protecting our compatriots" in Ukraine, charging that the Russian forces have the upper hand in the fighting.

He hailed Russian soldiers and honored those who were killed in fighting with a moment of silence.

Putin has repeatedly said that he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022 to protect Russian interests and prevent Ukraine from posing a major security threat to Russia by joining NATO. Kyiv and its allies have denounced it as an unprovoked act of aggression.

The Russian leader has repeatedly signaled a desire to negotiate an end to the fighting but warned that Russia will hold onto its gains.

Putin, 71, who is running as an independent candidate in the March 15-17 presidential election, relies on the tight control over Russia's political system that he has established during 24 years in power.

Prominent critics who could challenge him have either been imprisoned or are living abroad, while most independent media have been banned, meaning that Putin's reelection is all but assured. He faces token opposition from three other candidates nominated by Kremlin-friendly parties represented in parliament.

Russia's best-known opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose attempt to run against Putin in 2018 was rejected, died suddenly in an Arctic prison colony earlier this month, while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges. Navalny's funeral is set for Friday.

SEE MORE: Funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to be held Friday

FAFSA fumble: Millions still waiting for financial aid letters

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 12:20

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Millions of college students rely on the FAFSA federal student aid program to help pay their tuition. But this year, delays in that program are leaving many students in limbo, with some unsure if they can go to the college of their choice.

On college campuses across the country, as a result, students are stressing over their financial aid for next year.

College sophomore Faith Jackson is still waiting for her letter, saying, "They are not sending them out like they were going to when they first announced it."

She says she and her friends now don't know if they can enroll in summer school programs.

SEE MORE: FAFSA delays cause stress for students and schools

No answers for another month

As a result of the delays, high school seniors and college students won’t know how much need-based financial aid they will receive until late March or early April. Adding to the stress: You have to reapply for FAFSA aid every year since family financials change over four years.

Joe Messinger is the director of college planning at Capstone Wealth Partners. He says efforts to improve the system are taking much longer than expected.

"There were good intentions," he said, "but the FAFSA Simplification Act is not that simple because you've got billions of dollars at play."

He says lower-income families will be most impacted by the delay because many are now left hanging over whether they can enroll in school next year. That has prompted the Government Accountability Office to open two new investigations.

Messinger believes the botched rollout is due in part to the congressionally mandated form changes and hiccups in modernizing an antiquated system.

Caleb Silver, editor-in-chief of Investopedia, said, "Everyone's waiting, everyone's getting the same emails, and they're very confusing."

While nearly 5 million students have successfully completed the new FAFSA form so far, that’s just a fraction of last year’s total of more than 17 million.

So what can students do?

"The best thing you can do is make sure your forms are ready," Silver said. "So when that deadline hits and when those schools are accepting, you're good to go."

The Department of Education will spend $50 million to deploy personnel to college campuses nationwide to help navigate the issues. But for students and parents, frustration is growing.

Messinger says you just need to try to be patient.

"Understand there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "Everybody else is waiting, just like you. So try to be patient."

Leap day babies get an extra birthday to celebrate

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 09:00

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Most of us flip through the days on the calendar without giving them much more than a glance. 

But, when an extra day comes along every four years, Mollie Simmons notices. She was born on Feb. 29, 2003, and considers herself a leap day baby.

"I've been alive for 20 years, but I've only had 5 birthdays," Simmons said.

Feb. 29 marks this leap day baby's 5th calendar birthday, even though she is a sophomore in college. On non-leap years, Simmons will typically celebrate her birthday on Feb. 28. Being born on leap day has come with its share of challenges over the years. 

When Simmons was first born her mother had a hard time getting health insurance because there was no Feb. 29 on the website she was using to fill out information. Her driver's license also currently says she was born on Feb. 28.

"I've been in so many science classes where the teacher would explain the importance of leap day and everyone would look at me. It has felt isolating but also it's exciting when my birthday happens," she said.

SEE MORE: 24 noteworthy events to mark on your 2024 calendar

Why do leap years exist?

Leap years essentially keep the months in sync with annual events, including equinoxes and solstices, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. 

It's a correction to counter the fact that Earth's orbit isn't precisely 365 days.

There is just a 1 in 1,461 chance of being born on a leap day. 

Worldwide there are only an estimated 5 million or so people born on this day that doesn't always exist. Kerry Nagle, a Colorado resident who was also born on leap day. has experienced just that. She was born 44 years ago but is only celebrating her 11th calendar birthday this year.

"I might feel like an 11-year-old in my head but the mirror sometimes corrects my thinking," Nagle joked.

She vividly recalls when her elementary school teacher hung up a calendar at school with all of her classmate's February birthdays: Hers was missing.

"I looked at the calendar and said, 'Where's my birthday?' and she said, 'You don't have one.' I remember getting off the bus crying. My mom said, 'What's wrong?' and I said 'I was never born,' That year she threw me two birthdays," Nagle explained.

That childhood trauma prompted her to write a children's book. The book, titled "The Girl With Two Birthdays," follows the story of a girl who faces a dilemma when she realizes that her birthday doesn't fit into the conventional school calendar. 

Nagle's hope is other kids may not experience the same isolation she did all those years ago.

"This has formed a bit of who I am. I'm unique, and unique is a good thing. So I hope this shows other kids born on Feb. 29 that being different is fun and cool. Embrace it and use it to your advantage of who you are."

Reproductive rights and the economy: Abortion bans come with a cost

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 03:31

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Reproductive rights and policies regarding health care for childbearing have a significant impact on the economic future of both individuals and communities.

The Economic Policy Institute found that states where abortion bans take hold have historically had "intentionally constructed" economic policies with weak labor laws in underfunded areas with dysfunctional public services. 

Sara Estep, an associate director with the Women's Initiative at the Center for American Progress, said the Congressional Budget Committee's hearing this week on the economic impacts of reproductive rights is "a huge deal."

"It's really important that we talk about this issue as an economic issue," Estep said. "Whenever women are forced to have children that they may not have wanted to have, it has profound economic effects on their lifespan."

SEE MORE: Families impacted by Alabama IVF ruling head to state capitol

This week, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said, "Abortion, above all, is a moral and legal issue. Abortion is not an issue that lends itself to being looked at solely through an economic lens. After all, life is priceless."

For proponents of female reproductive rights, including for removing abortion bans, they see data showing how economic outcomes for mothers are negatively impacted. 

A 2021 Women's Policy Research Center study found that restrictive abortion bans had a cumulative cost on state and local economies to the tune of around $105 billion. 

"When women take time off of work it costs the district money — it can also prevent them from going to school," said Estep. "There are a lot of studies from the 1960s and 1970s that show that after Roe, there was an increase of 200% in Black women finishing college as a result of these policies. So, just think about the long and profound impact that finishing college could have on a person's lifespan."

The Economic Policy Institute found that unionization levels in states with abortion bans were half as high as they were in states that protected abortion rights. It also found that incarceration rates were 50% higher than those in states that protect abortion.

French Senate approves a bill to make abortion a constitutional right

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 03:16

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France’s Senate on Wednesday adopted a bill to enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in the constitution, clearing a key hurdle for legislation promised by President Emmanuel Macron in response to a rollback in abortion rights in the United States.

Wednesday’s vote came after the lower house, the National Assembly, overwhelmingly approved the proposal in January. The measure now goes before a joint session of parliament for its expected approval by a three-fifths majority next week.

Macron said after the vote that his government is committed to “making women’s right to have an abortion irreversible by enshrining it in the constitution.” He said on X, formerly Twitter, that he would convene a joint session of parliament for a final vote on Monday.

Macron’s government wants Article 34 of the constitution amended to specify that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed.”

The senate adopted the bill on a vote of 267 in favor, and 50 against. “This vote is historic,” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said. “The Senate has written a new page in women's rights."

None of France’s major political parties represented in parliament has questioned the right to abortion, which was decriminalized in 1975. With both houses of parliament adopting the bill, Monday's joint session at the Palace of Versailles is expected to be largely a formality.

The government argued in its introduction to the bill that the right to abortion is threatened in the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it.

“Unfortunately, this event is not isolated: in many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish,” the introduction to the French legislation says.

In Poland, a controversial tightening of the already restrictive abortion law led to protests in the country last year The Polish constitutional court ruled in 2020 that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in cases of severe fetal deformities, including Down Syndrome.

SEE MORE: Roe v. Wade by the numbers: What's changed

What are young journalists focused on in the 2024 presidential race?

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 03:02

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Presidential candidates always want and need young people to support them.

Younger voters could have a particularly strong impact on our election, and their influence comes at a critical time.

According to a 2023 Harvard poll, only 49% of voters 18-29 say they definitely will vote for president in 2024. That's down from 57% in 2019.

The decline highlights the need not only for more youth engagement among campaigns and parties, but also for more young journalists to tell the stories of tomorrow.

So what can we expect from the next generation of journalists and voters out there?

SEE MORE: 'Uncommitted' voters send Biden a message in Michigan primary

Scripps News speaks with Wyatt Sharpe, the host of the Wyatt Sharpe Show on YouTube; Jaden Jefferson, a multimedia journalist based in Toledo, Ohio; and Jackson Gosnell, an independent journalist based out of Columbia, South Carolina.

We hear their perspectives on the state of the 2024 presidential race, their insight on local issues that are shaping Senate contests in their communities, and their thoughts on how to inspire a young new cohort of journalists and their audiences.

These are the happiest cities in the US

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 02:46

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That seasonal depression might be attributable to more than just the weather. 

A new report says your location can play a big part in those feelings of doom and gloom too, with some places making their residents' days much brighter, mentally, than others.

The study from personal finance company WalletHub looked at 29 key happiness indicators in 182 of America's largest cities to find which ones had the jolliest inhabitants. Those indicators fell under three categories: emotional and physical well-being, income and employment, and community and environment. 

Here's what the study found.

The happiest cities in the U.S.

Source: WalletHub

    1. Fremont, California

The merriest town in all the land lies in the San Francisco Bay Area, ranking first in emotional and physical well-being and third in community and environment. 

And although we all know money (supposedly) can't buy you happiness, it seems to help the some 227,000 people living in Fremont. 

According to WalletHub, the Northern California metropolis has the highest share of households — nearly 80% — with an income above $75,000, making money partly the reason for the always happy season there.

"Studies have shown that increasing your income also increases your happiness up to $75,000 but not beyond, the company said. "Therefore, cities where a lot of people make at least $75,000 per year are more likely to have maximized their happiness."

Fremont's population also has the lowest separation and divorce rates in the country at only 8.9%, according to WalletHub. Its residents also report high life-satisfaction rates, low depression rates and long lifespans. 

    2. Overland Park, Kansas

The second-happiest American city boasts its rank in part due to having the lowest poverty rate in the country at just 4.2%.

While it might not have the highest salaries, it does have one of the lowest unemployment rates at 3% and one of the lowest food-insecurity rates. In terms of happiness, WalletHub says being able to provide for your family automatically ups the warm and toasty feelings.

It's not all work and no play, though. Overland Park residents apparently love their free time too, with residents having a lot more of it each week compared to most other cities, per WalletHub. Its residents typically spend this time making up the country's highest sports-participation rates, or getting lots of shut-eye, with Overland Park natives getting more sleep than people in most other cities, the study found.

    3. San Jose, California

Northern California snagged another top rank with a Silicon Valley city. 

San Jose boasts the longest average life expectancy in the country, and many of those lives are filled with happy families, as it also has one of the lowest separation and divorce rates.

Outside of the home, the city scores the highest on Sharecare's Community Well-Being Index, meaning its residents feel safe and prideful about their home.

That happiness is evident in their mental health, with the city's low rates of depression and suicide, per WalletHub.

SEE MORE: Can money buy happiness? Most Americans say yes

Where America's most populated cities rank

If you couldn't tell by now, the No. 1 most populated city in the U.S. is not the No. 1 most    happy. New York, New York ranked 86th on the WalletHub list, trailing not far behind America's third-most populated city, Chicago, which ranked 83rd.

And even though California occupied three of the top five spots —Irvine ranked No. 5 — its largest city, and America's second-largest has some smiles to make up. Los Angeles ranked No. 64, while its northern sister San Francisco ranked No. 7.

The rest of the top 10 most populated cities vary in happiness. In descending rank of population, Houston ranked No. 134, Phoenix ranked No. 87, Philadelphia ranked No. 161, San Antonio ranked No. 165, San Diego ranked highest of the 10 at No. 15, Dallas ranked No. 132 and lastly, Austin ranked No. 66.

Other interesting findings from the study

The most unhappy cities in the U.S., according to WalletHub, are Montgomery, Alabama, then Cleveland, Ohio, and, in dead last, Detroit, Michigan. It's worth noting that all three of these cities also rank the lowest in terms of adequate sleep. 

Meanwhile, the places with the most adequate sleep rates are South Burlington, Vermont at No. 1, followed by Madison, Wisconsin — which ranked No. 4 in overall happiness — then Portland, Oregon. 

And although Fremont and San Jose boast the third- and fourth-lowest rates of depression, Pearl City and Honolulu, Hawaii take the top-two spots. 

Anheuser-Busch, Teamsters reach labor agreement that avoids US strike

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 02:17

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Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch has reached a contract agreement with the Teamsters union that avoids a strike at its U.S. plants. The union had threatened a strike at the brewer's 12 U.S. plants if an agreement on a new five-year contract wasn't reached by 11:59 p.m. EST Thursday. 

The Teamsters union represents 5,000 Anheuser-Busch workers who brew and package beer and even take care of the company’s legendary Clydesdale horses. But the two sides said late Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement that boosts wages and increases vacation days and pension contributions.

"Teamsters make the beer, Teamsters make Anheuser-Busch successful and our members deserve the best contract. That is what we fought for and won today," Teamsters General President Sean M. O'Brien said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said the contract also makes significant job security commitments.

"Our people are our greatest strength, and we are incredibly pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that continues to recognize the talent, dedication, and hard work of our teams, while also positioning the company for long-term success," Whitworth said in a statement.

The union said the full tentative agreement will be shared with workers prior to a ratification vote, which is expected to happen next week. The strike would have been the first in the U.S. against Anheuser-Busch since 1976.

The union said earlier this month it was angered by a company proposal that would close breweries and lay off workers. But Anheuser-Busch is facing declining beer sales in the U.S., where drinkers are increasingly opting for spirits, hard seltzers and alcohol-free beverages.

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

It's also trying to win back consumers. Bud Light, its best-selling brand, faced a conservative backlash last year after it produced a commemorative can honoring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. 

Transgender rights supporters also deserted the brand, saying it didn't do enough to support Mulvaney. Anheuser-Busch shipments to U.S. wholesalers dropped 13.8% last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Overall, U.S. beer shipments were down 5%.

The company, part of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, brews more than a dozen brands at its U.S. plants, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Stella Artois. Not all U.S. brewers have been spared strikes, however. On Wednesday, 420 Teamsters-represented workers were on their second week of a strike at a Molson Coors plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Molson Coors should pay close attention to the bar we've set today for brewery workers across the country," O'Brien said in his statement.

Supreme Court reviewing arguments regarding legality of bump stocks

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 02:07

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The Supreme Court is considering whether a device attached to a firearm can be banned under federal law as a machine gun — in this case a bump stock.

A bump stock effectively turns a semi-automatic or single-fire weapon into a rapid-fire weapon, by making a gun bump against the shooter's shoulder and trigger finger.

For a decade, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said bump stocks were not machine guns as defined by statute. Former ATF Firearms Enforcement Officer Rick Vasquez helped write those definitions on what "bump fire" was.

"So at ATF, everybody agreed with the technology branch. Chief counsel and our deputy assistant directors said, 'Hey, we can't call it anything but a bump stock device,'" said Vasquez. 

In October of 2017, a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history killing 60 concertgoers from a Las Vegas hotel window after modifying his rifles with bump stocks.

So at the behest of the Trump administration, the ATF changed course and said bump stocks are in fact machine guns, exposing their owners to criminal liability.

But Austin, Texas, gun store owner Michael Cargill sued after surrendering his bump stocks in 2019, arguing the ATF can't change the rules by itself. 

"You're going to try and make it illegal and turn someone into a felon overnight if they're in possession of it," said Cargill. 

He says changes should come from Congress, not a federal agency. 

Gun control advocates say bump stocks make single-fire guns fully automatic.

"The government, whether it's a Republican or a Democratic administration, has what everybody agrees is a reason to take machine guns off the streets," said Douglas Letter, chief legal officer for the Brady Campaign. 

A ruling is expected in the summer.

SEE MORE: Gun safes recalled for lock issue that allowed a 6-year-old access

DOJ finds issues with violence, poor conditions in 3 Mississippi jails

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 01:51

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Gangs, violence and sexual assaults are a problem in three Mississippi prisons because the facilities are short-staffed and inmates are sometimes left unsupervised, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a report Wednesday.

The department said the state failed to protect inmates' safety, control contraband or investigate harm and misconduct.

"These basic safety failures and the poor living conditions inside the facilities promote violence, including sexual assault," the department said. "Gangs operate in the void left by staff and use violence to control people and traffic contraband."

The department investigated Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, South Mississippi Correctional Institution and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. The new report says the conditions in those three prisons are similar to problems that the department reported in 2022 at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

"People do not surrender their constitutional rights at the jailhouse door," Kristen Clarke, the department's assistant attorney general for civil rights, said during a news conference Wednesday.

Mississippi Department of Corrections spokesperson Kate Head said in response to the Justice Department report that the state prison system has "worked tirelessly" to increase staffing through pay raises and other measures, including streamlining the hiring process.

"We're grateful for the often thankless work of the men and women of MDOC, and we look forward to continuing our efforts to recruit additional staff," Head said in a statement. "While we disagree with the findings, we will work with the DOJ to identify possible resolutions to enhance inmate safety and continue ongoing efforts to improve operations at MDOC."

The new Justice Department report says "appalling conditions" in restrictive housing practices at the Central Mississippi and Wilkinson prisons cause "substantial risk of serious harm."

"Restrictive housing units are unsanitary, hazardous, and chaotic, with little supervision," the Justice Department said. "They are breeding grounds for suicide, self-inflicted injury, fires, and assaults."

The department said the Mississippi Department of Corrections does not have enough staff to supervise the prison population, with job vacancy rates of 30% to 50%.

"The mismatch between the size of the incarcerated population and the number of security staff means that gangs dominate much of prison life, and contraband and violence, including sexual violence, proliferate," the Justice Department said. "Prison officials rely on ineffective and overly harsh restrictive housing practices for control."

Clarke said that because of "poor door security" and lack of supervision in Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, multiple incarcerated men were able to enter a women's housing unit.

"They stayed and engaged in sexual activity for an extended period," Clarke said. "Although the sexual activity was reportedly consensual, the other women in the unit felt unsafe and were at risk of harm."

One male inmate reported he was sexually assaulted in a shower at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, she said.

"Multiple gang members waited outside the shower area while he was assaulted to prevent others from interceding," Clarke said. "He also reported that he had been previously assaulted at another Mississippi prison and denied protective custody."

About 38% of Mississippi residents are Black, but about 61% of the people in the state's prisons and jails are Black, Clarke said. Speaking of prison conditions, she said: "This is a racial justice issue."

SEE MORE: Hidden US prison workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands

Marianne Williamson 'unsuspends' her 2024 presidential campaign

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 01:15

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She might be a long shot, but Marianne Williamson isn't losing sight of the presidency just yet.

The Democratic candidate announced Wednesday she is throwing her hat back in the ring, "unsuspending" her campaign after announcing she was calling it quits three weeks ago.

"I had suspended it because I was losing the horse race, but something so much more important than the horse race is at stake here, and we must respond," she said in a video posted to X. 

#Unsuspended pic.twitter.com/7BEcIo3iij

— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) February 28, 2024

Williamson added that the U.S. has a "fascist standing at the door," referring to Republican front-runner and former President Donald Trump, and criticized her party's leader, President Joe Biden, for his economic policies. 

The self-help author's comments came hours after the president won the Michigan primary with around 81% of the Democratic vote. Williamson, running as a progressive to the left of President Biden, came in third with around 3% of the votes, beating out fellow presidential hopeful Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota despite having already suspended her race. Meanwhile, 13% voted "uncommitted," amounting to the second-highest number of votes.

SEE MORE: LIVE RESULTS: Biden, Trump projected to win primaries in Michigan

The uncommitted tally was rooted in voters' disapproval of the Biden administration's response to the war in Gaza. Williamson noted this in her video, calling for a cease-fire in exchange for Hamas' hostages.

The 71-year-old first announced her campaign for the presidency in March of last year, before President Biden announced he would seek reelection. In the last presidential election, she also tried her hand at a run but ultimately dropped out. In primaries so far this season, she's again had weak showings, receiving no more than 4% support in any contest. 

Williamson's campaign has rested on principles like eliminating student loan debt and providing tuition-free college, paid family leave, Medicare for all and guaranteed living wages. In her Wednesday video, she said she wants America to return to when "we actually had a thriving middle class."

"Some people tell [me], 'Miss Williamson, you're delusional,'" she said. "I'll tell you what's delusional: What's delusional is just closing our eyes and crossing our fingers and just hoping that somehow Biden and Harris will be able to beat that juggernaut of dark, dark vision."

White powder sent to judge in Donald Trump's civil fraud case

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 01:03

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White powder was found Wednesday in an envelope addressed to the New York judge who ordered Donald Trump to pay a $454 million civil fraud judgment. It's the latest security scare involving people in key roles in the former president’s legal cases. 

A court officer screening mail at Judge Arthur Engoron’s Manhattan courthouse opened the envelope around 9:30 a.m. Some of the powder fell out of the envelope and landed on the officer's pants, police said. Preliminary tests were negative for hazardous substances, according to court spokesperson Al Baker.

The courthouse operations office where the mail was opened was briefly closed, but the courthouse remained open. The officer and other workers who may have been exposed to the powder were temporarily isolated, Baker said. No injuries were reported.

Engoron had no exposure to the letter or the powdery substance, Baker said. Wednesday's scare came less than two weeks after Engoron issued his verdict penalizing Trump, his company and executives, including his two sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., for scheming to dupe banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals.

Along with staggering financial penalties, the judge's ruling forced a shakeup at the top of Trump's company, putting the Trump Organization under court supervision and imposing strict restrictions on how it does business.

SEE MORE: Appellate judge refuses to halt Trump's $454 million fraud penalty

In January, hours before closing arguments in the case, authorities had responded to a bomb threat at Engoron's Long Island home. Engoron's chambers have reported hundreds of harassing and threatening calls, emails, letters and packages.

Separately, on Christmas Day, Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith was the subject of a fake emergency call that reported a shooting at his home. Smith, who is leading Trump's federal prosecutions in Washington, D.C., and Florida, has been the subject of numerous threats and intimidating messages since he was appointed and Trump began posting messages about him, prosecutors have said.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump's Washington D.C. case, was targeted with a similar fake emergency call a few days later. Trump is charged in Washington with scheming to overturn his 2020 election loss and in Florida with hoarding classified documents after he left the White House.

On Monday, police in hazmat suits responded to Donald Trump Jr.'s Florida home after the former president's eldest son opened a letter that contained an unidentified white powder and a death threat. White powder was also found in a letter to Trump Jr. in 2018 and in mail sent to Eric Trump and Trump Tower in 2016.

Hoax attacks using white powder play on fears that date to 2001, when letters containing deadly anthrax were mailed to news organizations and the offices of two U.S. senators. Those letters killed five people.

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