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Updated: 6 days 48 min ago

American Mark Frerichs Freed In Taliban Prisoner Swap

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 15:49

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An American contractor held hostage in Afghanistan for more than two years by the Taliban has been released in exchange for a convicted Taliban drug lord jailed in the United States, according to the man's family and U.S. officials.

Mark Frerichs, a Navy veteran who had spent more than a decade in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, was abducted in January 2020 and was believed to have been held since then by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network.

Negotiations for his release had centered on a deal that would also involve the release of Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban who told reporters in Kabul on Monday that he had spent 17 years and six months in U.S. captivity before being released.

The exchange is one of the most significant prisoner swaps to take place under the Biden administration, coming five months after a separate deal with Russia that resulted in the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed. It took place despite concerns from his family and other advocates that the U.S. military departure from Afghanistan, and the collapse of the government there, could make it harder to bring him home and could deflect attention away from his imprisonment.

President Joe Biden, who is in the United Kingdom to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, called Frerichs’ family Monday morning to share the “good news” that his administration was able to secure his release, according to a senior administration official.

The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, called the decision to grant Noorzai clemency a “difficult decision” but necessary to reunite a U.S. citizen with his family.

A sister of Frerichs, who is from Lombard, Illinois, thanked U.S. government officials who helped secure her brother's release.

“I am so happy to hear that my brother is safe and on his way home to us. Our family has prayed for this each day of the more than 31 months he has been a hostage. We never gave up hope that he would survive and come home safely to us," said a statement from the sister, Charlene Cakora.

In Afghanistan, Noorzai, who was arrested in 2005 on federal heroin trafficking charges in the U.S., told reporters at a press conference that he had been released from an unspecified U.S. prison and handed over earlier in the day to the Taliban in Kabul as part of the swap. Frerichs' family and U.S. officials subsequently confirmed that Frerichs was the American who was part of the deal.

Noorzai was sentenced in 2009 to life imprisonment after being convicted in federal court in Manhattan, with Justice Department prosecutors accusing him of owning opium fields in Kandahar province and relying on a network of distributors in New York who sold the heroin. At the time of his sentencing, the then-top federal prosecutor in Manhattan said Noorzai's worldwide narcotics network supported a Taliban regime that made Afghanistan a breeding ground for international terrorism."

Frerichs, 60, had been working on civil engineering projects at the time of his Jan. 31, 2020 abduction in Kabul. He was last seen in a video posted last spring by The New Yorker in which he appeared in traditional Afghan clothing and pleaded for his release. The publication said it obtained the clip from an unidentified individual in Afghanistan.

Until Monday, U.S. officials across two presidential administrations had tried unsuccessfully to get him home. Even before their takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, the Taliban had demanded the U.S. release Noorzai in exchange for Frerichs. But there had been no public sign of Washington proceeding with any sort of trade or exchange along those lines.

Eric Lebson, a former U.S. government national security official who had been advising Frerichs' family, said in a statement that “everything about this case has been an uphill fight.” He criticized the Trump administration for having given away "our leverage to get Mark home quickly by signing a peace accord with the Taliban without ever having asked them to return Mark first.

“Mark’s family then had to navigate two Administrations, where many people viewed Mark’s safe return as an impediment to their plans for Afghanistan,” the statement said.

The collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government and takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, raised additional concern that any progress in negotiations could be undone or that Frerichs could be forgotten.

But his name surfaced last month when President Joe Biden, who had publicly called for Frerichs' release, was said by his advisers to have pressed officials to consider any risk posed to Frerichs by the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

The Taliban-appointed foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, also spoke at the Kabul press conference alongside Noorzai and welcomed the exchange, saying it marked the start of a “new era" in U.S.-Taliban relations.

“This can be a new chapter between Afghanistan and the United States, this can open a new door for talks between both countries,” Muttaqi said.

“This act shows us that all problems can be solved through talks and I thank both sides' teams who worked so hard for this to happen,” he added.

The Taliban also posted a brief video Monday on social media showing Noorzai’s arrival at the Kabul airport where he was welcomed by top Taliban officials, including Muttaqi.

At the press conference, Noorzai expressed thankfulness at seeing his “mujahedeen brothers" — a reference to the Taliban — in Kabul.

“I pray for more success of the Taliban,” he added. “I hope this exchange can lead to peace between Afghanistan and America, because an American was released and I am also free now.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

U.S. Markets Sink Ahead Of Another Expected Interest Rate Hike

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 13:57

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Wall Street pointed lower before the opening bell Monday ahead of another expected large interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Futures for the Dow Jones industrials and for the S&P 500 each tumbled 0.9%.

Britain was observing a day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II. Japan’s markets were closed for a holiday.

Germany's DAX lost 0.4%, while the CAC 40 in Paris shed 1%.

SEE MORE: Powell: Fed Could Keep Lifting Rates Sharply 'For Some Time'

Markets have been on edge because of stubbornly high inflation and the increases in interest rates being used to fight it. The fear is that the Fed and other central banks might overshoot their policy targets, triggering a recession.

Most economists forecast that the Fed will jack up its primary lending rate another three-quarters of a point when the central bank’s leaders meet this week.

“Fact is, hawkish expectations built on the ‘hot under the hood’ U.S. inflation print means that markets have good reason to be braced for headwinds amid prospects of higher (for longer) rates; and arguably ‘higher for longer’ USD (dollar) as well,” Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank said in a commentary.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1% to 18,565.97 while the Shanghai Composite index shed 0.4% to 3,115.60. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gave up 0.3% to 6,719.90. In Seoul, the Kospi sank 1.1% to 2,355.66.

Japan’s central bank meets Wednesday and Thursday amid rising pressure to counter a sharp decline in the yen's value against the dollar. That has raised costs for businesses and consumers, who must pay more for imports of oil, gas and other necessities.

However the Bank of Japan has held firm so far in maintaining an ultralow benchmark rate of minus 0.1% in hopes of stimulating investment and spending.

On Friday, a stark warning from FedEx about rapidly worsening economic trends elevated anxiety in markets. The S&P 500 fell 0.7%, while the Nasdaq lost almost 1%. The Dow lost almost half percent.

SEE MORE: U.S. Inflation Falls For 2nd Straight Month But Remains High At 8.3%

The S&P 500 sank 4.8% for the week, with much of the loss coming from a 4.3% rout on Tuesday following a surprisingly hot report on inflation.

All the major indexes have now posted losses four out of the past five weeks.

FedEx sank 21.4% for its biggest single-day sell-off on record Friday after warning investors that its fiscal first-quarter profit will likely fall short of forecasts because of a drop-off in business. The package delivery service is also shuttering storefronts and corporate offices and expects business conditions to further weaken.

Higher interest rates tend to weigh on stocks, especially the pricier technology sector. The housing sector is also hurting as interest rates rise. Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates climbed above 6% last week for the first time since the housing crash of 2008. The higher rates could make an already tight housing market even more expensive for American homebuyers.

But the rate hikes have yet to cool the economy substantially.

Last week, the U.S. reported that consumer prices rose 8.3% through August compared with last year, the job market is still red-hot and consumers continue to spend, all of which give ammunition to Fed officials who say the economy can tolerate more rate hikes.

In other trading Monday, U.S. benchmark crude lost $2.01 to $83.10 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It edged up 1 cent to $85.11 per barrel on Friday.

Brent crude oil gave up $1.93 to $89.42 per barrel.

The dollar strengthened to 143.57 Japanese yen from 142.94 yen. The euro slipped to 99.93 cents from $1.0014.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Hurricane Fiona Slams Dominican Republic After Pounding Puerto Rico

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 13:06

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Hurricane Fiona roared over the Dominican Republic Monday after knocking out the power grid and unleashing floods and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was "catastrophic."

No deaths have been reported, but authorities in the U.S. territory said it was too early to estimate the damage from a storm that was still forecast to unleash torrential rain across Puerto Rico on Monday.

Up to 30 inches was forecast for Puerto Rico's southern region. As much as 15 inches were projected for the eastern Dominican Republic.

SEE MORE: Hurricane Fiona Rips Through Powerless Puerto Rico

“It’s important people understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.

He said flooding reached “historic levels,” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across the island.

“The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic,” said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Before dawn on Monday, authorities in a boat traveled through the flooded streets of the north coastal town of Catano and used a megaphone to alert people that the pumps had collapsed and urged them to evacuate as soon as possible.

Brown water rushed through streets, into homes and even consumed a runway airport in southern Puerto Rico.

Fiona also ripped up asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 as a Category 4 storm.

The storm also ripped off the roofs of several homes, including that of Nelson Cirino in the northern coastal town of Loiza.

“I was sleeping and saw when the corrugated metal flew off,” he said as he observed how the rain drenched his belongings and the wind whipped his colorful curtains into the air.

Fiona was centered 35 miles southeast of Samana in the Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph on Monday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the northwest at 8 mph.

Tropical storm-force winds extended out for 150 miles from the center.

Forecasters said the storm was expected to emerge over the Atlantic in the afternoon and pass close to the Turks and Caicos islands on Tuesday. It could near Bermuda as a major hurricane late Thursday or Friday.

Fiona hit Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm, and two days before the anniversary of 2017's devastating Hurricane Maria — from which the territory has yet to fully recover.

That hurricane caused nearly 3,000 deaths and destroyed the power grid. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp as a roof.

Authorities announced Monday that power had been returned to 100,000 customers on an island of 3.2 million people, but power distribution company Luma said it could take days to fully restore service.

U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the U.S. territory as the eye of the storm approached the island’s southwest corner.

Puerto Rico's health centers were running on generators — and some of those had failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.

Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed his home away, officials said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Queen Elizabeth II Mourned At Funeral By Britain And World

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 12:18

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The United Kingdom and the world bade farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Monday with a state funeral that drew presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers — and crowds in the streets of London and at Windsor Castle — to honor a monarch whose 70-year reign defined an age.

In a country known for pomp and pageantry, the first state funeral since Winston Churchill's was filled with spectacle: Before the service, a bell tolled 96 times — once a minute for each year of Elizabeth's life. Then, 142 Royal Navy sailors used ropes to draw the gun carriage carrying her flag-draped coffin to Westminster Abbey, where pallbearers carried it inside and about 2,000 people ranging from world leaders to health care workers gathered to mourn.

The trappings of state and monarchy abounded: The coffin was draped with the Royal Standard and atop it was the Imperial State Crown, sparkling with almost 3,000 diamonds, and the sovereign's orb and scepter.

But the personal was also present: The coffin was followed into the church by generations of Elizabeth's descendants, including King Charles III, heir to the throne Prince William and 9-year-old George, who is second in line. On a wreath atop the coffin, a handwritten note read, "In loving and devoted memory," and was signed Charles R — for Rex, or king.

SEE MORE: Charles III Formally Proclaimed King

"Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service, and in sure confidence to commit her to the mercy of God our maker and redeemer," the dean of the medieval abbey, David Hoyle, told the mourners.

The service ended with two minutes of silence observed across the United Kingdom, after which the attendees sang the national anthem, now titled "God Save the King."

The day began early when the doors of Parliament's 900-year-old Westminster Hall were closed to mourners after hundreds of thousands had filed in front of her coffin.

Monday was declared a public holiday in honor of Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 — and hundreds of thousands of people descended on central London to witness history. They jammed sidewalks to watch the coffin wend its way through the streets of the capital after the service. As the procession passed Buckingham Palace, the queen's official residence in the city, staff stood outside, some bowing and curtseying.

Mark Elliott, 53, who traveled from the Lake District in northern England with his wife and two children to watch the procession, got up at 1:30 a.m. to stake out a good viewing location near the palace.

"I know we don't know the queen, but she's been our head of state for 70 years, you feel as though you know her, you feel as though she's part of the family. It is kind of moving," he said.

SEE MORE: President Joe Biden And First Lady Jill Biden Remember The Queen

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in his sermon at Westminster Abbey that "few leaders receive the outpouring of love we have seen" for the queen.

More people lined the route the hearse took from the capital to Windsor Castle, and many tossed flowers at the cortege as it passed. Millions more tuned into the funeral live, and crowds flocked to parks and public spaces across the U.K. to watch it on screens. Even the Google doodle turned a respectful black for the day.

As the coffin arrived at the castle, there were poignant reminders of her love of animals: A groom stood at the roadside with one of her ponies, Emma, and another member of staff held the leashes of two of her beloved corgis, Sandy and Muick.

During the committal ceremony in St. George's Chapel on the castle grounds, Dean of Windsor David Conner praised Elizabeth for her "life of unstinting service" to the nation but also her "kindness, concern and reassuring care for her family and friends and neighbors."

Then the crown and the orb and scepter were removed from atop the coffin and placed on the altar — separating them from the queen for the last time. Her coffin was lowered into the royal vault through an opening in the chapel's floor. Charles looked weary and emotional as mourners sang the national anthem.

At a private family service, the queen was later laid to rest with her husband, Prince Philip.

SEE MORE: Prince Philip Is Laid to Rest, Royal Family Honors His Legacy

The mourners at Westminster Abbey included U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, all of the living former British prime ministers and European royalty.

In Japan, whose Emperor Naruhito also attended, several people sipped beer and watched the service at The Aldgate British pub in Tokyo's fashionable Shibuya district.

"The queen had an especially long history in a country that boasts a long history, and so she deserves deep respect," said one of them, Tomotaka Hosokawa.

The global outpouring of sympathy touched the king, who on the eve of the funeral, issued a message of thanks to people in the U.K. and around the world, saying he and his wife, Camilla, the queen consort, have been "moved beyond measure" by the large numbers of people who have turned out to pay their respects.

Jilly Fitzgerald, who was in Windsor, said there was a sense of community among the mourners as they prepared to wait hours to see the procession carrying the queen's coffin.

"It's good to be with all the people who are all feeling the same. It's like a big family because everyone feels that … the queen was part of their family," she said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Next Level: Are We On The Brink Of Gaming's Cinematic Golden Age?

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 00:30

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This episode of "Next Level" explores the intersection between video games and film, what elements get in the way of a good adaptation, and how creatives from both industries are working to bridge the gap. 

Study Finds Doomsday Glacier Shrinking Faster Than Expected

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 23:48

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It's known as "the doomsday glacier," and scientists are growing more concerned about it.

The Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is one of the largest on Earth and is larger than the state of Florida.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists say sometime in the last 200 years the base of the glacier retreated twice as much as observed in the last 10 years.

SEE MORE: Report: 2021 Saw New Weather Records, Shifts In Global Ecosystems

That means the glacier can shrink much faster than previously thought.

If it collapses, scientists say, global sea level could increase several feet and put coastlines at risk of destruction.

But how concerned should we be about this glacier melting, and can we reverse or slow the process at this point? Terry Tamminen, president and CEO of AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, joins Newsy and explains.

President Joe Biden And First Lady Jill Biden Remember The Queen

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 20:53

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For U.S. President Joe Biden, it was the crumpets. For his wife, first lady Jill Biden, it was the tea.

Joe and Jill Biden on Sunday helped honor Queen Elizabeth II by sharing memories of their tea time last year when she invited them to join her at Windsor Castle, near London.

The president, who said after that 2021 visit that Elizabeth reminded him of his late mother, recalled Sunday that she kept offering him crumpets. He did not refuse.

"I kept eating everything she put in front of me," he said. "But she was the same in person as ... her image: decent, honorable, and all about service."

The queen, who was Britain's longest-serving monarch, died earlier this month after a 70-year reign. President Biden is among hundreds of heads of state and other dignitaries who are in London to attend her state funeral service Monday at Westminster Abbey.

The first lady told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after she and the president attended a reception at Buckingham Palace that "what really impressed me" about the queen was "just how warm and gracious she was."

"I loved her sense of curiosity. She wanted to know all about American politics and so she asked Joe question after question," Jill Biden said. She said sitting in Elizabeth's living room was "almost like being, you know, with your grandmother."

"And she said, 'Let me pour the tea,' and we said, 'No, no, let us help,' and she said 'Oh, no, no, no, I'll get this. You sit down,'" Jill Biden said. "And it was just a very special moment with a very special woman."

SEE MORE: Queen's 8 Grandchildren Hold Silent Vigil Beside Her Coffin

The Bidens paid their respects to the queen on Sunday by traveling to Westminster Hall, where she has been lying in state, to stand before the monarch's coffin in the presence of thousands of mourners who had spent hours upon hours waiting to file past.

They then signed condolence books at Lancaster House before going to Buckingham Palace for a reception hosted by King Charles III and other royal family members for the world leaders who flew in for the funeral.

After signing the book, President Biden said his his heart goes out to the royal family because the queen's death has left it with a "giant hole."

"Sometimes you think you'll never, you'll never overcome it," said President Biden, who often speaks in very personal terms about loss following the death of his first wife and infant daughter, and later an adult son. "But as I've told the king, she's going to be with him every step of the way — every minute, every moment. And that's a reassuring notion."

While standing alongside the coffin on Sunday, the first lady said, she watched a little boy dressed in a Boy Scout uniform come in and give the queen a three-finger salute.

"I mean, it just gave me a lump in my throat," she said, and showed "how much the people really loved their queen, no matter their ages."

President Biden wrote in the condolence book that the queen "was admired around the world for her unwavering commitment to service."

The first lady signed a separate condolence book for spouses and ambassadors, writing "Queen Elizabeth lived her life for the people. She served with wisdom and grace. We will never forget her warmth, kindness and the conversations we shared."

In the interview, Jill Biden cautioned that there's a "human piece" to the queen's death.

Speaking of Charles, she said: "He is the king, but no one should forget, he lost his mother and, you know, Prince William lost a grandmother. Sometimes we tend to forget the really human piece of this and the sorrow that they ... have to bear and how they have to grieve in public. But they seem to be doing OK," she said.

More than 2,000 people were expected at Westminster Abbey for Monday's funeral.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Hurricane Fiona Rips Through Powerless Puerto Rico

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 19:21

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Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico's southwest coast on Sunday as it unleashed landslides, knocked the power grid out and ripped up asphalt from roads and flung the pieces around.

Forecasters said the storm would cause massive flooding and threatened to dump "historic" levels of rain, with up to 30 inches possible in eastern and southern Puerto Rico.

"The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic," said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

"I urge people to stay in their homes," said William Miranda Torres, mayor of the northern town of Caguas, where at least one large landslide was reported, with water rushing down a big slab of broken asphalt and into a gully.

The storm also washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.

Fiona was centered 10 miles west of Mayaguez with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the northwest at 9 mph.

SEE MORE: Puerto Rico Exits Bankruptcy After Grueling Debt Negotiation

Fiona struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit Puerto Rico 33 years ago as a Category 3 storm.

The storm's clouds covered the entire island and tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 140 miles from Fiona's center.

U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the U.S. territory as the eye of the storm approached the island's southwest corner.

Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including winds of 80 mph, had disrupted transmission lines, leading to "a blackout on all the island."

"Current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and are hindering out capacity to evaluate the complete situation," it said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

Health centers were running on generators — and some of those had failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews were working to repair generators as soon as possible at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Fiona hit just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island's power grid and causing nearly 3,000 deaths.

More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp as a roof, and infrastructure remains weak.

"I think all of us Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress of, 'What is going to happen, how long is it going to last and what needs might we face?'" said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital of San Juan but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.

SEE MORE: In Real Life: Puerto Rico's Power Crisis

He said the atmosphere was gloomy at the supermarket as he and others stocked up before the storm hit.

"After Maria, we all experienced scarcity to some extent," he said.

The storm was forecast to pummel cities and towns along Puerto Rico's southern coast that have not yet fully recovered from a string of strong earthquakes starting in late 2019.

Officials reported several road closures across the island as trees and small landslides blocked access.

More than 780 people with some 80 pets had sought shelter across the island by Saturday night, the majority of them in the southern coast.

Puerto Rico's power grid was razed by Hurricane Maria and remains frail, with reconstruction starting only recently. Outages are a daily occurrence.

In the southwest town of El Combate, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but worried about the "enormous" amount of rain he expected. He noted that a nearby wildlife refuge was eerily quiet.

"There are thousands of birds here, and they are nowhere to be seen," he said. "Even the birds have realized what is coming, and they're preparing."

Rivera said his employees brought bedridden family members to the hotel, where he has stocked up on diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given how slowly the government responded after Hurricane Maria.

"What we've done is prepared ourselves to depend as little as possible on the central government," he said.

It's a sentiment shared by 70-year-old Ana Córdova, who arrived Saturday at a shelter in the north coastal town of Loiza after buying loads of food and water.

"I don't trust them," she said, referring to the government. "I lost trust after what happened after Hurricane Maria."

Puerto Rico's governor, Pedro Pierluisi, activated the National Guard as the Atlantic hurricane season's sixth named storm approached.

"What worries me most is the rain," said forecaster Ernesto Morales with the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Fiona was predicted to drop 12 to 16 inches of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with as much as 25 inches in isolated spots. Morales noted that Hurricane Maria in 2017 had unleashed 40 inches.

Pierluisi announced Sunday that public schools and government agencies would remain closed on Monday.

Fiona was forecast to swipe the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far southern end of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

A hurricane warning was posted for the Dominican Republic's eastern coast from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.

Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed his home away, officials said. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

St. Kitts and Nevis also reported flooding and downed trees, but announced its international airport would reopen on Sunday afternoon. Dozens of customers were still without power or water, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeline was forecast to cause heavy rains and flooding across parts of southwestern Mexico. The storm was centered about 155 miles south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes Sunday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.

 Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Mexican Faith Leader Jailed For Sex Abuse; Flock Stays Loyal

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 16:36

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Their spiritual leader is behind bars in California after pleading guilty to sexually abusing minors. Yet legions of followers of Naasón Joaquín García in his home base in Mexico remain fervently loyal to him, viewing his imprisonment as a challenge that will strengthen their church, La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), rather than weaken it.

His continued hold on his flock was evident recently at the Christian church's main temple in Guadalajara, as thousands gathered to pray for their absent leader during their Holy Supper, the most sacred festivity for La Luz del Mundo. To gasps of surprise, Joaquín García addressed the congregation by telephone from his Los Angeles prison, where he is serving a 16-year sentence.

"I do not see the bars that separate me from you," he told his followers. "I see your beautiful faces ... because you are the children of God."

Even outside the temple, the sound of his voice stirred emotions among dozens of devotees guarding entries to the sanctuary. Nearly all closed their eyes. Many lifted their fists. Some knelt and wept.

Near the end of the call, Joaquín García asked his followers to raise their hands and their voices to God and repeat after him: "I promise you, Lord, that whatever the suffering, I will never abandon you."

It seems clear that many members of the church, founded in Mexico in 1926 and now active in many countries, aren't ready to abandon Joaquín García as their "apostle" — the term used for the church's leader. Many believe he was sent by God to preach to them and are convinced he is innocent, despite his guilty plea.

"The apostle always shows determination to move forward," said Phares Ruiz, who traveled from El Salvador to attend the Holy Supper. "He's firm in his convictions, and the church is firm as well in its purpose of moving forward."

Ruiz told The Associated Press that his family has belonged to La Luz del Mundo for three generations.

Joaquín García, 53, was arrested in 2019 in California. He initially faced more than 20 charges, but most were dismissed after a plea deal with prosecutors. The church contended that prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence, and said Joaquín García pleaded guilty because he didn't think he could get a fair trial.

"The Apostle of Jesus Christ has had no choice but to accept with much pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family," the church said.

The home base of the church is the Guadalajara neighborhood of Hermosa Provincia, Spanish for "beautiful province." Jericho, Bethlehem and Nazareth are among the names of roads converging on the white temple that locals call "the cake," for its white tiers that diminish in size as they rise upward.

Congregation members in the neighborhood call each other "brother" and "sister" and take pride in helping one another. The church's media relations office claims there is no crime in the area.

The neighborhood has cafeterias, clinics, a recreation center and a store that sells Bibles and religious-themed games for children. From the walls hang photographs of Joaquín García, smiling and wearing a tuxedo. Spanning the main street is a sculpture spelling "innocent" in Spanish.

Sara Pozos, 49, is among many in the neighborhood who believe their leader's imprisonment has strengthened the church.

"I think it changed for the better in the sense that now we feel more united, and we feel more empowered," she said.

"It has been a very difficult issue, of course, for him and for us," she added. "We all suffer something in life, but one learns to know those moments where you see that God is doing something to help you, to get ahead, not to let you fall."

Another neighborhood resident, Sailem Castillo, also said she was upbeat despite Joaquín García's imprisonment.

"For us everything is very nice, everything continues to work," she said. "Ministers, pastors and deacons have their same duties. They bless the bread, the wine, and do other things as if he were here, although physically he is not."

The jailed leader is the grandson of La Luz del Mundo's founder: Eusebio Joaquín González, a member of the military who began preaching in 1926. He's known to church members as Aarón — a result, he said, of God asking him to change his name.

Aarón's wife was the church's first member. Today it claims a membership of more than 5 million in some 50 nations.

La Luz del Mundo is sometimes described as evangelical, but its members do not embrace this term. The church's doctrine is learned from the cradle. Parents give biblical names to their children and take them to the temple at 40 days old to promise they will guide them to follow their path.

Most teachings translate into something quotidian. During services, the women sit to the right and men to the left. In some cities, people tithe more than 10% of their monthly income to the church. Biblical verses are cited to explain behavior.

Castillo, a recently married woman of 25, told AP the church advises members how "to lead a decent life," in which women may not drink alcohol or go out on frequent dates. Like other women in Hermosa Provincia, she wears dresses and skirts that are not form-fitting, eschews makeup and earrings and wears her hair long.

The religion is "very demanding," said Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian institution near Los Angeles.

"It is not sufficient to say 'I have converted' or "I have baptized'" she said. "You have to follow certain steps to prove your loyalty."

For some young people, these steps include memorizing songs honoring the apostle, reading the Bible before bed and not marrying someone from outside the church.

"All this goes to show that although you are part of this world, you have accepted a very particular way of life because you are Christian," Sánchez-Walsh said.

Those born in the community are baptized at 14 because, according to the church, that lets them decide whether to reaffirm or leave the faith. Nevertheless, there are former members who say their ceremony was not optional.

Ahead of the baptism, in a ritual known as "the revivals," children undergo days of prayer and fasting inside a temple. The revival consists of repeating "Glory to Christ" nonstop until the youths are heard speaking in tongues to testify that the Holy Spirit has entered them.

For Raquel Haifa, 43, fulfilling the revivals was a traumatizing experience that she considers abusive, because minors are not able to decline to take part.

"I did cry, because I was saying, 'God, deliver me from this, make this time pass quickly,'" Haifa said from Texas.

Currently, journalists are not allowed to attend services or take photographs inside the church's temples. Since Joaquín García's arrest, La Luz del Mundo's media relations team says it cannot make official statements on his case because litigation is ongoing.

SEE MORE: Southern Baptists Agree To Keep List Of Accused Sex Abusers

On Sept. 8 a lawsuit was filed in California against Joaquín García and four church members alleged to be complicit in the sex abuse. The suit was filed by five women who — under the pseudonym Jane Doe — were identified as victims in the original criminal charges against him.

It accuses Joaquín García of conditioning victims, under the guise of religion, to serve him above all else, ultimately resulting in the sexual abuse over the course of several years.

The lawsuit includes detailed accounts from the five plaintiffs alleging that they were pressured by Joaquín García and his associates into performing for pornographic photo shoots, and were forced to engage in sex acts with him.

"The church weaponized the faith of their most vulnerable members," said Jonati Joey Yedidsion, one of the lawyers handling the lawsuit. "Instead of protecting those innocent women, Naasón and the church fostered and then brutally preyed on their blind trust and allegiance in the 'Apostle'".

The case has been difficult for some former members who have distanced themselves from the church.

Speaking on a podcast called "I Left a Sect," Lo-ami Salazar said Hermosa Provincia used to be her "happy place."

"Knowing that these abuses took place there, in my happy place, in my safe place, is horrible," she said.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

New Model To Enlist Regular Americans To Resettle Refugees

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 14:15

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When nearly 80,000 Afghans arrived in the United States, refugee resettlement agencies quickly became overwhelmed, still scrambling to rehire staff and reopen offices after being gutted as the Trump administration dropped refugee admissions to a record low.

So the U.S. State Department, working with humanitarian organizations, turned to ordinary Americans to fill the gap. Neighbors, co-workers, faith groups and friends banded together in "sponsor circles" to help Afghans get settled in their communities.

They raised money and found the newcomers homes to rent, enrolled their children in schools, taught them how to open bank accounts and located the nearest mosques and stores selling halal meat.

Since the U.S. military's withdrawal from Kabul last year, the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans has helped over 600 Afghans restart their lives. When Russia invaded Ukraine, a similar effort was undertaken for Ukrainians.

Now the Biden administration is preparing to turn the experiment into a private-sponsorship program for refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and is asking organizations to team up with it to launch a pilot program by the end of 2022.

The move comes amid increasing pressure on President Joe Biden, who vowed in a 2021 executive order to increase opportunities for Americans to resettle refugees and restore the U.S. as the world's safe haven. The Trump administration decimated the refugee program, which traditionally tasks nine resettlement agencies with placing refugees in communities.

Experts say the private sponsorship model could transform the way America resettles refugees and ensure a door remains open no matter who is elected.

"I think there is a real revolution right now that is happening in terms of American communities and communities around the world that are raising their hands and saying, `We want to bring in refugees,'" said Sasha Chanoff, founder and CEO of RefugePoint, a Boston–based nonprofit that helped jumpstart the effort.

It comes as the number of people forced to flee their homes topped 100 million this year, the first time on record, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The pilot program will incorporate lessons learned from the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, which was developed as an emergency measure to accelerate the resettlement of Afghans, with many languishing on U.S. bases. But the pilot program will differ because it is intended to be "an enduring element of U.S. refugee resettlement," a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email to The Associated Press.

The pilot program will match regular Americans with refugees overseas who have already been approved for admission to the U.S., the spokesperson said. Later, the plan will let Americans identify a refugee overseas and apply to resettle them.

Canada has used private sponsorship for decades to augment its government program.

Chanoff said the new model should also be in addition to the traditional U.S. government refugee program, which has admitted only about 15% of the 125,000 cap Biden set for the budget year that ends Sept. 30. The Biden administration has been slow to beef up staff and overcome the huge backlog, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to advocates.

Those numbers exclude the roughly 180,000 Afghans and Ukrainians who were mostly admitted through humanitarian parole, a temporary legal option that was intended to get them in quicker but left them with less government support.

Regular Americans helped fill that need, Afghan families say.

Under the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, participants underwent background checks, received training and developed a three-month plan. Each group had to raise at least $2,275 for each person who was resettled, the same allocation the U.S. government gives agencies for each refugee.

Mohammad Walizada, who fled Kabul with his family, said five days after he was connected to a sponsor circle with the Four Rivers Church in New Hampshire, his family moved into a furnished home in Epping, a town of about 7,000 residents.

Meanwhile, Afghan friends and relatives spent months on U.S. bases waiting to be placed by a resettlement agency, he said. Many ended up in California, staying in hotels because of the lack of affordable housing, and with just three months of government assistance.

He said his sponsor circle gave his family 10 months worth of rent and a car, and someone still checks on him, his wife and six children daily. Each circle gets a mentor who coaches them from WelcomeNST, an organization created in 2021 to help Americans resettle Afghans and now Ukrainians. The organization offers a Slack channel for circles and partners with the resettlement agency, HIAS, which connects them to caseworkers when needed.

The New Hampshire team has more than 60 members helping people like Walizada.

"I feel like I have a lot of family here now," Walizada said.

SEE MORE: Afghanistan Marks 1 Year Since Taliban Seizure As Woes Mount

To be sure, regular Americans have always helped resettle refugees, but not at this scale since the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act created the formal program, experts say.

A similar outpouring of goodwill happened when the Biden administration launched Uniting for Ukraine, which allows Ukrainians fleeing the war into the U.S. for two years with a private sponsor. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, received more than 117,000 applications through August.

Hundreds of Americans have formed teams to resettle Ukrainians, including in Wyoming — the only state that has never allowed an official refugee resettlement program.

"We just wanted to be able to do something and we have such a beautiful community here,″ said Darren Adwalpalker, pastor at Highland Park Community Church in Casper, who formed a group that sponsored three Ukrainians who arrived to the city of 60,000 in June.

Adwalpalker got support from humanitarian group Samaritan's Purse.

"Without private sponsorship, this would not have been possible for a lot of these communities with tremendous resources and goodwill to do this," said Krista Kartson, who directs its refugee programs.

With $3,000, the pastor said his group provided an apartment for six months for the one Ukrainian who stayed in Casper. Just about everything else — grocery store gift cards, furniture — was donated.

"One of the things I've learned is that the whole idea of a resettlement office isn't that significant" if there are people on the ground willing to help, said Adwalpalker.

"We've got dentists working on their teeth. We have doctors seeing them. We have lawyers helping with their immigration paperwork."

Rudi Berkelhamer, a retired biology professor, wanted to help because her grandparents fled attacks on Jews in the early 20th century in what is now Ukraine.

She was connected to a sponsor circle in Irvine, California, through HIAS, which requires a six-month commitment. Circle members had a week to get to know each other and draft a plan before they were matched to an Afghan family — a young couple and their 3-year-old son — in February.

Berkelhamer shuttled furniture to the family's home and got them set up with computers and cellphones. Others got them bus passes.

The father — a mechanical engineer who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan — found work at a parachute factory. The mother is taking English classes, and their son is attending preschool.

Berkelhamer sees the family every two weeks. This summer, she went to a museum with the mom and another circle member to paint parasols and have lunch. She plans to keep helping.

"It is not just the necessities; it is doing those kinds of things that make it so meaningful," she said.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Strong Earthquake In Taiwan Traps People, Derails Train

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 13:07

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A strong earthquake shook much of Taiwan on Sunday, toppling a three-story building and temporarily trapping four people inside, stranding about 400 tourists on a mountainside, and knocking part of a passenger train off its tracks.

The magnitude 6.8 quake was the largest among dozens that have rattled the island's southeastern coast since Saturday evening, when a 6.4 quake struck the same area. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Most of the damage appeared to be north of the epicenter, which Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said was in the town of Chishang at the relatively shallow depth of 4 miles.

The three-story building, which had a 7-11 convenience store on the ground floor and residences on the upper ones, collapsed in nearby Yuli town, the island's Central News Agency said.

The 70-year-old owner of the building and his wife were rescued first, but it took longer to get to a 39-year-old woman and her 5-year-old daughter.

A photo released by the Hualien city government showed the girl lying on a blanket and being handed down a metal ladder from the top of the debris by helmeted rescue workers in orange uniforms.

The top two stories of the building were left sprawled across a small street and onto the other side, with electricity wires pulled down by the fallen structure.

More than 7,000 households were reported without power in Yuli, and water pipes were also damaged. Shelves and musical instruments fell over at the Mount Carmel Presbyterian Church and a long crack ran down its floor. Outside, the pavement was broken into slabs of concrete.

Police and firefighters rushed to a bridge collapse on a two-lane road in what appeared to be a rural part of the same town where three people and one or more vehicles may have fallen off, according to media reports.

Also in Yuli, a landslide trapped nearly 400 tourists on a mountain famous for the orange day lilies that blanket its slopes this time of year, the Central News Agency said. They had no electricity and a weak cellphone signal.

SEE MORE: China Earthquake Deaths Rise To 74 As Lockdown Anger Grows

Debris from a falling canopy on a platform at Dongli station in Fuli town, which is between Yuli and the epicenter at Chishang, hit a passing train, derailing six cars, the Central News Agency said, citing the railway administration. None of the 20 passengers were injured.

The shaking was felt at the north end of the island in the capital, Taipei. In Taoyuan city, west of Taipei and 130 miles north of the epicenter, a man was injured by a ceiling collapse on the 5th floor of a sports center.

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami advisory for several southern Japanese islands near Taiwan, but later lifted it.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

World Leaders Head To London For Queen Elizabeth II Funeral

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 12:44

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Thousands of police, hundreds of troops and an army of officials made final preparations Sunday for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II — a spectacular display of national mourning that will also be the biggest gathering of world leaders for years.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other dignitaries are arriving in London for the funeral, to which around 500 royals, heads of state and heads of government from around the globe have been invited.

Thousands of people continued to line up around the clock to file past the queen's coffin as it lies in state at Parliament's Westminster Hall, braving chilly overnight temperatures and waits of up to 17 hours. The queen's eight grandchildren, led by heir to the throne Prince William, circled the coffin and stood with heads bowed during a silent vigil on Saturday evening.

The miles-long queue is expected to be closed to new arrivals later Sunday so that everyone in line can file past the coffin before Monday morning, when it will be borne on a gun carriage to Westminster Abbey for the queen's funeral.

Among the foreign leaders in London was New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who told the BBC she was humbled to represent her nation at the funeral and to witness the national outpouring of grief and respect for the late queen.

"The thing that I will take away from this period is just the beauty of the public's response, the kindness that you see from members of the public, the patience, the camaraderie, that has been, for me, the most moving tribute of all, has been the public response of the British people," she said.

People across the U.K. are due to pause Sunday evening for a nationwide minute of silence to remember the queen, who died Sept. 8 at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne. Monday has been declared a public holiday, and the funeral will be broadcast to a huge television audience and screened to crowds in parks and public spaces across the country.

Thousands of police officers from around the country will be on duty as part of the biggest one-day policing operation in London's history.

Crowds also gathered Sunday near Windsor Castle, where the queen will be laid to rest at a private family ceremony on Monday evening.

"I think it's been amazing," said Anna Pettigrew, a 55-year-old teacher. "It's been very emotional, and I think it's been a very fitting tribute to a wonderful queen."

Camilla, the new queen consort, paid tribute to the queen in a video message, saying the monarch "carved her own role" as a "solitary woman" on a world stage dominated by men.

"I will always remember her smile. That smile is unforgettable," said Camilla, who is married to King Charles III.

A tide of people continued to stream into Parliament's Westminster Hall, where the queen's coffin is lying in state, draped in the Royal Standard and capped with a diamond-studded crown. The number of mourners has grown steadily since the public was first admitted on Wednesday, with a queue that stretches for at least five miles (eight kilometers) along the River Thames and into Southwark Park in the city's southeast.

Honoring their patience, Charles and William made an unannounced visit Saturday to greet people in the line, shaking hands and thanking mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.

SEE MORE: Queen's 8 Grandchildren Hold Silent Vigil Beside Her Coffin

Later, all the queen's grandchildren stood by her coffin. William and Prince Harry, Charles' sons, were joined by Princess Anne's children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew's daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward — Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

William stood with his head bowed at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, were in uniform. Mourners continued to file past in silence.

"You could see that they were thinking hard about their grandmother, the queen," said Ian Mockett, a civil engineer from Oxford in southern England. "It was good to see them all together as a set of grandchildren given the things that have happened over the last few years."

Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising their "beloved grannie."

"We, like many, thought you'd be here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our backs leading us through this world. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever," the sisters wrote.

The queen's four children — Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — held a similar vigil around the coffin on Friday.

The silence in the hall was briefly broken Friday when a man lunged at the coffin. London police said Sunday that a 28-year-old London man, Muhammad Khan, has been charged with behavior intended to "cause alarm, harassment or distress." He will appear in court on Monday.

The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the queen's coffin will be moved on a gun carriage pulled by 142 Royal Navy ratings to nearby Westminster Abbey for the funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

After the service Monday at the abbey, the late queen's coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on the state gun carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the queen will be interred alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

More Migrants Arrive In D.C. As White House Slams Republican Governors

Sun, 09/18/2022 - 00:20

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Another wave of migrants arrived at the nation's capital and New York City on Saturday as the White House continues to criticize Republican governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona for what it calls a "political stunt."

More than 50 migrants were bused to the home of Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday while New York officials expected at least six more buses to arrive by the end of the day.

SEE MORE: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Sends Migrants To Massachusetts By Plane

The White House hammered the Republican governors of Texas and Florida for arranging for the transport of migrants to Democratic strongholds in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The governors of Texas and Arizona have sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., in recent months.

But the latest surprise moves - which included two flights to Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday paid for by Florida - reached a new level of political theater that critics derided as inhumane.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the flights to Martha’s Vineyard were part of an effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations.”

President Joe Biden criticized the move, saying "Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props."

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke to reporters Friday as the migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard were being moved to housing on a military base on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

"These are the kinds of tactics we see from smugglers in places like Mexico and Guatemala," Jean-Pierre said. "And for what? A photo-op. Because these governors care about creating political theater, then creating actual solutions to help folks who are fleeing communism, to help children, to help families."

Massachusetts is planning to activate as many as 125 National Guard members to assist.

In New York, Mayor Eric Adams says shelters are at their breaking point due to the influx of migrants.

In total, there have been nearly two million encounters along the southern border this year, which is already over 200,000 more than last year.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Americans Face Tough Decisions As Food Prices Continue To Soar

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 23:45

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The prices of food at the grocery store have skyrocketed in recent months and some consumers say the high prices have led them to make tough decisions.

Consumers are spending much more than they used to and Oliva Yocum says she's started stockpiling food because of it.

"I've actually started pickling and cannning stuff because I think it's going to get a lot worse," she said.

Not only are people spending more, but the higher price tags are also making it harder for people to eat healthier.

Nashville resident Vidal Garrett says it's sometimes cheaper to pick up fast food.

"I can go get a cheeseburger and fries at McDonalds and spend about five or six bucks," he said. "I come in here [grocery store] and try to get a grilled chicken salad, but buying the chicken alone is going to cost me ten to 12 bucks."

SEE MORE: U.S. Inflation Falls For 2nd Straight Month But Remains High At 8.3%

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home food prices were up 13.5% in August compared to a year earlier.

The price of bread and milk is up about 16% and 17% respectively. Eggs, on the other hand, cost nearly 40% more than last year.

Colorado farmer Eric Hanagan says the increasing cost of fertilizer — which hit a record high this year and at one point more than doubled in price — is one of the many reasons driving prices up.

"Our revenues are way, way down," Hanagan said. "We're running 50% of our sales because farmers are affected by the drought, fertilizer and fuel prices."

Those price increases trickle down to the consumer and the USDA expects grocery store food prices to increase by up to 11% this year — with meat being the primary driver.

"It's kind of sad that you're better off financially buying greasy hamburger meat and fries rather than buying the salad and fruit for your kids," Garrett said.

Queen's 8 Grandchildren Hold Silent Vigil Beside Her Coffin

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 22:53

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All eight of Queen Elizabeth II's grandchildren stood in silent vigil beside her coffin Saturday, capping another huge day in which thousands came to pay their respects. Mourners huddled in a line that snaked across London, enduring the city's coldest night in months and waits that stretched up to 16 hours.

Authorities warned that more chilly weather was expected Saturday night. “Tonight’s forecast is cold. Warm clothing is recommended,” the ministry in charge of the line tweeted.

As U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders and dignitaries flew into London ahead of the queen's state funeral on Monday, a tide of people wanting to say goodbye streamed into Parliament’s Westminster Hall for another day Saturday. That's where the queen’s coffin is lying in state, draped in her Royal Standard and capped with a diamond-studded crown.

SEE MORE: Mourners Line Up For Miles To Pay Respects To Queen Elizabeth II

The numbers of mourners have grown steadily since the public was first admitted on Wednesday, with a queue that snakes around Southwark Park and stretches for at least 5 miles.

Honoring their patience, King Charles III and his eldest son Prince William made an unannounced visit Saturday to greet people waiting to file past Elizabeth’s coffin, shaking hands and thanking mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.

Later, all the queen's grandchildren stood by her coffin. William and Prince Harry, Charles' sons, were joined by Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

William, now the heir to the throne, stood, his head bowed, at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, were in uniform. Mourners continued to file past in silence.

Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British army officer, wore civilian clothes earlier in the week as the queen’s coffin left Buckingham Palace because he is no longer a working member of the royal family. He and his wife Meghan quit royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020. The king, however, requested that both William and Harry wear their military uniforms at the Westminster Hall vigil.

Before the vigil, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie issued a statement praising their “beloved grannie.”

“We, like many, thought you’d be here forever. And we all miss you terribly. You were our matriarch, our guide, our loving hand on our backs leading us through this world. You taught us so much and we will cherish those lessons and memories forever,” the sisters wrote.

People queuing to see the queen have been of all ages and come from all walks of life. Many bowed before the coffin or made a sign of the cross. Several veterans, their medals shining, offered sharp salutes. Some people wept. Others blew kisses. Many hugged one another as they stepped away, proud to have spent hours in line to offer a tribute, even if it lasted only a few moments.

SEE MORE: Thousands Wait In Shivering Temps To Pay Respect To The Queen

Overnight, volunteers distributed blankets and cups of tea to people in line as temperatures fell to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the weather, mourners described the warmth of a shared experience.

“It was cold overnight, but we had wonderful companions, met new friends. The camaraderie was wonderful,'' Chris Harman of London said. “It was worth it. I would do it again and again and again. I would walk to the end of the earth for my queen.”

Saturday's vigil followed one on Friday in which the queen’s four children — Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward — stood vigil at the coffin.

Edward said the royal family was “overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect (for) our dear mama.”

On Saturday, the new king was holding audiences with incoming prime ministers, governor generals of the realms and military leaders.

The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the queen’s coffin will be borne to nearby Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. Elizabeth, 96, died at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland on Sept. 8 after 70 years on the throne.

After the service Monday at the abbey, the late queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on a horse-drawn gun carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the queen will be interred alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Pelosi, Other U.S. Lawmakers Visit Armenia As Cease-Fire Holds

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 21:13

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U.S. congressional delegation headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived Saturday in Armenia, where a cease-fire has held for three days after an outburst of fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan that killed more than 200 troops from both sides.

The U.S. Embassy said the visit will include a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

SEE MORE: Armenia Says 49 Soldiers Killed In Attacks By Azerbaijan

On Friday, Pelosi told reporters in Berlin that the trip “is all about human rights and the respecting the dignity and worth of every person.”

Other members of the U.S. delegation include Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo.

A cease-fire took effect on Wednesday evening following two days of heavy fighting that marked the largest outbreak of hostilities in nearly two years.

Armenia and Azerbaijan traded blame for the shelling, with Armenian authorities accusing Baku of unprovoked aggression and Azerbaijani officials saying their country was responding to Armenian attacks.

Pashinyan said at least 135 Armenian troops were killed in the fighting. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry said Friday it had lost 77.

The two ex-Soviet countries have been locked in a decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994.

During a six-week war in 2020, Azerbaijan reclaimed broad swaths of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories held by Armenian forces. More than 6,700 people died in the fighting, which ended with a Russia-brokered peace agreement. Moscow deployed about 2,000 troops to the region to serve as peacekeepers.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Serbian Police Clash With Hooligans During Belgrade Pride March

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 19:37

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Riot police clashed Saturday with soccer hooligans in downtown Belgrade, where a pan-European Pride march was held despite threats from anti-gay groups and an official earlier ban on the march in the traditionally conservative Balkan state.

Tensions were high in the Serbian capital as ultranationalist fans hurled stun grenades, stones and flares at a police cordon, which repelled the attack with batons and riot shields. Hundreds of Pride march supporters, meanwhile, gathered a few miles away in the pouring rain, dancing and singing their march was held on shortened route.

"We need justice and freedom,” said Goran Miletic, one of the Pride event organizers.

Although several Pride marches have been held in Serbia in the past years, the Slavic nation that is formally seeking European Union membership appears to be sliding toward Russia and its conservative traditions.

Holding rainbow flags, hundreds of LGBTQ activists and their supporters marched through a central Belgrade area that was sealed off by police who put up metal fences and stood in cordons in full riot gear.

As the column passed by a church in central Belgrade, bells constantly tolled, reflecting the Serbian Orthodox Church’s staunch opposition to the Pride events. Participants of the march then headed to a concert.

Earlier, Serbian activists said the main reason for the march is the fight for more rights for the beleaguered LGBTQ community in Serbia, including laws that would regulate the rights of same-sex partnerships, such as inheritance, property and other issues.

Serbian police this week banned the parade, citing the risk of clashes with the far-right activists. But organizers on Saturday said they received guarantees from Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is a lesbian, that the event could go ahead.

Brnabic said she was proud that during "this entire week, with more then 130 (LGBTQ) events, there wasn’t a one single incident. And that really is the right image of Belgrade and Serbia.”

Brnabic said 5,200 police officers were deployed on Belgrade streets during the Pride march, 64 people were detained and 10 policemen sustained sight injuries.

A far-right party leader said Brnabic should have been arrested and charged with treason for allowing the march to be held.

The European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, hoping it would represent a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and strongly influenced by the Orthodox Church.

EU and other Western officials, as well as rights groups, had urged populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to allow the Pride march but Vucic had claimed that police can’t cope with possible riots by right-wing groups amid the energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Puerto Rico Under Hurricane Warning As Tropical Storm Fiona Approaches

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 18:09

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Tropical Storm Fiona was expected to become a hurricane as it neared Puerto Rico on Saturday, threatening to dump up to 20 inches of rain as people braced for potential landslides, severe flooding and power outages.

The storm previously battered various eastern Caribbean islands, with one death reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe. Regional prefect Alexandre Rochatte told reporters Saturday that the body was found on the side of a road after floods washed away a home in the capital of Basse-Terre. More than 20 other people were rescued amid heavy wind and rain that left 13,000 customers without power.

Fiona was located 130 miles southeast of St. Croix Saturday morning with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. It was moving west at 8 mph on a path forecast to pass near or over Puerto Rico on Sunday night. Fiona was expected to become a hurricane while moving near Puerto Rico.

Here are the 11 am AST Saturday, Sep. 17 Key Messages for Tropical Storm #Fiona.https://t.co/7m27nWvwTP pic.twitter.com/ikJGWHTEiY

— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 17, 2022

“We are already starting to feel its effects,” said Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi. “We should not underestimate this storm.”

He said the heavy rains anticipated are dangerous because the island's soil is already saturated. Meanwhile, many Puerto Ricans worried about serious power outages since the reconstruction of the island's power grid razed by Hurricane Maria in 2017 only recently began. The grid remains fragile and power outages occur daily.

Fiona is expected to swipe past the Dominican Republic on Sunday as a potential hurricane and Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday and Tuesday with the threat of extreme rain.

Forecaster issued a hurricane watch for the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engaño westward to Cabo Caucedo and for the northern coast from Cabo Engaño westward to Puerto Plata.

In Puerto Rico, authorities opened shelters and closed public beaches, casinos, theaters and museums as they urged people to remain indoors. Officials also transferred hundreds of endangered Puerto Rican parrots to their shelter.

Pierluisi said $550 million in emergency funds are available to deal with the storm's aftermath along with enough food to feed 200,000 people for 20 days three times a day.

At least one cruise ship visit and several flights to the island were canceled, while authorities in the eastern Caribbean islands canceled school and prohibited people from practicing aquatic sports as Fiona battered the region.

In the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, authorities said they recorded wind gusts of up to 74 mph, which would be considered a Category 1 hurricane. They also said 9 inches of rain fell in three hours in the Gros Morne area.

Fiona, which is the Atlantic hurricane season’s sixth named storm, was predicted to bring 5 to 10 inches of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with as much as 20 inches in isolated spots. Rains of 4 to 8 inches were forecast for the Dominican Republic, with up to 12 inches in places. Life-threatening surf also was possible from Fiona’s winds, forecasters said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Thousands Wait In Shivering Temps To Pay Respect To The Queen

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 17:41

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Thousands of people spent London’s coldest night in months huddled in line to view the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, and authorities warned Saturday that arriving mourners face a 16-hour wait.

A tide of people wanting to say goodbye streamed into Parliament’s Westminster Hall, where the queen’s coffin is lying in state, draped in her Royal Standard and capped with a diamond-studded crown. The numbers have grown steadily since the public was first admitted on Wednesday, with a queue that snakes around Southwark Park and stretches out at least 5 miles.

SEE MORE: Mourners Line Up For Miles To Pay Respects To Queen Elizabeth II

Honoring their patience, King Charles III and his eldest son Prince William made an unannounced visit Saturday to greet people waiting to file past Elizabeth’s coffin. The two senior royals shook hands and thanked the mourners in the queue near Lambeth Bridge.

Charles has made several impromptu walkabouts since he became king on Sept. 8, in an attempt to meet as many of his subjects as possible. People in the crowds offered their condolences.

Overnight, volunteers distributed blankets and cups of tea to people in line as temperatures fell to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the weather, mourners described the warmth of a shared experience.

“It was cold overnight, but we had wonderful companions, met new friends. The camaraderie was wonderful,'' Chris Harman of London said. “It was worth it. I would do it again and again and again. I would walk to the end of the earth for my queen.”

People had many reasons for coming, from affection for the queen to a desire to be part of a historic moment. Simon Hopkins, who traveled from his home in central England, likened it to “a pilgrimage.”

“(It) is a bit strange, because that kind of goes against my grain,” he said. “I’ve been kind of drawn into it.”

The public kept silently streaming into Westminster Hall even as the queen’s four children — Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — stood vigil Friday night around the flag-draped coffin for 15 minutes. A baby’s cry was the only sound.

Before the vigil, Edward said the royal family was “overwhelmed by the tide of emotion that has engulfed us and the sheer number of people who have gone out of their way to express their own love, admiration and respect (for) our dear mama.”

Later Saturday, all eight of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren will stand vigil beside her coffin. Charles’ sons, William and Prince Harry, will attend along with Princess Anne’s children, Zara Tindall and Peter Philips; Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie; and the two children of Prince Edward – Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

William, now the heir to the throne, will stand at the head of the coffin and Harry at the foot. Both princes, who are military veterans, will be in uniform.

Harry, who served in Afghanistan as a British army officer, wore civilian clothes during the procession of the queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace because he is no longer a working member of the royal family. He and his wife Meghan quit royal duties and moved to the United States in 2020.

The king, however, has requested that both William and Harry wear their military uniforms at the Westminster Hall vigil.

People queuing to see the queen have been of all ages and come from all walks of life. Many bowed before the coffin or made a sign of the cross. Several veterans, their medals shining in the spotlights, offered sharp salutes. Some people wept. Others blew kisses. Many hugged one another as they stepped away, proud to have spent hours in line to offer a tribute, even if it lasted only a few moments.

Authorities on Saturday closed a separate line for people with disabilities or conditions that mean they can't queue for hours on end, saying all spaces available have been allocated.

The lying-in-state continues until early Monday morning, when the queen’s coffin will be borne to nearby Westminster Abbey for a state funeral, the finale of 10 days of national mourning for Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. Elizabeth, 96, died at her Balmoral Estate in Scotland on Sept. 8 after 70 years on the throne.

SEE MORE: Biden Accepts Invitation For Queen's Funeral

U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden flew to the U.K. on Sunday, one of hundreds of heads of state, royals and political leaders from around the world coming to London to attend the funeral. Charles was holding audiences Saturday with incoming prime ministers, governor generals of the realms and military leaders.

After the service Monday at the abbey, the late queen’s coffin will be transported through the historic heart of London on a horse-drawn gun carriage. It will then be taken in a hearse to Windsor, where the queen will be interred alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died last year.

Hundreds of troops from the British army, air force and navy held an early-morning rehearsal Saturday for the final procession. As troops lined the picturesque path leading to Windsor Castle, the thumping of drums echoed as marching bands walked ahead of a hearse.

London police say the funeral will be the largest single policing event the force has ever handled, surpassing even the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Platinum Jubilee in June celebrating the queen’s 70-year reign.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

How One Woman Describes Living With Schizophrenia

Sat, 09/17/2022 - 00:53

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Michelle Hammer wants you to know schizophrenia. To know the illness is to know her. 

"I go, 'listen, no couches were harmed in the making of this video.'… People with schizophrenia can have a job or actually speak to people or can do things themselves," said Hammer. 

Schizophrenia is a brain disease and patients' symptoms run a spectrum. They can include negative symptoms like social withdrawal or psychosis, when someone is detached from reality. Usually it looks like hallucinations: Seeing or hearing something that isn't there; or delusions: Fixed false beliefs that a person can't change. 

For Michelle it began in her teens with paranoid thoughts about her mother. And again at age 18 with her college roommate. 

It would be three more years before she was diagnosed as schizophrenic. 

"Things were up, things were down. And I ended up in the psych ward twice my freshman year and once my sophomore year," Hammer said.

"Schizophrenia is a very serious psychiatric illness, but we can do a lot to help these people function and have a normal life," said Dr. René Kahn, the head of psychiatry at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York.

He says Michelle's experience is more common for female patients. 

SEE MORE: Where Do Front Line Workers Go For Help With Mental Health Challenges?

RENE KAHN: Women in general have a better prognosis than men.  

NEWSY'S LINDSEY THEIS: Why?  

KAHN: One of the reasons may be that in women, it starts about five years later than men, meaning that their brain may have developed more and they may have matured more than in men.  

THEIS: What are some of the biggest questions, right now, that are still out there? What are the unknowns that you're trying to answer, you know, in the immediate future, the next couple of years? 

KAHN: The biggest question still is 'what is the cause or what are the causes of schizophrenia?' Because we don't know, and we really need to find out if we really want to cure the disease or prevent the disease. 

With neither a cure nor prevention, doctors say medication is key for patients. That process is complicated.   

Antipsychotic drugs are available to counter psychosis. But that is only one part of the illness. 

"Finding the right meds probably took me about ten years, and I've probably tried about 20 different medications," said Hammer.  

Today Michelle's life includes daily meds and frequent psychiatrist televisits to make sure they work and she's still taking them. It also includes her partner, Carolyn. They married last year. And most recently, a new puppy.  

"People kind of like treat people with schizophrenia — they're always wondering, 'who's your support team?'" said Hammer.  "They don't think you're independent at all."  

THEIS: So no caregiver?  

HAMMER: Yeah.  

THEIS: Just you.  

HAMMER: I can take care of myself. I can do that. I'm a big girl, you know? I'm a big girl. I can do things, you know. I can do things.

THEIS: Does the schizophrenia diagnosis impact how you guys are as a couple in marriage?  

CAROLYN HAMMER: If we're talking and then like I say something and then I'm like waiting for her to respond, but she's talking to like somebody else instead, it's like, not bad it's just like annoying.  And I'm like, okay, I guess I'm going to say what I have to say again.  

SEE MORE: Curbing People With Mental Illness Away From Jail

Schizophrenia is rare. About 1% of U.S. adults have the mental illness. Compare that to one in five people who have an anxiety disorder. 

But it reportedly shows up more often in the media. It;'s portrayed negatively and falsely, according to research. 

THEIS: Was that 'Violence and a dangerous person' — is that common or is that more of the exception?  

KAHN: It's absolutely the exception. 

Since 2019 Michelle's recorded and shared video of her schizophrenic episodes. She wants to debunk the stigma that people with her illness are violent. 

In them, she appears to speak to someone off camera — except no one is there. She describes this as being in another world.

"I am currently under seven medications and I'm still doing that. So if I wasn't on any medication, I'd be doing that constantly, all the time," she says. 

She's also started a business called Schizophrenic NYC. She sells original activist-minded clothing and art. They include colorful rorschach prints and t-shirts with hopeful slogans. 

"I saw a guy on the F train and he was talking to himself in the same mannerisms in which I talked to myself and I was like, you know, what's the difference between me and him? And the difference is that I have my support team of a family, friends and doctor, and if I didn't have that, I would totally be in his position," said Hammer. 

Michelle says it's a way to give a voice to her community, especially those who otherwise could not. 

Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtfully told stories on the state of mental health care in the U.S. Click here to learn more.

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