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Prolific atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett dies at 82

Sun, 04/21/2024 - 00:35

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Tufts University called him a major intellectual figure globally with his research on the philosophy of mind, science and particularly on evolutionary biology. He was one of the most widely read and debated American philosophers of his time. 

Daniel C. Dennett died on Friday in Portland, Maine at 82. 

The American Philosophical Association released a statement saying the organization was saddened by his death. Dennett was the president of their Eastern Division from 2000-2001. 

He served in a career with Tufts University for more than 50 years. 

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 28, 1942, his father was a diplomat and a scholar of Islamic history. His mother was a teacher. 

Dennett would go on to live a storied life filled with academic endeavors and successes, graduating from Harvard University in 1963 with a B.A. in philosophy, and then pursuing his graduate studies at the University of Oxford. 

The New York Times reported that his death at Maine Medical Center was due to complications with interstitial lung disease, according to a message from his wife Susan Bell Dennett. They lived in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the paper said. 

Dennett was a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine from the mid-1960s until 1971. 

He was convinced that the only way to have a productive philosophical debate about the mind was by being informed by science. He also believed this was the approach to sorting out debates on how the mind relates to the physical occurrences in the body. 

Dennett also delved into the fields of neuroscience, artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology, and in 1993 he worked with a team at MIT to attempt the construction of an intelligent — possibly sentient — robot they named Cog. 

Dennett was a prolific writer throughout his career with noteable works that included books on his theories on consciousness. 

Consciousness Explained in 1991 and Darwin's Dangerous Idea in 1995 looked at the theory that natural selection accounted for the evolution of the brain and human consciousness. In a paper he wrote called "Where Am I?" he tells a story of how the brain and body could find itself separated and looks at how that might play out in the real and physical world. 

Dennett believed that random chance played a significant role in decision making. He believed that it was more powerful in that regard that even passions, reasoning or motives. 

At least 18 books have been written about Dennett and his work and he has appeared in a list of documentaries, including 1993's A Glorious Accident, Tufts wrote. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987 and received multiple Guggenheim awards along with a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

He is survived by his wife Susan. The two were married for over 60 years. They have a son named Peter and a daughter named Andrea. Dennett is also survived by his six grandchildren and his two sisters. 

US sailor convicted of attempted espionage by military court

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 22:47

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A military court found U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Bryce Pedicini guilty of attempted espionage after he is accused of sharing classified defense information with a foreign government.  

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service said Pedicini was also convicted for attempted violation of a lawful general order and for failure to obey a lawful order. NCIS said in their release that a seven-day trial found Pedicini — who previously served on a guided-missile destroyer in Japan — guilty at a general court martial on Friday.  

SEE MORE: American reporter Evan Gershkovich marks one year in Russian jail

NCIS Director Omar Lopez said, "This guilty verdict holds Mr. Pedicini to account for his betrayal of his country and fellow service members."

Lopez said, "Adversaries of the United States are unrelenting in their attempts to degrade our military superiority."

The military court said Pedicini's sentencing would be determined by a military judge, scheduled for a hearing on May 7. 

An unidentified person who posed as a Japanese defense researcher is said to have contacted Pedicini through Facebook on Oct. 24, 2022 offering money for details on U.S. military capabilities and strategies. 

Court records said Pedicini worked with "everything from radars, fire control systems and computer systems, to the Navy's most advanced missile system, Aegis," Stars and Stripes reported

Navy Chief Bryce Pedicini has no comment for me as he leaves the close of his espionage trial on Naval Base San Diego. Prosecutors allege he sold sensitive military info to a stranger on the internet for cash. Defense says the case has holes & evidence is missing. ⁦@10Newspic.twitter.com/CajDNY2meE

— Austin Grabish (@AustinGrabish) April 17, 2024

The individual, who was identified as a woman, reportedly convinced Pedicini to send classified materials on a ballistic missile system, according to Prosecutor Leah O'Brien. 

Pedicini is said to have received an initial payment of $50, and then another for $1,000 for the documents. Scripps News San Diego reported that Pedicini's defense attorneys argued that he was just copying and pasting material from Google. Prosecutors said he used a burner phone and the discreet messaging app Telegram to hide his communications. 

Pedicini made no comment to Scripps News San Diego who were waiting for him as he left a courtroom at the Naval Base San Diego on April 16 after a hearing in the case. 

Remembering the 13 victims of Columbine on the 25th anniversary

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 19:32

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Saturday, April 20, 2024 marks 25 years since the horrific tragedy unfolded at Columbine High School that left 12 students and one teacher dead. 

A vigil was held Friday to mark the milestone, though it was smaller than gatherings of years past. 

The Columbine Memorial, located in Clements Park in Colorado, has been a place for visitors from across the country to remember the events of that day and reflect since its dedication on September 21, 2007. 

Rick Townsend, the father of victim Lauren Townsend, serves as President of the Columbine Memorial Foundation and described the features of the memorial.

“The Ring of Remembrance has a plaque for each of the victims that died,” said Townsend. 

On display along The Ring of Remembrance are individual remembrances of each victim provided by families or through the words of the students.

“This is kind of the central point of the memorial,” added Townsend. 

The Ring of Remembrance surrounds a big ribbon with the words ‘Never Forgotten’ displayed on the memorial grounds.

Outside of the victim tributes, a Wall of Healing runs along the outer wall where quotes on plaques can be read of first responders, students, teachers, and other community members.

There is a water feature that runs during the warmer months near the memorial’s entrance.

“And to top it all off, there's a walkway that goes all the way around the little hills here to a viewpoint where you can look over the mountains,” said Townsend.

Today, the Columbine Memorial requires upgrades, including a new more reliable lighting system to make it easier to read the inscriptions as well as other much-needed improvements.

Scripps News Denver has created a campaign where anyone can securely donate to help ensure the Columbine Memorial will have a lasting impact for future generations.

Below are the inscriptions on the memorial wall for each victim of the senseless tragedy. 

Cassie René Bernall

“Our Cassie had an engaging laugh, beautiful long blonde hair, clear blue eyes and a big warm smile that she generously shared. Her loves were music, snowboarding with her brother Chris, photography, travel and youth group. Seeking to be an obstetrician, she dreamed of bringing new life into this world.

Cassie truly longed to know what heaven would be like and she strived to know the Lord whom she would meet there. Her heart’s desire was 'just to live for Christ.' Weeks before her death she expressed her anxiousness to see heaven, stating that she could 'hardly wait to get there.'

When asked how we would ever live without her, Cassie simply replied 'Wouldn’t you be happy for me? You know I’d be in a better place!'

Cassie lost her life because of her belief in God. Although her dreams of ushering in new life tragically ended, her stand continues to encourage many to seek new life through Christ. We miss her immensely, but know she’s in that better place. - Phil 3:10-11”

Steven Curnow

"Steven Curnow, at 14, was a quiet, thoughtful, generous and forgiving young man. He never held a grudge and was quick to offer help, encouragement, forgiveness and friendship to family, classmates, and soccer teammates.

Steve loved reading, watching adventure movies and playing soccer. When Steve realized he was not skilled enough to make the high school soccer team his dream of playing professional soccer was gone, but he never lost his love for the game. He continued to play on his recreational soccer team and was also a referee.

Steve wanted to pursue his dream of becoming a naval aviator. He had found a love of flying during his first plane trip, a family vacation to England. The plane hit some pretty rough turbulence, dropping altitude, tossing side-to-side and shuddering. Talking on the plane suddenly stopped with many of the passengers becoming white knuckled and tightening their grips on the arms of the seats. Ten-year-old Steve’s reaction was 'Wow! That was cool; let’s do it again!!'

Steve, you are forever in our hearts. Soar high, and fly straight. We love you!

Dad, Mom, and Nancy"

Corey DePooter

"Corey was a young man who was full of life. He was a person that you would want to spend time with. He loved to talk and could have long conversations on the subjects he was passionate about. With his sense of humor Corey could have a whole room laughing.

Corey was an outdoorsman at heart. Every free hour he had he spent fishing. He loved the mountains, camping with his family, hunting, golfing, and fly fishing at Yellowstone.

Corey had just turned seventeen and was excited about his future. He was working at a golf course to save up for his first car. His goal was to become an officer in the Marine Corps. Corey looked forward to becoming a husband and a father and sharing his faith with his children.

Corey cherished his family, his friends, and his life."

Kelley Ann Fleming

Kelly's memorial inscription is taken from a poem she wrote in 1998.

"A writer and a poet, a gentle soul who walked among us.

CAN THAT BE?

I step outside, what did I hear?

I heard the whispers,

And the cries of the people’s fear.

The loneliness of wisdom,

Can that be?

The sad, sad, sorrow that I see,

That is past in the trees.

Is it true, can it be real?

Can I let them know how I really feel?

The things I have seen,

The things that I have felt.

The feelings of sorrow

That I hope will soon melt:

Wherever I looked,

Wherever I turned.

I see shadows all through the night.

I put my head down and said a little prayer,

To tell the Lord the sad, sad, sorrow,

And the lonely cries that I have heard.

After a minute of silence, of wisdom

I looked up slowly.

I saw a thing that I have never seen.

I saw a light and asked myself can that be?

Was it real or was it a dream?

I didn’t know but hopefully

It will come to me.

It was bright and I was scared.

I didn’t know what or if I should see

I looked and then it came to me.

It was a dream.

When I was turning to walk away

I heard a voice.

Written by Kelly in 1998. Her first draft; final draft published in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III"

Matthew Kechter

"Matthew, a gift from God

As the sun rises, the eagle soars, and the wind whispers, we will remember you. Memories are moments of time strung together, but in these moments of reflection we will see the kindness in your eyes, hear your sweet chuckles of laughter, and feel the love for others in your heart.

We will always remember your fondness for the outdoors, your passion for sports and your dedication to academic success. Your broad and proud grin after you caught your first trout will never be forgotten. You loved to compete and strive for the best in all sports that you played. You loved to win, yet your sense of fairness and integrity always prevailed.

Academically you shined so very bright. Never forgotten will be the moment when you were listening to music, watching a football game and working on your Algebra. 

When questioned about the distractions, using your Forrest Gump voice and replied, 'I have a 4.0, and that is all I am going to say about that.' Known as the go-to-guy for homework help you always found time to lend a hand. 

More importantly, you brought joy to those around you with a kind work or a gentle smile Your devotion to family and friends will serve as our inspiration to follow as we journey through life. You possessed such profound empathy for someone so young. You were so wise, loving and thoughtful.

'I am with you always.' Matthew 28:20'"

Daniel Mauser

"It is not easy to sum up the life of a son and brother. To his parents he was a first born gift with spiritual dimensions that caused us to seek a deeper life. To his sister Christine, he was a fun companion but also one who was willing to share his wisdom and knowledge. 

To his sister Madeline he will be the brother who was never known, but whose presence will always be felt. To others he will be an inspiration for how he tackled his own weaknesses and often overcame them in surprising ways.

We remember Daniel as a boy with a gentle spirit and a shy grin. Often charming and sometimes intense,; he was just coming into his own. He still saw the world through largely innocent eyes. 

He was an inquisitive and occasionally maddening adolescent who would challenge you to examine your assumptions about most everything.

In the most profound sense, however, Daniel was one who, despite difficulties, knew the ineffable sweetness of life and it was part of him. It was our great blessing to have had him as a member of our family."

Daniel Lee Rohrbough

"March 2, 1984 – April 20, 1999

What will the world miss?

A precious gift from God with an engaging smile and beautiful blue eyes that would light up the room, sensitive and caring, always quick with a comforting hug. A funny kid with an infectious laugh and a quick come back, so full of questions and wanting to know how things work. Family was important to you and always included in your life. Just beginning your journey with so much to learn, yet you taught us so much. 

We miss you.

-----

'Dad, I have a question.'

Why?

My son in a Nation that legalized the killing of innocent children in the womb; in a County where authorities would lie and cover up what they knew and what they did, in a Godless school system your life was taken…Dan, I’m sorry.

“I love you dad, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

7:00 p.m., April 19, 1999

'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked.' Isaiah 48:22"

Rachel Joy Scott

"Her middle name described her; she was a Joy! Her beauty reflected her kindness and compassion. A month before her death she wrote: 'I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.'

Rachel had a sense of destiny and purpose. She also had a premonition her life would be short. She wrote: 'Just passing by, just coming though, not staying long. I always knew this home I have will never last.' The day she died she told a teacher: 'I’m going to have an impact on the world.'

In her diary she wrote: 'I won’t be labeled as average.'

Her faith in God was expressed in a prayer she wrote:

'I want to serve you; I want to be used by you to help others.'

Her final words were testimony to her life.

When asked if she believed in God, she replied, 'You know I do!'

William “Dave” Sanders

"Born in Illinois, as a child he liked Davy Crockett, little league baseball and loved the sound of a bouncing basketball. Dave’s young life was mentored by his high school basketball coach. 

He played basketball and ran cross-country in college then began his career as a business teacher and coach. Dave encouraged students, family members and friends to become better people through kindness and encouragement. 

He inspired many people to achieve their dreams and his spirit lives on in everyone who loved him or knew him. Know that he loves you all and is with you always.

He will always be only one thought away when we need strength and comfort. We have a lifetime filled with memories of a man we are so proud to have known. So, remember Dave for how he lived; not how he died.

We are grateful for his final words: 'Tell my girls I love them,' we love you too."

Isaiah Eamon Shoels

"The love of God was first in Isaiah’s life. The love for his parents, Vonda and Michael, was the highlight of his life. His close relationship with his Grandmother Bessie showed in his respect for others. 

He loved sports, playing and joking with his family, and was taught to love others no matter how they treated him. 

Isaiah died in a room filled with hate and darkness. 

He now lives in a beautiful heavenly room filled with light and beauty. He would want you to look up and see the light, to put away the guns, hate, prejudice and pride, and see the great light that is love. 

He is one of the beautiful flowers God has picked for his Heavenly Garden, to shine and to be an everlasting light.

Isaiah, we will always miss you. We will always love you. With love from your Family and friends.

Stop doing wrong, learn to do right. —Isaiah 1:15-17

Maintain justice and do what is right. —Isaiah 56:1-2

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace. —Isaiah 57:1-2"

John Tomlin

"Born September 1, John Tomlin was a young man with a broad smile and bright eyes. As a kid he loved cars, baseball, family and God. 

As a teen he added Chevy trucks and the Green Bay Packers to that list and his love for Jesus developed in him a strong set of Christian morals.

John had a gentle disposition that parents and girlfriends dream of; the kind that didn’t need a heavy hand of discipline and that made him an old-fashioned gentleman on dates. 

But his sunny disposition could not keep him from entering what many teens enter; a dark tunnel of loneliness where God seemed far away.

John didn’t stay long in that tunnel. 

Seven months before his death he reconnected with God and rediscovered the joy of his faith. That faith sustained John with courage and strength to face evil during the last moments of his life in the Columbine High School library. 

In heaven now, John fully understands the truth of the words written long ago: 'You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.' 1 John 4:4"

Lauren Townsend

"Excerpts from Lauren’s Diary

A woman in the middle of a field of flowers kissing Jesus’ wounds. I didn’t think I could draw such a beautiful picture I did tonight. It took me only two hours. I think something was guiding me other than just my hand. That is my dream. 

When I die, I want to wake up in a field of flowers and see Jesus sitting there smiling, happy to see me, holding my hand. Then I want to kiss his wounds. 

Maybe it sounds corny, but I can’t even describe how happy I would be if I could do that. Then I would hug him, he’d kiss me on the forehead, and we would just sit there hugging in the sun with the wind blowing in our hair. 

The wind is God because God is everywhere. Just that moment is worth living many lives for.

I feel so peaceful, calm, and joyful; like I am on the verge of enlightenment. There is so much more going on here than we realize. I do think humanity is losing touch with itself and their relationship with their surroundings. 

Unfortunately it usually takes a huge trauma to get people to realize what is important and I feel that is what is going to happen to wake up everyone to get in touch with their spiritual sides. I am not afraid of death, for it is only a transition."

For, in the end all there is, is love.

Kyle Albert Velasquez

"A young man, who as a child struggled with developmental delays and learning disabilities, he knew his limitations, yet wanted to be like every other kid. He was just beginning to really like who he was. 

Kyle taught those who loved him so much about unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, perseverance, and acceptance. He was a true friend to those who chose to take the time to know him. 

He loved his brother Daniel, and family cats, ice cream, pizza, and riding his bike. He spent his time at home with his family, watching sports with dad and going to the library with mom. 

Kyle had been a student at Columbine only three months and was just beginning to spread his wings. The world around him was beginning to open up for a young boy who had struggled through school and life. But, through all his delays and difficulties he always smiled, forgave and saw the GOOD in those around him.

Kyle was and is very much loved. He will always be missed and never forgotten."

This story was originally published by Jeff Anastasio at Scripps News Denver.

House passes critical aid package for Ukraine, Israel, other US allies

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 18:06

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The House passed a $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies in a rare Saturday session after months of failures to reach an agreement on both sides of the aisle. 

Legislation also passed that would ban TikTok in the United States if the social media platform's China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year. 

The weekend scene presented a striking display of congressional action after months of dysfunction and stalemate fueled by Republicans, who hold the majority but are deeply split over foreign aid, particularly for Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion. Speaker Mike Johnson, putting his job on the line, is relying on Democratic support to ensure the military and humanitarian package is approved, and help flows to the U.S. allies.

There was a series of votes on three aid bills, for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, as well as a fourth that contains several other foreign policy proposals, including a clampdown on the popular social media platform TikTok.

The aid package is largely the same as the bipartisan package put together by the Senate months ago, but splitting it into separate bills allowed lawmakers to individually support some aid and not others. 

On Friday, the House voted on procedural rules for these bills, getting more Democratic votes than it did Republican votes which is unusual for it being a Republican majority. 

The bills will now head to the Senate, where passage in the coming days is nearly assured. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

Passage through the House would have cleared away the biggest hurdle to Biden's funding request, first made in October as Ukraine's military supplies began to run low. The GOP-controlled House, skeptical of U.S. support for Ukraine, struggled for months over what to do, first demanding that any assistance be tied to policy changes at the U.S.-Mexico border, only to immediately reject a bipartisan Senate offer along those very lines.

Reaching an endgame has been an excruciating lift for Johnson that has tested both his resolve and his support among Republicans, with a small but growing number now openly urging his removal from the speaker's office. Yet congressional leaders cast the votes at a turning point in history — an urgent sacrifice as U.S. allies are beleaguered by wars and threats from continental Europe to the Middle East to Asia.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the legislation is "an important investment in America's future. By providing approximately $50 billion that will flow directly into our defense industrial base, this bill will create good American jobs in more than 30 states even as it reinforces U.S. long-term security."

“The only thing that has kept terrorists and tyrants at bay is the perception of a strong America, that we would stand strong,” Johnson said this week. “And we will. I think that Congress is going to show that. This is a very important message that we are going to send the world."

Still, Congress has seen a stream of world leaders visit in recent months, from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, all but pleading with lawmakers to approve the aid. Globally, the delay left many questioning America's commitment to its allies.

House passes legislation that could lead to a TikTok ban

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 17:44

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If TikTok's China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year, legislation passed on Saturday by the House would force a ban on the popular social media platform in the United States. 

There was a series of votes on Saturday to decide on three aid bills, for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. 

In the language being voted on over the weekend was a fourth piece of legislation that contains multiple other foreign policy proposals, including a clampdown ByteDance, owner of the popular social media platform TikTok.

Lawmakers were trying to fast-track the efforts to push through a ban by merging the legislation with foreign aid, and it seemed to work as support appeared to increase fast, with a final vote to pass it in the early afternoon on Saturday.

The bill is framed as a national security bill, and it's in the name of national security that lawmakers want to decouple TikTok from China. The national security bill tackles issues related to Russia, China and Iran, including new sanctions against all three countries. 

The bill also allows the U.S. government to seize Russian assets and send that funding to Ukraine, targets criminal organizations trafficking fentanyl, and forces TikTok's parent company to sell the app or face a ban in the U.S.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a statement Saturday writing, "We have seen yet again that the troubles of our times will only worsen without strong, steady U.S. leadership to advance our core security interests."

SEE MORE: TikTok to start banning 'problematic' content from its For You feed

Republican House leaders revealed the plan this week to slip in the crackdown on TikTok — seen by some as unconventional in Washington — and move the bill as a whole forward to President Joe Biden's desk after it sat stalled in the Senate, the Washington Post reported

The bill, which had appeared more likely than not to pass — including with the TikTok restrictions — could be signed into law as soon as next week, the Associated Press reported. But, not all lawmakers remained confident that the app would go away, especially anytime soon. 

The latest version of the measure will now head to the Senate after a compromise was reached. 

President Biden said Saturday, "I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law."

US agency fighting Russian, Chinese disinformation may lose funding

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 17:00

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This year, a record-breaking number of elections will take place around the world. The State Department’s Global Engagement Center has plans to help U.S. allies prevent Russian and Chinese disinformation from influencing voters. But the federal agency itself is in the midst of a quiet battle for survival.

The agency was established with a bipartisan bill that was introduced in 2016 by Republican former Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. But eight years later, some Republicans accuse the GEC of suppressing conservative speech and want to block funding.

“We really are fighting the information war. And there is an information war going on in this world,” said Special Envoy James Rubin, who leads the center, which is tasked with exposing and countering foreign disinformation.

“We have a few dozen people with a relatively small budget, and we're up against a Chinese and a Russian disinformation budget that's billions of dollars,” Rubin said.

With a budget of about $61 million, the center recently exposed how Russia is flooding Africa and Latin America with conspiracy theories and how China is secretly influencing foreign news outlets.

Rubin said the Chinese have taken some lessons from the Russian playbook. 

“They have started to use bots on the internet. They have started to repeat each other's narratives and then use artificial means to exaggerate the extent to which people are believing particular narratives," he said. "So, there is no question that Russia, which has been doing disinformation for hundreds of years, has brought some unfortunate lessons to the Chinese.”

SEE MORE: House passes legislation that could lead to a TikTok ban

But some Republican lawmakers accuse the GEC of mission creep and using taxpayer dollars to undermine the speech of conservatives. Rubin said the accusations would concern him “no matter where they are coming from.”

In a lawsuit, two conservative news outlets, the Federalist and the Daily Wire, accuse the center of orchestrating “one of the most audacious, manipulative, secretive, and gravest abuses of power and infringements of First Amendment rights.” They argue that the GEC funded a project for an organization called the Global Disinformation Index, which, a year later, named their outlets as high risk for purveying disinformation, ultimately hurting their ad revenue and circulation.

The special envoy, a former journalist, suggests the GEC is prepared to make some changes to the grants it gives so that lawmakers do not cut off crucial funding.

“We didn't provide money to anybody to make any judgment about conservative viewpoints. But I'm a realist,” Rubin says. “I live in a world where Congress has to fund us. And if Congress is prepared to work with us and get the GEC reauthorized, I don't see any reason why we would want to fund an organization that they hate so much.”

Rubin says that he, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the White House are working hard to get the center reauthorized. It comes after efforts to get the GEC reauthorized earlier this year failed when Republicans objected to including it in the Senate’s Ukraine supplemental military aid package.

Sen. Chris Murphy, who helped write legislation establishing the GEC, is “actively looking” for other avenues that would allow Congress to reauthorize it, an aide to Murphy told Scripps News.

An end to the GEC’s mission would not only benefit Russia and China, said Rubin, it could also harm relationships that took years to build with other countries who the U.S. partners with to disarm foreign disinformation.

SEE MORE: Apple pulls WhatsApp and Threads from App Store in China

Inside the Race: Kennedy family backs Biden over RFK Jr.

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 15:47

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On this edition of “Inside the Race Weekend,” Politico White House Reporter Adam Cancryn and Politico White House and Washington Reporter Daniel Lippman join Scripps News Political Director Andrew Rafferty and host, Joe St. George to discuss Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s presidential campaign as a third party candidate and how his family has publicly supported President Joe Biden. 

Senate passes surveillance program renewal despite privacy concerns

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 11:15

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After its midnight deadline, the Senate voted early Saturday to reauthorize a key U.S. surveillance law after divisions over whether the FBI should be restricted from using the program to search for Americans' data nearly forced the statute to lapse.

The legislation approved 60-34 with bipartisan support would extend for two years the program known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It now goes to President Joe Biden's desk to become law. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden "will swiftly sign the bill."

"In the nick of time, we are reauthorizing FISA right before it expires at midnight," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said when voting on final passage began 15 minutes before the deadline. "All day long, we persisted and we persisted in trying to reach a breakthrough and in the end, we have succeeded."

U.S. officials have said the surveillance tool, first authorized in 2008 and renewed several times since then, is crucial in disrupting terror attacks, cyber intrusions, and foreign espionage and has also produced intelligence that the U.S. has relied on for specific operations, such as the 2022 killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

"If you miss a key piece of intelligence, you may miss some event overseas or put troops in harm's way," Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. "You may miss a plot to harm the country here, domestically, or somewhere else. So in this particular case, there's real-life implications."

The proposal would renew the program, which permits the U.S. government to collect without a warrant the communications of non-Americans located outside the country to gather foreign intelligence. The reauthorization faced a long and bumpy road to final passage Friday after months of clashes between privacy advocates and national security hawks pushed consideration of the legislation to the brink of expiration.

Though the spy program was technically set to expire at midnight, the Biden administration had said it expected its authority to collect intelligence to remain operational for at least another year, thanks to an opinion earlier this month from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which receives surveillance applications.

Still, officials had said that court approval shouldn't be a substitute for congressional authorization, especially since communications companies could cease cooperation with the government if the program is allowed to lapse.

House before the law was set to expire, U.S. officials were already scrambling after two major U.S. communication providers said they would stop complying with orders through the surveillance program, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland praised the reauthorization and reiterated how "indispensable" the tool is to the Justice Department.

"This reauthorization of Section 702 gives the United States the authority to continue to collect foreign intelligence information about non-U.S. persons located outside the United States, while at the same time codifying important reforms the Justice Department has adopted to ensure the protection of Americans' privacy and civil liberties," Garland said in a statement Saturday.

SEE MORE: House votes on Israel, Ukraine aid could affect Speaker Johnson's job

But despite the Biden administration's urging and classified briefings to senators this week on the crucial role they say the spy program plays in protecting national security, a group of progressive and conservative lawmakers who were agitating for further changes had refused to accept the version of the bill the House sent over last week.

The lawmakers had demanded that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allow votes on amendments to the legislation that would seek to address what they see as civil liberty loopholes in the bill. In the end, Schumer was able to cut a deal that would allow critics to receive floor votes on their amendments in exchange for speeding up the process for passage.

The six amendments ultimately failed to garner the necessary support on the floor to be included in the final passage.

One of the major changes detractors had proposed centered around restricting the FBI's access to information about Americans through the program. Though the surveillance tool only targets non-Americans in other countries, it also collects communications of Americans when they are in contact with those targeted foreigners. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, had been pushing a proposal that would require U.S. officials to get a warrant before accessing American communications.

"If the government wants to spy on my private communications or the private communications of any American, they should be required to get approval from a judge, just as our Founding Fathers intended in writing the Constitution," Durbin said.

In the past year, U.S. officials have revealed a series of abuses and mistakes by FBI analysts in improperly querying the intelligence repository for information about Americans or others in the U.S., including a member of Congress and participants in the racial justice protests of 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

But members on both the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as the Justice Department warned requiring a warrant would severely handicap officials from quickly responding to imminent national security threats.

"I think that is a risk that we cannot afford to take with the vast array of challenges our nation faces around the world," Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday.

Amsterdam to halt hotel construction in bid to control tourism

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 02:47

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Dutch authorities say the popular city Amsterdam is overrun with tourism. They want to curb it by halting new hotel construction and reducing annual hotel stay numbers there. 

New local council rules in Amsterdam would stop properties from raising the limits on numbers of beds and would only allow new hotels to be built if another property closes, Euronews reported.

Celebrations in the city like the recent one for King's Day can bring is big tourist numbers, but they can also bring in littering, increased pickpocketing, alcohol consumption in the streets and noise, Amsterdam's city council said

Efforts to control tourism numbers are meant to make residents of the city more comfortable. 

SEE MORE: Nordic countries top happiest places on Earth, while US drops on list

City authorities have also decided to cut the number of riverboat cruises allowed to enter the capital, from about 2,300 that were docked there in 2023 to about 1,150 by 2028, Euronews reported. 

Travel publications like Travel Pulse said certain seasons can bring in an overwhelming influx of visitors to the city, which is known for liberal drug policies and its Red-Light district.

In 2023 the World Economic Forum published a report looking at the problem of over-tourism around the globe. In it, leaders spoke about a spike in excessive tourism after the deep lull brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In cities like Barcelona, an energy of anti-tourism sentiment has permeated among residents. The WEF described the surge of tourism as "rapid" and "unyielding."

Governments have been encouraged to be decisive and firm about how they develop policies to response to issues of high tourist demand, the WEF said in the report. 

Messi the dog is retiring from the TSA after work screening travelers

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 02:14

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Meet Messi. His handlers say "he was clearly born to work for the TSA," and said when he wasn't screening passengers he enjoyed watching airplanes and playing in the grass at the popular Gravelly Point field, near D.C.'s Reagan National Airport. 

This good boy is now retiring from service with the Transportation Security Administration as one of hundreds of the canines that train each year to work as passenger screening agents at U.S. airports.

Messi and dogs like him spend about 16 weeks learning how to adapt to the hustle and bustle of busy airports, and to meet their handlers, with whom they'll form deep work bonds.  

SEE MORE: Dozens of animals rescued from Maryland house fire

The TSA says there are more than 1,000 canine handler teams that deploy to support screening and security operations around the country. Some of them, like Messi, are trained as explosion detection dogs at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland in San Antonio, Texas. 

After a busy day Messi would enjoy playing with a tennis ball. 

Now he will enjoy a life of fun and rest, and can play with his toys at any time, and not just after a day of sniffing around for traces of explosive materials, the TSA said. 

As part of his retirement party, Messi had his "Do Not Pet" patch removed from his harness, officially marking the end of his professional career. He also received a pet-friendly cup cake to celebrate. 

The TSA said his handler Peter chose to adopt him in his retirement so they don't have to be separated after the bond they've formed. 

TikTok to start banning 'problematic' content from its For You feed

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 01:45

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TikTok will let you mess up once, maybe even a couple times, but repeating your mistakes a little too often is going to cost you.

The social media platform announced Wednesday it's updating its standards for what's allowed on the algorithmically-generated For You feed, which provides users a personalized experience with videos and creators the app believes they would like. 

But come May 17, those who create content the company considers "fine if seen occasionally but problematic if viewed in clusters" won't be eligible to be on it, making their account temporarily ineligible from being on the FYF. TikTok will also make their content harder to find in search, thereby reducing a person's ability to reach a larger audience in multiple ways.

In its announcement, TikTok specified some types of "repetitive content patterns" it will start interrupting to ensure they're viewed less often. Those include "dieting, extreme fitness, sexual suggestiveness, sadness (such as statements of hopelessness, or sharing sad quotes), and overgeneralized mental health information (such as a quiz that claims to diagnose someone)."

Its policy also makes any TikTok users under the age of 16 ineligible from reaching the FYF at any time.

SEE MORE: What is the 'Oatzempic' trend, and are its social media claims true?

Creators who go against TikTok's FYF standards will be given a warning strike on their first violation, but the next will be an actual strike, which can add up to a permanent ban, the app's head of operations and trust and safety, Adam Presser, said in another TikTok blog post.

If users think a mistake has been made in revoking their FYF eligibility or account suspension, they'll be able to appeal, but zero-tolerance policies like age violations or incitement to violence won't get reminders or appeals, Presser wrote.

And if you're now worried you might be close to being banned from the app right now without knowing it, future you won't have to worry. TikTok is rolling out an "Account Check" feature that will allow users to "quickly audit" their last 30 posts to see if they're in danger of any strikes from violations. 

TikTok also released Wednesday a Creator Code of Conduct, which it says will take effect in the coming weeks. Presser said it includes standards the company expects creators involved in its features and campaigns to follow "on and off-platform." 

"We believe that being a part of these programs is an opportunity that comes with additional responsibilities, and this code will also help provide creators with additional reassurance that other participants are meeting these standards too," Presser wrote. 

The revised standards come as TikTok has increasingly come under scrutiny for how it protects its users, particularly younger ones, from harmful content and its effects. 

In November, an Amnesty International investigation found TikTok's FYF draws young people into "rabbit holes" of potentially dangerous content, "including videos that romanticize and encourage depressive thinking, self-harm and suicide." This, its report said, risks worsening existing mental health challenges.

The policy shift also comes as Congress considers a potential nationwide ban of the app unless it separates from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. Some lawmakers fear TikTok could become a national security issue if ByteDance had to divest its data on American users because of Chinese law. The bill still needs to clear the Senate.

Company retires humanoid robot for model with real-world capabilities

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 01:30

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In a sign of how a future might look in which robots and humans move about in our world, a U.S. company said it would upgrade its humanoid robot with a new model that was designed to have more real-world commercial and industrial applications. 

Boston Dynamics said in a statement its hydraulic Atlas robot model would be retired and replaced with a new fully electric Atlas robot "designed for real-world applications."

The company said it began putting research and development resources into humanoid robots around 10 years ago, and has seen other players come onto the scene in that time. Boston Dynamics said it will work with Hyundai to test new applications for its Atlas model. 

A spokesperson for the company said the now-retired humanoid robot would be put in their office lobby museum with other robots that were decommissioned, the New York Times reported

SEE MORE: 4-legged robot to help deter wildlife strikes at Alaska airport

The company posted a video online this week showing some of the incredible movement capabilities that the Atlas model had in some of their tests — including some of the dramatic failures it experienced at times.

"For almost a decade, Atlas has sparked our imagination, inspired the next generations of roboticists, and leapt over technical barriers in the field," the company said. "Now it's time for our hydraulic Atlas robot to kick back and relax. Take a look back at everything we've accomplished with the Atlas platform to date."

The image of a world where robots become more advanced is exciting for some, and not so much for others. Stanford noted in a brief history of robotics that some have historically perceived robots to be "dangerous technological ventures that will someday lead to the demise of the human race."

Boston Dynamics, for its part, publishes a code of ethics that states its robots should be trustworthy, must remain unweaponized and must not violate existing civil rights or privacy laws.

Fentanyl's toll and a troubled aircraft | Scripps News Investigates

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 01:30

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Fentanyl's silent toll

The U.S. Government calls fentanyl the most dangerous drug threat the United States has ever faced. For the past year we've been investigating the silent toll it's been taking on this country's most vulnerable: Our children.

When we discovered a kindergartener overdosed on fentanyl in her own California classroom, we started digging into the shocking case. And the further we probed, the more we learned of problems that could be leaving other children at risk.

Protecting children from fentanyl

When Addison Mott started to show signs that she was sick in her classroom, no one immediately recognized that she had been exposed to fentanyl, and when she first got to the hospital, she wasn't tested for it. That's something we found multiple times in the hundreds of fentanyl cases we reviewed in the last year. Now some states are requiring hospitals to screen for fentanyl every time they run a standard test for drugs.

The troubled past of the V-22 Osprey

It's been called the most controversial U.S. military aircraft ever built. The Osprey is often considered a marvel of technology, but it has claimed the lives of more than 60 U.S. service members in 30 years. 

After a crash in Japan that killed eight airmen last year, the Osprey was grounded by the military. But this past march it was cleared to fly again — despite lingering questions about its safety.

SEE MORE: Stolen mail and East Palestine's diaspora | Scripps News Investigates

Oregon town's policing of homeless heads to Supreme Court

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 00:49

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It's a case that started in a public park in southern Oregon, and now it's going in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision the justices make could impact how homelessness is handled across the country — including whether to give law enforcement the ability to cite or arrest people for sleeping on public property.

Every Thursday morning, Cassy Leach and her fellow volunteers, many of them health care workers, drive food, clothes and supplies between different parks in the southern Oregon town of Grants Pass, a 50-minute drive north of the California border.

"We follow up with people individually and do case management services and meet them where they're at to provide resources," she said.

The goal: use food and conversation to build trust with unhoused people that will lead them to accept services like health care, addiction treatment and housing.

Leach explained what motivated her: "These people live a mile from me and the fact that they don't have running water, where they're camped at. The bathrooms are closed down. Being able to take care of a wound is darn near impossible with no water."

Brian Simmons is a real estate agent who's lived in Grants Pass for the last 30 years. Over the last few years, potential clients have been asking more and more about the town's unsheltered population who have taken refuge in cars and tents, spread throughout 20 public parks. 

"I don't know if there was any real point where it all of a sudden became an issue. It seems like it was just a very slow evolution to get to where we're at today," he said. "That's one of the more common questions I get is like, 'Hey, how is the homeless population really? Is it, is it really that big of a problem?'"

Now in the town of 40,000 people, the homelessness crisis is the focus of a Supreme Court case — Grants Pass v. Johnson. In it, the unhoused plaintiff says the way the city treated homeless people in its parks was unconstitutional. Arguments in the Supreme Court are scheduled for Monday, and depending on the outcome, law enforcement across the country could be allowed to use the law to punish unhoused people for sleeping on public lands. 

That's something that the Oregon Law Center, which represents the plaintiff, says could make the homeless crisis in America more dire. 

"Do we want to live in communities where we all help each other to try to find a safe place to live? Or do we want to live in a community where we punish and arrest and jail the victims of our failed housing policies because they have nowhere else to go?" said Ed Johnson, the director of litigation at the Oregon Law Center which is representing the homeless.

Currently, the 2018 9th Circuit Court decision Martin v. Boise found that while camping on public property can be made illegal, citing or arresting people for sleeping on public property equates to cruel and unusual punishment if they have nowhere else to go. 

Leaders from both sides of the political spectrum say this decision has taken a crucial tool away from municipalities where homelessness issues are increasing faster than resources can handle.

Aaron Hisel, a former police officer, is now an attorney representing the city.

"Some of the most rewarding days as a cop were the times where somebody came back to the station a year later and said, 'I just wanted you to know I've been clean since the day you arrested me. You saved my life.' And we're removing those levers from the system," he said.

Shayna Mueller, 35, lives with her dog in a tent in Grants Pass, bouncing between public parks. On the day we spoke, she was told by police to move within 72 hours to another park. This happens twice a week.

"We have nowhere else to go. We are here because we have to be here," she said.

Grants Pass does have a privately run shelter, but it has limited beds, doesn't allow dogs and requires daily attendance at religious services.

Mueller says, "I want to have a job. I want to have things just like everybody else. But it's just so hard and expensive and everything."

SEE MORE: DC charity helps those who are homeless get housing

Tennessee Volkswagen plant vote could be another step forward for UAW

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 00:25

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The United Auto Workers’ ambitious drive to expand its reach to nonunion factories across the South and elsewhere is facing a key test Friday night as workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, finish voting on whether to join the union.

The UAW’s ranks in the auto industry have dwindled over the years as foreign-based companies with nonunion U.S. plants have sold increasingly more vehicles.

Twice in recent years, workers at the Chattanooga plant have rejected union membership. Most recently, they handed the UAW a narrow defeat in 2019 as federal prosecutors were breaking up a bribery-and-embezzlement scandal at the union.

But this time, the UAW is operating under new leadership, directly elected by its members for the first time and basking in a successful confrontation with Detroit's major automakers. The union's pugnacious new president, Shawn Fain, was elected on a platform of cleaning up after the scandal and turning more confrontational with automakers. An emboldened Fain, backed by President Joe Biden, led the union in a series of strikes last fall against Detroit’s automakers that resulted in lucrative new contracts.

The new contracts raised union wages by a substantial one-third, arming Fain and his organizers with enticing new offers to present to workers at Volkswagen and other companies.

“I’m very confident,” said Isaac Meadows, an assembly line worker in Chattanooga who helped lead the union organizing drive at the 3.8 million-square-foot plant, which manufactures Atlas SUVs and ID.4 electric vehicles. “The excitement is really high right now. We’ve put a lot of work into it, a lot of face-to-face conversations with co-workers from our volunteer committee.”

Volkswagen says it is neutral on the issue of whether the plant should be unionized. But in a presentation for reporters this week, the company listed examples of how it pays and treats its Chattanooga workers well.

Six Southern governors, including Tennessee's Bill Lee, warned the workers in a joint statement this week that joining the UAW could cost them their jobs and threaten the region's economic progress.

Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who studies the UAW, said there is a good chance that this election could bring the union a historic victory. Public opinion, Masters said, is now generally more aligned with unions than it was in the past.

To approve membership, though, the workers in Chattanooga will have to look past the warnings that joining the union, with the accompanying higher wages, would lead to job losses. Since the UAW's new contracts were signed in the fall with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, all three companies have cut a relatively small number of factory positions. But Ford CEO Jim Farley has said that his company will have to rethink where it builds future vehicles because of the strike.

“While the UAW's reputation has improved as a result of new leadership and contracts, it's still associated with a decline in the auto industry,” Masters said.

SEE MORE: Postal Service expands employee safety efforts amid thefts, robberies

Shortly after the Detroit contracts were ratified, Volkswagen and other nonunion companies handed their workers big pay raises. Fain characterized those wage increases as the “UAW bump" and asserted that they were intended to keep the union out of the plants.

Last fall, Volkswagen raised production worker pay by 11%, lifting top base wages to $32.40 per hour, or just over $67,000 per year. The average production worker makes about $60,000 a year, excluding benefits and an attendance bonus. VW said its pay exceeds the median household income for the Chattanooga area, which was $54,480 last May, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

But under the UAW contracts, top production workers at GM, for instance, now earn $36 an hour, or about $75,000 a year excluding benefits and profit sharing, which ranged from $10,400 at Ford to $13,860 at Stellantis this year. By the end of the contract in 2028, top-scale GM workers would make over $89,000.

Zach Costello, a worker who trains new employees at the Volkswagen plant, said pay shouldn't be benchmarked against typical wages in the Chattanooga area.

“How about we decide what we're worth, and we get paid what we're worth?” he asked.

VW asserts that its factories are safer than the industry average, based on data reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And the company contends that it considers workers’ preferences in scheduling. It noted that it recently agreed to change the day that third-shift workers start their week so that they have Fridays and Saturdays off.

But Meadows, whose job involves preparing vehicles for the assembly line after the auto bodies are painted, said the company adds overtime or sends workers home early whenever it wants.

“People are just kind of fed up with it,” he said.

VW, he argued, doesn't report all injuries to the government, instead often blaming pre-existing conditions that a worker might have. The union has filed complaints of unfair labor practices, including allegations that the company barred workers from discussing unions during work time and restricted the distribution of union materials.

Volkswagen disputed the union's allegations and said it properly reports injuries and supports the workers' right to vote on union representation.

If the union prevails in the vote at the VW plant, it would mark the first time that the UAW has represented workers at a foreign-owned automaking plant in the South. It would not, however, be the first union auto assembly plant in the South. The UAW represents workers at two Ford assembly plants in Kentucky and two GM factories in Tennessee and Texas, as well as some heavy-truck manufacturing plants.

SEE MORE: Southern governors pressure autoworkers against voting for unions

Dick Van Dyke earns historic Daytime Emmy nomination at age 98

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 00:14

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Dick Van Dyke is vying for a historic Daytime Emmy at age 98.

The actor was nominated Friday as guest performer in a daytime drama series for his part as amnesiac Timothy Robicheaux on Peacock's "Days of Our Lives."

Van Dyke is the oldest Daytime Emmy nominee. Producer Norman Lear was 100 when he received his final Primetime Emmy nomination in 2022 and died the next year.

Among those Van Dyke is up against is Australian actor Guy Pearce of Amazon Freevee's "Neighbours."

Van Dyke has won four Primetime Emmys, including three in the 1960s for his classic comedy series "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

Actor-singer Selena Gomez is nominated in the culinary series category for her Food Network special "Selena + Chef: Home for the Holidays." Also nominated in that category is Food Network's "Valerie's Home Cooking," the show hosted by actor Valerie Bertinelli that ended last year.

SEE MORE: Quinta Brunson becomes 1st Black woman to win this Emmy in 41 years

CBS is ending "The Talk" after its 15th season later this year. The show's Akbar Gbajabiamila, Amanda Kloots, Natalie Morales, Jerry O'Connell and Sheryl Underwood were nominated for daytime talk series host.

The lead actress nominees are: Tamara Braun of "Days of Our Lives," Finola Hughes and Cynthia Watros of "General Hospital," Katherine Kelly Lang and Annika Noelle of "The Bold and the Beautiful" and Michelle Stafford of "The Young and the Restless."

The lead actor nominees are: Eric Braeden of "The Young and the Restless," Scott Clifton, Thorsten Kaye and John McCook of "The Bold and the Beautiful" and Eric Martsolf of "Days of Our Lives."

The Daytime Emmys will be presented June 7 in Los Angeles and air live on CBS. The show is returning to its usual schedule after being postponed until last December because of strikes by Hollywood actors and writers. The hosts and Lifetime Achievement honorees will be announced later.

House, and Speaker Johnson,  move Ukraine aid toward a key vote

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 00:02

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Staring down a decision so consequential it could alter the course of history — but also end his own career — House Speaker Mike Johnson prayed for guidance.

A conservative Christian, the speaker wrestled over whether to lead the House in approving $95 billion in desperately needed war-time aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, which many in his own Republican majority opposed — some so strongly they would try to boot him from office.

Or, he could do nothing, halting the flow of U.S. aid and potentially saving his own job but ensuring his place as the House speaker who led America’s retreat from the global stage and left Ukraine to fend for itself as it loses ground against the Russian invasion.

As Johnson met with colleagues late into the night this week at the speaker's office, they prayed on it.

“And then he told me the next day: I want to be on the right side of history,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Not quite six months on the job, Johnson’s leadership will help determine if the U.S. is able to hold its standing as what the speaker has called a “beacon of light” for the world, or if the military and humanitarian aid is left to crumble at a pivotal moment for the country, its allies and the speaker’s own livelihood. Voting is expected this weekend.

“He's learning," said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker.

Gingrich praised Johnson for not being cowed by the hard-right Republicans seeking to remove him from office, and instead reaching into his own deep well of beliefs as a Ronald Reagan-era Republican with an expansive view of the role of the U.S., its allies and his own speakership to make a decision.

“This is the U.S. House. This is not a political playground,” Gingrich said. "We’re talking about real history, we’re talking about whether Russia potentially occupies Ukraine.”

Johnson tumbled into the speaker's office last fall, a relative unknown who emerged only after a chaotic internal party search to replace Kevin McCarthy, who was the first speaker in U.S. history to be booted from office.

Almost an accidental speaker, Johnson had no training and little time to prepare. One of his main accomplishments was helping to lead Donald Trump’s failed legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election loss to Joe Biden in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

From the start, the question hanging over the fourth-term Louisiana lawmaker was apparent: Would Johnson become a speaker with a firm grasp of the gavel, utilizing the power of the office that is second in the line of succession to the president?

Or would the House speaker, who portrays himself as a “servant leader” in the Christian tradition, be beholden to the unruly, essentially ungovernable Republican majority, many aligned with former President Trump?

“This is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, referring to British leaders from the World War II era.

SEE MORE: House's Ukraine, Israel aid package gains Biden's support

After months of dithering delays over the Ukraine aid, Johnson appeared this week determined to move past the populist far-right flank, and rely on Democrats to push the package forward, highly unusual in the deeply polarized House.

He had met recently with Trump, who objects to much overseas aid and has invited Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” in Ukraine, presenting his plan and avoiding public criticism from the former president.

Trump also gave Johnson a needed nod of support by panning the effort from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the presidential hopeful’s strongest allies in Congress, to evict the speaker.

In return, Johnson told Trump he could be the “most consequential president yet” if he is returned to the White House.

At the same time, Johnson has been speaking privately with President Biden, who gave Johnson a boost by quickly endorsing his foreign aid plan.

Still, what used to be considered the way Congress worked, the shared commitment to bipartisan compromise, has become such a political liability that more Republicans, including Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona, said they would join Greene's effort to oust Johnson. Some others said he should simply resign.

“I don’t think he’s being courageous. I think he’s fallen right in line with the swamp," said Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., a hardliner who voted to oust McCarthy and is considering the same for Johnson.

During his short term as speaker, Johnson has made a practice of convening lawmakers behind closed doors at his Capitol office for what are often long meetings. What some view as maddening sessions of endless arguing, shrinking the power of the speakership, others appreciate as him listening to lawmakers.

As crowds of spring tourists ushered past his office this week, Johnson holed up with lawmakers. One meeting dragged until midnight. The next day he displayed an unusual resolve.

"History judges us for what we do," Johnson said during an impromptu press conference in Statuary Hall.

“I could make a selfish decision and do something that’s different, but I'm doing here what I believe to be the right thing,” he said.

Johnson disclosed that his son is headed to the Naval Academy this fall.

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys,” he said.

“This is a live-fire exercise for me, as it is for so many American families. This is not a game. This is not a joke.”

With the threat of his removal intensifying, Johnson said he would "let the chips fall where they may” on his own job.

On Friday, an overwhelming majority of the House, more than 300 lawmakers, more Democrats than Republicans, voted to push the package toward passage.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said of Johnson: “I, for one, am just very proud of what we would all refer to as a profile in courage in the face of these kinds of threats.”

But Democrats said they were baffled and saddened it took Johnson so long to do what they see as the right thing.

“This is a profile in delay,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

Some Democrats are saying that, unlike their refusal to help McCarthy stay in office, they would vote to save Johnson's job — if he wants it.

A growing list of Republican House speakers, starting with Gingrich, were chased from office or, like John Boehner and Paul Ryan, simply exited early.

NASA's newest satellite provides crucial data on climate change trends

Fri, 04/19/2024 - 23:51

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We know NASA mostly for launching rockets and humans into outer space, but for about 60 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has also played a vital role in understanding the spaceship humans call home-planet Earth.

Data from NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite will provide insight into ocean health, air quality, and the effects of a changing climate.

In the lead-up to Earth Day, which falls on April 22, NASA officials in Washington on Friday documented how climate change is affecting the planet, this time using data from a program that watches for changes in the ocean and the air from space. Earth Day draws attention to negative effects human activity has on the environment and asks people to focus on things they can do to better care for the planet.

"That is our home, our planet. It's the only planet we have and we want to keep it," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

Nelson, along with two officials from NASA's Earth Science division, showed some of the first pictures from the agency's PACE satellite. PACE stands for plankton, aerosol, cloud and ocean ecosystem. The instrument records data from all of the elements that make up the acronym to offer information on how humanity is affecting Earth's climate.

Nelson, a former astronaut and a U.S. senator serving Florida, added his time viewing the blue planet from space above made him become "more of an environmentalist when I went into space."

According to NASA, the PACE satellite is located about 250 miles above Earth and was launched into orbit back in February. "We have an unprecedented view of the Earth," said Tom Wagner, associate director of earth action for the Earth Science Division at NASA. 

Instruments on board will "collect data to help researchers better understand how the ocean and atmosphere exchange carbon dioxide, measure atmospheric variables associated with air quality and climate, and monitor ocean health by studying phytoplankton — tiny plants and algae."

Climate change is affecting Earth's oceans in many ways — from sea level rise to marine heat waves to a loss of biodiversity. NASA says PACE allows researchers to study those effects on phytoplankton, which play a key role in the global carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into their cellular material. The tiny organisms are the base of larger aquatic and global ecosystems. "Some of the tiniest things that have the greatest impact," said Karen St. Germain, the director of NASA Earth Science.

Research has connected human activity, like industrial scale farming, to algae blooms. Where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico, run-off from silt laden with phosphorous substrates from plant fertilizers causes areas to bloom full of algae, but the effect is that hyper-blooms eat up oxygen in the water, causing what oceanographers call "dead zones," areas in which fish and other wildlife can't exist.

PACE can observe the effects wildfire and pollutants that make up particulate matter and aerosols have on the climate. It also looks at key variables in cloud formation and can examine how the ocean affects topography.

NASA says the observations improve monitoring of ocean health, air quality, and climate change."That's why we are trying to offer NASA's expertise and the other agencies of the federal government to give us the information that we need in order so that we can be better stewards of what we have," Nelson said.

PACE data is open to scientists around the world to research, and perhaps better understand humanity's impact on Earth.

SEE MORE: Climate change could depress global income by almost 20%, study shows

Would you like a cicada salad? Noisemakers descend on New Orleans menu

Fri, 04/19/2024 - 23:29

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As the nation prepares for trillions of red-eyed bugs known as periodical cicadas to emerge, it's worth noting that they're not just annoying, noisy pests — if prepared properly, they can also be tasty to eat.

Blocks away from such French Quarter fine-dining stalwarts as Antoine's and Brennan's, the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans has long served up an array of alternative, insect-based treats at its "Bug Appetit" cafe overlooking the Mississippi River. "Cinnamon Bug Crunch," chili-fried waxworms, and crispy, cajun-spiced crickets are among the menu items.

Periodical cicadas stay buried for years, until they surface and take over a landscape. Depending on the variety, the emergence happens every 13 or 17 years. This year two groups are expected to emerge at the same time averaging around 1 million per acre over hundreds of millions of acres across parts of 16 states in the Midwest and South.

They emerge when the ground warms to 64 degrees (17.8 degrees Celsius), which is happening earlier than it used to because of climate change, entomologists said. The bugs are brown at first but darken as they mature.

Recently, Zack Lemann, the Insectarium's curator of animal collections, has been working up cicada dishes that may become part of the menu. He donned a chef's smock this week to show a couple of them off, including a green salad with apple, almonds, blueberry vinaigrette — and roasted cicadas. Fried cicada nymphs were dressed on top with a warm mixture of creole mustard and soy sauce.

"I do dragonflies in a similar manner," Lemann said as he used tweezers to plop nymphs into a container of flour before cooking them in hot oil.

SEE MORE: Do cicadas bite? Prepare for spring's incoming swarm with these tips

Depending on the type and the way they are prepared, cooked cicadas taste similar to toasted seeds or nuts. The Insectarium isn't the first to promote the idea of eating them. Over the years, they have appeared on a smattering of menus and in cookbooks, including titles like "Cicada-Licious" from the University of Maryland in 2004.

"Every culture has things that they love to eat and, maybe, things that are taboo or things that people just sort of, wrinkle their nose and frown their brow at," Lemann said. "And there's no reason to do that with insects when you look at the nutritional value, their quality on the plate, how they taste, the environmental benefits of harvesting insects instead of dealing with livestock."

Lemann has been working to make sure the Bug Appetit cafe has legal clearance to serve wild-caught cicadas while he works on lining up sources for the bugs. He expects this spring's unusual emergence of two huge broods of cicadas to heighten interest in insects in general, and in the Insectarium — even though the affected area doesn't include southeast Louisiana.

"I can't imagine, given the fact that periodical cicadas are national news, that we won't have guests both local and from outside New Orleans asking us about that," said Lemann. "Which is another reason I hope to have enough to serve it at least a few times to people."

Gypsy Rose Blanchard files for divorce, restraining order

Fri, 04/19/2024 - 23:05

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Three months after moving in with her new husband, Gypsy Rose Blanchard has formally filed for divorce and moved in with her parents.

Court TV obtained a copy of the divorce petition, filed by Gypsy Rose, who had legally changed her last name after marrying Ryan Anderson. The two married while Blanchard was serving time in prison for murdering her mother. She was released after serving less than 10 years in prison on Dec. 28, 2023.

SEE MORE: Reports: Gypsy Rose Blanchard splits from husband, leaves social media

The divorce petition lists the couple's wedding date as July 21, 2022, and says they were married in Livingston County, Missouri, which is where the Chillicothe Correctional Center is located. While the two lived together after her release, the filing says that the couple separated on March 25, and have lived apart since then.

Blanchard reportedly posted an announcement about the split to her private Facebook page, saying that she had decided to move in with her parents.

In her filing, Blanchard says that the couple has no children and that she is not pregnant, and requests that the court order Ryan to pay her spousal support, "because the Petitioner is in need and the Defendant has an ability to pay and she is not at fault in the dissolution of the marriage." 

The petition further states that Ryan "is not entitled to final spousal support as he is at fault in the dissolution of the marriage," but offers no further detail about the reasons for the split.

Blanchard requested a restraining order in her filing, which the court granted. The restraining order does not suggest any physical violence, but rather is focused on the couple's finances and prohibits either party from hiding or disposing of assets before the case is settled.

It's unclear what assets the couple may have. 

Before her release from prison, Blanchard wrote a memoir which she self-published upon her release, called "Released: Conversations on the Eve of Freedom." She was also the focus of the Lifetime docuseries, "The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard."

Despite joining social media and posting prolifically immediately after her release, Blanchard deleted all of her public social media accounts before filing for divorce. 

People magazine has reported Blanchard has been seen recently with her ex-fiancé, with whom she got matching tattoos.

This story was originally published by Lauren Silver at Court TV

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