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Report: Judge removes Trump from Illinois' primary ballot

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 00:57


An Illinois judge has removed former President Donald Trump from the state's ballot, citing the 14th Amendment's "insurrectionist ban," according to reports by CNN.

Last month, Illinois voters joined three other states in seeking to exclude the former president from the primary ballots due to his role in the Capitol insurrection. Working with a liberal advocacy group, voters filed challenges alleging Trump's lack of remorse for the events of Jan. 6, 2021. The challenge was then dismissed by the Illinois State Board of Elections, citing jurisdictional limitations.

On Wednesday,  just weeks before the Illinois primary on March 19, Cook County Circuit Judge Tracie Porter stripped Trump from the ballot, but the decision is on hold, allowing Trump a brief window to appeal, according to CNN.

The same challenge from Colorado to remove Trump from the ballot is now pending in the Supreme Court, which put Maine's similar challenge on pause, and it's expected that the court will reject arguments that Trump is ineligible for office.

The amendment in question, which was ratified three years after the end of the Civil War, says:

"No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability."

Trump has the option to appeal the judge's decision in Illinois state courts, which his campaign has indicated he will do.

In a statement following the ruling, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said "an activist Democrat judge in Illinois summarily overruled the state’s board of elections and contradicted earlier decisions from dozens of other state and federal jurisdictions. This is an unconstitutional ruling that we will quickly appeal."


SEE MORE: Inside Donald Trump's ongoing ballot battles

Families impacted by Alabama IVF ruling head to state Capitol

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 00:33


The years of secondary infertility for Kristia Rumbley and her husband were lonely ones. When they ultimately decided to utilize in vitro fertilization technology — or IVF — they kept it quiet.

"My family didn't know, my friends didn't know, very few people knew about it at all. It's just there's a lot of judgment around it," said Rumbley. 

Now with four children — three from IVF — they know their family is complete, but they still have embryos left over, and they're not quite ready to discard them.

"I've seen them, I've seen what they can become. They're a little hope, you know, and they're potential children. It takes a while to make that decision to say Okay, 'I'm ready to let this go,'" Rumbley said. 

Rumbley and her husband are worried about what the state of Alabama could do with her embryos in the wake of the state's Supreme Court decision to call those frozen embryos children. They've decided to move them to Massachusetts.

"I don't trust what decisions could be made for them. I know it's far-fetched, but I feel much better with them in a place where I know nothing will happen to them," said Rumbley.

But for those in the thick of this process — like Elizabeth Goldman — moving those embryos isn't possible. She's one of the nation's only uterus-transplant patients, with an entire team of doctors here in Alabama. She successfully had baby Zari Grace four months ago, but is only allowed to carry at most two children before she'll have to undergo a full hysterectomy. So the clock is ticking.

"Since it's not a lifesaving transplant and not 100% necessary, basically, it could be at risk if I start to have a decline in any kind of health," said Goldman.

The plan was to begin the IVF process again in April — but it is now very much on hold.

"It's almost like you're waiting for another shoe to drop, you know, like this came out, this ruling came out, then the clinic closed on Tuesday. And then you just don't know what's going to happen in the future," said Goldman.

Latoria Beasley just had her March 4 transfer canceled after taking medication for months and spending thousands of dollars on it.

"I'm just managing my expectations, you know, knowing that it may not happen," said Beasley.

Rumbley moderates an Alabama infertility group on Facebook, and she says there are so many women like her living with uncertainty in their state. She says the group has doubled in size since the ruling and is flowing with questions.

Many of these women and their children — like Merrill Story — were outside the State House on Wednesday.

"It's very emotional for me. It's like someone telling me that you shouldn't have existed," said Story. 

The group met with lawmakers and pushed for protections for IVF families. It's unclear that they'll get that from the supermajority Republican-led legislature. But Rumbley says it shouldn't be a partisan issue.

"It's going to affect you. No one is off limits," said Rumbley. 

SEE MORE: Alabama lawmakers introduce bills to protect IVF treatments

NYC sues social media giants for fueling youth mental health crisis

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 00:32


New York City, its schools and public hospital system announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the tech giants that run Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube, blaming their "addictive and dangerous" social media platforms for fueling a childhood mental health crisis that is disrupting learning and draining resources.

Children and adolescents are especially susceptible to harm because their brains are not fully developed, the lawsuit said.

"Youth are now addicted to defendants' platforms in droves," according to the 311-page filing in Superior Court in California, where the companies are headquartered.

The country's largest school district, with about 1 million students, has had to respond to disruptions in and out of the classroom, provide counseling for anxiety and depression, and develop curricula about the effects of social media and how to stay safe online, according to the filing. The city spends more than $100 million on youth mental health programs and services each year, Mayor Eric Adams' office said.

"Over the past decade, we have seen just how addictive and overwhelming the online world can be, exposing our children to a non-stop stream of harmful content and fueling our national youth mental health crisis," Adams said.

The legal action is the latest of numerous lawsuits filed by states, school districts and others claiming social media companies exploit children and adolescents by deliberating designing features that keep them endlessly scrolling and checking their accounts.

Teenagers know they spend too much time on social media but are powerless to stop, according to the new lawsuit, filed by the city of New York, its Department of Education and New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., the country's largest public hospital system.

SEE MORE: People who use YouTube are often more lonely, study finds

The lawsuit seeks to have the companies' conduct declared a public nuisance to be abated, as well as unspecified monetary damages.

In responses to the filing, the tech companies said they have and continue to develop and implement policies and controls that emphasize user safety.

"The allegations in this complaint are simply not true," said José Castañeda, a spokesman for YouTube parent Google, who said by email that the company has collaborated with youth, mental health and parenting experts.

A TikTok spokesperson cited similar regular collaborations to understand best practices in the face of industry-wide challenges.

"TikTok has industry-leading safeguards to support teens' well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18, and more," an emailed statement said.

Virtually all U.S. teenagers use social media, and roughly 1 in 6 teens describe their use of YouTube and TikTok as "almost constant," according to the Pew Research Center.

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns and operates Facebook and Instagram, said the company wants "teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online, and we have over 30 tools and features to support them and their parents. We've spent a decade working on these issues and hiring people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online."

A statement from Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, said its app is intentionally different from others in that it "opens directly to a camera — rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling — and has no traditional public likes or comments."

"While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence," the statement said.

Police video shows Maine mass shooter's mental health troubles

Fri, 02/16/2024 - 00:13


Newly-released police video is shedding light on a mental health crisis that led to the hospitalization of Maine mass shooter Robert Card months before police say he shot and killed 18 people.

The video, recorded by body-worn cameras, shows New York State Police responding to the Camp Smith Army National Guard training site in Cortland, New York in July 2023. Card, an Army reservist, was training there with colleagues who reported he had been threatening them and trying to start fights.

Colleagues are heard on video telling NYSP troopers that Card’s mental health seemed to have been deteriorating for months. He had lost weight and was paranoid. Some said the deterioration seemed to have begun around the same time Card began wearing hearing aids.  

“It’s like he’s hearing voices,” one colleague said.  

A colleague also described Card as a “gun nut” who spent $14,000 on a scope for a firearm, adding, “I don’t know what he’s capable of, and I’m not insinuating anything, but I’m just saying he does have a ton of guns.”  

The video then shows NYSP troopers interviewing Card in his room inside the training center about the concerns raised by his colleagues. Card, wearing an Army shirt and sporting a shaved head, explained that for months he heard many people in his life talking about him behind his back and accusing him of being a pedophile.

“It’s happening everywhere ... I’m hearing bits and pieces of all of it, and it’s just getting old. I confront people and it doesn’t stop,” Card told troopers.

Troopers told Card they had spoken with his colleagues, who denied talking about him behind his back, and only called authorities because they were concerned about his welfare. 

“Oh, because they’re scared, because I’m going to friggin’ do something. Because I am capable,” Card told troopers on camera. 

“What do you mean by that?” a trooper asked. “Nothing,” Card responded.

SEE MORE: Friend warned officials of Maine gunman: 'I literally spelled it out'

Scripps News Investigates obtained the video Thursday after filing a public records request for the recordings in the days after the Lewiston shootings. 

The video shows Card being taken to Keller Army Community Hospital after troopers told him there was a “command directive” that he seek treatment. Card complied, while noting that he didn’t have a choice since it was a command. 

“Is it going to help anything? No. I would rather have people stop talking and stop looking at me,” Card said.  

The July incident in New York was one of several red flags raised about Card’s mental health to law enforcement in the months leading up to the Lewiston massacres in October 2023. Family members reported their concerns to authorities in May, and a fellow Army reservist told a supervisor he was afraid Card would snap and “do a mass shooting” in September. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills appointed an independent state commission last year to examine the events leading up to the shootings and the police investigation of the incidents. The commission’s work is ongoing. 

SEE MORE: Authorities: Maine shooter a threat, but felt unsafe confronting him

William Post, key figure in Pop-Tarts development, dies at 96

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 23:59


William Post, a Michigan man who played an important role in the development of Pop-Tarts, has died at age 96.

Post died Saturday, according to a family obituary which provided no details on his death but says he was raised in Grand Rapids as "one of seven children of Dutch immigrants" and had retired at age 56 as a senior vice president with Keebler Company and settled in Glen Arbor, Michigan.

Kellanova, formerly known as Kellogg Co., said in a statement Wednesday that it was "deeply saddened" by Post's death.

"He played an important role in co-creating the iconic Pop-Tarts brand and we are grateful to Bill for his legacy and lasting contributions to our company," Kellanova said without elaborating.

Pop-Tarts debuted in 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. The toaster pastry was originally sold in four flavors — strawberry, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon and apple-currant — before it was released nationwide the following year, Kellanova's website states.

Post's family wrote in his obituary that he was a plant manager with a company later known as the Keebler Company when Kellogg executives asked him "if he thought it would be possible for Keebler to create a new product they had in mind."

His obituary states that one of the executives was Kellogg chairman William LaMothe, who "soon became Bill's close friend."

"It is at this juncture that Bill is often credited for having 'invented' the Pop Tart. To be accurate, however, Bill would say, 'I assembled an amazing team that developed Kellogg's concept of a shelf-stable toaster pastry into a fine product that we could bring to market in the span of just four months,'" according to the obituary.

Post, whose wife, Florence, died in 2020, is survived by a son and daughter and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A service for Post will be held March 7 at Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, according to his obituary on the Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Funeral Home's website.

FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens' ties to Ukraine company

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 23:48


An FBI informant has been charged with lying to his handler about ties between President Joe Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company.

Alexander Smirnov falsely told FBI agents in June 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million each in 2015 or 2016, prosecutors said Thursday.

Smirnov told the FBI that a Burisma executive had claimed to have hired Hunter Biden to "protect us, through his dad, from all kinds of problems," prosecutors said.

The allegations became a flashpoint in Congress last summer as Republicans demanded the FBI release the unredacted form documenting the allegations as they pursued investigations of President Biden and his family. They acknowledged at the time that it was unclear if the allegations were true.

Prosecutors say that although Smirnov claimed to have had contact with Burisma executives near the end of the Obama administration, it actually took place after Obama and Biden had left office — when Biden would have had no ability to influence U.S. policy.

SEE MORE: Hunter Biden to sit for deposition with House committee

"In short, the Defendant transformed his routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against Public Official 1, the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties for President, after expressing bias against Public Official 1 and his candidacy," the indictment said.

The informant repeated some of the false claims when he was interviewed by FBI agents in September 2023 and changed his story about others and "promoted a new false narrative after he said he met with Russian officials," prosecutors said.

Smirnov, 43, was indicted on charges of making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record. No attorney was immediately listed for him in court records. He was expected to make a first court appearance in Las Vegas, where he was arrested Wednesday after arriving from overseas, prosecutors said.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.

The charges were filed by Justice Department special counsel David Wiess, who has separately charged Hunter Biden with firearm and tax violations.

Woman stole $823K in luxury items from rental stores, sold them online

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 23:37


A Michigan woman has been arrested for stealing 1,000 luxury items worth over $823,000 and reselling them online.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that 42-year-old Brandalene Horn was charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

According to the DA’s office, from April 2022 to February 2024, Horn allegedly deceived three popular clothing rental companies by opening hundreds of accounts and renting items. Instead of returning the items, she kept them and sold them online using the companies' photos and descriptions for her listings.

Although the companies' names weren't disclosed, you can see one of her listings in the photo below. It shows a $1,200 dress listed for $189, similar to a Rent The Runway posting renting the same dress for $180.

The companies tried to charge Horn for the items once they didn’t get them back, but Horn either disputed the charges with her bank or canceled the credit cards she used to rent the items, and therefore the companies were not able to get their money.

Horn ended up making $750,000 from selling the stolen items and now faces charges including mail fraud (up to 20 years in prison), wire fraud (up to 20 years in prison), and interstate transportation of stolen property (up to 10 years in prison).

Family seeks answers a week after 2 US citizens taken by IDF in Gaza

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 23:07


One week of silence.

Yasmeen Elagha, a Chicago law student, says it's been one week of silence since her two Palestinian American cousins in Gaza were taken by Israel Defense Forces during a raid on their makeshift home in Khan Younis.

"They threw all of the women and children outside of the home tied up, and they slashed the tires of the cars, and they disappeared with the two American cousins and the rest of the men," said Elagha, who got a call from her crying aunt in Gaza shortly after the raid. 

The Northwestern University law student says she has “desperately been trying to reach the U.S. government for any kind of update” and has heard nothing from U.S. and Israeli officials about the well-being and whereabouts of her two Palestinian cousins, who are brothers and are also U.S. citizens. 

“We have been trying desperately to understand why they were taken," she said. 

Brothers 18-year-old Borak Alagha and 20-year-old Hashem Alagha were born and raised in the Chicago area before moving to Canada and eventually Gaza to live with Palestinian relatives. 

Yasmeen had been trying to secure their evacuations from Gaza since the beginning of the war, out of fear of their safety – even suing top U.S. officials in December for their alleged lack of support. 

"Every time they went to the border, they were denied," Yasmeen said. 

A source inside the Israeli government told Scripps News, without providing details or evidence, that the two brothers were detained and questioned by the Israel Defense Forces because “they are suspected of assisting senior Hamas officials during the war.” 

A State Department spokesperson told us they are "seeking more information from the government of Israel," adding that "our commitment to providing all possible consular assistance to U.S. citizens is unwavering." 

Meanwhile, Yasmeen Elagha is working on a new lawsuit against the Biden administration to help secure the release of her cousins, with the help of immigration lawyer Maria Kari. 

"There is a protocol that unfolds when Americans are wrongfully detained in a foreign country. And to date, we have not seen that protocol followed,” said Kari, adding that she categorically rejects allegations that the brothers have ties to Hamas and that Israel is using such claims “as an indiscriminate catch-all.”  

For Yasmeen Elagha, there's no rest until she is reunited with her cousins in the United States. "I will not give up until my family is all back home safely," she said. 

SEE MORE: Chicago doctor describes heartbreaking scenes in Rafah, vows to return

CDC: 128 pregnant people and 25 infants received the wrong RSV shot

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 22:54


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent out a warning to clinicians and pharmacists to be careful with RSV vaccines after reports of pregnant individuals and infants receiving the wrong ones.

Currently, Pfizer’s Abrysvo and GSK’s Arexvy are both authorized for adults over 60 as vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). However, Abrysvo is the only one approved for pregnant individuals, and neither of them are approved for young children.

Now the CDC is sounding the alarm because, as of Jan. 17, 2024, there have been reports that 128 pregnant people received the wrong RSV shot, and 25 children under 2 received an RSV vaccine approved for use in adults only.

"Most reports of administration errors in young children occurred in infants younger than 8 months. Administration errors for both young children and pregnant people occurred in outpatient settings, including doctor’s offices; administration errors of the GSK RSV vaccine (Arexvy) in pregnant people also occurred in pharmacies," the CDC stated. 

Although no serious harm or adverse reactions have been reported from the errors, the CDC emphasizes that Arexvy has not been tested in pregnant women or children, so the current information regarding its effects in these groups is limited.

The CDC tells clinicians and pharmacists that if babies get the wrong RSV shot, they should be given the monoclonal antibody nirsevimab; pregnant people who get the wrong shot should not be given another shot. The CDC also encourages medical professionals to train staff on recommendations, check labels carefully, and follow storage and administration guidelines.

According to the CDC, RSV is highly contagious and can be dangerous for infants, young children and certain adults.

Pistons' Isaiah Stewart arrested for assault after hitting Suns player

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 22:47


Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart was arrested for assault after punching Phoenix Suns center Drew Eubanks hours before the two teams played each other Wednesday.

The incident began as an argument between the two NBA players as they arrived at Footprint Arena for the Suns' home game. Witnesses who were in the parking tunnel where the fight took place told Phoenix police the situation escalated when the two were chest-to-chest, and then Stewart punched Eubanks before security separated them.

Phoenix police said detectives began investigating after being called to the scene at around 4:45 p.m. After police spoke to the players and witnesses, Stewart was arrested for assault, issued a citation and released, the department said. Its investigation is ongoing.

Eubanks, 27, sustained a minor injury but was able to play in the game, scoring 6 points off the bench in the 116-100 win for his team. Stewart, 22, had been already ruled out of the game due to an ankle injury.

Both teams released statements regarding the altercation, with the Suns saying: "The attack on Drew Eubanks was unprovoked, and acts of violence such as this are unacceptable. We unequivocally support Drew, and will continue to work with local law enforcement and the NBA."

The Pistons said they were "aware" of the incident between the two players and were "in the process of gathering information about what happened and what provoked it, and responding to the NBA and local authorities."

The following was released this evening by the Pistons:

— Pistons PR (@Pistons_PR) February 15, 2024

Pistons head coach Monty Williams — who became the second-highest-paid NBA coach when he was dismissed from the Suns and joined Detroit last year — told reporters after the game that the Suns should have waited to comment until the investigation was complete.

"The thing is to get all of the information. The NBA will do an investigation," Williams said, per The Associated Press. "I know the Suns said it was unprovoked; I think that is irresponsible for sure."

Stewart was involved in another player altercation in November 2021, but that one happened on the court. 

In the third quarter of a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Pistons, NBA legend LeBron James' elbow struck Stewart's mouth when their arms became tangled during a free throw, leaving the latter player bloodied and angry. Hoards of people tried to restrain him as he charged at James multiple times.

Both players were ejected from the game, which the Lakers ended up winning. The NBA then suspended James for one game — his first and only suspension in his 21-year career — and Stewart for two games.

SEE MORE: Tristan Thompson suspended for 25 games after violating NBA drug rules

Viral graffiti towers in LA are straining police and city resources

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 22:25


At this point, we all know that graffiti artists have tagged an incomplete luxury high-rise project in downtown Los Angeles. 

It all started in December, when local graffiti artists hit the tallest tower of the project, tagging their names on windows. On Feb. 3, a famous artist and his crew joined in, attracting even more artists to tag all the buildings. Within 24 hours, one tower was fully covered; by Feb. 6, all three of the buildings had been tagged.

Now, the Los Angeles Police Department reports that officers have dedicated a minimum of 3,000 hours to patrolling the deserted Oceanview Plaza complex site, and it’s stretching LAPD’s resources.

"This has strained our deployment," Police Chief Michel Moore told NBC4. "We have called in some officers on an overtime basis so that we can provide for these added patrols or station them at that site to deter vandals and others from gaining access to it while also ensuring that we meet the minimum deployment requirements for stations across the city.” 

The towers were intended to accommodate a hotel and luxury condos, but the project came to a halt in 2019 when the Beijing-based developer ran out of funds, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The unfinished buildings pose a significant safety risk to the public, further straining available resources.

"We need to secure it. Unfortunately, given the condition of the property, it has taken public resources, LAPD, the Bureau of Building and Safety, and others to secure that location," Moore said. 

All of this is happening because the tagging of these buildings has gone viral on social media. People are coming from other states just to take selfies with the graffiti or explore inside. More recently, a person was spotted parachuting from the top of one of the tagged buildings.

"I hate the fact that we are using city and other police resources in that manner, but we do not want to see a tragedy take place, and I guarantee you that a tragedy will take place there," said Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

According to NBC4, officials have attempted to contact the building owners' representatives to address the issue, but so far, they have been unsuccessful in reaching them.

Next week, the City Council will discuss a proposal to allocate $3 million for installing a new fence, clearing debris, and potentially hiring private security guards to ease the burden on the police force, NBC4 reports. 

Love of Disney leads to fairy-tale ending for some

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 21:55


Disney nerd, Disney adult, Disneyphile: No matter what you call them, Caitlin McHugh Stamos checks the boxes.

“Call me whatever you want. It’s fine,” McHugh Stamos said.

It’s a tale as old as time. Her love of the mouse started at a young age, when her dad worked for Disney.

“It's just joy. For me, Disney is just pure joy,” McHugh Stamos said.

And like many other Disney adults, it became part of her fairy tale when she met her now-husband and fellow Disney nerd, actor John Stamos.

“That was something that we connected on. The level of, of nerdiness,” She said as she pointed in the direction of a Dumbo ride carriage in their entryway. “I don't know if I knew in the beginning.”

The Stamos home could be a museum of Disney artifacts, with delights like Pirates of the Caribbean heads, dolls from It’s a Small World and even a candlestick telephone that once belonged to Walt Disney himself. They also have a giant “D” that was from the Disneyland sign.

John proposed to Caitlin at Disney California Adventure with a customized animation of meet cutes in Disney film history that ended with an image of Sebastian the crab holding a sign that said, “Ask the girl.”

“It was mind-blowing,” McHugh Stamos said. “The entire thing was just absolutely nuts and a memory that I'm going to treasure forever.”

SEE MORE: Disney hikes the prices for their theme park passes ... again

That fairy tale extends beyond Hollywood. Love is an open door for Disney adults to weave their fandom into their big day.

Enter Jen and Justin Rodgers, who met online in 2006.

“I was like, if you don’t like Disney then this isn't gonna work out,” Jen said. She grew up loving Disney movies, but her first trip to Disneyland was with Justin on their first in-person date.

Justin eventually proposed at the Blue Bayou restaurant overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

“I didn't want to open the ring box on Splash Mountain for the photo. I thought that could just go very poorly very quick,” Justin said.

What kind of romance would it be without the fairytale wedding at the Grand Californian Hotel in Disneyland with photos at the couple’s favorite park spots?

“It is magical,” Jen said. “That's the best way to describe it. It's a dream come true. “

Disney isn’t just the destination. They have an entire division devoted to love, to help plan not only weddings, but engagements and honeymoons. There’s even a boutique where you can buy a gown inspired by the princesses — or your favorite villain.

Not everyone understands the Disney adult thing. There are many websites and articles dedicated to making fun of that level of fandom.

“When people don't get it, it’s like you're not my people,” McHugh Stamos said. “And that's okay. But it’s an easy way to find my people. “

Both the Stamos and Rodgers families see their love of Disney carry on now through their kids.

“Just seeing their little smiles and other kids here, not even your own, when you see that, it’s magic ,” Jen Rodgers said.

Magic that can be felt even when the outside world feels scary.

“I feel like no matter what's going on in the world — and there's a lot going on in the world — it's a place where I walk through that little turnstile and I can just feel all of the stress from every day I live just go 'Whoosh!', and I get to be a kid again,” McHugh Stamos said.

Teacher arrested for assigning class to write ways to kill a student

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 21:18


A teacher has been arrested after giving a Virginia middle school class an assignment to write about killing a student, according to court records.

The incident occurred in January 2022 in an English class at Crestwood Middle School in Chesapeake, but Scripps News Norfolk's investigative team recently learned about the arrest after a Freedom of Information Request to the Department of Education regarding teachers who lost their license in the state.

The class assignment was to write "ways to kill" one particular student in the class, according to court records. The records state that the idea for the assignment came from another student in the class, but that the teacher went along with it.

The students reportedly pulled out their tablets and began to write various ways to kill the selected child in the class. Documents outline how the ideas from the students included chopping him up, throwing him out the window, burning him alive and feeding him to a dog.

That night the child told his parents, and authorities got involved.

When asked by authorities why this happened, records state that the teacher said it was hard to engage the class, and the student at the center of the assignment didn't appear upset. But the teacher agreed it was an inappropriate assignment and told police it was an error in judgment.

The teacher pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

SEE MORE: Teacher arrested after hitting 4-year-old student who has autism

According to a statement from the Chesapeake School District after Scripps News Norfolk reached out for comment, the teacher "was employed as a teacher at Crestwood Middle School from August 31, 2020, through April 8, 2022. Our practice is that we do not comment further on such situations involving personnel. The safety of our students is our top priority, and Chesapeake Public Schools expects all employees to act with the utmost professionalism to provide a positive learning environment for all students."

The National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) is a clearinghouse that helps identify red flags when teachers are applying for licenses across the country. It reports that approximately 6,000 of the 3.5 million public school teachers have adverse action taken against their licenses for a wide variety of issues, and in many cases those teachers do not lose their licenses.

The teacher involved in this case did surrender his license.

NASDTEC, which offers free online preventative and corrective courses for teachers and leaders nationwide, thinks there should be more emphasis on preventing problematic behavior before it happens.

The group's executive director, Jimmy Adams, said he believes every teacher should have to undergo a refresher class about professional ethics every five years. But the group stresses that the vast majority of teachers are phenomenal people, who never get into trouble and are working to educate and inspire the children of America.

Judge sides partially with OpenAI over ChatGPT copyright claims

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 20:44


A California federal judge has dismissed the majority of copyright claims in a lawsuit filed by a group of authors against ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

U.S. District Judge Araceli Martínez-Olguín ruled that the writers, including comedian Sarah Silverman and novelist Paul Tremblay, failed to provide enough evidence to prove that OpenAI used their works to train the language model behind the company's popular artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. The ruling follows similar decisions made by other federal judges who determined that the output of ChatGPT is not similar enough to the authors' work to directly infringe on their copyrights.

SEE MORE: The next front in the AI wars: The courtroom

However, Judge Martínez-Olguín  did give the authors permission to continue pursuing any claims that OpenAI unjustly violated copyright law by using the authors' books without their permission. They now have the option to file an amended complaint by March 13.

Similar lawsuits have been filed against Google and Meta by other groups of writers, artists, and music publishers, alleging that the tech companies misused copyrighted work to train their AI systems.  But the courts have not yet ruled on whether the tech companies directly violated copyright law. 

The U.S. House and Senate are considering legislation that could set the rules for generative AI and intellectual property. But as the law tries to catch up with technology, the intersection of AI and intellectual property will only get more contentious.

Tennessee bill could allow officials to decline same-sex marriage

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 20:29


In Tennessee, a bill that would allow public officials to decline to solemnize a marriage based on their conscience or religious beliefs is now one signature away from becoming law.

Even though the bill doesn't specifically address same-sex marriages, critics say it means LGBTQ+ couples could be denied their right to marry.

LGBTQ+ groups, like the Tennessee Equality Project, say the law creates confusion for same-sex couples. Ministers and priests already have the right to deny same-sex marriages in the state.

One of the bill's sponsors says the bill is "designed to protect the rights of officiants at wedding ceremonies."

"I don't think there's any law that says I have to go through, but there's no law I'm not required to either — so this would just make it clear," said Sen. Mark Pody. 

One local pastor, who testified before lawmakers, called the bill pointless.

"It's regressive and has the potential to turn back hard-fought victories for multiple groups of people — certainly LGBTQ people, interracial marriage," said Travis Meier, pastor at First Lutheran Church. "It just gives somebody almost a free-for-all to do what they want."

If signed into law, it will most likely be challenged in court since same-sex marriage is now a fundamental right, legalized in all 50 states in 2015 — after being affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

SEE MORE: Bill protecting same-sex, interracial unions passes House

Suspect in Wyoming officer's death fatally shot by police in standoff

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 20:23


Police say a man suspected of fatally shooting a police officer on Tuesday was killed in a standoff in northern Wyoming that lasted over 24 hours. 

The officer in Sheridan, Wyoming — a small town about two hours by car south of Billings, Montana and about 10 minutes from the Montana state line — was attempting to serve the suspect with a trespassing warning when he was shot. The victim, Sheridan Police Sgt. Nevada Krinkee, later died from his injuries in a hospital. 

The suspect fled the scene and barricaded himself in a house near the crime scene.

Scripps News Billings reported that the suspect, who was not immediately named, was shot and killed by police after a standoff that approached the 30 hour mark. 

Police said that when the suspect exited the home he was barricaded in, he appeared to be in possession of a weapon and tried to flee. 

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A police statement did not identify the officer or officers who shot the suspect. Police said a detailed report would be released after their investigation is complete.  Police didn't say what type of weapon the suspect was holding. 

White House confirms Russia is pursuing anti-satellite capability

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 20:15


U.S. intelligence officials believe Russia is developing anti-satellite capabilities. 

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby cautioned, however, that this is not an active capability and there is no immediate threat to anyone's safety. 

"We're not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth," Kirby said. 

Public concern about the potential threat first arose Wednesday, when Rep. Mike Turner, the Republican head of the House Intelligence Committee, issued a cryptic statement. He urged the White House to declassify information, noting that members of Congress were informed of a "serious national security threat."

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Responding to calls to declassify the intelligence, Kirby said, "We make decisions about how and when to publicly disclose intelligence in a careful, deliberate and strategic way in a way that we choose. We're not going to be knocked off that process regardless of what in this particular case has found its way into the public domain."

Kirby added that President Joe Biden has been kept fully informed about the intelligence and has directed "diplomatic engagement with Russia, with our allies and our partners as well and with other countries around the world who have interests at stake."

Leaders in the House were scheduled to get an updated briefing on Thursday. Members of the Senate will be briefed later this month. 

"Nothing is more important to President Biden than the safety and security of the American people," Kirby said. "That's his top priority and it's going to remain front and center as we continue to determine the best next steps.

How effective were this year's Super Bowl ads?

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 19:57


Millions of viewers tune into the Super Bowl each year to see the NFL’s two remaining teams face off for the title of Super Bowl champion.

But Super Bowl ads during the big game have become a key part of the experience, with some people even watching just for the commercials.

Each year, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management evaluates Super Bowl ads for effectiveness on a number of factors, boiled down to the acronym ADPLAN — which stands for attention, distinction, positioning, linkage, amplification and net equity.

For the second year in a row, Google Pixel claimed the top spot in the 20th Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review with its "Javier in Frame" ad. 

The commercial featured a blind man named Javier, documenting his life with photos taken on his Google Pixel. The device uses the “Guided Frame” feature to tell Javier when his face and faces of loved ones are in the camera's frame, indicating when he can snap the picture. The commercial pulls at the heartstrings as viewers watch Javier’s life through milestones captured with the AI-assisted feature, from posing with his dog, to attending a big game, to falling in love — and even the birth of his child. 

Notably, Google said it partnered with Adam Morse, an award-winning filmmaker who’s also blind, to bring the story to life.

"Google Pixel has clearly figured out the formula to success for advertising in the Super Bowl," said Derek Rucker, the Sandy & Morton Goldman professor of entrepreneurial studies in marketing and co-lead of the school's Ad Review, in a press release. “Once again the company was able to demonstrate a new technology that enhances the user experience, while also connecting with viewers in an unexpected, emotional way."

The panel also praised Dove for bringing awareness to its Dove Self-Esteem Project and body confidence, and CeraVe for its ad featuring actor Michael Cera, which demonstrated the ability to include a celebrity without overshadowing the product. 

As is typical, there was a lot of star power in this year’s commercials, including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jennifer Lopez, and Tom Brady for Dunkin’ Donuts, and Beyoncé for Verizon.

But some brands also fumbled the ball this year.

The Kellog panel gave, which aired three commercials during the big game, a low score for flopping multimillion dollar investments by failing to deliver a compelling benefit. Other brands with low ratings included Temu and Squarespace. 

"Unfortunately, this is not surprising. Over the years, we have consistently seen Squarespace struggle with its Super Bowl spots due to poor linkage and amplification to their product offering," Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing and co-lead of the school's Ad Review, said in a press release.

GoPuff was another company that evaluated ad effectiveness this year. It tracked results in real time, comparing purchases made an hour after an ad aired during Super Bowl Sunday.

The winner of GoPuff’s Brand Bowl was Lindor Chocolate, which saw a 231% spike in units sold an hour after its “Life is a Ball” commercial aired. Starry and Nerds tied for second place, with both their brands’ products seeing a 186% increase in sales following their ads.

Other top performers were Reese’s, which saw a 70% increase in sales after its ad; Poppi, which realized a 66% increase; and Dove, with a 60% rise in sales.

This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched in history, as a record 123.4 million people tuned in for the big game.

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in a nail-biting overtime finish. 

Poll finds nearly 1 in 5 believe Taylor Swift election conspiracy

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 19:51


A Monmouth University poll found that almost 1 in 5 Americans believe an election conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift is part of a government cover-up to sway voter favor to help President Joe Biden win a second term in office. 

The poll results, published this week, also found that 2 in 3 Americans approve of Swift's efforts to encourage more voters to show up at the polls and cast their ballots in the 2024 presidential election. The poll found that many who believe Swift is part of an elaborate government plot to sway the presidential election also believe the outcome of the 2020 presidential election results were fraudulent. 

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According to the poll data published online by Monmouth University, almost 46% of Americans who responded said they were aware of the Swift conspiracy theory and 18% of Americans said there was an alleged effort to help President Biden. 

The poll found that out of the poll respondents who believe in the conspiracy theory, 71% of them said they are affiliated with the Republican party or lean in favor of the GOP. 

In early January, a Fox News report by host Jesse Watters pushed the so-called Swift PsyOp conspiracy theory further into the mainstream when, as Politico reported, he strongly suggested the pop star could be acting as a front for a "covert political agenda."

In a 2019 clip shown during the segment, a presenter at a conference that included the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence named Taylor Swift as an example of influencers in the media with power. 

Watters said in the segment, "It's real. The Pentagon PsyOp unit pitched NATO on turning Taylor Swift into an asset for combating misinformation online."

The Pentagon responded by saying, "We know all too well the dangers of conspiracy theories, so to set the record straight — Taylor Swift is not part of a DOD psychological operation. Period."

The Monmouth University poll found that among those who identified with the Democrat party in the poll results, 88% said they also appreciated Swift's efforts to get more people out to the ballot box. 

Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said, "The supposed Taylor Swift PsyOp conspiracy has legs among a decent number of Trump supporters. Even many who hadn't heard about it before we polled them accept the idea as credible. Welcome to the 2024 election."

US eases restrictions on Wells Fargo after years of strict oversight

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 19:41


The Biden administration is easing its restrictions on banking giant Wells Fargo, saying the bank has sufficiently fixed its toxic culture after years of scandals.

The news sent Wells Fargo's stock up sharply Thursday as investors speculated that the bank — which has been kept on a tight leash by regulators for years — may be able to rebuild its reputation and start growing again.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the regulator of big national banks like Wells, terminated its consent order on Thursday that had been in place since September 2016. The order required Wells to overhaul how it sold financial products to customers and provide additional consumer protections, as well as employee protections for whistleblowers.

After a series of newspaper and regulatory investigations in 2016, Wells was found to have a poisonous sales culture that would pressure employees into selling multiple products to customers though such products were not needed. Millions of unauthorized accounts were opened, severely tarnishing the reputation of Wells Fargo, once among the most sterling in banking.

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Since the scandal broke, Wells overhauled its board of directors and management, paid more than a billion dollars in fines and penalties, and has spent eight years trying to show the public that its bad practices were behind it. Employees have started unionizing at some branches, with little pushback from management.

In a brief statement Thursday, the Comptroller of the Currency said that Wells Fargo's "safety and soundness" and "compliance with laws and regulations does not require the continue existence of the Order."

The decision is a major victory for Wells' management and Charles Scharf, who took over as CEO in 2019.

"Confirmation from the OCC that we have effectively implemented what was required is a result of the hard work of so many of our employees, and I'd like to thank everyone at Wells Fargo involved for their dedication to transforming how we do business," Scharf said in a prepared statement.

There remains in place a Federal Reserve consent order against Wells as well as a requirement by the Fed that Wells grow no bigger than its current size until it has fixed its sales culture. The Fed did not immediately respond to comment, but the OCC's decision is likely to pressure the Fed to make its own decision regarding its restrictions on Wells.