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Buttigieg’s visit to East Palestine marks first visit by Biden cabinet

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 19:39

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced he will visit East Palestine, Ohio, on Thursday, nearly three weeks after a Northern Southern train derailed, prompting environmental concerns.

His stop will mark the highest-level visit by a federal official to the area since the derailment. Buttigieg’s arrival comes a day after Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan provided an update on the federal government’s response in the town.

Buttigieg will be on hand as the National Transportation Safety Board releases its initial findings on the cause of the derailment. Buttigieg is also expected to call on additional oversight of the rail industry.

In an interview with CBS News, the transportation secretary acknowledged he should have spoken out sooner about the East Palestine incident.

SEE MORE: New clinic dedicated to treating East Palestine residents opens

“I was focused on just making sure that our folks on the ground were all set but could have spoken sooner about how strongly I felt about this incident and that’s a lesson learned for me,” Buttigieg told the network.

In the days following the Feb. 3 derailment, toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, were released into the atmosphere to reduce the risk of an explosion. The chemicals' release has prompted state and federal officials to test the region’s water and air quality. So far, officials have stated the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink.

On Tuesday, the EPA stated that Norfolk Southern must pay for clean-up costs. The EPA is also requiring the company to meet and provide updates to residents.

US to limit asylum to migrants who pass through a 3rd nation

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 19:35

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The Biden administration said Tuesday that it will generally deny asylum to migrants who show up at the U.S. southern border without first seeking protection in a country they passed through, mirroring an attempt by the Trump administration that never took effect because it was blocked in court.

The measure, while stopping short of a total ban, imposes severe limitations on asylum for any nationality except Mexicans, who don’t have to travel through a third country to reach the U.S.

The measure is almost certain to face legal challenges. President Donald Trump pursued a similar ban in 2019 but a federal appeals court prevented it from taking effect.

The Biden administration rule proposed Tuesday has to first go through a 30-day public comment period before it can be formally adopted. If adopted it would remain in place for two years.

Administration officials expect the rule will take effect when a pandemic-era rule that denies asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 ends. That rule, known as Title 42 authority, is set to expire May 11 but has been delayed twice by legal challenges from Republican-led states.

The Homeland Security and Justice Departments argued that surging numbers of migrants left them little choice. They anticipate illegal crossings to climb to between 11,000 and 13,000 a day if no action is taken after Title 42 ends; that's even higher than the 8,600 daily crossings in mid-December as anticipation spread among migrants and smugglers that Title 42 was about to end. At the last minute the Supreme Court kept it in place.

SEE MORE: Online system to seek asylum in US is quickly overwhelmed

The proposed rule establishes “a rebuttable presumption of asylum ineligibility” for anyone who passes through another country to reach the U.S. border with Mexico without first seeking protection there, according to a notice in the Federal Register. Exceptions will be made for people with an “acute medical emergency,” “imminent and extreme threat” of violent crimes such as murder, rape or kidnapping, being a victim of human trafficking or “other extremely compelling circumstances.” Children traveling alone will also be exempted, according to the rule.

The rule largely calls on prospective migrants to follow legal pathways to apply for asylum such as using the CBP One app, through which prospective migrants can schedule an appointment to apply to appear at a border entry point to apply for asylum. The administration portrayed these efforts as a way to protect migrants from the dangerous journeys as they travel north to the U.S. and allow the U.S. border entry points to manage the migrant flows in a “safe and efficient manner.” But critics have said the app has been beset by technical problems and its not clear how many appointments are available every day.

U.S. officials insist the measure proposed Tuesday is different from Trump's, largely because there is room for exemptions and because the Biden administration has made other legal pathways available, particularly humanitarian parole for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Ukrainians.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and we are a nation of laws. We are strengthening the availability of legal, orderly pathways for migrants to come to the United States, at the same time proposing new consequences on those who fail to use processes made available to them by the United States and its regional partners,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The rule was first mentioned in early January as part of a wider announcement by the administration to let in 30,000 migrants a month from four countries — Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua — provided they apply to come to the U.S. and don't just arrive at the border. In the ensuing weeks, the administration said migrant encounters from those countries plummeted, and they've hailed it as a model for dealing with immigration.

But immigration advocates have criticized attempts to limit asylum applications at the southern border, saying some migrants can't wait in their home country and noting that other countries don't have the same asylum protections as the U.S.

Four Democratic senators — Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Alex Padilla of California — said they were “deeply disappointed” the administration was moving forward with the rule and urged it to reconsider.

SEE MORE: Why are governors busing migrants?

“We have an obligation to protect vulnerable migrants under domestic and international law and should not leave vulnerable migrants stranded in countries unable to protect them," the senators' statement read.

Anu Joshi of the American Civil Liberties Union, which litigated many of the challenges to Trump's immigration restrictions, sharply criticized the rule, saying it was simply revisiting Trump's asylum ban.

The new rule comes as President Joe Biden is facing a Republican-controlled House determined to make immigration a key issue as they attempt to portray the southern border as out of control.

For asylum seekers traveling north through Central America and Mexico to the U.S. border, Costa Rica and Mexico have the most robust asylum systems. Both countries, however, have been overwhelmed by the surging number of asylum applications in recent years.

Costa Rica, a country of only 5 million residents, trailed only the United States, Germany and Mexico in the number of asylum applications it received in 2021. In December, President Rodrigo Chaves decreed changes to the asylum system, alleging that it was being abused by economic migrants.

Most of those seeking asylum in Costa Rica in recent years are Nicaraguans fleeing repression in that country. In 2012, Costa Rica received barely 900 asylum applications. Last year, the total was around 80,000.

That has created a tremendous backlog and lengthened the process, something that led more Nicaraguans to look north to the United States last year.

Mexico has been facing increased asylum applications for years and last year received 118,478, mostly from Honduras, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. Many migrants had used the asylum system to legally cross Mexico while in process and then to try to enter the U.S.

Other countries along the migrant route north have very limited capacity for receiving asylum seekers.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Winter is a great time to get more sleep

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 18:07

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Sleep — it's something most American adults don't get enough of. Less than a third of Americans are getting those zzz's and achieving restorative sleep.     

A new study out of Germany found that while humans technically don't hibernate in the cold months, we do something else — we sleep longer. Researchers found for most people, REM sleep is 30 minutes longer in the wintertime than any other season.  

"One has heard over the years that people do sleep more in the winter," said University of Pennsylvania Director of Chronobiology and Sleep Institute Amita Sehgal. "And I don't think it's because they have more sleep need. I think it's that they have more sleep opportunity."

SEE MORE: Studies show most Americans are sleep deprived

The sleep expert says we're sleeping more in the winter time because we're catching up from sleep deprivation during warmer months. The sunlight, great weather and fun activities during the summer are distracting us from that much-needed beauty rest. 

"By all means, sleep as much as you can in the winter," Sehgal continued. "Catch up on all the sleep you've lost, but try to do that in the summer as well."

A study by mattress company Zoma found Americans were ranked 14th when it comes to sleep time compared to the other 36 countries it examined.  

SEE MORE: Getting less than five hours of sleep raises risk of chronic diseases

SCRIPPS NEWS' CAT SANDOVAL: Some would argue that because of this new study/studies, maybe schools, societies or work should time things a little bit better for the average person. Thoughts?   

AMITA SEHGAL: So we've been saying that for years ...  The school time is way, way too early for high schoolers because adolescents are always delayed in their circadian rhythms. So, they have a tendency to stay up late, or at night go to bed late. And so, for them to be going to school so early, they are losing a lot of sleep ... Sleep is not dispensable. People seem to think that that's the one thing they can cut out of their lives and be more productive. But it is going to affect your function. It's going to affect your health.  

Archaeologists discover 5,000-year-old tavern with food still in bowl

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 18:05

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Archaeologists recently made a remarkable discovery in the ancient city-state of Lagash, Iraq. The team of archaeologists from the U.S. and Italy uncovered the remains of a tavern 19 inches below the surface. The find dates back to around 5,000 years ago, which could mean that the site has the oldest bar ever discovered.

"It's a public eating space dating to somewhere around 2700 BCE," Holly Pittman, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania's History of Art department and the Lagash project director, told the college's Penn Today. "It's partially open air, partially kitchen area."

Amazingly, the team discovered that many of the ancient vessels they uncovered at the tavern contained leftover food.

Pittman told the Washington Post it's the earliest public eatery they were aware of in southern Mesopotamia's first cities.

Lagash was the capital and religious center of a state of the same name, estimated to have a population of around 50,000 people. Archaeological digs over the past few decades have revealed that Lagash was an important manufacturing hub producing many ceramics and other commodities. (The photo below shows pits that held clay for making ceramics, according to Penn Today.)

The archaeological team discovered an industrial-sized oven, a moisture-wicking ancient "fridge" and dozens of conical bowls at the site. According to one archaeologist, the oven is particularly remarkable.

SEE MORE: Oldest DNA reveals life in Greenland 2 million years ago

"I think the first feature to show itself was this very large oven and it's actually beautiful," Reed Goodman, an archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. "From various burning episodes and deposits of ash it left a sort of rainbow coloration in the soils and the interior is framed by these big bricks."

The courtyard was believed to be used as an outdoor dining area, evidenced by the many fish remains found in the conical bowls.

"We're trying to find out now through lipid analysis what was in the bowls or the jars," Pittman told the Washington Post. "But it looks like this was kind of a McDonald's with prepared food for fast service."

SEE MORE: Norway archaeologists find 'world's oldest runestone'

The discovery is significant because it provides insight into how people lived in this ancient city-state. It shows that even thousands of years ago, people enjoyed gathering together in public places to socialize and enjoy food and drink.

This find is part of a larger excavation project at Lagash, which has yielded many exciting discoveries related to daily life in Sumerian times. The team hopes to continue their work at the site to uncover more secrets about this fascinating period in history.

The dishes left untouched at the tavern suggest that something sudden and dramatic, like a natural disaster, might have occurred.

Originally published by Tricia Goss on

10 Palestinians killed, scores hurt in Israel West Bank raid

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 17:31

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Israeli troops on Wednesday entered a major Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank in a rare, daytime arrest operation, triggering fighting that killed at least 10 Palestinians and wounded scores of others.

The raid, which reduced a building to rubble and left a series of shops riddled with bullets, was one of the bloodiest battles in nearly a year of fighting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. A 72-year-old man was among the dead, and 102 people were wounded, Palestinian officials said.

The brazen raid, coupled with the high death toll, raised the prospect of further bloodshed. A similar raid last month was followed by a deadly Palestinian attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue, and the Hamas militant group warned that “its patience is running out.”

In a move that could further raise tensions, Israel's West Bank settler organization said that Israeli officials had approved construction of nearly 2,000 new homes in West Bank settlements. The Israeli government did not immediately confirm the decision, which came just two days after the U.N. Security Council approved a watered-down statement opposing settlement construction.

The Israeli military said it entered Nablus on Wednesday to arrest three wanted militants suspected in previous shooting attacks in the West Bank, including the killing of an Israeli soldier last fall.

SEE MORE: Israeli extremist group takes root in US with fundraising bid

The military usually conducts raids at night in what it says is a tactic meant to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. It said it took advantage of a rare window of opportunity after intelligence services tracked down the men in a hideout and warned they posed an imminent threat.

The army said it surrounded the building and asked the men to surrender, but instead they opened fire. When one of the militants tried to flee the building, he was shot and killed, said Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, a military spokesman. The military then fired missiles at the house, he added, leaving it in ruins and killing the other two men.

A recently formed armed group based in the Old City of Nablus called the Lion's Den, which has surged in prominence over the past months, confirmed the militants were its members.

During the raid, the military said armed men in the city “shot heavily toward the forces,” which responded with live fire. It said others hurled rocks and explosives at the troops. There were no Israeli casualties.

Time-stamped security footage widely shared online appeared to show two unarmed young men running down a street. Gunshots are heard, and both fall to the ground, with one’s hat flying off his head. Both bodies remained still.

Hecht called the video “problematic," and said the military was looking into it.

In the Old City of Nablus, people stared at the rubble that had been the large home in the centuries-old casbah. From one end to the other, shops were riddled with bullets. Parked cars were crushed. Blood stained the cement ruins. Furniture from the destroyed home was scattered among mounds of debris.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 102 people were wounded, and six of them were in critical condition. Various Palestinian militant groups claimed six of the dead — including the three from Lion's Den targeted in the raid — as members. But a 72-year-old man was also killed. There was no immediate word on whether the others belonged to armed groups.

Last month, Israeli troops killed 10 militants in a similar raid in the northern West Bank. The following day, a lone Palestinian gunman opened fire near a synagogue in an east Jerusalem settlement, killing seven people.

Days later, five Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli arrest raid elsewhere in the West Bank. That was followed by a Palestinian car ramming that killed three Israelis, including two young brothers, in Jerusalem.

The fighting comes at a sensitive time, less than two months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new hard-line government took office. The government is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for tougher action against Palestinian militants. Israeli media have quoted top security officials as expressing concern that this could lead to even more violence.

The Cabinet includes a number of West Bank settler leaders, one of whom has been promised authority over settlement construction.

SEE MORE: Israel's new government sparks concern for the future of its democracy

Yesha, the settlement council, announced that Israeli planning officials had granted approval to nearly 2,000 new homes in settlements across the West Bank. The defense body that grants the approvals, the Civil Administration, said the meeting was still underway Wednesday and that an announcement would only be issued on Thursday, after the two-day session is over.

The Palestinians and most of the international community say settlements built on occupied lands are illegal and obstacles to peace. Over 700,000 settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

The Israeli decision comes in the wake of the U.N. presidential statement that strongly criticized settlements. The U.S. blocked what would have been a legally binding council resolution.

American diplomats claimed to have extracted an Israeli pledge to halt unilateral action in order to block the resolution. The approval of new settlements by Israel would appear to defy that claim.

In the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group issued a veiled threat following the Nablus raid.

“The resistance in Gaza is observing the enemy’s escalating crimes against our people in the occupied West Bank, and its patience is running out,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the group.

Hamas has battled Israel in four wars since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, and Israeli officials have expressed concerns about rising tensions ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in the second half of March.

At least 55 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem this year, a pace that could exceed last year's death toll. Last year, nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to figures by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Israel says that most of those killed have been militants but others — including youths protesting the incursions and other people not involved in confrontations — have also been killed. An AP tally has found that just under half of those killed belonged to militant groups.

Israel says the military raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks while the Palestinians view them as further entrenchment of Israel’s open-ended, 55-year occupation.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, territories the Palestinians seek for their hoped-for independent state.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

In the 'collegiest' town, there are more schools than traffic lights

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 17:28

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At an intersection with Main Street in rural Alfred, New York, sits the sole traffic stop light. 

In this small town of 4,500, there are more colleges than stop lights.“You can drive right through and miss it,” said Mark Danes, vice president of marketing and communications at Alfred University.

Alfred University is one of two colleges in town, the other is Alfred State, part of the State University of New York system. 

Now, the town has earned a most unlikely distinction: named the "Collegiest town in America" in a data project by the Washington Post, as students make up 85% of the town’s population. 

Alfred is a small town where everyone knows your name.“I go running every morning around the campus area and over 70% of the people I encounter either in the village or campus says hello,” said Mark Zupan, president of the private Alfred University.

SEE MORE: These 8 US universities produced the most multi-millionaires

The methodology

When people think of a college town, Boston invariably comes to mind. After all, there are more than 30 higher education institutions from Ivy League to community college in the vicinity. But the data team at the Washington Post noted that even with the removal of a college or two in Boston, there would still be pricey real estate along the Charles River. 

Not so in Alfred where the two colleges are the life of the rural town.It's that intimate experience that sets Alfred apart, Zupan said.He often travels for his work and when he meets people who graduated from the college. 

They share stories of how professors or staff that took interest in them and changed their life trajectories, Zupan explained.Set amid rolling hills, Alfred evokes natural beauty. The closest decent-sized city is a 20 minute drive to Bath, New York. 

The two colleges are across from each other, separated by a Main Street.

Student life

What is there to do in Alfred if you’re a student? “We party,” said Alfred State sophomore Jennifer Meo, 22.

There’s not much in the small town, but you forge close friendships with your classmates, she said. Meo transferred from the Ivy League Cornell University in Ithaca to study architecture at Alfred State and enjoys the camaraderie of her new college. 

She is from the small town of Oneonta in New York and understands the rural aspects of living. 

“During the summer and winter, everyone just pops off,” Meo said of Alfred, leaving the town desolate. Danes recently moved to Alfred and enjoys life there.

“The people are just so hospitable,” he said. “It’s a calm place to live.”

SEE MORE: Why is college enrollment dropping?

The future of rural college towns

Rural New York and Ohio are prime locations for college towns as there are small towns that entirely revolve around those colleges, according to data. 

The No. 2 overall college town is Prairie View, Texas, which is home to Prairie View A&M. The student body there makes up 72% of the population of 6,200, according to the Washington Post. 

It is also the number one Black college town in the country. The pandemic shutdown was a challenging time for the Alfred colleges, Zupan said. But it brought the community together.

“We are meeting regularly to identify the best next strategic steps to strengthen our village,” Zupan said.

Asbury University's marathon worship service gains national attention

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 16:50

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This massive worship service has been going on at Kentucky’s Asbury University for two weeks.    

It began on February eighth as a normal church service.    

University leaders and students say after the gospel choir sang at the end of the service, some students just stayed in the chapel. 

Word about the marathon service quickly spread when worshipers shared videos on TikTok and Instagram.    

Spurred by the posts, tens of thousands of people from around the country came to attend what many of the participants are calling a revival. 

Even former Vice President Mike Pence tweeted about it, saying he was “deeply moved” that “The Lord is at work at Asbury and Lives will be Changed Forever.” 

In some Christian denominations, revivals are meetings where people experience or lead a revival of spiritual energy.    

SEE MORE: Why are fewer Americans religious?

Here in America, they date to the 1740s. 

Two hundred years later, religious leaders like Oral Roberts and Billy Graham used revivals or “crusades” to expand their reach to the faithful.

Historically, colleges have been prime locations for revivals, and this is the latest in a series of them at Asbury.    

In recent years revivals have been associated with political activism and Christian nationalism. 

And as the crowds at Asbury grew, online skeptics questioned the lack of diversity in the crowd, whether there is inclusion for gay people and whether religious and political messages will merge

The University’s president says the outpouring of prayer is unlike anything he’s seen in his life.

The number of worshipers eventually overwhelmed the school and public worship services have been moved off campus. 

Venice canals nearly run dry as Italy set to face drought conditions

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 16:39

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Venice, Italy, is a city known for its enchanting canals that create paths where boats and traditional gondolas glide across the waterways, using them for transportation throughout the city. 

Now, after weeks of dry weather, officials are worried after some of the canals have nearly dried up.

Scientists and environmental groups fear that Italy could soon face another drought after last summer's lack of rain brought harsh, dry conditions to the country.

Venice is usually more worried about flooding issues than a lack of water, but low tides and a lack of rain is making it impossible in some areas for watercraft to navigate, including the city's ambulance boats.

SEE MORE: Climate change is already forcing communities to relocate

The low water levels are likely to affect tourism in a city where one of the main draws for tourists are the canals and the experience of traveling on them. 

Reuters reported that Italy's longest river, the Po, which stretches from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea, now has around 61% less water than usual for this time of year.

Massimiliano Pasqui of the Italian National Research Council said, “We are in a water deficit situation that has been building up since the winter of 2020-2021,” Corriere della Sera reported.

Jury forewoman in Georgia 2020 election probe speaks out

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 16:37

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It's a probe that has taken on many forms over the past two years, sparked by a January 2021 phone call made by former President Trump to Georgia's secretary of state. The probe has been followed by several key developments, including a slate of Republican fake electors and continued claims of widespread voter fraud. 

Now — less than a week after Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney released nine pages of the special grand jury's report — jury forewoman Emily Kohrs is speaking out. 

While Kohrs declined to mention names, The New York Times reports when asked if the list included the former president, Kohrs said, "You're not going to be shocked. The answer is not rocket science." 

One section of the report, which has been made public, details the special grand jury's belief that "one or more" of the 75 witnesses they heard from lied under oath. 

SEE MORE: Trump election probe grand jury believes some witnesses lied

The special grand jury recommended that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis consider seeking indictments against several unnamed witnesses on charges of perjury. 

Some high-profile witnesses who testified include Trump's former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former White House Chief of Staff Mark MeadowsGeorgia's governor, Georgia's secretary of state and several state lawmakers. 

The grand jury also wrote, "We find by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning the results."

It contradicts what the former president and several of his allies have claimed, despite a lack of evidence. 

Kohrs told The Associated Press that the grand jury wanted to hear from the former president, but didn't believe he would offer meaningful testimony. 

Trump's attorneys were not present. They also note he was not subpoenaed or asked to voluntarily come in and testify.

FDA agrees to review Pfizer's RSV vaccine for pregnant individuals

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 16:17

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Babies may soon get protection from RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus

The Food and Drug Administration has accepted an application from Pfizer to review its RSV vaccine for pregnant individuals. 

“If approved, RSVpreF would help protect infants at their first breath from the devastating effects of this infectious disease, which though well-known, has been particularly evident throughout this RSV season,” said Annaliesa Anderson, chief scientific officer of vaccine research and development for Pfizer.

SEE MORE: Why isn't there an RSV vaccine?

Pfizer says a large international study found vaccinating moms-to-be was nearly 82% effective at preventing severe cases of RSV in their babies’ most vulnerable first 90 days of life. At age 6 months, the vaccine still was proving 69% effective against serious illness — and there were no signs of safety problems in mothers or babies.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent RSV, which can be serious and even life-threatening for very young children. 

In the U.S., about 58,000 children younger than 5 are hospitalized for RSV each year and several hundred die from the virus. 

The FDA is expected to make a determination by August. If approved, this would be the first vaccine for pregnant individuals to protect against RSV. 

In Poland, Biden reassures allies that US will defend NATO territory

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 15:02

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Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden is in Poland Wednesday reassuring eastern European allies that the U.S. will defend its NATO partners against any Russian aggression.

"Democracies of the world will stand guard over freedom today, tomorrow and forever," he said during a speech in Warsaw. "That's what's at stake here. Freedom."

President Biden also announced the U.S. would host next year's NATO summit, declaring it "the strongest defensive alliance in the world."

He and Polish President Andrzej Duda are meeting Wednesday with the Bucharest 9 — a group of other leaders from NATO's eastern flank nations.

SEE MORE: President Biden's visit to Ukraine required careful, quiet planning

Those leaders say they want to see some movement from the White House on new plans to shore up security in that region.

"Baltic countries are exposed to the direct threats from Belarus and from Russia," Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said. "So, this is the reason we expect some positive signals regarding our security."

White House officials say the president will use the meeting to reaffirm commitments the U.S. and other NATO allies made to defend NATO's eastern flank.

Parts of northern US shut down ahead of winter storm

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 13:21

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States in the northern plains are largely shutting down ahead of a massive winter storm that could dump up to 2 feet of snow in some areas, accompanied by strong winds and dangerously cold temperatures.

Many schools throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin were called off for Wednesday, ahead of the storm. Offices closed, and so did the Minnesota Legislature, which won't reconvene until Monday. Emergency management leaders warned people to stay off the roads or face potential “whiteout” conditions due to the snow and fierce winds.

The storm will make its way toward the East Coast later in the week. Places that don't get snow may get dangerous amounts of ice. Forecasters expect up to a half-inch of ice in some areas of southern Michigan, northern Illinois and some eastern states.

The snowfall could be historic, even in a region accustomed to heavy snow. As much as 25 inches may pile up, with the heaviest amounts falling across east-central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said. Wind gusts could reach 50 mph and wind chills are expected to hit minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area could see 2 feet of snow or more for the first time in over 30 years.

SEE MORE: What extreme cold does to your house and the things in it

The weather service said the blizzard will actually involve two rounds. For the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the first blast arrives Wednesday afternoon with up to 7 inches of snow. Round two starting later Wednesday and extending into Thursday is the real whopper, “with an additional 10 to 20 inches expected.”

Weather service meteorologist Frank Pereira said the system was expected to affect about 43 million Americans.

Temperatures could plunge to minus 15 to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday and to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wind chills may fall to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, said Nathan Rick, a meteorologist in Grand Forks.

Wind gusts of 35 mph will be common in western and central Minnesota, with some reaching 50 mph. That will result in “significant blowing and drifting snow with whiteout conditions in open areas,” the weather service said.

According to the weather service, the biggest snow event on record in the Twin Cities was 28.4 inches from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, 1991 — known as the Halloween Blizzard. The second-largest was 21.1 inches of snow from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, 1985. The Twin Cities got 20 inches of snow on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, 1982.

SEE MORE: Climate change making the homeless population even more vulnerable

Forecasters at AccuWeather said the same storm system could result in icing across a 1,300-mile band from near Omaha, Nebraska, to New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday, creating potential travel hazards in or near cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.

As the northern U.S. deals with a winter blast, record warmth is expected in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast — 30 degrees to 40 degrees above normal in some places. Record highs are expected from Baltimore to New Orleans and in much of Florida, Pereira said.

Washington, D.C., could hit 80 degrees on Thursday, which would top the record of 78 degrees set in 1874.

California was also preparing for the latest in a series of winter storms as winds that began blowing Tuesday brought the potential for rain, snow and hail for much of the state. A “major snow event” was possible in foothills and mountains near Los Angeles, with several inches predicted even for elevations as low as 1,000 feet, the National Weather Service said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

The Ukrainian army is now training in the UK

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 02:04

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"Relevant and realistic" is how the British Army describes training, as they do all they can to get Ukrainian recruits ready for the front line. 

A trench warfare section of their training course was added in as the Russian advance stalled, and trenches became part of the conflict. 

Corporal Carter is one of more than a thousand members of the British Army helping with the training. The latest batch of recruits he’s working with are halfway through their intensive five-week course. They arrive as civilians — and they leave as soldiers. 

"Train hard to fight easy" is the motto around there. 

And nobody is under any illusions about what’s at stake and the absolute need to be combat ready. 

"From where they’ve started to where they are now they’ve come leaps and bounds," said Corporal Carter, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. "I’ve got no doubt in my mind that when they leave here, they’ll be good to go. We’re teaching them the basics to be a frontline soldier to give them the ability to survive, and win. It’s inspiring for me as well, because they’ve come from Ukraine to here, and in such a short time to be able to push off and do what they’re going to do is unreal. To me, I’ve got much admiration for them as well."

SEE MORE: Ukrainians adjust to US life, a year into war

Much older than those normally entering the army, the majority of these recruits are soldiers of necessity. 

From a diverse range of backgrounds, they’re united by their nationality and a desire to protect their homeland. 

Artem is from Odessa. The southern Ukrainian city was bombed on the first day of the Russian invasion. Since then, dozens there have died, the youngest a three-month-old girl. 

Artem used to work for a company dealing with supplies and logistics, but he’s now learning how to survive on the battlefield. 

"No one knows where we’ll be sent, but we are all ready to go. No matter where that is. To the south of Ukraine, or East. We’ll be there to liberate our country, it’s our purpose," Artem said. 

More than half a dozen countries are involved in this training program. 

While some nations are holding back their military aid or training to Ukraine, the UK and partner nations here are doubling down. They’ve already trained 10,000 Ukrainian recruits, and want to train another 20,000 by the end of the year.

Some of the fiercest fighting since the invasion began is now taking place in Eastern Ukraine. 

In just a few weeks, these recruits have gone from civilians to soldiers  and could soon be on the front line. 

New clinic dedicated to treating East Palestine residents opens

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 02:04

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A new clinic dedicated to treating people worried about the lasting effects of the East Palestine trail derailment has opened, with evaluation rooms in a church as well as a mobile medical unit outside.

The clinic got a visit from three VIPs Tuesday morning: the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator.  

The governors and EPA chief visited homes in East Palestine. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine even took a drink from the city-supplied tap water to show that it is safe to drink and to show confidence in the federal and state agencies conducting the tests.

They held a news conference to detail the order the EPA just invoked on Norfolk Southern. Here's what it entails:

- It officially and legally binds the company to clean up all contaminants and safely transport them out of the town.  

- The rail company will pay the EPA back for cleaning services it and state authorities will do in the disaster zone.  

- Norfolk Southern also must participate in public meetings when the EPA asks, and the agency will review the company’s cleanup plans. If it fails to comply, Norfolk Southern is on the hook for triple the cost of the damages that the EPA pays to clean up.  

"But let me be also crystal clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess that they created and trauma they inflicted on this community and impacted Beaver County residents," said Michael Regan, the EPA administrator.  

SEE MORE: EPA orders Norfolk Southern to clean up after East Palestine crash

Both governors, a Republican and Democrat, say the cleanup and holding Norfolk Southern accountable is a bipartisan effort and that petty politics won’t fix people’s problems.  

"The concerns are long-term concerns. As I talked to people today, it wasn’t just 'I’m concerned about this today.' But the concern was how is it gonna be in a year, how’s my water gonna be in a year, how’s it gonna be in two years," DeWine said.   

Scripps News asked both governors if the rail company executives have done anything to inspire their confidence.  

SCRIPPS NEWS' JOHN MONE: Gov. Shapiro, you’ve been pretty clear. You characterized Norfolk Southern’s response as inadequate. This is a question for both of you: Have the executives of the company said anything going forward that leads you to believe that they will abide and not have to be compelled to do the right thing?

GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO: I think the fact that administrator Regan has used his authority under CERCLA to hold them accountable and make them pay demonstrates some real leadership by the federal government. It is my view that Norfolk Southern wasn’t going to do this out of the goodness of their own heart. There’s not a lot of goodness in there. They needed to be compelled to act, and that’s exactly what administrator Regan and the federal government combined with the authorities in both Ohio and Pennsylvania are taking steps to do, and that is to hold them accountable.

Why Young Thug's popularity is making his court case so complex

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 02:02

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There's no end in sight for the high-profile racketeering case against rapper Young Thug, as the jury selection for the trial is expected to last several more months.

The Fulton County, Georgia chief judge said earlier this month that around 1,200 jurors will be summoned over the next couple weeks with the goal of finding 12 trial jurors and six alternates.

Young Thug is best known for co-writing the Grammys' 2019 song of the year, "This is America." But last spring, the 31-year-old was charged — and remains behind bars — for co-founding the criminal street gang Young Slime Life, better known as YSL. 

There are several reasons for the lengthy jury selection, including: Young Thug's fame, the controversy surrounding the musician's song lyrics as evidence, and the length of the trial itself.

Experts like former judge and Court TV host Ashley Wilcott told Scripps News the trial could take six to nine months.

Many potential jurors in the Atlanta area, especially those with families, have told the court they would be unable to take time off work for the trial.

Experts worry that because of those financial and professional concerns, the jury will comprise mainly of wealthy or retired people. One jury consultant told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "That would not be a jury of anyone's peers."

Witnesses for the high-profile trial include music executives and fellow rappers like Killa Mike.

Young Thug is one of 28 defendants, and some — including rapper and YSL member Gunna — were released from jail after pleading guilty.

SEE MORE: California restricts use of rap lyrics as evidence in court

Is hip-hop music on trial? Here's why so many rappers end up in court

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 02:00

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This year marks 50 years since hip-hop began, and today, one element of the genre seems to be on trial.

In recent years, many rappers — both mainstream artists and those in their mixtape era — are finding themselves in U.S. courtrooms being questioned over their lyrics, which prosecutors say are actual evidence of their crimes.

This isn't a new problem, and cases like this have been popping up for years.

Back in 2000, McKinley Phipps Jr., better known as Mac, was a rising star in Louisiana. That was before he was arrested for murder and sentenced to 30 years for a crime someone else confessed to. He was 22 years old, and the evidence against him was not physical; it was his own music. A song called "Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill" got the rapper a 30-year sentence. He was released on parole in 2021 after serving 21 years.

In 2017, Tommy Munsdwell Canady was just 17 years old when he was sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors in Wisconsin used lyrics from his 2014 song "I'm Out Here" to convict him of a murder that they said he alluded to on the track. Canady's defense pointed out the differences between the song and the crime, and the court even acknowledged them, on top of lacking proper physical evidence. But it was still enough to put him away. 

Emerging artists aren't the only ones affected. Most recently, rapper Young Thug's lyrics came up in court in a RICO case along with rapper Gunna.

In the last 30 years, researchers tracked more than 500 reported cases of prosecutors using lyrics as evidence against rappers in the last 30 years, and they think that's a lowball impacting Black and Brown artists the most.

These cases have led many performers and fans to call for increased protection and make lyrics inadmissible in court.

Experts argue that violence and crimes referenced in rap are usually just creative expressions and do not indicate a direct tie to crime.

"There's something in the Black neighborhood called the Dozens, where you try to make jokes about each other," said Prince Charles Alexander, a record producer. "That carried over into the rap tradition into what we call ciphers. When you're doing a rap cipher, you're actually rapping without music, so that braggadocio is not always true. Very often it is false hyperbole that's actually blowing something up and making more of it than what it actually is, and that's where the gray line is."

Alexander is a three-time Grammy award winning record producer and audio engineer whose resumé includes working alongside Mary J. Blige, Destiny's Child, Diddy, Biggie and Aretha Franklin. He's also a professor at the Berklee School of Music and spoke with Scripps News about what inspires the violence in rap music — a characteristic he says isn't unique to rap or even music overall.

SEE MORE: California restricts use of rap lyrics as evidence in court

"When you look at any of the art forms that are trying to mirror the pathos of the human condition, you could draw any inference that you want from it," Alexander said. "Unfortunately because we live in a society that has been targeting the Black male for so long, the entertainment value of the violence in hip-hop is not taken as entertainment; it is taken as a problem."

Many say there are criminal elements that get mixed up with rap artists, but it's not unique to rap, according to journalist and author William McKeen.

"When people today talk about popular artists in the marketplace who have associations with criminals: Welcome to the club. It's nothing new. It's been going on the whole time," McKeen said.

McKeen literally wrote the book on this. It's called "Everybody Had an Ocean" and dives into criminal elements and acts during the 60s rock and roll scene, like the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr., the murder of Bobby Fuller and even the presence and influence of the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. Given the connection McKeen establishes between crime and the so-called era of peaceful music, Scripps News asked him about today's landscape for rappers.

"I think a lot of the attacks today might be because of the the racial element of it," McKeen said. "I think that part of this might also be a misunderstanding of songwriting. I think a lot of songwriting is done in character. It's almost like you're writing a miniature screenplay."

But the way the law is set up right now, a miniature screenplay or any other form of art could end up in court.

"It can be a drawing, it can be a tattoo, it can be a non rap song, a painting, different forms," attorney Daniel Rozansky said. 

Rozansky, a partner at the firm Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, has defended musicians like Jay-Z in court and spoke with Scripps News about how California — one of the only states to directly address this problem — changed its laws last year to protect artists. He says it's all about considering the overall context. 

"So if somebody rapped about something years prior, that's likely not likely associated with actual criminal behavior that happens five years later," Rozansky said. "If somebody raps about hitting somebody with a car, but now they're being accused of shooting someone, that's going to be of minimal probative value because there's no similarity in the crimes."

Rozansky said the role of a judge as a gatekeeper of the evidence takes on a lot of value in these cases, and the bigger picture — separating the art from the artist — is something they have to consider.

"The court will look at credible testimony on the genre of creative expression as to the social or cultural context rules, conventions and artistic techniques of the expression," Rozansky said.

SEE MORE: Hip-hop history: Dropping the beat on AAPI artists

On the federal level, there's been some attempts to protect artists. The Restoring Artist Protections Act, or RAP Act, was introduced last year. It aimed to change the federal rules of evidence to allow for greater consideration of artistic expression.

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman is one of the sponsors of the bill, which technically expired when the new Congress was sworn in this January. But Bowman told Scripps News he plans to reintroduce legislation to tackle what he calls a First Amendment problem.

"Rap is an art form, whether people want to believe it to be or not," Bowman said. "We don't want to make a prosecutor's job harder than what it is. I mean, they have to do a job. If there's evidence to support the job that they're doing, that's fine. We have no problem with that. But there are rogue prosecutors looking to target target this particular genre and in particular people, and all they're using are rap lyrics. That is unacceptable."

Obviously rap can't be every person's cup of tea, and the harshest critics associate it with violence and immorality. But rap is not one thing; it's music by the layers, all different flavors, including some like holy rap. Violent or "gangsta rap" is just one aspect of the genre, which some music industry leaders have tried to grapple with in the past.

The recent CNN documentary about Dionne Warwick's life showed how the iconic singer once reportedly invited rappers like Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight to her home at 7 a.m. sharp to host an intervention about their violent and sexist lyrics. Snoop admitted that had an impact, and he felt "outgangstered" by Warwick and inspired to change his then upcoming album "The Doggfather."

Experts like Alexander say the industry needs more leaders to speak up because, without it, the music will simply follow the money. Edgy references to violence, alleged crimes or criminal intentions — especially between rappers — can increase sales. Artists who are looking to make it in the industry aren't likely to deviate from that trend. 

"Then you give that culture money from the mass distribution of music products, and it just starts to exacerbate itself and become more and more visible, more viable," Alexander said. "It seems as if it's a reflection of a culture when it's actually the reflection of a sliver of a culture."

Inside the secret tank repair battalion near Ukraine's front lines

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 01:32

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Ukraine's stop gap strategy is simple: Fix the armored vehicles you've got, and get them back into battle.

It takes a lot of work to keep Soviet-era workhorses of Ukraine's armored divisions in the fight.

"They are old; it's no secret," says Roman Batsenko. "They need repair and good handling."

Batsenko is a gunner with the Ukraine army's 3rd Tank unit, known as the Iron Brigade. His call-sign is "Lion" because...

"I was born in August," he said. "I also have a lion tattoo from before the war, and, well, it's my character."

Before the war, Lion worked for 15 years for the railway. Now, after a year of fighting, tanks are his identity.

"The tank is primarily needed for the infantry," he said. "Cover, deliver, evacuate the infantry. Tanks are necessary, and the more the better."

Major tank battles with the Russians loom, while the location of Ukraine's tanks — even while under repair — is top secret.

The coming weeks of the war while the ground is still frozen will likely be a game of tanks and, for Ukraine, a game of waiting for better, faster, safer western tanks to arrive, including British Challengers, German Leopards and American M1 Abrams models.

The tanks Ukraine is currently using are different than ones coming from NATO countries.

"They were produced in the USSR, and there were problems with safety," Lion said. "Our ammunition is under us."

SEE MORE: Ukraine: Impacts of Invasion

But Lion won't be upgrading to a Leopard. He'll stick to his T-72B, battle-scarred and tested.

"We had a fight. Our tank was hit seven times, but we held on," Lion said, recalling a battle in a village in the Kharkiv region a few months ago. "But when a mine flew into the engine, the tank caught fire. I pulled the commander and mechanic out of the tank. I saved their lives, and we walked back. But before that, I managed to destroy three enemy tanks and several armored vehicles. Such a beautiful story with a beautiful ending."

For his valor, his commander presented him with a Ukrainian medal of courage.

Lion says being in a tank battle with Russians is all about their mentality.

"The battle itself is going on 10 to 15 minutes," he said. "The main thing is to be focused, trust each other, and then everything will be fine."

He says they also need to trust their tank — that it won't break down in battle. For that, there is an entire battalion of the Iron Brigade devoted to repairs. Olersandr Dereka is the commander.

"We already had this tank under repair. We sent it a couple of days ago, and it broke down again," Dereka said.

Dereka allowed Scripps News a point of view from the driver's seat, to take in how old the controls are, the small window size and how tight the confines are. The two other crew members, the gunner and the tank's commander, also work in coffin-like conditions.

Dereka says he feels responsible for the people who use the tanks.

"We know all the mechanics, drivers, crews we serve," Dereka said.

And the Russian offensive is making the job even harder and more dangerous.

"There is always danger," Lion said. "We came here and are working to destroy the Russians, to free ourselves from the invaders. This is our job. We protect our motherland. In this war, it's always dangerous."

And with that, Lion was already headed back to the front line.

SEE MORE: Citizen war crimes investigator in Ukraine risks life for justice

Mardi Gras celebrations are in full swing in New Orleans

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 00:58

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On Mardi Gras morning, bands march down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, blowing their best tunes as crowds looked for beads, stuffed animals and balloons. 

When it comes to coveted throws off the float, many adults in the crowd want the traditional Zulu coconut, but the kids usually have different ideas.

Mardi Gras day is when the kings of carnival hit the streets — namely Zulu and Rex. 

It’s a sign that the Mardi Gras season is winding down. It’s also a good time to reflect on the past season — be it good, bad or ugly. 

Simone Abegunrin says her family invited her down this year. It’s her first Mardi Gras.

"This is something I’ve been wanting to do my entire life. Both of my parents went to HBCUs in Louisiana. They got to go and parade and get all the coconut and everything. And in LA, our marching bands aren't as good. So I wanted to see the real culture," Abegunrin said. 

Several incidents on the parade route near St. Charles Avenue sent officers swarming. But they were quickly able to get those issues under wraps.  

Some say this reminded them of Sunday, when a shooting along the usually family friendly St. Charles Avenue during the Bacchus parade left a teen dead and four others wounded, including a 4 year old.  

"Growing up in LA, and I traveled and stuff — life is gonna happen. So what I love is seeing everybody come back together. There’s people united. People try to watch out for each other, and I thought it was beautiful for the city to make sure that it kept going and didn’t let the violence win," Abegunrin said. 

Most of the fun may be over for this year, but now it’s time to look toward the future.

SEE MORE: Mardi Gras traditions date back centuries

Federal government forced to intervene in Colorado River water dispute

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 00:54

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The water dispute between states is heating up after California could not come to an agreement with six other Colorado River Basin states about how to cut down on water needed from the Colorado River.

The seven Colorado River Basin states are Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. About 100 years ago, they negotiated how much water each state would get.

Richard Frank is a director with the California Environmental Law and Policy Center. He says the Basin states were asked by the federal government to come up with a new agreement considering historic low water levels.

"Unfortunately, those negotiations have not gone well," Frank said.

He says the federal government gave Colorado Basin states a Jan. 31 deadline to come up with a plan to reduce water usage by 3 million to 4 million acre-feet per year. On average, Frank says the Colorado River gets 10 million to 13 million-acre feet per year through snowfall.

"Six Colorado Basin states other than California did come up with an agreement," Frank said. "But that agreement largely provided that the major share of those cuts should be allocated to California."

SEE MORE: More water cuts in the future for Arizona, threatening agriculture

Frank says California currently draws the most water from the river at 4.4 million acre-feet. That's close to the amount the Biden administration is asking states to reduce.

While six of the Basin states wanted California to make the most cuts, California didn't agree. The Golden State came back arguing the other six states should collectively share most of the burden of reductions because of its role in U.S. agriculture.

Now it's going to be up to the federal government to decide how states will allocate the water. It's a role Frank says the feds hoped they didn't need to play. The Bureau of Reclamation will likely issue its decision in the spring.

This has left many farmers worried about what cuts could mean for people's livelihood. David Kreamer is a hydrologist at University of Nevada Las Vegas.

"90% of the winter vegetables in the United States come from California," Kreamer said.

Both he and Frank agree some difficult decisions need to be made surrounding agriculture.

"A change in the crops we would use would probably help the system in many ways," Kreamer said.

Some are already rethinking how agriculture in the West is done.

"It may not make sense prospectively in an era of climate change to continue to grow cotton and alfalfa very thirsty crops in the desert," Frank said.

Other solutions include water conservation initiatives, water recycling and stormwater capture.

SEE MORE: Why is the US West experiencing a megadrought?

Remembering artist, activist Nina Simone on her birthday

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 00:53

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American singer-songwriter Nina Simone was born on Feb. 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina.

She was mostly known for her jazz, gospel, blues and pop sound, playing piano and mastering a classical repertory as well.

Into her career, she became involved in activism addressing racial justice issues in the United States.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture shared a quote from Simone which reads, "an artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

Simone attended the Juilliard School in New York, and she had applied to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was denied.

She performed in the 1960s in New York's Greenwich Village where she got to know intellectuals of the time like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Simone became a cultural icon through her music and social justice work.

In 1991, Simone published an autobiography titled "I Put a Spell on You," named after her famous 1965 hit song.

In 2003, Simone died from complications with cancer at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France.

In 2008, Rolling Stone named Simone in their list of "100 Greatest Singers of All Time," and she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

SEE MORE: 10 annual festivals that celebrate Black history and culture