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Same-Sex Marriage Legislation Clears Key Senate Hurdle

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 21:39

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Legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages crossed a major Senate hurdle Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring that such unions are enshrined in federal law.

Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to move forward on the legislation, meaning a final vote could come as soon as this week, or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill ensuring the unions are legally recognized under the law is chance for the Senate to "live up to its highest ideals" and protect marriage equality for all people.

"It will make our country a better, fairer place to live," Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.

Senate Democrats are quickly moving to pass the bill while the party still controls the House. Republicans are on the verge of winning the House majority and would be unlikely to take up the issue next year.

The bill has gained steady momentum since the Supreme Court's June decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. An opinion at that time from Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that an earlier high court decision protecting same-sex marriage could also come under threat.

SEE MORE: Senate Majority Leader Schumer Seeks 10 GOP Votes On Marriage Equality

The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed. The new Respect for Marriage Act would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of "sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin."

Congress has been moving to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and from Republicans in particular — has sharply grown in recent years, as the Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized gay marriage nationwide. Recent polling has found more than two-thirds of the public supports same-sex unions.

Still, many Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to support the legislation. Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections, hoping that would relieve political pressure on some GOP senators who might be wavering.

A proposed amendment to the bill, negotiated by supporters to bring more Republicans on board, would clarify that it does not affect rights of private individuals or businesses that are already enshrined in law. Another tweak would make clear that a marriage is between two people, an effort to ward off some far-right criticism that the legislation could endorse polygamy.

Three Republicans said early on that they would support the legislation and have lobbied their GOP colleagues to support it: Maine Sen. Susan Collins, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.

SEE MORE: House Passes Bill Protecting Same-Sex Marriage Rights

"Current federal law doesn't reflect the will or beliefs of the American people in this regard," Portman said ahead of the vote. "It's time for the Senate to settle the issue."

The growing GOP support for the issue is a sharp contrast from even a decade ago, when many Republicans vocally opposed same-sex marriages. The legislation passed the House in a July vote with the support of 47 Republicans — a larger-than-expected number that gave the measure a boost in the Senate.

On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became the most recent conservative-leaning group to back the legislation. In a statement, the Utah-based faith said church doctrine would continue to consider same-sex relationships to be against God's commandments, but it would support rights for same-sex couples as long as they didn't infringe upon religious groups' right to believe as they choose.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is the first openly gay senator and has been working on gay rights issues for almost four decades, said the newfound openness from many Republicans on the subject reminds her "of the arc of the LBGTQ movement to begin with, in the early days when people weren't out and people knew gay people by myths and stereotypes."

Baldwin said that as more individuals and families have become visible, hearts and minds have changed.

"And slowly laws have followed," she said. "It is history."

Schumer said the issue is personal to him, as well.

"Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is as personal as it gets for many senators and their staffs, myself included," Schumer said. "My daughter and her wife are actually expecting a little baby in February. So it matters a lot to so many of us to get this done."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

How To Watch 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' For Free This Year

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 20:36

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The holiday season is a time for nostalgia and traditions. For many of us, "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is a TV special that instantly connects us with our childhood and gives us those warm, cozy vibes in the lead up to Thanksgiving. But unless you already own this 1973 favorite on DVD or Blu-ray, finding a way to watch this holiday classic can be a yearly hassle — especially since Apple secured the streaming rights to the Peanuts specials in 2020.

After a backlash from viewers, Apple agreed to let PBS air the holiday specials in 2020 so fans could watch them on network television. But this year, the only way to watch "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is on Apple TV+.

However, if you don't have a subscription to Apple TV+, you can still stream "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" for free by signing up for the service's seven-day free trial. Just remember to cancel your subscription before your free trial period is up, unless you decide you love the streaming service and want to keep it at $6.99 a month. (If you've bought a new Apple device recently, you might be able to get three months of Apple TV+ with your purchase as well.)

SEE MORE: Get A Christmas Tree For $5-$20 With U.S. Forest Service Permit

Apple TV+ also has many other Peanuts holiday favorites, including "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy Presents: Auld Lang Syne. " If you're traveling for the holidays, you can access Apple TV+ programs offline, provided you download them while you have a connection, so you can enjoy these classic holiday specials even when you're in the car or on an airplane.

With your trial to Apple TV+, you will also be able to watch the new Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell musical remake of "A Christmas Carol," "Spirited." It debuts Nov. 18 and offers a funny take on the classic Charles Dickens tale of Scrooge and the ghosts who visit him on Christmas Eve. The star-packed cast also includes Octavia Spencer, Tracy Morgan, Rose Bryne and Sunita Mani, and the funny musical is sure to put you and the family in the holiday spirit, especially if you have older kids. It's rated PG-13.

Apple TV+ also features family-friendly content that includes nature programs like "Tiny World" (narrated by Paul Rudd) or "Prehistoric Planet." You can also watch "Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock," which is the new remake of the 1980s cult classic television show.

You can download the Apple TV app on most streaming devices. To sign up for Apple TV+, you will need to sign with your Apple ID and password, or create an Apple account if you don't have one already.

How Effective Is Missile Defense?

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 20:08

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Simple rockets have shaped the history of war, from Chinese projectiles in the thirteenth century, to a famous battle during the War of 1812 — to today’s nuclear warheads, which the government says can travel more than 9,000 miles. 

Conventional threats on the modern battlefield, including in Ukraine, involve rockets which follow curved trajectories and missiles, that fly lower and are powered for their full flight. Armies have gradually improved techniques to defend against both. 

In World War II, Germany fired about 7,000 V1 missiles at Britain. The British government says it downed about half using anti-aircraft guns. During the Gulf War in 1991, American Patriot missiles were fired at Iraqi long range missiles, though experts questioned how effectively the patriots’ knocked them out of the air. 

Modern battlefield air defenses appear to be more reliable. The system destroyed a test missile fired more than 2,500 miles away. The Iron Dome System in Israel has destroyed hundreds of rockets, missiles and mortars fired by Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south. When the system detects an incoming rocket, sirens alert Israeli citizens who head to shelters. Then missiles launch and destroy the incoming threats, allowing citizens to return to normal life.

Retired Israeli Air Force General Amos Yadlin said, "thanks to Iron Dome, the army doesn’t have to rush toward entering Gaza with ground forces to attack rocket launchers, which Hamas places next to civilians. This change certainly reduces casualties on the Palestinian side, as well as saving Israelis." 

In October Russian missiles began targeting more Ukraine water and energy facilities. Ukraine has downed some of them using anti-aircraft missiles.  

"When we talk about Ukraine's need for air and missile defense, we are talking about real lives that are being taken by terrorists. We managed to shoot down some of the missiles and drones," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The U.S. is sending a few of its advanced missile systems to help. But experts warn it won’t be enough since Russia is targeting infrastructure all over the country with fast, evasive missiles.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Capital Hit By Iranian-Made Kamikaze Drones

Anthony Cordesman is the emeritus chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

"If you want effective defenses, you're almost talking national defenses, or at least the coverage of most key major targets," said Cordesman. 

Protecting against the ultimate weapon, a nuclear missile, requires a much more sophisticated system. According to one estimate, over six decades the U.S. has spent $280 billion on nuclear missile defense.

And to defend against the Russian or Chinese nukes we don’t rely on traditional missile defense. Instead the strategy is deterrence — the threat of total retaliation. Ground-based missile defense is meant instead to defend against an attack from a state with a limited number of nukes, like North Korea or Iran. 44 interceptor missiles sit in Alaska and California.

If North Korea were to fire missiles at the U.S. the system would launch into action, aimed at tracking and striking the missiles in space before they could land and detonate. The Missile Defense Agency says it has tested the system 20 times and it has worked 11 times. 

But critics say these tests aren’t realistic. And they add that they provoke adversaries who think missile defense could give the U.S. an advantage in a nuclear war. 

"What freaks China and Russia out is our missile defense program. Even though it’s very limited right now and in my view very ineffective, it’s enough to worry China and Russia right now, not so much about what it can do today but what it might do down the road," said Tom Collins, the director of policy at Ploughshares Fund. "Missile defense is probably the most important issue that no one ever talks about."

But nuclear missile defense enjoys bipartisan support, as both presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have sought to expand the system. 

Here’s The Sitch: Scrabble Dictionary Adds Hundreds Of New Words

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 20:08

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Here's the sitch, Scrabble stans. Your convos around the board are about to get more interesting with about 500 new words and variations added to the game's official dictionary: stan, sitch, convo, zedonk, dox and fauxhawk among them.

Out this month, the add-ons in the seventh edition of "The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary" join more than 100,000 words of two to eight letters. The book was last updated in 2018 through a longstanding partnership between Hasbro and Merriam-Webster.

The new words include some trademarks gone generic — dumpster for one — some shorthand joy like guac, and a delicious display of more verb variations: torrented, torrenting, adulted, adulting, atted, atting (as in don't at me, bro).

"We also turned verb into a verb so you can play verbed and verbing," said Merriam-Webster's editor at large, Peter Sokolowski, a smile on his face and a word-nerd glitter in his eye during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.

Fauxhawk, a haircut similar to a Mohawk, is potentially the highest scoring newbie, he said. Embiggen, a verb meaning to increase in size, is among the unexpected. (Sample sentence: "I really need to embiggen that Scrabble dictionary.")

Compound words are on the rise in the book with deadname, pageview, fintech, allyship, babymoon and subtweet. So are the "uns," such as unfollow, unsub and unmute. They may sound familiar, but they were never Scrabble official, at least when it comes to the sainted game's branded dictionary.

Tournament play is a whole other matter, with a broader range of agreed-upon words.

Sokolowski and a team of editors at Merriam-Webster have mined the oft-freshened online database at Merriam-Webster.com to expand the Scrabble book. While the official rules of game play have always allowed the use of any dictionary that players sanction, many look to the official version when sitting down for a spot of Scrabble. Some deluxe Scrabble sets include one of the books.

In the last year or two, the Scrabble lexicon has been scrubbed of 200-plus racial, ethnic and otherwise offensive words — despite their presence in some dictionaries. That has prompted furious debate among tournament players. Supporters of the cleanup called it long overdue. Others argued that the words, however heinous in definition, should remain playable so long as points are to be had.

Despite home play rules that never specifically banned offensive words, you won't find the notorious 200 in the Scrabble dictionary, with rare exceptions for those with other meanings.

The new Scrabble book includes at least one old-fashioned word that simply fell under the radar for years: yeehaw.

"Yeehaw is like so many of the older, informal terms. They were more spoken than written, and the gold standard for dictionary editing was always written evidence. So a term like yeehaw, which we all know from our childhood and in movies and TV, was something you heard. You didn't read it that often," Sokolowski said.

SEE MORE: The Board Game Industry Is Booming

Yeehaw, meet bae, inspo, vibed and vibing, all new additions to the Scrabble dictionary. Ixnay, which was already in the book, has been promoted to a verb, so ixnayed, ixnaying and ixnays are now allowed.

Welp, thingie, roid, skeezy, slushee and hygge (the Danish obsession with getting cozy) also made the cut. So did kharif, the Indian subcontinent's fall harvest.

The Merriam-Webster wordsmiths have added a slew of food-related words: iftar, horchata, kabocha, mofongo, zuke, zoodle, wagyu, queso and marg, for margarita, among them. Many Scrabble players couldn't care less about definitions — only points — but informatively:

Iftar is a meal taken by Muslims at sundown to break the daily fast during Ramadan. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish made of fried or boiled plantains. Horchata is a sweet drink and kabocha is a winter squash.

Zonkey joins zedonk among new words using a Z, one of the highest scorers in Scrabble along with Q (each has a face value of 10 points). The difference between those two wacky-sounding animals, you ask? A zonkey is sired from a male zebra and a female donkey. The parentage of a zedonk is the other way around. Zedonk even has a playable variation: zeedonk.

Zoomer, for a member of GenZ, is also new. Familiar with the Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar? A less common variant, zaatar, is now in the Scrabble dictionary. Words with apostrophes aren't allowed.

And there's more where all of that came from:

Oppo, jedi, adorbs, dox variant doxxed, eggcorn (a misheard slip of the ear), fintech, folx (inclusive alternative to folks), grawlix, hangry, matcha, onesie, spork, swole, unmalted, vaquita, vax and vaxxed were added.

Yes, jedi need not be capitalized. Wondering what grawlix means? It's this: $%!(asterisk)#, a series of typographical symbols used to replace words one doesn't want to write, usually those that got you into trouble as a kid.

Among other new eight-letter words, the kind that help players clear their seven-tile racks for 50 extra points: hogsbane, more commonly known as giant hogweed. Another: pranayam, a breath technique in yoga.

Sokolowski wouldn't reveal all 500 of the new words, challenging players to hunt them down on their own. Are your Scrabble senses scrambled, so to speak?

"All of these are words that have already been vetted and defined and added to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and now we've determined they're playable in Scrabble," Sokolowski said. "You've got some fun new words."

So which new entry is the word master's favorite? It's the one that sounds like the way acorn is pronounced.

"I like eggcorn," Sokolowski said, "because it's a word about words."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

SEE MORE: From The Archives: Scrabble's New Dictionary Words Go All Trendy

Texas To Execute Man For Killing Ex-Girlfriend And Her Son

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 19:50

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A Texas inmate seeking to stop his execution over claims of religious freedom violations and indifference to his medical needs is scheduled to die Wednesday evening for killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her 7-year-old son more than 17 years ago.

Stephen Barbee, 55, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. He was condemned for the February 2005 deaths of Lisa Underwood, 34, and her son Jayden. Both were suffocated at their home in Fort Worth. They were later found buried in a shallow grave in nearby Denton County.

Barbee’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution, arguing his religious rights are being violated because the state prison system, in the wake of a ruling by the high court on what spiritual advisers can do while in the execution chamber, did not create a written policy on the issue.

SEE MORE: Up For Debate: Should The US Abolish The Death Penalty?

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court said states must accommodate the wishes of death row inmates who want to have their faith leaders pray and touch them during their executions. Texas prison officials didn’t formally update their policy but said they would review inmates’ petitions on a case-by-case basis and would grant most reasonable requests.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston issued a preliminary injunction, saying the state could only execute Barbee after it had published a clear policy on spiritual advisers that protects an inmate's religious rights. Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Hoyt’s injunction, saying it was overbroad.

On Tuesday, Hoyt issued a new injunction focused specifically on protecting Barbee's rights. The Texas Attorney General's Office immediately appealed to the 5th Circuit, which would have to make a ruling before the Supreme Court could take up the issue.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office said in a previous court filing that Barbee’s claims are moot as state prison officials are allowing his spiritual adviser to touch him and pray aloud during his execution.

Also Tuesday, Hoyt denied a separate request by Barbee’s attorneys for an execution stay over claims the inmate’s right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment would be violated. His lawyers say Barbee has physical constraints that limit the movement of his shoulders and arms and he would experience “intolerable pain and suffering” if he is executed in the normal manner with his arms outstretched on the gurney so that IV lines can be placed to deliver the lethal injection.

SEE MORE: Without Media Witness, Texas Executes First Inmate In 10 Months

In a court filing from earlier this month, lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office assured Hoyt that prison officials would make accommodations for Barbee and allow his arms to remain bent and if needed would find another location to place the IV lines.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously declined to commute Barbee’s death sentence to a lesser penalty or to grant a four-month reprieve.

Prosecutors said Barbee killed his ex-girlfriend and her son because he didn’t want his wife to know Underwood was seven months pregnant, presumably by him. DNA evidence later revealed Barbee wasn’t the father. Underwood owned a Fort Worth bagel shop, which was named after her son. She and her son were reported missing after failing to show up at a baby shower.

Barbee confessed to police he killed Underwood and her son but later recanted. Barbee said the confession was coerced and has since maintained he is innocent and was framed by his business partner.

His trial, including sentencing, took less than three days to complete in February 2006.

Barbee is set to receive a lethal injection on the same day that Arizona executed Murray Hooper for killing two people during a home robbery in Phoenix on New Year’s Eve 1980. Hooper received a lethal injection Wednesday morning.

The executions come despite waning support in recent years for the death penalty across all political parties. About 6 in 10 Americans favor the death penalty, according to the General Social Survey, a major trends survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. While a majority continue to express support for the death penalty, the share has declined steadily since the 1990s, when nearly three-quarters were in favor.

So far, 14 people have been executed across the U.S. in 2022, all by lethal injection.

If Barbee is executed, he would be the fifth inmate put to death this year in Texas. He is the last inmate scheduled for execution this year in the state.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

McConnell Reelected Senate GOP Leader; Scott's Bid Rejected

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 19:15

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Sen. Mitch McConnell was reelected as Republican leader Wednesday, quashing a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the Senate GOP campaign chief criticized over his party's midterm election failures.

Retreating to the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber for the private vote, Republicans had faced public infighting following a disappointing performance in last week's elections that kept Senate control with Democrats.

McConnell, of Kentucky, easily swatted back the challenge from Scott in the first-ever attempt to oust him after many years as GOP leader. The vote was 37-10, senators said, with one other senator voting present. Senators first rejected an attempt by McConnell's detractors to delay the leadership choice until after the Senate runoff election in Georgia next month.

"I'm not going anywhere," McConnell said after the vote that leaves him poised to become the Senate's longest-serving leader when the new Congress convenes next year.

McConnell said he was "pretty proud" of the outcome as he acknowledged the work ahead.

"I think everybody in our conference agrees we want to give it our best shot," McConnell said.

The unrest is similar to the uproar among House Republicans in the aftermath of the midterm elections that left the party split over former President Donald Trump's hold on the party. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy won the nomination from colleagues to run for House speaker, with Republicans on the cusp of seizing the House majority, but he faces stiff opposition from a core group of right-flank Republicans unconvinced of his leadership.

On Wednesday, the senators first considered a motion by a Scott ally, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to delay the leadership votes until after the Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia between Republican Herschel Walker and incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock that will determine the final makeup of the Senate. Walker was eligible to vote in the leadership election but wasn't expected to be present.

Cruz said it was a "cordial discussion, but a serious discussion" about how Republicans in the minority can work effectively.

In all, 48 GOP new and returning senators voted. Retiring Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska missed the vote to be home after his office said his wife was recovering from a nonthreatening seizure.

The 10 Republican senators joining in the revolt against McConnell and voting for Scott included some of the most conservative figures and those aligned with Trump.

"Why do I think he won?" said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., among McConnell's detractors. "Because the conference didn't want to change course."

Senators were also electing others in the Republican leadership. Democrats have postponed their internal elections until after Thanksgiving.

McConnell's top leadership ranks are expected to remain stable, with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., as GOP whip, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in the No. 3 spot as chairman of the GOP conference. Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines was expected take over the campaign operation from Scott.

The challenge by Scott, who was urged by Trump to confront McConnell, escalated a long-simmering feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republican's campaign arm this year, and McConnell over the party's approach to try to reclaim the Senate majority.

"If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don't vote for me," Scott said in a letter to Senate Republicans offering himself as a protest vote against McConnell.

SEE MORE: Congress Returns For Not-So-Lame 'Lame-Duck' Session

Restive conservatives in the chamber have lashed out at McConnell's handling of the election, as well as his iron grip over the Senate Republican caucus.

Trump has been pushing for the party to dump McConnell ever since the Senate leader gave a scathing speech blaming then-President Trump for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Still, it represented an unusual direct challenge to McConnell's authority. He would become the longest-serving Senate leader in history when the new Congress convenes next year.

Scott and McConnell traded what colleagues said were "candid" and "lively" barbs during a lengthy private GOP senators lunch Tuesday that dragged for several hours. They sparred over the midterms, the quality of the GOP candidates who ran and their differences over fundraising.

During the luncheon, some 20 senators made their individual cases for the two men. Some members directly challenged Scott in McConnell's defense, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who questioned the Florida senator's management of the campaign arm, according to a person familiar with the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.

Among the many reasons Scott listed for mounting a challenge is that Republicans had compromised too much with Democrats in the last Congress — producing bills that President Joe Biden has counted as successes and that Democrats ran on in the 2022 election.

The feud between Scott and McConnell has been percolating for months and reached a boil as election results trickled in showing there would be no Republican Senate wave, as Scott predicted, according to senior Republican strategists who were not authorized to discuss internal issues by name and insisted on anonymity.

The feuding started not long after Scott took over the party committee after the 2020 election. Many in the party viewed his ascension as an effort to build his national political profile and donor network ahead of a potential presidential bid in 2024. Some were irked by promotional materials from the committee that were heavy on Scott's own biography, while focusing less on the candidates who are up for election.

Then came Scott's release of an 11-point plan early this year, which called for a modest tax increase for many of the lowest-paid Americans, while opening the door for cutting Social Security and Medicare, which McConnell swiftly repudiated even as he declined to offer an agenda of his own.

The feud was driven in part by the fraying trust in Scott's leadership, as well as poor finances of the committee, which was $20 million in debt, according to a senior Republican consultant.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

In 'Zero-COVID' China, 1 Case Locks Down Peking University

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 17:37

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Chinese authorities locked down a major university in Beijing on Wednesday after finding one COVID-19 case as they stick to a "zero-COVID" approach despite growing public discontent.

Peking University students and faculty were not allowed to leave the grounds unless necessary and classes on the main campus — where the case was found — were moved online through Friday, a university notice said. Still, some people could be seen entering and leaving the main campus Wednesday in the Chinese capital's Haidian district.

Beijing reported more than 350 new cases in the latest 24-hour period, a small fraction of its 21 million population but enough to trigger localized lockdowns and quarantines under China's "zero-COVID" strategy. Nationwide, China reported about 20,000 cases, up from about 8,000 a week ago.

Authorities are steering away from citywide lockdowns to try to minimize the impact on freedom of movement and a sagging economy. They want to avoid a repeat of the Shanghai lockdown earlier this year that paralyzed shipping and prompted neighborhood protests. Revised national guidelines issued last week called on local governments to follow a targeted and scientific approach that avoids unnecessary measures.

SEE MORE: Shanghai, Beijing Order New Round Of Mass COVID-19 Testing

Peking University has more than 40,000 students on multiple campuses, most in Beijing. It was unclear how many were affected by the lockdown. The 124-year-old institution is one of China's top universities and was a center of student protest in earlier decades. Its graduates include leading intellectuals, writers, politicians and businesspeople.

Lockdowns elsewhere have sparked scattered protests. Earlier this week, videos posted online showed crowds pulling down barriers in the southern city of Guangzhou in a densely built area that is home to migrant workers in the clothing industry.

Guangzhou, an industrial export hub near Hong Kong, reported more than 6,000 new cases in what is the nation's largest ongoing outbreak. The pandemic led the Badminton World Federation to move next month's HSBC World Tour Finals from Guangzhou to Bangkok, the federation announced this week.

SEE MORE: China Eases Some Quarantine For Travelers Even As Cases Rise

Other cities with major outbreaks include Chongqing in the southwest, Zhengzhou in Henan province and Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia region in the north.

In Zhengzhou late last month, workers fled their dormitories at a sprawling iPhone factory, some climbing over fences to get out. Apple subsequently warned that customers would face delays in deliveries of iPhone14 Pro models.

Chinese officials and state media have stressed that the government is fine-tuning but not abandoning what it calls a "dynamic" zero-COVID policy, after rumors of an easing sparked a stock market rally earlier this month.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Judge Orders End To Trump-Era Asylum Restrictions At Border

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 16:38

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A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Biden administration to lift Trump-era asylum restrictions that have been a cornerstone of border enforcement since the beginning of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in Washington that enforcement must end immediately for families and single adults, calling the ban “arbitrary and capricious.” The administration has not applied it to children traveling alone.

Within hours, the Justice Department asked the judge to let the order take effect Dec. 21, giving it five weeks to prepare. Plaintiffs including the American Civil Liberties Union didn't oppose the delay.

SEE MORE: What Is Title 42, And What Does It Mean For U.S. Immigration?

“This transition period is critical to ensuring that (the Department of Homeland Security) can continue to carry out its mission to secure the Nation’s borders and to conduct its border operations in an orderly fashion,” government attorneys wrote.

Sullivan, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, wrote in a 49-page ruling that authorities failed to consider the impact on migrants and possible alternatives.

The ruling appears to conflict with another in May by a federal judge in Louisiana that kept the asylum restrictions.

If Sullivan's ruling stands, it would upend border enforcement. Migrants have been expelled from the United States more than 2.4 million times since the rule took effect in March 2020, denying migrants rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The practice was authorized under Title 42 of a broader 1944 law covering public health.

SEE MORE: Border Crossings To U.S. From Mexico Hit Annual High

Before the judge in Louisiana kept the ban in place in May, U.S. officials said they were planning for as many as 18,000 migrants a day under the most challenging scenario, a staggering number. In May, migrants were stopped an average of 7,800 times a day, the highest of Joe Biden's presidency.

Immigration advocacy groups have pressed hard to end Title 42, but more moderate Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia, wanted it to stay when the administration tried to lift it in May.

The ban has been unevenly enforced by nationality, falling largely on migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in addition to Mexicans — because Mexico allows them to be returned from the United States. Last month, Mexico began accepting Venezuelans who are expelled from the United States under Title 42, causing a sharp drop in Venezuelans seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

Nationalities that are less likely to be subject to Title 42 have become a growing presence at the border, confident they will be released in the United States to pursue their immigration cases. In October, Cubans were the second-largest nationality at the border after Mexicans, followed by Venezuelans and Nicaraguans.

The Homeland Security Department said it would use the next five weeks to “prepare for an orderly transition to new policies at the border.”

"We continue to work with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere to take enforcement actions against the smuggling networks that entice migrants to take the dangerous and often deadly journey to our land borders and to address the root causes of irregular migration that are challenging our hemisphere as a whole,” the department said.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sullivan's decision renders the Louisiana ruling moot.

“This is an enormous victory for desperate asylum seekers who have been barred from even getting a hearing because of the misuse of public laws," Gelernt said. "This ruling hopefully puts an end to this horrendous period in U.S. history in which we abandoned our solemn commitment to provide refuge to those facing persecution.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group, distinguished Sullivan's ruling from the one by U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana, an appointee of President Donald Trump, which applied only to how the Biden administration tried to end Title 42. Sullivan found the entire rule invalid.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Judge Overturns Georgia's 6-Week Abortion Ban

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 14:56

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A judge overturned Georgia’s ban on abortion starting around six weeks into a pregnancy, ruling Tuesday that it violated the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent when it was enacted three years ago and was therefore void.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney's ruling took effect immediately statewide, though the state attorney general's office said it filed an appeal. The ban had been in effect since July.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represented doctors and advocacy groups that had asked McBurney to throw out the law, said it expects abortions past six weeks of pregnancy to resume Wednesday at some clinics.

Their lawsuit, filed in July, sought to strike down the ban on multiple grounds, including that it violates the Georgia Constitution’s right to privacy and liberty by forcing pregnancy and childbirth on women in the state. McBurney did not rule on that claim.

Instead, his decision agreed with a different argument made in the lawsuit — that the ban was invalid because when it was signed into law in 2019, U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Roe. v. Wade and another ruling allowed abortion well past six weeks.

SEE MORE: How Abortion Became A Focus Of Midterm Elections

Kara Richardson, a spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, said in an email that the office filed a notice of appeal and "will continue to fulfill our duty to defend the laws of our state in court.”

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said Tuesday was a “great day for Georgia women and for all Georgians.”

“Today their right to make decisions for their own bodies, health, and families is vindicated,” Young said in a statement.

Andrew Isenhour, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, said McBurney’s ruling placed “the personal beliefs of a judge over the will of the legislature and people of Georgia."

“The state has already filed a notice of appeal, and we will continue to fight for the lives of Georgia’s unborn children,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Ed Setzler, the Republican from Atlanta suburb of Acworth who sponsored the law, said he was confident the state Supreme Court would overrule McBurney and reinstate the ban.

SEE MORE: Georgia Governor Signs Controversial Abortion Bill

The law prohibited most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” was present. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart around six weeks into a pregnancy. That means most abortions in Georgia were effectively banned at a point before many people knew they were pregnant.

Georgia’s law was passed by state lawmakers and signed by Kemp in 2019 but had been blocked from taking effect until the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had protected the right to an abortion for nearly 50 years.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Georgia to begin enforcing its abortion law just over three weeks after the high court’s decision in June.

Abortion clinics remained open, but providers said they were turning many people away because cardiac activity had been detected. They could then either travel to another state for an abortion or continue with their pregnancies.

During a two-day trial in October, abortion providers told McBurney the ban was distressing women denied the procedure and confusing doctors.

McBurney wrote in his ruling that when the law was enacted, “everywhere in America, including Georgia, it was unequivocally unconstitutional for governments — federal, state, or local — to ban abortions before viability.”

Therefore, the state’s law “did not become the law of Georgia when it was enacted and it is not the law of Georgia now,” he wrote.

The state had argued that the Roe decision itself was wrong and that the Supreme Court ruling wiped it out of existence.

McBurney did leave the door open for the legislature to revisit the ban.

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the prohibition on abortions provided for in the 2019 law “may someday become the law of Georgia,” he wrote.

But, he wrote, that can happen only after the General Assembly “determines in the sharp glare of public attention that will undoubtedly and properly attend such an important and consequential debate whether the rights of unborn children justify such a restriction on women’s right to bodily autonomy and privacy.”

Georgia's ban included exceptions for rape and incest, as long as a police report was filed, and allowed for later abortions when the woman’s life was at risk or a serious medical condition rendered a fetus unviable.

At the October trial, witnesses for the state disputed the claim that the law was unclear about when doctors could intervene to perform a later abortion. They also argued that abortions themselves could harm women.

Abortion was a central issue in Georgia's U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, which is now headed to a runoff in December. Two women accused Walker, who opposes abortion, of paying for them to have the procedure. Walker vehemently denied that.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

UVA Cancels Football Game; Shooting Suspect Due In Court

Wed, 11/16/2022 - 14:41

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The University of Virginia canceled its final home football game of the season Wednesday, the same day a student accused of killing three members of the team and wounding two other students in an on-campus shooting was due in court for his first hearing.

University officials and police have said Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., 22, joined a group of about two dozen others on a field trip Sunday from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation's capital, about 120 miles away. When their bus arrived back on campus, authorities have said the suspect opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler, and wounding two others, one of them also a football player.

The suspect — who police have said was able to flee the shooting scene, setting off a manhunt and 12-hour campus lockdown — faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of malicious wounding and additional gun-related charges.

SEE MORE: University Of Virginia Shooting Suspect Taken Into Custody

The violence at the state's flagship public university has set off days of mourning among students and faculty, the broader Charlottesville community and other supporters. Classes resumed Wednesday, though the school announced it was canceling what would have been UVA's final home football game of the 2022 season against Coastal Carolina.

No decision has been made yet about whether UVA will participate in its final game of the season on Nov. 26 against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

On Wednesday, the suspect was expected to appear by video link from a local jail, according to the prosecutor handling the case, Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney James Hingeley.

Online records do not list an attorney for the suspect. If he is financially eligible for court-appointed counsel, an attorney will be appointed Wednesday, Hingeley wrote in an email, adding there also could be a preliminary bail review at the hearing.

The suspect has been in custody since he was arrested in suburban Richmond late Monday morning.

University President Jim Ryan said Monday that authorities did not have a "full understanding" of the motive behind the shooting. Court documents filed so far in the matter have offered no additional insight.

The suspect was a member of the football team during the 2018 season, a one-semester walk-on, according to athletics director Carla Williams.

In interviews, his father has expressed confusion and astonishment and apologized to the victims' families.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Why The Winners Of The Midterm Election Might Not Be Known Tuesday

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 22:36

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Knowing who will control Congress by the end of the night Tuesday might be a far shot. Local, state and federal races might take some time to produce results.

But don't be alarmed if you don't know who won by the time you go to bed that night. There are many factors that could cause a delay.

"Different states have different rules for the hours of voting, for how they're tabulated, how the results are released," said Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press Election Decision Editor. "So, it is really a broad mix of different types of elections and different states."

Some states like ArizonaFlorida and Georgia may be counted fairly quickly because those states allow mail-in ballots to be counted well before Election Day. Michigan can start counting Sunday.

One state that might not be so quick is Pennsylvania.

SEE MORE: How Midterm Elections Could Influence The 2024 Presidential Election

"In Pennsylvania, under state law, they cannot open mail ballots until the morning of Election Day," Ohlemacher said. "It takes a long time to process those ballots and count them, so they very well might not be able to count all of their ballots on Election Day. It could take days, and since we do expect there to be close races there for both Senate and governor, it could take a while before we know who wins."

More than a dozen states do not allow ballots to be counted until after the polls close.

Automatic recounts and runoffs are two other factors complicating results. Arizona, for example, has an automatic recount if candidates are separated by .5% or less.

In Georgia, the highly watched race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker could go to a runoff if one of the candidates does not receive at least 50% of the vote. Otherwise, just like in 2020, it will go to a runoff in early December.

But despite laws in place that create the expected delays, many candidates say they want the results by Tuesday night and haven't promised to accept the outcomes regardless.

Experts caution just because results may take a few days, or even longer, doesn't mean the results aren't accurate.

Elon Musk's Twitter Deal Is Raising National Security Concerns

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 20:36

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Elon Musk's short time as Twitter's CEO has been contentious — from the backlash of content moderation experts for cutting Twitter's staff days ahead of the midterms, to suggesting he'd allow anyone to pay a monthly fee to have their account verified. 

In addition, the Biden administration has discussed whether the U.S. should review the deal over national security concerns. 

"Elon Musk has a history of cozying up to foreign dictators," said Nicole Gill, co-founder and executive director of Accountable Tech. "When his proposed takeover was announced in April, the Saudi prince, who is now an investor in the deal, was publicly critical of him. And supposedly a conversation between Elon and this Saudi prince happened. And now he is not only in favor of the deal, but now owns a piece of Twitter.  Beyond that, Elon in the last few months has completely parroted talking points from the Kremlin and from the Chinese Communist Party."

Politicians seem most worried about Saudi Arabia, which has invested nearly $2 billion in the platform. Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted that the Committee on Foreign Investment should start an investigation, saying "we should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting U.S. politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform."

The U.S.'s anxieties aren't unfounded. In August, a former Twitter manager was convicted of accepting payments from Saudi Arabia to turn over confidential user data. In September, former Twitter security chief Peiter Zatko told Congress that there was at least one Chinese agent on Twitter's payroll.  

SEE MORE: Elon Musk Emerging As Twitter's Chief Moderator Ahead Of Midterms

"Twitter has access to your private messages, and now Twitter is owned by some of the most repressive regimes in the world," Gill said. "They might lean on Elon and his associates for or for data access, but also to change policies that would allow their regimes to spew propaganda. We don't have a lot of insight into the access that these foreign actors might have over American data, which is extremely concerning."

A formal investigation into Musk's purchase of Twitter has not been opened. Murphy told Politico that if the Committee on Foreign Investments doesn't open a review, he'd be interested in working with Sen. Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to open a congressional investigation. 

Why Do We Wear Wedding Rings?

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 20:23

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If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it. We all know the words of Beyoncé. But where did this tradition come from? 

Contrary to what your newly engaged friend might want you to think, they did not invent the wedding ring. 

Like a lot of old traditions, the exact history of wedding rings is murky. But one belief dates back to ancient Egypt. Egyptian pharaohs believed rings symbolized eternity, because of their circular shape, with no beginning and no end. Egyptians also believed in the "Vena Amoris" or the "vein of love." They thought a vein in the fourth finger on the left hand connected directly to the heart. That's why it's still common to wear a wedding ring on that finger. 

When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Greeks adopted the tradition of gifting a ring to show devotion. The tradition carried on when the Romans conquered the Greeks. Some accounts say the Romans viewed the ring as a symbol of a husband's ownership over his bride as opposed to a sign of love. 

As time went on, the types of rings and motifs shifted. Rings became more popular in the West during World War II. Men going off to fight gave them to their wives-to-be, as a promise to wed when they returned. During this time, more men started wearing rings, too. Men wore them while deployed, to remind them of their spouse back home. 

For many years, rings had different types of stones. In 1947, the diamond company De Beers helped popularize a diamond ring thanks to its famous slogan. 

The marketing strategy popularized diamond rings for wedding and engagement bands. According to a survey from The Knot 86% of engagement rings in the U.S. include a diamond center stone today, and the average ring costs $6,000. 

That might be just a little more than ancient Egyptians planned on spending.  

Russian Soldiers Reportedly Spread Into Kherson's Homes

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 19:56

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Russian soldiers are forcing Ukrainian civilians from their apartments in the occupied capital of the Kherson region and moving in themselves, a resident said Friday as the southern city became a growing focus of war in Ukraine.

His account of soldiers spreading throughout the city of Kherson suggested that Russia could be preparing for intense urban warfare in anticipation of Ukrainian advances.

Russia-installed authorities in Kherson continued to urge civilians to leave the city, which lies on the right, or western, bank of the Dnieper River and has been cut off from supplies and food by Ukrainian bombardment.

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the region's Kremlin-appointed administration, reiterated calls for civilians to depart for the left bank of the river. Stremousov said Thursday that Russian forces might soon withdraw from Kherson city. On Friday, he said the statement was merely an attempt to encourage evacuations.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has suggested the Russians were feigning a pull-out from Kherson in order to lure in the Ukrainian army. Zelenskyy called attempts to convince civilians to move deeper into Russian-controlled territory "theater."

A Kherson resident told The Associated Press that Russian soldiers were installing themselves in vacated apartments. Russian military personnel are reportedly going door to door, checking property deeds, and forcing tenants to leave immediately if they can't confirm ownership of apartments, he said.

"They're forcing city residents to evacuate, and then Russian soldiers move into freed-up apartments across all of Kherson," the resident, who spoke on condition that only his first name - Konstantin - was used for security reasons. "It is obvious that they are preparing for fighting the Ukrainian army in the city."

Hospitals and clinics were not serving patients in Kherson, where residents also reported problems with food supplies.

"There are almost no deliveries of food into the city, the residents are using their own stocks and are queuing to the few shops that are still open," Konstantin said.

Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told the AP that as part of its counteroffensive to reclaim the Kherson region, the Ukrainian army cut off the right bank of the Dnieper from supplies of weapons and food by shelling main transportation routes and ruining bridges across the river.

SEE MORE: Most Of Kyiv Without Water After Russian Strikes Hit Ukraine

"The Russians understand the danger of transport routes being blocked and have practically put up with the fact that they will have to retreat from the right bank of the Dnieper," Zhdanov said. "But the Russian troops are not prepared to leave Kherson peacefully and are preparing for battles within the city. They're deploying the mobilized reservists there and new tactical battalion groups."

According to Zhdanov, the Ukrainian army has a significant advantage over the Russians in aviation and artillery on the right bank, which means that they could shell Kherson city and avoid a head-on clash.

"Kyiv is taking its time because the Russian resources in Kherson are evaporating, and they're getting weaker by the day, which allows the Ukrainians to accumulate forces for the main strike," Zhdanov said.

Russian forces seized Kherson city soon after invading Ukraine in late February. Russia illegally annexed the Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine in late September and subsequently declared martial law in the four provinces.

The Kremlin-installed regional administration in Kherson already has moved tens of thousands of civilians out of the city, citing the threat of increased shelling as Ukraine's army pursues its counteroffensive. Authorities removed the Russian flag from the Kherson administration building on Thursday.

Ukraine's southern military spokeswoman, Natalia Humeniuk, said the flag's removal could be a ruse "and we should not hurry to rejoice." She told Ukrainian television that some Russian military personnel were disguising themselves as civilians.

Neither side's claims could be independently verified.

Elsewhere, Ukrainian officials reported shooting down drones launched by Russian forces: eight drones in the Nikopol area, which was also subjected to artillery shelling, and another drone over the western Lviv region.

The commander of Ukraine's armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said that Russian forces had "tripled the intensity of hostilities on certain areas of the front" and were carrying out "up to 80 attacks every day."

Zelenskyy's office said at least nine civilians were killed and 16 wounded by attacks in Ukraine between Thursday and Friday.

SEE MORE: White House Accuses N. Korea Of Covertly Sending Ammunition To Russia

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Friday that there was still a steady stream of volunteers wanting to join the Russian military, with 318,000 people already mobilized. Authorities previously said the goal was to mobilize some 300,000 reservists.

Putin said 49,000 were already in the army and performing combat missions, while the rest were still being trained. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that 87,000 were deployed to Ukraine. The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled.

When Russia announced the mobilization drive in September, protests erupted in several regions and tens of thousands of Russians fled the country.

Putin also signed a law Friday permitting the military mobilization of those with expunged or outstanding convictions for certain serious crimes, including those who have recently served time for murder, robbery and drug trafficking.

Russia agreed Wednesday to rejoin a wartime agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey allowing Ukrainian grain to be shipped to world markets through the Black Sea. Moscow had suspended its participation in the grain deal over the weekend, citing an alleged drone attack against its Black Sea fleet in Crimea.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces said "the functioning of grain corridors continues" according to plan Friday.

As one condition for returning to the deal, Russia demanded the grain be sent to poorer countries, arguing that most of it was ending up in richer nations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he had discussed the issue of prioritizing less developed countries for the grain shipments during a call with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Erdogan said he also discussed the possibility of sending the grain to nations facing famine for free, during a recent call with Putin, and the two leaders planned to hold further talks on the topic at a Group of 20 meeting in Bali this month.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Powerball Jackpot Up To $1.6 Billion, New Lottery Record

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 19:24

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Strong sales boosted a Powerball jackpot to an estimated $1.6 billion on Friday, making it the largest lottery prize in history.

A drawing will be held Saturday night for the Powerball prize, which hasn't been won in more than three months. That string of 39 consecutive drawings without a winner is a reflection of the tough odds of winning a jackpot, at 1 in 292.2 million.

SEE MORE: What Should You Do If You Win The Mega Millions Jackpot?

The advertised jackpot is the prize for a winner who chooses an annuity, paid annually over 29 years. Almost all winners instead opt for the cash prize, which for Saturday night's drawing would be an estimated $782.4 million.

The new jackpot tops the previous record prize of $1.586 billion won in 2016 by three Powerball players in California, Florida and Tennessee.

Powerball is played in 45 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Death In CRISPR Gene Therapy Study Sparks Search For Answers

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 18:30

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The lone volunteer in a unique study involving a gene-editing technique has died, and those behind the trial are now trying to figure out what killed him.

Terry Horgan, a 27-year-old who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, died last month, according to Cure Rare Disease, a Connecticut-based nonprofit founded by his brother, Rich, to try and save him from the fatal condition.

Although little is known about how he died, his death occurred during one of the first studies to test a gene editing treatment built for one person. It's raising questions about the overall prospect of such therapies, which have buoyed hopes among many families facing rare and devastating diseases.

“This whole notion that we can do designer genetic therapies is, I would say, uncertain,” said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University who is not involved in the study. “We are out on the far edge of experimentation."

SEE MORE: 2018: Is The Machine That Can Snip And Swap Our DNA Awesome Or Ominous?

The early-stage safety study was sponsored by the nonprofit, led by Dr. Brenda Wong at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The hope was to use a gene-editing tool called CRISPR to treat Horgan's particular form of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The rare, genetic muscle-wasting disease is caused by a mutation in the gene needed to produce a protein called dystrophin. Most people with Duchenne die from lung or heart issues caused by it.

At this point, it's unclear whether Horgan received the treatment and whether CRISPR, other aspects of the study or the disease itself contributed to his death. Deaths are not unheard of in clinical trials, which test experimental treatments and sometimes involve very sick people.

But trials involving CRISPR are relatively new. And Fyodor Urnov, a CRISPR expert at the Innovative Genomics Institute at University of California, Berkeley, said any death during a gene therapy trial is an opportunity for the field to have a reckoning.

“Step one is to grieve for the passing of a brave human soul who agreed to be basically a participant in an experiment on a human being,” Urnov said. “But then, to the extent that we can, we must learn as much as we can to carve out a path forward.”

statement from Cure Rare Disease said multiple teams across the country are looking into the details of the trial and its outcome, and the company intends to share findings with the scientific community.

“It will probably be 3-4 months to come up with a full conclusion,” said spokesman Scott Bauman. “At this stage of the game, saying anything is pure speculation.”

SEE MORE: 2018: A Gene-Editing Milestone May Mean Fewer Hereditary Issues Someday

The company, which is also working on 18 other therapeutics, said in its statement that the teams' work is essential not only to shed light on the study’s outcome but also “on the challenges of gene therapy broadly.” Meanwhile, it said, “we will continue to work with our researchers, collaborators, and partners to develop therapies for the neuromuscular diseases in our pipeline.”

Bauman said the company has filed a report on death the with the FDA as required. The FDA declined to release or confirm the report.

A crucial question is whether CRISPR played a part in Horgan’s death.

The chemical tool can be used to “edit” genes by making cuts or substitutions in DNA. The tool has transformed genetic research and sparked the development of dozens of experimental therapies. The inventors of the tool won a Nobel Prize in 2020.

In this case, scientists used a modified form of CRISPR to increase the activity of a gene. The CRISPR therapeutic is inserted directly into the body and delivered to cells with a virus.

But CRISPR is not perfect.

“We know that CRISPR can miss its target. We know that CRISPR can be partially effective. And we also know that there may be issues with … viral vectors” that deliver the therapy into the body, he said. “Red flags are flying here. We’ve got to make sure that they get addressed very, very quickly.”

Safety issues have arisen in gene therapy studies before. Late last year, Pfizer reported the death of a patient in its early-stage trial for a different Duchenne muscular dystrophy gene therapy. And in a major earlier setback for the gene therapy field, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died in 1999 during a study that involved placing healthy genes into his liver to combat a rare metabolic disease. Scientists later learned that his immune system overreacted to the virus used to deliver the therapy. Many recent studies, including the Cure Rare Disease trial, use a different virus that’s considered safer.

Another difference? The recent trial involved just one person — a type of trial Caplan is skeptical about.

Horgan's recent death, he said, “may make us think whether we really do like studies that are just on one person, and do we want to say: ‘No, ethically, you've got to at least have a trial where you line up 5, 10, 20 people (and) you learn from the data.'”

Horgan was enrolled in the study on Aug. 31. The plan was to suppress his immune system to prep his body for a one-time, gene-editing therapy delivered by IV at UMass medical school, followed by monitoring in the hospital. The company explained that the therapy is designed to increase the level of an alternate form of the dystrophin protein using CRISPR, with the goal of stabilizing or potentially reversing the progression of symptoms.

Urnov, scientific director for technology and translation at the Berkeley genomics institute, said no other trial targeted this disease using this kind of virus to deliver this particular payload with its modified form of CRISPR.

Given the “exceptional distinctness” of the Cure Rare Disease approach, Urnov said he doesn’t think Horgan’s death will have a major impact on things like using gene therapy to fix blood diseases. But he said pinpointing the exact cause will help inform scientists throughout the field.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Official: Man Who Made New Jersey Synagogue Threat Has Been Identified

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 16:59

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Federal agents have identified the man they believe posted a broad online threat against synagogues in New Jersey but do not believe he was planning to carry out a specific plot, a law enforcement official said Friday.

SEE MORE: FBI Warns Of 'Broad' Threat To Synagogues In New Jersey

The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was questioned by law enforcement and told agents he had been bullied in the past and harbored anger toward Jewish people, the official said. But investigators do not believe the man had the means or motive to carry out any specific attack, the official added.

The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The source of the threat “no longer poses a danger to the community," the FBI in Newark tweeted.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an emailed statement Friday that the threat had been “mitigated,” but the Democrat did not offer details.

“We will not be indifferent. We will remain vigilant. We will take any and every threat with the utmost seriousness and we will stand up and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish congregations,” Murphy said.

The FBI said Thursday that it had received credible information about a “broad” threat to synagogues in New Jersey, a warning that prompted some municipalities to send extra police officers to guard houses of worship.

The nature of the threat was vague. The Newark FBI released a statement urging synagogues to “take all security precautions to protect your community and facility” but wouldn’t say anything about who made the threat or why.

“It raises the anxiety level,” said Jason Shames, leader of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “This one for us was about vigilance. We keep having to say: See something, say something.”

SEE MORE: U.S. Houses Of Worship Increase Security After Shootings

Public warnings about nonspecific threats against Jewish institutions, made by a variety of groups including Christian supremacists and Islamist extremists, aren’t unusual in the New York City metropolitan area, and many turn out to be false alarms. But the area has also seen deadly attacks.

Five years ago, two New Jersey men were sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted of a series of attacks in 2012 that included the firebombings of two synagogues. They also threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a rabbi as he slept with his wife and children.

In 2019, a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City, fatally wounding one person.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

U.S. Employers Keep Hiring Briskly Even In Face Of Rate Hikes

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 16:45

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America's employers kept hiring vigorously in October, adding 261,000 positions, a sign that as Election Day nears, the economy remains a picture of solid job growth and painful inflation.

Friday's report from the government showed that hiring was brisk across industries last month, though the overall gain declined from 315,000 in September. The unemployment rate rose from a five-decade low of 3.5% to a still-healthy 3.7%.

The government also said that average hourly pay rose 4.7% from a year ago, a smaller year-over-year gain than in September. Still, last month's average 12-month wage increase remained high enough to fuel inflation.

A strong job market is deepening the challenges the Federal Reserve faces as it raises interest rates at the fastest pace since the 1980s to try to bring inflation down from near a 40-hear high. Steady hiring, solid pay growth and a low unemployment rate have been good for workers. But they have also contributed to rising prices.

The October jobs figures were the last major economic report before Election Day, with voters keenly focused on the state of the economy. Chronic inflation is hammering the budgets of many households and has shot to the top of voter concerns in the midterm congressional elections that will end Tuesday. Republican candidates have attacked Democrats over inflation in their drive to regain control of Congress.

Over the past three months, job gains have averaged 289,000, down from a sizzling monthly rate of 539,000 a year ago. All the jobs that employers have added since the recession ended have boosted the ability of consumers to keep spending, even amid high inflation. A labor shortage in many areas of the economy has also compelled businesses to pay more to attract and keep workers.

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have pointed to the vigorous resurgence in hiring as evidence that their policies have helped get Americans back to work faster than the nation managed to do after previous downturns. But that message has been overtaken in the midterm political campaigns by the crushing surge of inflation, which has soured many Americans on the economy under Democratic leadership in Congress and the White House.

The October jobs report showed that job gains were widespread last month. Health care added 71,000, with hospitals and doctors' offices continuing to re-staff after having lost many workers at the height of the pandemic. Manufacturing added 32,000. A category that includes engineers, accountants and lawyers added 39,000.

Still, signs are emerging that some corners of the economy have begun to flag under the weight of rising prices and much higher borrowing costs engineered by the Fed's aggressive interest rate hikes. Especially in industries like housing and technology, hiring has waned. Many tech companies, such as the ride-hailing firm Lyft and the payment company Stripe, have announced plans to lay off workers. Amazon said Thursday it would suspend its corporate hiring.

SEE MORE: Fed Unleashes Another Big Rate Hike But Hints At A Pullback

Across the broader economy, though, the pace of layoffs remains unusually low. And companies in travel, restaurants, manufacturing and health care are still hiring steadily. Southwest Airlines told investors last week that it was on track to hire 10,000 employees this year, including 1,200 pilots. Laboratory Corporation of America said it plans significant hiring.

At a news conference Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell noted that the strong job market is feeding inflationary pressures as businesses continue to raise pay. In September, average wages rose more than 6% from 12 months earlier, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That was the fastest such pace in 40 years, though it still trailed inflation.

Wages tend to follow inflation higher as workers seek to keep up with price increases. Those pay raises, in turn, can keep inflation high if companies pass on at least part of their higher labor costs to their customers in the form of higher prices.

Powell spoke after the Fed announced a fourth straight three-quarter-point increase in its benchmark rate. It was the latest in a series of unusually large hikes that have made mortgages and other consumer and business loans increasingly costly and heightened the risk of a recession.

The Fed's policymakers did open the door to the possibility of a smaller rate hike when they next meet in December. But Powell also said that in order to tame inflation, the Fed would likely have to raise rates high enough to weaken the job market. That could mean that hiring will slow in coming months or even that many employers will cut jobs and increase the unemployment rate.

So far this year, the Fed has raised its key short-term rate six times — from near zero in early March to a range of 3.75% to 4%, the highest level in 14 years.

Housing has absorbed the worst damage from higher borrowing costs. The Fed's rate hikes have sent average long-term mortgage rates surging to around 7%, the highest level in two decades. Home sales have cratered as a result, and once-soaring home prices have started to slow.

For now, the economy is still growing. It expanded at a 2.6% annual rate in the July-September quarter after having contracted in the first six months of the year. But much of last quarter's growth was due to a spike in U.S. exports. By contrast, consumers — the primary driver of the economy — only modestly increased their spending beyond the rate of inflation.

With inflation still painfully high and the Fed making borrowing increasingly expensive for consumers and businesses, most economists expect a recession by early next year.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Alex Jones Trial Moves To Punitive Damages Phase

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 16:18

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Infowars host Alex Jones is facing the possibility of having more penalties heaped onto the amount he already owes for spreading conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, as the punitive damages phase of his Connecticut trial is set to begin Friday in a lawsuit filed by the victims' families.

SEE MORE: Alex Jones Ordered To Pay $965 Million For Sandy Hook Lies

A jury last month ordered Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, to pay nearly $1 billion in compensation to the Sandy Hook families for the harm they suffered when he persuaded his audience that the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people was a hoax perpetrated by “crisis actors.”

The jury also said punitive damages should be awarded. That amount will be determined by Judge Barbara Bellis following evidentiary hearings set for Friday and Monday.

The plaintiffs' lawyers, in court filings, suggested punitive damages could total $2.75 trillion based on one hypothetical calculation, but have not asked for a specific amount.

“Justice requires that the Court’s punitive damages award, punish and deter this evil conduct,” attorneys Alinor Sterling, Christopher Mattei and Joshua Koskoff wrote in a motion. “Only a punitive damages assessment of historic size will serve those purposes.”

Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, is arguing that any punitive damages should be minimal, in part because the $1 billion compensatory damages award is the functional equivalent of punitive damages due to its extremely large amount.

“Few defendants alive could pay damages of this sum,” Pattis wrote. “Indeed, most defendants would be driven into bankruptcy, their livelihood destroyed, and their future transformed into the bleak prospect of a judgment debtor saddled for decades with a debt that cannot be satisfied. To regard this as anything other than punishment would be unjust.”

Pattis did not return a message seeking comment. Mattei declined to comment.

All the plaintiffs, including relatives of eight of the shooting victims and an FBI agent who responded to the school, gave emotional testimony during the trial, describing how they have been threatened and harassed for years by people who believe the shooting didn't happen.

Strangers showed up at some of their homes and confronted some of them in public. People hurled abusive comments at them on social media and in emails. And some said they received death and rape threats.

SEE MORE: A Look At Some Of The Deadliest U.S. School Shootings

Jones was found liable last year for damages to the families for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and violating Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Although punitive damages are generally limited to attorneys' fees for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, there are no such limits for punitive damages under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

In a calculation in a plaintiffs' court filing, they said Jones' comments about Sandy Hook were viewed an estimated 550 million times on his and Infowars' social media accounts from 2012 to 2018. They said that translated into 550 million violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act.

“If each of the 550 million violations were assessed at the $5,000 statutory maximum, the total civil penalty would be $2,750,000,000,000 ($2.75 trillion),” their attorneys wrote.

They also said punitive damages for violations of the unfair trade practices law typically are multiple times more than compensatory damages.

As for legal fees, the plaintiffs and their lawyers have a retainer agreement stipulating the law firm, Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, will get one-third of any compensatory damages recovered from Jones and Free Speech Systems. The firm says its legal costs in the case have been nearly $1.7 million so far.

Jones has said on his Infowars show that it doesn't matter how large the damages awards are, because he doesn't have $2 million to his name and he wouldn't be able to pay the full amounts.

That contradicted testimony at a similar trial in Texas in August, when a jury ordered Jones to pay nearly $50 million to the parents of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook shooting due to his lies about the massacre.

A forensic economist testified that Jones and Free Speech Systems, Infowars' parent company, have a combined net worth as high as $270 million, which Jones disputes. Free Speech Systems filed for bankruptcy protection in the middle of the trial in Texas, while a third trial over the hoax conspiracy is planned around the end of the year.

Jones hawks nutritional supplements, survival gear and other products on his show. Evidence at the Connecticut trial showed his sales spiked around the time he talked about the Sandy Hook shooting — leading the plaintiffs' lawyers to say he was profiting off the tragedy.

In documents recently filed in Free Speech Systems' bankruptcy case, a budget for the company for Oct. 29 to Nov. 25 estimated product sales would total $2.5 million, while operating expenses would be about $740,000. Jones' salary was listed at $20,000 every two weeks.

Jones has vowed to appeal all the verdicts against him related to Sandy Hook.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Fewer Kids Are Participating In Youth Sports As Costs Climb

Fri, 11/04/2022 - 15:33

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Across the country, youth sports are getting more expensive.

As persistent inflation strains budgets for everything from groceries and gas to travel and nights out, funding kids' extracurriculars is getting stressful.

"Oftentimes, I'll steer them in the direction of something that is used because they're less than half the prices," said David Westphal, owner of Buffalo Sporting Goods Store in New York.

"Cleats can go anywhere from $50 to $100; the gloves, same range at Dick's," said parent Natalie Theodore. "A lot of the kids like to have them pretty showy."

Theodore is trying to keep her son's dreams of playing college football alive, but it's getting tough.

"We looked into hiring a recruiter, but honestly we can't afford that monthly because we're a family of five," Theodore said.

She's far from alone, and the strain on families only compounds a trend of dwindling participation in youth sports.

The Aspen Institute surveyed youth leagues and found 45% of kids participating in 2008 but only 38% in 2018.

SEE MORE: Tips For Keeping Kids Safe While Playing Spring Sports

"It could be that kids are participating differently in sports based on what's available if their favorite program closed, or they could be participating differently because their family doesn't have the means to provide quite as many opportunities," said Jennifer Agans, associate professor at Penn State University.

Youth sports is already a largely class-divided activity.

In Milwaukee, a youth sports organization found participation in families making less than $25,000 a year was just 34%. It was 69% among families making more than $100,000.

"If a family doesn't have the financial means to participate in a sport, they lose out on those great opportunities and the benefits that they could essentially get from playing the sport," said Quentin Prince, executive director of Milwaukee Youth Sports Alliance.

The disparity and the increasing cost is prompting people like Matt Bixenstine to put up a free sports gear library in his local park in Cleveland.

"We'll supplement it as needed, replenish the inventory, so to speak," Bixenstine said. "If it works out the way we hope it does, I don't see any reason why the concept couldn't be translated to other city parks."

It's an attempt to make outdoor team sports more accessible for any kid who needs it, no matter the economic climate.

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