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Updated: 16 hours 23 min ago

Officials See Wave Of Rainbow-Colored Fentanyl Across 21 States

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 16:45

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl has been seized along the southwest border this year alone. Officials believe this year may surpass last fiscal year — and unlike in the past, officers say some fentanyl trying to get past border checkpoints looks like Skittles or SweeTarts.

Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl — roughly 10 to 15 grains of table salt — is enough to kill.  

An overdose shook Shaunna Jacobs awake from her addiction to prescription pills — heroin and fentanyl. 

SEE MORE: Drug Sales Through Social Media Are Increasing

"I was all alone, everyone was asleep and I woke up all by myself and it really scared me," she said. 

Now four years clean, she's worried about "rainbow fentanyl," a trend on the rise that warranted a warning from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The DEA and law enforcement officers reported seizing the brightly colored fentanyl in at least 21 states.

"We consider it a deliberate effort by the traffickers to drive addiction amongst young kids and adults," DEA Special Agent Orville Greene said. 

Greene says he seized the first batch of rainbow fentanyl in mid-August. 

On the Arizona-Mexico border, Nogales Port of Entry Director Michael Humphries says in the last month they've confiscated at least five loads of rainbow fentanyl.

He worries the dangerous drug will land in the wrong hands.

"A younger child that doesn't know, that sees it on the nightstand of a parent or a brother or sister — it's very concerning," Humphries said. "They may think it's candy. "

Customs and Border Protection officers' K-9s and X-ray machines help track down the deadly drug at the southern border.

SEE MORE: Teen Drug Overdoses Climb, Deadly Fentanyl to Blame

Officers have found rainbow fentanyl on people, in various parts of vehicles, even in the air intake of a motorcycle. 

Officials say their biggest seizure at the Nogales Port of Entry was 47,000 rainbow fentanyl pills. 

The colorful drug comes in various shapes and sizes including pills, powder and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk — the product of the Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels. 

In 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. Sixty-six percent of those deaths were related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

"I share my story in hopes that people wouldn't have to go through what I did," Jacobs said. 

It's a life-altering lesson to potentially help save countless lives.

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

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 15:25

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Sharply lower prices for gas and cheaper used cars slowed U.S. inflation in August for a second straight month, though many other items rose in price, indicating that inflation remains a heavy burden for American households.

Consumer prices surged 8.3% in August compared with a year earlier, the government said Tuesday. Though still painfully high, that was down from an 8.5% jump in July and a four-decade high of 9.1% in June. On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.1%, after a flat reading in July.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices jumped 0.6% from July to August, higher than many economists had expected and a sign of inflation's persistence.

SEE MORE: How The Federal Reserve's Rate Hikes Affect Your Finances

Inflation remains far higher than many Americans have ever experienced and is keeping pressure on the Federal Reserve, the agency tasked with keeping prices stable. The Fed is expected to announce another big increase in its benchmark interest rate next week, which will lead to higher costs for many consumer and business loans.

Inflation has escalated families’ grocery bills, rents and utility costs, among other expenses, inflicting hardships on many households and deepening gloom about the economy despite strong job growth and low unemployment.

Even if inflation peaks, economists expect it could take two years or more to fall back to something close to the Fed’s annual 2% target. The cost of rental apartments and other services, such as health care, are likely to keep rising in the months ahead.

SEE MORE: White House Officials: Inflation Relief Is Coming

Republicans have sought to make inflation a central issue in the midterm congressional elections. They blame President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed last year for much of the increase. Many economists generally agree, though they also say that snarled supply chains, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and widespread shortages of items like semiconductors have been key factors in the inflation surge.

Yet the signs that inflation might have peaked — or will soon — could bolster Democrats’ prospects in the midterm elections and may already have contributed to slightly higher public approval ratings for President Biden. In his speeches, the president has generally stopped referring to the impact of high prices on family budgets. He has instead highlighted his administration’s recent legislative accomplishments, including a law enacted last month that’s intended to reduce pharmaceutical prices and fight climate change.

Nationally, the average cost of a gallon of gas has dropped to $3.71, down from just above $5 in mid-June. Many businesses are also reporting signs that supply backlogs and inflation are beginning to fade.

Over the past year, prices of meat, milk and fruits and vegetables have soared by double-digits. But executives at Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, said that falling prices for farm commodities like wheat and corn could slow cost increases for food.

Next week, most Fed watchers expect the central bank to announce a third straight three-quarter-point hike, to a range of 3% to 3.25%. The Fed’s rapid rate increases — the fastest since the early 1980s — typically lead to higher costs for mortgages, auto loans and business loans, with the goal of slowing growth and reducing inflation. The average 30-year mortgage rate jumped to nearly 5.9% last week, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac, the highest figure in nearly 14 years.

Chair Jerome Powell has said the Fed will need to see several months of low inflation readings that suggest price increases are falling back toward its 2% target before it might suspend its rate hikes.

Wages are still rising at a strong pace — before adjusting for inflation — which has elevated demand for apartments as more people move out on their own. A shortage of available houses has also forced more people to keep renting, thereby intensifying competition for apartments.

Rising rents and more expensive services, such as medical care, are also keeping inflation high.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

'Succession,' 'Ted Lasso' Top Emmys; 1st-Time Winners Shine

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 14:58

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"Succession" and "Ted Lasso" topped the Emmy Awards on Monday, in a ceremony that touted the influence of TV and extended honors to global sensation "Squid Game" and winners who delivered messages of empowerment.

The evening's uplifting tone, as voiced especially by Zendaya, Lizzo and Sheryl Lee Ralph, was in contrast to the darkness that pervaded the storytelling of best drama series winner "Succession" and even comedy series victor "Ted Lasso."

"Thanks for making such a safe space to make this very difficult show," said Zendaya, claiming her second best drama actress award for "Euphoria," about a group of teens' tough coming-of-age.

"My greatest wish for 'Euphoria' was that it could help heal people. Thank you for everyone who has shared your story with me. I carry them with me, and I carry them with" Rue, her character, Zendaya said.

"Succession," about a media empire run by a grasping and cutthroat family, split drama series honors with "Squid Game," the bold South Korean-set drama about the idle rich turning the poor into entertainment fodder.

Lee Jung-jae of "Squid Game," who played the show's moral center, became the first Asian to win the Emmy for best drama series actor.

"Thank you for making realistic problems we all face come to life so creatively on the screen," Lee said to "Squid Game" creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, who earned the Emmy for best drama series directing. In Korean, Lee thanked the audience in his native country for watching.

Backstage, Hwang said this was "a major moment for us," and Lee said he expected the awards to open doors for other Asian actors.

SEE MORE: Growing Demand For Non-English Series, Films

Jason Sudeikis and Jean Smart collected back-to-back acting trophies, but several new Emmy winners were minted, with Lizzo and Quinta Brunson and Sheryl Lee Ralph of "Abbott Elementary" collecting trophies.

Brunson, who created and stars in the freshman series, won the Emmy for comedy series writing. ABC's "Abbott Elementary," also nominated for best comedy, is a rare bright spot for network broadcasting in the age of streaming and cable dominance.

Sudeikis won his second consecutive trophy for playing the unlikely U.S. coach of a British soccer team in the comedy "Ted Lasso," with Smart matching that haul for her role as a veteran comedian in "Hacks."

Sudeikis gave a rare awards show shoutout to TV consumers: "Thanks to the people who watch this show and dig it as much as we dig making it."

There was a ripple of reaction in the theater when "Succession" creator Jesse Armstrong mentioned Britain's new king, Charles III, in accepting the show's trophy, the cast standing alongside him.

"Big week for successions, new king in the U.K., this for us. Evidently a little bit more voting involved in our winning than Prince Charles," Armstrong said. "I'm not saying we're more legitimate in our position than he is. We'll leave that up to other people."

Ralph stopped the Emmy Awards show by accepting the best supporting actress comedy award for "Abbott Elementary" with a brief but rousing song of affirmation.

"I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim song. I am a woman, I am an artist and I know where my voice belongs," she belted out. She then encouraged anyone doubting their dream "I am here to tell you this is what believing looks like."

The audience, including Lizzo and many of television's biggest stars, leapt to their feet to cheer on Ralph.

When Lizzo herself accepted the award for best-competition series trophy for "Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls," she offered another emotional pep talk.

"When I was a little girl, all I wanted to see was me in the media. Someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me," the music artist said.

There were also cheers for presenter Selma Blair, who has discussed her multiple sclerosis diagnosis publicly and who used a cane on stage.

SEE MORE: Women Directors Are Finally Getting More Award-Show Recognition

"Ted Lasso" co-star Brett Goldstein, won comedy supporting actors, while Matthew Macfadyen of "Succession" and Julia Garner of "Ozark" earned drama series supporting actor honors.

"It's such a pleasure and privilege for me to play this bonkers gift of a role in this wonderful show," Macfadyen said in accepting the trophy for his role as a scheming member of a media empire family.

Garner was among the winners who took advantage of covering all bases by thanking her husband and others in an on-screen message.

"The White Lotus" collected several honors, including best limited or anthology series.

The achievements of "Squid Game," "Abbott Elementary" and a few other shows didn't change the relative lack of diversity in this year's nominations, which included significantly fewer people of color than in 2021.

Host Kenan Thompson kicked off the Emmys with a tribute to TV, dismissing TikTok as "tiny vertical television," and a musical number saluting series' theme songs from "Friends" to "The Brady Bunch" to "Game of Thrones."

Once the music stopped, Thompson provided a mic-drop moment — announcing Oprah Winfrey as the first presenter. Winfrey strutted onto the stage holding an Emmy statuette, declaring the night "a party!" The night's first award went to Michael Keaton for his role in "Dopesick." Winfrey and Keaton hugged before she handed him his trophy.

"It means something," Keaton said of the award for playing a caring doctor ensnared with his patients by addiction. He went on to recall the "magic" of being introduced to TV when his dad won a set at a raffle and thanked his parents for not mocking his youthful attempts at acting.

Amanda Seyfried earned the limited-series lead actress trophy for "The Dropout," in which she played ill-fated Silicon Valley whiz kid Elizabeth Holmes. She thanked a list of family and colleagues and even her dog, Finn.

Murray Bartlett won the best supporting actor award for "The White Lotus," a tragicomedy set in a Hawaii resort. Jennifer Coolidge, who won best supporting actress honors for the show, delighted the audience by shimmying to the music intended to cut off her acceptance speech.

The award for best variety talk show went to "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," with stand-up special "Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel" winning for best writing for a comedy special.

"Good night, everybody. I'ma go home. I'm not like a sore winner, but I'm going to go home because I can't top this right now," an overcome Carmichael told the audience.

Glamour was back with some metallic sparkle and lots of bright color as an otherworldly Britt Lower, Old Hollywood Elle Fanning and their fellow stars posed for photographers.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Some Musicians Play Through Mental Health Issues From Industry

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 14:46

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Behind the glamour of concerts and tours is a mental health crisis in the music industry, and several musicians are speaking out to lessen the stigma.  

Joe Trohman is the co-founder and lead guitarist of Fall Out Boy, one of the biggest pop punk bands of the past two decades.

"Touring is a lonely job," he said. "There's so much time spent alone. I think people glamorize the idea of touring. Sure, the shows are fantastic. But that's like an hour out of the day, maybe two. It feels great. I mean, it's incredible. We've worked very hard to get to that point and we're very grateful for it. But that's surrounded by ten hours of nothing."

SEE MORE: Musicians Are Continuing To Tour Into Their Old Age

In Trohman's new memoir, "None of this Rocks," he speaks openly about his struggles with depression and substance abuse. And he hopes his honesty can help lessen the stigma surrounding mental health.   

"It came out of the pandemic," he said. "It came out of just being lonely and not having other people to talk to and wanting to talk to other people about my depression and my recent diagnosis of bipolar type two."

Seventy-three percent of independent musicians have battled stress, anxiety and depression, according to a 2019 report from the Record Union. And experts say that's due to the isolation of touring, the stress of financial instability, substance abuse and the lack of quality mental health care in the music industry. 

SEE MORE: Grunge And Hard Rock Legend Chris Cornell Dies Unexpectedly

A 2018 report from the Music Industry Research Association found that nearly 12% of musicians reported having suicidal thoughts, which is four times the general population. That struggle was highlighted in 2017 by the high-profile suicides of musicians like Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Linkin Park's Chester Bennington.  

"It further hits home regarding musicians that have committed suicide in recent years, like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington," Trohman said. "Cornell, specifically, was someone that just didn't seem like — from the outside — didn't seem like he had it. He was so busy, so active doing Soundgarden — again, never really seemed like he's skipping a beat. And I'm not saying anybody failed those guys ... But like, I think if there were more conversations, again, and there were more resources, maybe they would have gotten some help."

SEE MORE: Linkin Park Singer Chester Bennington Found Dead

There's a sense of urgency now within the music industry to help musicians access mental health support.  

Organizations like Backline.Care and campaigns like Music Minds Matter are connecting music industry professionals — including artists, managers, crews and their families — to a network of care providers and online support groups. In 2022, as many musicians returned to the stage, the Music Minds Matter phone service saw a 34% increase in calls.

SEE MORE: New Mental Health Hotline 988 Launches July 16

"One conversation sparks another and that becomes larger and larger," Trohman continued. "I don't have any airs about whether or not I'm going to be able to do that. But if I can help, you know, one drop in the bucket is better than zero."

If you need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. 

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Thousands Of Minnesota Nurses Launch 3-Day Strike Over Pay

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 13:03

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Thousands of nurses in Minnesota launched a three-day strike Monday, pressing for salary increases they say will help improve patient care by resolving understaffing stresses that have worsened in the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 15,000 nurses at seven health care systems in the Minneapolis and Duluth areas walked out, a number the union says makes it the largest strike ever by private-sector nurses. The affected hospitals said they have recruited temporary nurses and expected to maintain most services.

Scores of nurses began walking the picket line at 7 a.m. outside Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, one of 15 hospitals affected. Clad in the red T-shirts of the Minnesota Nurses Association and carrying signs with such slogans as, “Something has got to give,” several said their chief concern was patient safety.

SEE MORE: Why Does U.S. Life Expectancy Rank Poorly?

Tracey Dittrich, 50, a registered nurse at the hospital for nearly 24 years, said nurses are tired of “hospital administrators and managers that are telling us to do more.” The hospitals need more nurses and more support staff, and higher pay will help, she said.

“There are shifts where you have three critically ill patients, and you have to decide which patient gets the care, when," Dittrich said. “I work with people all the time that go home every day and feel horrible because one child had to wait longer for medication, or another child needed to wait longer for an IV. Another child maybe had to wait for a breathing treatment because we just couldn’t get to them all fast enough.”

Union spokesman Sam Fettig said the nurses chose a three-day strike, rather than an open-ended walkout, out of concern for patients.

The hospitals have offered a 10%-12% wage increase over three years, but nurses are seeking more than 30%. Hospital leaders called their wage demands unaffordable, noting that Allina and Fairview hospitals have posted operating losses and that the cost of such sharp wage increases would be passed along to patients.

“The union rejected all requests for mediation and held fast to wage demands that were unrealistic, unreasonable and unaffordable,” several of the Twin Cities hospitals under strike said in a joint statement.

The statement said people with emergency issues should continue to call 911 or go to emergency rooms. It said despite staffing hospitals with “experienced nurse managers, trained replacement nurses and some existing traveler nurses” that people may see some delay in being treated.

Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United, billed as the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in the U.S., said more nurses across the country are pushing back and that most job actions revolve around the same core issues — staffing and pay.

“The pandemic did so many things in pointing out, clarifying and shining a light on what life is like in the hospitals and what nurses are expected to do, which is a lot with very little,” Ross said. “We have to have a bottom line where you just can’t shove any more patients on to that nurse.”

Kathy Misk, another registered nurse at Children’s, works in case management and helps families transition from hospital care to caring for their child at home. Misk said a shortage of nurses has sometimes required keeping “high-tech” children – those who need special equipment to breathe, for example – from going home as soon as they otherwise could. Raising pay could help the hospital keep nurses on staff, she said.

“You don’t retain nurses with low wages,” Misk said. “When you incentivize nurses with pay, what you’re saying to them is they have worth, and they are able to stay in one job.”

When asked about Misk’s statement that some children have not gone home as soon as they might have, Nick Petersen, a spokesman for Children’s, said children are admitted or discharged “based on the expert judgment of the medical professionals who care for them.”

The hospitals affected by the strike are operated by Allina Health, M Health Fairview, Children’s Hospital, North Memorial and HealthPartners. In Duluth, it is Essentia and St Luke’s.

Separately, in Wisconsin, a potential three-day strike by nurses at UW Health, one of the state's largest health systems, that was set to start Tuesday was averted when the nurses and the UW Hospital board reached an agreement. Details weren't immediately released.

SEE MORE: The Changing Tide For Unionizing In The U.S.

The Minnesota nurses’ strike comes amid an upsurge in union activity nationwide.

A national railroad strike could begin as early as Friday unless Congress steps in to block it. The two largest railroad unions have been demanding that the major freight carriers go beyond a proposed deal recommended by arbitrators appointed by President Joe Biden.

Some high-profile companies, including Starbucks, are among those trying to stifle ongoing unionization efforts. Since late last year, more than 230 U.S. Starbucks stores have voted to unionize, which Starbucks opposes.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

King Charles III In Belfast, Queen's Coffin To Return To London

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 12:57

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King Charles III flew to Northern Ireland on Tuesday on the latest leg of his tour of the four parts of the United Kingdom, where crowds of well wishers gathered to greet him in a region with a contested British and Irish identity that is deeply divided over the British monarchy.

In the latest outpouring of affection since Queen Elizabeth II's death last Thursday, hundreds of people were lining the street leading to Hillsborough Castle, the royal family's official residence in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast. The area in front of the gates to the castle was carpeted with hundreds of floral tributes.

SEE MORE: Charles III Formally Proclaimed King

On Monday night, Charles and his siblings, Anne, Andrew and Edward, their heads bowed, briefly stood vigil around their mother's flag-draped coffin in St. Giles' Cathedral as members of the public filed past.

Earlier, a man wearing a suit adorned with medals stood silently, bowed his head and moved on. A woman dabbed away tears with a handkerchief. Another woman with two young children in their school uniforms walked slowly past the coffin.

In the line of mourners outside St. Giles' Cathedral in the historic heart of Edinburgh, Sheila McLeay called the queen "a wonderful ambassador for our country."

"She was such an example for every single one of us. She was dignified. She was just, she was beautiful inside and out. And I have known her all of my life. And I miss her very much," she added.

Scotland, where the queen died Thursday at her beloved Balmoral estate in the Highlands after a 70-year reign, has been almost universal in its praise for the queen.

SEE MORE: Biden Accepts Invitation For Queen's Funeral

The British monarchy draws more mixed emotions in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: mostly Protestant unionists who consider themselves British and largely Roman Catholic nationalists who see themselves as Irish.

That split fueled three decades of violence known as "the Troubles" involving paramilitary groups on both sides and U.K. security forces, in which 3,600 people died. The royal family was touched personally by the violence: Lord Louis Mountbatten, a cousin of the queen and a much-loved mentor to Charles, was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb in 1979.

SEE MORE: U.K., European Union Reach Post-Brexit Trade Deal

A deep sectarian divide remains, a quarter century after Northern Ireland's 1998 peace agreement.

But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of Sinn Fein — the main Irish nationalist party, linked during the Troubles to the IRA — are attending commemorative events for the queen and meeting the king on Tuesday.

Sinn Fein's president, Mary Lou McDonald, paid tribute to the 96-year-old monarch following her death last Thursday, calling her "a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation."

The president and prime minister of the neighboring Republic of Ireland are also due to attend the memorial service in Belfast, despite tense relations between Dublin and London over Brexit. Since Britain left the European Union in 2020, the U.K. and the EU have been wrangling over trade rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. that shares a border with a member of the bloc.

SEE MORE: Queen Elizabeth II's Coffin Makes Journey Through Scotland

After lying in the cathedral through most of Tuesday, the queen's coffin will be flown back to London and driven to her official London home, Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Air Force C-17 Globemaster plane that will carry the coffin has in the past been used to evacuate people from Afghanistan and to take humanitarian aid and weapons to Ukraine following Russia's invasion, U.K. Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston said.

In the early hours of Tuesday, scores of workers were seen cleaning litter and weeds from the road between the air force base where the plane carrying the queen's coffin will land and central London.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Justice Department OK With 1 Trump Pick For Mar-A-Lago Arbiter

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 12:03

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The Justice Department said Monday that it was willing to accept one of Donald Trump's picks for an independent arbiter to review documents seized during an FBI search of the former president's Florida home last month.

The accommodation could help accelerate the selection process and shorten any delays caused by the appointment of the so-called special master. The judge in the case, granting a request from the Trump team, said last week that she would appoint a neutral arbiter to go through the records and weed out any that may be covered by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

Department lawyers said in a filing Monday night that, in addition to the two retired judges whom they earlier recommended, they would also be satisfied with one of the Trump team selections — Raymond Dearie, the former chief judge of the federal court in the Eastern District of New York. He is currently on senior active status, and the department said he had indicated he was available and "could perform the work expeditiously" if appointed.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon would name Dearie or someone else. The Trump team said earlier Monday that it opposed both Justice Department selections.

The back-and-forth over the special master came as Trump's lawyers in a 21-page filing Monday dismissed the former president's retention of top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago as a "storage dispute" and urged Cannon to keep in place a directive that temporarily halted key aspects of the Justice Department's criminal probe. The Trump team referred to the documents that were seized as "purported 'classified records,'" saying the Justice Department had not proven that the materials taken by the FBI during its Aug. 8 search were classified or remain so now.

SEE MORE: Report: Seized Mar-A-Lago Documents Contained Nuclear Secrets

The filing underscores the significant factual and legal disagreements between lawyers for Trump and the U.S. government as the Justice Department looks to move forward with its criminal investigation into the retention of national defense information at Mar-a-Lago. Department lawyers in their own filings have rejected the idea that the documents, many of them classified at the top-secret level, belonged to Trump or that Mar-a-Lago was a permissible place to store them.

"This investigation of the 45th President of the United States is both unprecedented and misguided," they wrote. "In what at its core is a document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control, the Government wrongfully seeks to criminalize the possession by the 45th President of his own Presidential and personal records."

The investigation hit a roadblock last week when Cannon granted the Trump team's request for a special master and prohibited the department, for now, from examining the documents for investigative purposes.

The Justice Department has asked the judge to lift that hold and said it would contest her ruling to a federal appeals court. The department said its investigation risked being harmed beyond repair if that order remained in place, noting that confusion about its scope had already led the intelligence community to pause a separate risk assessment.

But Trump's lawyers said in their own motion Monday that Cannon should not permit the FBI to resume its review of classified records. It said the government had unilaterally determined the records to be classified but had not yet proven that they remain so.

"In opposing any neutral review of the seized materials, the Government seeks to block a reasonable first step towards restoring order from chaos and increasing public confidence in the integrity of the process," the lawyers wrote.

SEE MORE: DOJ: Efforts Were Made To Obstruct Investigation At Trump Estate

Both sides on Friday night proposed different names of candidates who could serve as special master, though they disagreed on the scope of duties the person should have. Cannon has said the yet-to-be-named arbiter would be tasked with reviewing the documents and segregating out any that could be covered by claims of either executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

The Justice Department recommended either Barbara Jones, a retired judge in Manhattan who has served as special master in prior high-profile investigations, or Thomas Griffith, a retired federal appeals court jurist in the District of Columbia who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush. The department said in its proposal that the special master should not have access to classified documents, or be empowered to consider claims of executive privilege.

On Monday, the Trump team told the judge it was objecting to both those candidates but was not prepared to say why publicly at the moment.

Trump's lawyers proposed either Dearie, a senior judge on active status in the federal court in Brooklyn who also previously served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or Florida lawyer Paul Huck Jr. They have said the arbiter should have access to the entire tranche of documents and should be able to evaluate executive privilege claims.

The Justice Department said it was willing to support Dearie's selection but it opposed the selection of Huck because of what it said was a lack of relevant experience.

In its filing Monday, the Trump team again voiced a broad view of presidential power, asserting that a president has an "unfettered right of access" to his presidential records and absolute authority to declassify any information without the "approval of bureaucratic components of the executive branch" — though it did not say, as Trump has maintained, that he had actually declassified them.

The Justice Department has said Trump had no right to hold onto the presidential documents. And the criminal statutes the department has used as the basis of its investigation, including one criminalizing the willful retention of national defense information, do not require that the records be classified.

In any event, the Justice Department says more than 100 documents with classification markings were found in last month's search.

Trump, who often spends time at his various properties, was at his Virginia golf club Monday.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

How Christians Are Coupling Biblical Concepts With Mental Wellness

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 01:15

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According to a study from Lifeway research, 54% of protestant pastors say they have had a member of their congregation diagnosed with a severe mental illness, and the pandemic is only exacerbating the challenges faith leaders are facing. 

But mental health experts say the bridge between the mental health community and faith leaders has narrowed, allowing for a partnership among believers and doctors.

Dr. Nii Addy — a podcaster, Yale professor and neuroscientist — has made it his mission to show fellow Christians how science, mental health and faith go hand in hand.  

"A lot of what we do in our research is trying to understand what happens in the brain during states of anxiety, states of depression, if people are navigating through addiction," Dr. Addy said. "As I talk about that science, I've heard people say, 'OK, that really gave me more of a sense for why my loved one is acting like this.'"

Christians across the country are finding ways to marry Biblical concepts with with treatment and therapy.

Dr. Peace Amadi, a pastor's daughter, says she grew up knowing all the right verses until college.

"I had my own experiences with anxiety," Amadi said. "I had my own experiences with mild depression ... and, just to put it plainly, a lot of bullying."

She turned that experience into a career as a psychology professor at a Christian university.

Psychologist Archandria Owens says she was once told her faith was a liability in psychology; now she uses Biblical concepts as a tool.  

"How do we just manifest and do our best to look at spiritual wellness as a dimension that is crucial in wellness?" Owens asked. "Our brains are so in cue in to looking at what's wrong in the world because we need to be able to predict how to protect ourselves, so this spiritual practice of gratitude, really looking for what's good, changes the brain."

SEE MORE: Officers Get New Partners In Effort To Decriminalize Mental Illness

Dr. Addy, Dr. Amadi and Dr. Owens all say they are encouraged to see a greater acceptance of mental health treatment in the religious realm, pointing to the pandemic as well as deaths by suicide among faith leaders as major turning points.

According to a Lifeway Research study, 26% percent of protestant pastors say they are dealing with their own mental health struggles.

"Even when you have faith, even when you lean into prayer, even when you're a leader, even when you're doing all the right things, there's something that we're still not exempt from," Amadi said.

Dr. Addy says more pastors are opening up about their own challenges.

"This is someone I look up to as a leader who is saying that they're working through that, that they are working through it with prayer, but they're also working through it with counseling," Dr. Addy said. 

The first line of defense in the mental health battle for many religious communities are the pastors.  

A Rice University survey of Black and Latino Christians found that most would pray or seek counsel from a pastor if they're in the midst of a mental health crisis.

The Department of Health and Human Service has partnered with churches to make sure leaders have the tools they need, including serving as a branch to mental health professionals.   

"You don't stop believing in God when you need your healing," Amadi said. "You don't stop believing in God because you're seeking a specialist. It all can work together."

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

The Almost-Mass Shooter: Man Reflects On Stepping Away From The Edge

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 01:08

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Aaron Stark is a dad, husband, full-time worker and self-described nerd. But life wasn't always so normal. 

"I grew up in a really dark and violent and chaotic life," Stark said. 

Stark says from a young age, adults around him turned life into a Stephen King horror story. 

"I never went to school more than six months," Stark said. "I was constantly the new kid. I was dirty, fat and smelly. I adopted that early on as my persona. I was told I was worthless by everybody in my life, and when you're told you're worthless enough, you will believe it."

He tried to get help but says the system repeatedly failed him. He came close to a point of no return: almost becoming a mass shooter.

NEWSY'S CLAYTON SANDELL: What was the tipping point that made you want to shoot up your school?

AARON STARK: I saw a therapist, and I don't really remember much of that conversation because all I remember is the end of it. The young lady, early 20s or so, said, "I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do. I can't help you." As I walked out of that door, my brain shattered. 

While there's no one-size-fits-all profile of a mass shooter, Stark ticked a few boxes. According to the Violence Project study of nearly 180 mass shootings, 98% were committed by men, about half are white and many are under 30 years old.

Of all the shootings in the database, only four were committed by women. Psychiatrists say young males are more prone violence. 

"It's not just about mass shootings," said Jonathan Metzl, director of Vanderbilt University's Department of Medicine, Health and Society. "Young men between 15 and 25 make up the vast majority of people who die in fights, in car accidents."

Brain chemistry is part of the reason. Scientists say the prefrontal cortex that helps humans understand consequences of actions isn't done growing. 

"The male mind is not fully developed in terms of this kind of impulse control, probably until the mid-late 20s," Metzl said.

SEE MORE: AP-NORC Poll: 2 In 10 Report Experience With Gun Violence

For psychiatrists like Metzl, it's one of the biggest arguments for limiting gun sales to people 21 and older.

"In the U.S., we've gone exactly the opposite direction we keep pushing," Metzl said. "Even in spite of all this data, we push the age limit down to 18 pretty much everywhere."

Only a few pictures of that period of Stark's adolescence have made it to present day.

"I lived in a very dark and angry life," Stark said. "I spent my whole life hating myself. In that time I also snuck into the family members' photo albums and destroyed all the pictures of me before 15 years old. I was trying to annihilate my own existence."

He was on the brink of not only annihilating himself, but as many others as he could take with him. 

"Instead of talking about girls or sports or movies, we talked about killing people," Stark said. "If you're going to kill 10 people, what would you do? If you're going to kill 20 people, what would you do?"

Stark says he was ready to die. Then, his life changed again. One of the few friends he had left reached out. 

"He's like, 'Dude, you're gonna be okay,'" Stark said. "He would always tell me, 'You're a good kid in the crap world." He brought me in, sat me down, and we had a movie and had a meal and gave me a shower and treated me like I was a person when I didn't feel human at all. I felt like I was a walking ball of destruction, like I was just death walking on the street, and he treated me like I was just a kid in pain. It was like a splash of water in my face."

Stark now travels the country telling his story.   

"If I can help some person, anybody else, out of their own depression by talking about it, I'm going to keep talking until I don't have a voice," Stark said.

Newsy caught up with him in San Antonio, Texas. 

SEE MORE: Uvalde Teacher Shot Says She’s Not Returning To The Classroom

"Today I will be presenting my story to a whole convention of teachers and administrators," Stark said. "It's going to be a very intense day. These were the teachers that specifically were in the Uvalde school district."

Stark said he deeply recognized some of the Uvalde gunman's story.

"The biggest thing that made me see myself in his story was a couple weeks before it happened," Stark said. "He showed up to school with his face covered in razor marks. To me, that's the biggest sign of someone saying, 'I'm hurting me. Help me.' I don't think anyone could have stopped his slide at that point, but maybe we can stop the next one."

Stark says he never thought he'd live past 30 years old. Now, at 43, he's dedicating his life to helping stop a cycle of violence. 

"Everybody's pain is individual, and the key of it is to see the person as an individual to break through that barrier," Stark said. "I somehow managed to now be able to use my darkest time to help someone else out of theirs. If anybody listening can get one message: Just give love to the people you think deserve it the least, because they need it the most."

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'Buy Now, Pay Later' Services Can Actually Lead To More Debt

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 01:00

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There's a long history of paying for things in installments: There's the way old commercials advertise, there are rent-to-own products, or shoppers can put purchases on a payment layaway plan.

But recently, more options have popped up that give consumers the items right away and takes away the threat of repossession.

Companies like Afterpay, Klarna and Affirm have become a more frequent resource for people looking to buy things using a stretched-out payment plan. They have increasingly been showing up as payment options on websites of major retailers, including Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Amazon.

It's a huge business. A report from the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation found that 91% of consumer loans taken out in the state in 2020 were from buy now, pay later lenders.

But unlike leasing a car or taking out a new credit card, there isn't much regulation of this space because of how new it is. Buyers get both the instant gratification of getting their purchase right away, and it doesn't necessarily affect their credit score.

"A significant portion of people take out multiple buy now, pay later purchases," said Nadine Chabrier, litigation policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. "There's no consideration of the ability to repay, and there's no specific date on which a person can count on their final pay later coming out of their account. So, people tend to take on multiple purchases and get overwhelmed."

Chabrier is concerned that the short-term nature of these loans has helped buy now, pay later providers avoid existing rules.

"Some of the things that we've advocated for is to regulate buy now, pay later like a credit card," Chabrier said. "There are really important protections there for consumers that you have under credit cards that you don't have when you take out a buy now, pay later."

SEE MORE: White House Officials: Inflation Relief Is Coming

These types of services often have a younger, more diverse user base. A Morning Consult poll conducted earlier this year found that Gen Z, as well as Black and Hispanic Americans, were more likely to use a buy now, pay later service than the average American.

Elyse Hicks, from the consumer advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform, says that lines up with other trends in economic inequality. 

"On a basic level, BIPOC communities have less, so they're more inclined to use products like Buy Now, Pay Later, Klarna, in order to get the things that they need or want because it puts those bite-sized pieces or bite-sized installments, something that they feel like they can handle, in front of them," Hicks said.

The same Morning Consult poll found that one in five borrowers using buy now, pay later missed a payment in January, the month they took the survey.

It can spiral into some big fees for consumers.

In August, after President Biden announced his intent to forgive $10,000 or more for Americans with student loan debt, one Twitter user's question about whether President Biden would forgive AfterPay debts too went viral.

For now, consumers like Grace Oppy, who is an Afterpay user currently in debt, and the millions of others who use these services are at the mercy of the companies. Affirm, for example, does pitch consumers on the fact that it has no late fees, but it does note that it would charge up to 36% APR depending on your credit, which is higher than even the highest APR on most credit cards.

But in the moment, the seemingly great deals can be really tempting.

"It started with a lot of strategy," Oppy said. "I was like, 'If I just do this, then I will be glam and perfect. I will definitely get my promotion.' And now... I have $90 earrings. So really, it's a slippery slope in my mind. My dopamine receptors are just, boom, firing away when I use it."

The advocates Newsy talked to said that dopamine hit Oppy feels — a rush of satisfaction — is exactly what makes it so tempting to use these services when shopping.

"It just feeds on millennials and Gen Z, of how we like to get things very instantly," Hicks said. "We all know we want something, that we can get it at a discounted price and get it to our doorsteps very quickly. It hits that dopamine, and we're onto something else. So, it kind of it puts you in a cycle, and kind of like a debt trap, as well."

Influencers on social media are pitching buy now, pay later as a life hack for those who want something and don't want to worry about the cost today.

"You have people who you admire, who look like they have great lives, who then have this clothing item or this product, and it's just aspirational," Chabrier said. "It's understandable for people to aspire to a particular lifestyle or feeling, and that's what I think this type of marketing plays on."

SEE MORE: The Imbalanced Structure Of How Influencers Make Money

It's not lost on consumers either. 

"They make it seem so frivolous... like a fun app," Oppy said. "They're partnering with influencers. It's really nefarious, and it's subtle. But, making these people that we all try to base our lives on advertise this pretty predatory lending practice that's so unregulated: sneaky. And they got me. They got me there."

But regulation and standards could be on the way soon. Many buy now, pay later loans aren't reported, meaning that while there's no guarantee your credit score takes a hit if you miss payments, you also might not be building credit that can help you get other loans or credit cards in the future.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — the three largest credit bureaus —announced plans this year to incorporate buy now, pay later loans into their files, but implementation of that is still to be determined.

Meanwhile, state and federal regulatory authorities are looking at how to account for buy now, pay later services.

A group of 21 state attorneys general wrote a letter calling for federal officials to set standards on this. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced during last year's holiday season that they had started a review of the buy now, pay later industry, with an eye toward federal regulations protecting consumers from debt and ensuring companies tell consumers what fees they could incur.

Advocates are hoping rules will lift the burden from consumers and make the companies themselves have to give more information up front. But until then, they say to make sure to read the fine print. 

"Please look at all of your products or your apps," Hicks said. "See how much you currently owe these buy now, pay later companies, and just be aware of your spending habits. It's so easy to get out of control with this, but just be aware until regulation comes."

Why Is TikTok Under Scrutiny Again?

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 00:47

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As far back as 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to force the sale of the social media company TikTok to Oracle, claiming that the app was storing data collected on its American user base in China, and thus enabling the possible surveillance of U.S. citizens. That sale was eventually blocked, but it opened the door to a cycle in which, every few months, U.S. government entities attempt new investigations into TikTok’s data collection. 

It begs the question — what exactly is novel about these data misuse accusations in 2022? 

The newest cycle started in June, when Buzzfeed published leaked audio from 80 internal TikTok meetings which showed that U.S. data was "repeatedly" accessed from China. Around the same time, Republican FCC Chair Brendan Carr published a letter in which he claimed to have new evidence that TikTok "harvests swaths of sensitive data" that "are being accessed in Beijing."  

The conversation shifted from data storage or giving data away to the Chinese government, to data access. 

"You can think about this as a Google drive, right? So you or most of us will have something on our Google Drives. And when we want to share photos with our loved ones, for example, we don't actually send a USB drive to them. We just provide them with a link to our Google Drive folder and thereby they can access the photos from there," said Ausma Bernotaite, a candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. 

John Wihbey is an associate professor of media innovation at Northeastern University. 

"I think there are some — there are some legitimate concerns that with some combination of otherwise private data, that the Chinese government could be building profiles about U.S. persons, and could be potentially tuning algorithms at various key points in the electoral cycles in the United States to try to influence voter behavior," said Wihbey. "And we don't yet know exactly how that data could be exploited." 

SEE MORE: A Second Judge Blocks U.S. Government's Tik Tok Ban

The other important question at hand here is whether TikTok collects more intrusive data than other social media companies. Any American platform with bottom line based on using personal data to serve ads could be collecting similar data.  

"U.S. social media platforms like Snapchat, then Facebook, now Meta, Instagram, Pinterest have been taking advantage of that surveillance capitalism, as we call it. Just really monetizing our attention," said Bernotaite. "And now we have a different actor. So, it's kind of like the devil we don't know in a way, because we've not really had to deal with TikTok's corporate representatives for that long." 

Bernotaite noted that until we find ways to ensure data transparency from all social media companies, regardless of where they’re based, we’re never going to find out exactly if and whether data misuse is occurring. But that may be easier said than done. Wihbey told Newsy that much of this issue is driven by competition concerns, so we may not get to that point if the U.S. wants to ensure that its social media companies can stand alongside TikTok.  

"The United States has almost entirely dominated this space of media, entertainment, social platforms. China has done very well to grow its own domestic market and has impressive companies there, but they really haven't reached the rest of the world. So, this is their big winner in this early phase of an ongoing battle between the two countries over media and communications technologies," said Wihbey. 

Why Is It So Difficult To Bring Detained Americans Home?

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 00:32

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If you ask American diplomats and military leaders, Trevor Reed never should have been in that nightmare, wasting away in a Russian prison. 

"Every day that I was in prison there, I never fully was able to accept that that was real. You kind of wake up and you're like, maybe this is a nightmare. Maybe I'm not, you know, like a political prisoner here. Maybe this didn't happen," said Reed.  

Russian officials arrested the Marine Corps veteran in 2019 and accused him of assaulting local police — charges U.S. officials criticized as "absurd."

In 2020, a Russian court sentenced Reed to nine years in prison. 

He would spend nearly 1,000 days there — 1,000 days he thought might be his last. 

"I was losing so much weight, I thought 'OK, I'm not going to make it,'" said Reed.  

Reed's interview with our sister station in Waco, Texas, was only possible because the Biden administration agreed to a prisoner swap in April. 

It sent a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling to Moscow in exchange for bringing Reed home. 

SEE MORE: In Rare Contact, U.S. Offers Russia Deal For Griner And Whelan

KXXV REPORTER TODD UNGER: You're about to cross that tarmac. And you're thinking what? 

TREVOR REED: I just thought the whole thing was like extremely surreal. 

But Reed's story is the exception. He is one of the few Americans recently detained overseas who made it back to their families. 

The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation says at least 67 U.S. citizens are detained overseas, and 9 out of 10 of them are wrongly detained. 

Diane Foley is the organization's founder. She named it after her son James Foley who went missing in November of 2012 while reporting in Syria. Nearly two years later, ISIS posted a video online showing his murder. Foley was one of what his mother calls "bargaining chips" for foreign powers.   

"We fear that the 67 public cases are a tip of the iceberg, if you will. We suspect is hundreds more," said Foley. "Often they want various concessions that we don't want to give. The whole process of negotiation is the part that's essential. I think too often in the past, because this is not pleasant or difficult or easy. It's been avoided, frankly."

The Foley Foundation advocates for hostages and journalist safety. 

Foley says countries including Iran, China and Russia are currently wrongfully detaining U.S. nationals or U.S. lawful permanent residents. 

"They usually have an agenda and they often will hold us hostage as the government," said Foley. 

The arrest and sentencing of women's basketball superstar Brittney Griner thrust the issue back into international headlines. 

The U.S. State Department is escalating its efforts to bring Griner home and considers her "wrongfully detained." 

"We are doing everything we can, almost all of it unseen, almost all of it unsaid in public," said Ned Price, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.  

Advocates like Foley believe the calls for urgency in these situations are good — but it can also up the ante for the captors. 

"The publicity helps our administration to recognize and do what it must do, to negotiate and bring them home. But the downside is it can increase the value of that particular person who's been detained. And that's always a risk," said Price.  

The White House is weighing a prisoner swap to bring Griner and another wrongfully imprisoned American, Paul Whelan, back to the U.S. 

Political experts and opinion columnists have said such a move could set a dangerous precedent. It would give foreign adversaries a motivation to detain Americans on trumped up charges again. 

Others like Trevor Reed say a swap may be necessary.  

"The Russians took Paul Whelan, and immediately asked for a prisoner exchange. The U.S. said 'oh no, they could extort the United States' and if that's your argument would be they didn't take more Americans hostage, but they did. After that, they took me," said Reed.  

SEE MORE: U.S. Officials Reclassify Brittney Griner As 'Wrongfully Detained'

Russian police arrested Whelan, a former Marine, in 2018 and accused him of espionage. 

Whelan's family disputes the charges and says he's being held as leverage in a geopolitical dispute. 

"It is going to be an ongoing problem for Americans traveling around the world. Not just in Russia and not just with Paul's case. And the delays that the U.S. government suffers when they decide who to handle it just makes it worse for the particular family involved," said David Whelan, Paul's brother. 

Griner's and Whelan's cases are in the hands of a State Department Office President Obama set up in 2015 to negotiate releases for hostages and wrongfully detained Americans. 

It's called the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

"There was really, you know, a lot of pressure on the Obama administration to find out why what are we doing with hostage families," said Foley.  

In July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to increase the consequences for people tied to wrongful detainment. 

The move builds on the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage Accountability Act which made permanent that State Department Office President Obama set up.   

The law's namesake was a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007. 

His family says he died in Iranian custody as the longest-held hostage in American history. 

Iran denies involvement in Levinson's disappearance or detention. 

President Biden's order will now allow officials to sanction and place entry restrictions on those it believes wrongfully detained Americans. 

The State Department is also adding a "D" indicator on travel advisories to show the risk of detention in a country. 

Right now the department has "D"s listed for Myanmar, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Russia and China.  

"We weigh the totality of circumstances in every case, whether it's the case of Brittney Griner, whether it's the case of Paul Whelan, whether it's the case of Americans in Iran. There's going to be unique factors in each and every one of those cases," said Price.  

Families, like Trevor Reed's and James Foley's, say the government needs to be more transparent with families when their loved one is imprisoned abroad. 

"The United States government did not recognize my son as wrongfully detained for almost a complete year. We need them to declare Americans wrongfully detained much quicker," said Joey Reed, Trevor's father.  

"I would hope that it could become evermore a priority and have more assets applied to bringing people home, as opposed to needing to pick up the pieces after horrific executions," said Foley. 

Trevor Reed says he's grateful for the Biden administration's work. But he believes the White House can do more to help Griner, Whelan and the dozens of others held abroad against their will. 

UNGER: What is your message to them? 

REED: You know, my message to them is, do whatever you have to do there to survive. And if you have hope, then then don't give that up. 

Major Credit Card Companies Will Soon Categorize Gun Store Purchases

Tue, 09/13/2022 - 00:23

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Major credit card companies are reclassifying purchases at gun stores and ammunition shops — a change that could pull back the curtain on gun purchases. 

Visa, American Express and Mastercard will start implementing the plan, which will separate gun and ammunition purchases from other kinds of shopping for the first time. They had previously been classified as general merchandise. 

The move comes as gun sales keep climbing.

"The sales have definitely increased over the last several years in comparison to probably the last five," said Vincent Vasquez, a gun store manager in Arizona.

The FBI reports having done 78,571,988 background checks for gun purchases in the last two years. That's more than in any two-year stretch since record-keeping started in 1998.

SEE MORE: Biden Defends FBI, Pushes Assault-Style Weapons Ban

Cyndi Starr is among the many buying a firearm for the first time.

"I came to that decision after months of going back and forth," Starr said. "I would never want to ever harm anybody, never, but I've been close enough to certain violent or potentially violent situations that I had that split second where it's like, 'What's my backup?'"

Gun violence prevention activists hope the new classification for credit card purchases will help differentiate people like Starr from those intending to use a gun to harm people, helping banks see and report suspicious activity.

But of course, not everyone's on board.

Over the weekend, the NRA said the move was about creating a "national registry of gun owners."

The policy is intended only to separately categorize purchases at gun and ammunition stores, not specifically what was purchased. It's a simple label change advocates hope will help curb gun violence.

Ukraine's Fighters Share What They've Seen In Newly Retaken Territory

Mon, 09/12/2022 - 23:38

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In a lightning strike, Ukrainian tanks and armored vehicles drove the Russian army out of town after town.

Says the Institute for the Study of War in Washington: "Ukraine has turned the tide of  this war in its favor."

That is partly because the fleeing Russian troops left behind tanks, armored vehicles and high-value military weapons, depleting their firepower and potentially preempting any counterattack.

Ukrainian soldiers documented trophies of triumph on social media, including munitions the Russians never got the chance to fire or even pack up and take with them. 

As the scope of the counteroffensive became clear, Ukrainians and the world were fixated on images from the front lines. The country's blue-and-yellow flags were raised over towns and Russian flags were desecrated. 

The veil of silence imposed by Kyiv to protect the secret build-up and surprise attack seems to have been lifted. 

Ukrainian fighter Yurii Kochevenko documented his unit's four-day drive to seize the city. 

"Everything around is destroyed. But we will restore everything. Izyum was, is and will be Ukraine," he said.   

The soldiers showed off their victories, and the international legion of foreign fighters including Americans were also there.

SEE MORE: Ukrainian Forces Retake Russian-Held Territory Near Kharkiv

One unit ripped down a Russian propaganda sign, revealing the original message of the country's preeminent poet, Taras Shevchenko: "fight and you will win." But the coming days may bring sobering images.   

Investigators must make their way through a still-dangerous battlefield to look for evidence of war crimes. 

"There are lots of land mines. It takes lots of time to remove those mines so those graves can be found. The liberated areas are mostly small settlements. A few towns, but in terms of territory, small villages or agricultural land," said Nataliya Zubar, a Ukrainian human rights monitor. 

And there is the threat of revenge and retaliation. Although Russian ground forces are no longer within striking distance of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, Russia's missiles still are and almost immediately struck the power grid — leaving the celebrating city in darkness.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Russian Forces Retreat Amid Ukrainian Counteroffensive

Sun, 09/11/2022 - 15:57

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Ukrainian troops on Sunday successfully pressed their swift counteroffensive in the northeastern part of the country, even as a nuclear power plant in the Russia-occupied south completely shut down in a bid to prevent a radiation disaster as fighting raged nearby.

Kyiv's action to reclaim Russia-occupied areas in the Kharkiv region forced Moscow to withdraw its troops to prevent them from being surrounded, leaving behind significant numbers of weapons and munitions in a hasty retreat as the war marked its 200th day on Sunday.

A jubilant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mocked the Russians in a video address Saturday night, saying that "the Russian army in these days is demonstrating the best that it can do — showing its back."

He posted a video of Ukrainian soldiers hoisting the national flag over Chkalovske, another town reclaimed in the counteroffensive.

While most attention was focused on the counteroffensive, Ukraine's nuclear energy operator said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest, was reconnected to Ukraine's electricity grid, allowing engineers to shut down its last operational reactor to safeguard the plant amid the fighting.

The plant, one of the 10 biggest atomic power stations in the world, has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for shelling around it.

Since a Sept. 5 fire caused by shelling knocked the plant off transmission lines, the reactor was powering crucial safety equipment in so-called "island mode" — an unreliable regime that left the plant increasingly vulnerable to a potential nuclear accident.

SEE MORE: Ukrainian Forces Retake Russian-Held Territory Near Kharkiv

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation at the plant in a call Sunday with French President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said.

Ukraine's military chief, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyy, announced that its forces had recaptured about 160 square miles since the counteroffensive began in early September. He noted that Ukrainian troops are only about 30 miles from the border with Russia.

Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said Ukrainian troops have reclaimed control of more than 40 settlements in the Kharkiv region, noting he couldn't give a precise number because the operation is still unfolding.

Defense Minister Anna Malyar said Ukrainian forces are firing shells containing propaganda into areas where they seek to advance.

"One of the ways of informational work with the enemy in areas where there is no Internet is launching propaganda shells," she wrote on Facebook. "Before moving forward, our defenders say hello to the Russian invaders and give them the last opportunity to surrender. Otherwise, only death awaits them on Ukrainian soil."

The Russian pullback marked the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the nearly seven-month war. The Kharkiv campaign came as a surprise for Moscow, which had relocated many of its troops from the region to the south in expectation of a counteroffensive there.

In an awkward attempt to save face, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday the troops' withdrawal from Izyum and other areas was intended to strengthen Moscow's forces in the neighboring Donetsk region to the south.

The explanation sounded similar to the justification Russia gave for pulling back from the Kyiv region earlier this year when they failed to take the capital.

The Russian forces around Izyum have been key for Moscow's effort to capture the Donetsk region, and their pullback will dramatically weaken its capability to press its offensive on Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk to the south.

A map released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday showed its forces retreating to a narrow patch of land along the border.

Igor Strelkov, who led Russia-backed forces when the separatist conflict in the Donbas erupted in 2014, mocked the Russian Defense Ministry's explanation of the retreat, suggesting that handing over Russia's own territory near the border was a "contribution to a Ukrainian settlement."

The retreat drew an angry response from Russian military bloggers and nationalist commentators, who bemoaned it as a major defeat and urged the Kremlin to step up its war efforts. Many scathingly criticized Russian authorities for continuing with fireworks and other lavish festivities in Moscow that marked a city holiday on Saturday despite the debacle in Ukraine.

Just as the Russian forces were hastily pulling back from Izyum under Ukrainian fire on Saturday, Putin attended the opening of a huge Ferris wheel at a Moscow park, although it reportedly closed for repairs soon thereafter. He also inaugurated a new transport link and a sports arena.

The action underlined the Kremlin's narrative that the war it calls a "special military operation" was going according to plan without affecting Russians' everyday lives.

Pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov criticized the Moscow festivities as a grave mistake.

"The fireworks in Moscow on a tragic day of Russia's military defeat will have extremely serious political consequences," Markov wrote on his messaging app channel. "Authorities mustn't celebrate when people are mourning."

In a sign of a potential rift in the Russian leadership, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya, said the retreat resulted from blunders by the Russian military leadership.

"They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions," Kadyrov said. "If they don't make changes in the strategy of conducting the special military operation in the next day or two, I will be forced to contact the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground."

Despite Ukraine's gains, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of NATO warned Friday the war would likely drag on for months. Blinken said the conflict was entering a critical period and urged the West to keep supporting Ukraine through what could be a difficult winter.

The U.S. and its NATO allies have been working to make sure that Ukrainian forces have "the things that they most need right on the moment," said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"And we are seeing the Ukrainians with a tremendous patriotic resolve -- but also after eight years of joint training with the U.S. military, going back to 2014 with the Crimea invasion -- we're seeing the combined effect of collaborative training and resources that are right on time right at the moment, showing that Vladimir Putin's grandiose dissolutions about what he might do in Ukraine are hollow and they're failing," he told CNN.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Biden Honors 9/11 Victims, Vows Commitment To Thwart Terror

Sun, 09/11/2022 - 14:42

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President Joe Biden marked the 21st anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, taking part in a somber wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon held under a steady rain and paying tribute to "extraordinary Americans" who gave their lives on one of the nation's darkest days.

Sunday's ceremony occurred a little more than a year after Biden ended the long and costly war in Afghanistan that the U.S. and allies launched in response to the terror attacks.

Biden noted that even after the United States left Afghanistan that his administration continues to pursue those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Last month, Biden announced the U.S. had killed Ayman al-Zawahri, the Al-Qaida leader who helped plot the Sept. 11 attacks, in a clandestine operation.

"We will never forget, we will never give up," Biden said. "Our commitment to preventing another attack on the United States is without end."

The president was joined by family members of the fallen, first responders who had been at the Pentagon on the day of the attack, as well as Defense Department leadership for the annual moment of tribute carried out in New York City, the Pentagon and Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

"We owe you an incredible, incredible debt," Biden said.

SEE MORE: 9/11 Memorials Stretch Across The U.S. To Honor And Educate

In ending the Afghanistan war, the Democratic president followed through on a campaign pledge to bring home U.S. troops from the country's longest conflict. But the war concluded chaotically in August 2021, when the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed, a grisly bombing killed 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops at Kabul's airport, and thousands of desperate Afghans gathered in hopes of escape before the final U.S. cargo planes departed over the Hindu Kush.

Biden marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan late last month in low-key fashion. He issued a statement in honor of the 13 U.S. troops killed in the bombing at the Kabul airport and spoke by phone with U.S. veterans assisting ongoing efforts to resettle in the United States Afghans who helped the war effort.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday criticized Biden's handling of the end of the war and noted that the country has spiraled downward under renewed Taliban rule since the U.S. withdrawal.

"Now, one year on from last August's disaster, the devastating scale of the fallout from President Biden's decision has come into sharper focus," McConnell said. "Afghanistan has become a global pariah. Its economy has shrunk by nearly a third. Half of its population is now suffering critical levels of food insecurity."

Biden has recently dialed up warnings about what he calls the "extreme ideology" of former President Donald Trump and his "MAGA Republican" adherents as a threat to American democracy. Without naming Trump, Biden again on Sunday raised a call for Americans to safeguard democracy.

"It's not enough to stand up for democracy once a year or every now and then," Biden said. "It's something we have to do every single day. So this is a day not only to remember, but also a day for renewal and resolve for each and every American in our devotion to this country, to the principles it embodies, to our democracy."

First lady Jill Biden was speaking Sunday at the Flight 93 National Memorial Observance in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband attended a commemoration ceremony at the National September 11th Memorial in New York.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Queen Elizabeth II's Coffin Makes Journey Through Scotland

Sun, 09/11/2022 - 13:18

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Queen Elizabeth II's flag-draped coffin is passing through the rugged Scottish countryside Sunday on a final journey from her beloved summer estate Balmoral Castle to London, with mourners quietly lining roads and some tossing flowers to honor the monarch who died after 70 years on the throne.

The hearse drove past piles of bouquets and other tributes as it led a seven-car cortege from Balmoral, where the queen died Thursday, for a six-hour trip through Scottish towns to Holyroodhouse palace in Edinburgh. The late queen's coffin was draped in the Royal Standard for Scotland and topped with a wreath made of flowers from the estate, including sweet peas, one of the queen's favorites.

"A sad and poignant moment as Her Majesty, The Queen leaves her beloved Balmoral for the final time," the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted. "Today, as she makes her journey to Edinburgh, Scotland will pay tribute to an extraordinary woman."

Crowds lined parts of the route as the nation mourns its longest-reigning monarch, the only one most Britons have ever known. In the Scottish village of Ballater, where residents regard the royal family as neighbors, hundreds of people watched in silence and some threw flowers in front of the hearse as it passed.

"She meant such a lot to people in this area. People were crying, it was amazing to see," said Victoria Pacheco, a guest house manager.

 

SEE MORE: Meghan, Harry, William, Kate Make A Surprise Appearance At Windsor

In each town and village the cars drove through, they were met with similar muted scenes of respect. People stood mostly in silence; some clapped politely, others pointed their phone cameras at the passing cars.

Before reaching the Scottish capital, the cortege is traveling down what is effectively a royal memory lane — passing through locations laden with House of Windsor history including Dyce, where in 1975 the queen formally opened the U.K.'s first North Sea oil pipeline, and Fife near St. Andrews University, where her grandson William, now the Prince of Wales, studied and met his future wife, Catherine.

Sunday's solemn drive through Scotland came as the queen's eldest son was formally proclaimed the new monarch — King Charles III — in the rest of the nations of the United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It came a day after a pomp-filled accession ceremony in England steeped in ancient tradition and political symbolism.

"I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and of the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty, which have now passed to me," Charles said Saturday.

Just before the proclamation was read Sunday in Edinburgh, a protester appeared with a sign condemning imperialism and urging leaders to "abolish the monarchy," getting taken away soon afterward by police. The crowd applauded.

One man shouted, "Let her go! It's free speech!" while others shouted: "Have some respect."

It's a sign of how some, including the former British Empire colonies, are struggling with the legacy of the monarchy. Earlier, proclamations were read in other parts of the Commonwealth countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

Charles, even as he mourned his late mother, was getting to work at Buckingham Palace, meeting with the secretary-general and other representatives of the Commonwealth, nations grappling with affection for the queen and lingering bitterness over their colonial legacies, ranging from slavery to corporal punishment in African schools to looted artifacts held in British institutions.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had started laying the groundwork for an Australian republic after elections in May, said Sunday that now was the time not for a change but for paying tribute to the late queen.

India, a former British colony, observed a day of state mourning, with flags lowered to half-staff on all government buildings throughout the country.

Amid the grief enveloping the House of Windsor, there were hints of a possible family reconciliation. Prince William and his brother Harry, together with their respective wives, Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, delighted mourners near Windsor Castle with a surprise joint appearance Saturday.

The queen's coffin will take a circuitous journey back to the capital. On Monday, it will be taken from Holyroodhouse to nearby St. Giles' Cathedral, where it will remain until Tuesday, when it will be flown to London. The coffin will be moved from Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to the Houses of Parliament to lie in state until a state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19.

In Ballater, the Rev. David Barr said locals consider the royals as "neighbors" and try to treat them as locals when they spend summers in the Scottish Highlands.

"When she comes up here, and she goes through those gates, I believe the royal part of her stays mostly outside," he said. "And as she goes in, she was able to be a wife, a loving wife, a loving mum, a loving gran and then later on a loving great-gran — and aunty — and be normal."

Elizabeth Taylor, from Aberdeen, had tears in her eyes after the hearse carrying the queen's coffin passed through Ballater.

"It was very emotional. It was respectful and showed what they think of the queen," she said. "She certainly gave service to this country even up until a few days before her death."

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

U.S. Marks 21st Anniversary Of 9/11 Terror Attacks

Sun, 09/11/2022 - 12:44

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Americans are remembering 9/11 with moments of silence, readings of victims' names, volunteer work and other tributes 21 years after the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.

Victims' relatives and dignitaries will convene Sunday at the places where hijacked jets crashed on Sept. 11, 2001 — the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Other communities around the country are marking the day with candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans are joining in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognized as both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The observances follow a fraught milestone anniversary last year. It came weeks after the chaotic and humbling end of the Afghanistan war that the U.S. launched in response to the attacks.

But if this Sept. 11 may be less of an inflection point, it remains a point for reflection on the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, spurred a U.S. "war on terror" worldwide and reconfigured national security policy.

It also stirred — for a time — a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subjecting Muslim Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and engendering debate over the balance between safety and civil liberties. In ways both subtle and plain, the aftermath of 9/11 ripples through American politics and public life to this day.

SEE MORE: 9/11 Memorials Stretch Across The U.S. To Honor And Educate

And the attacks have cast a long shadow into the personal lives of thousands of people who survived, responded or lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.

More than 70 of Sekou Siby's co-workers perished at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the trade center's north tower. Siby had been scheduled to work that morning until another cook asked him to switch shifts.

Siby never took a restaurant job again; it would have brought back too many memories. The Ivorian immigrant wrestled with how to comprehend such horror in a country where he'd come looking for a better life.

He found it difficult to form the type of close, family-like friendships he and his Windows on the World co-workers had shared. It was too painful, he had learned, to become attached to people when "you have no control over what's going to happen to them next."

"Every 9/11 is a reminder of what I lost that I can never recover," says Siby, who is now president and CEO of ROC United. The restaurant workers' advocacy group evolved from a relief center for Windows on the World workers who lost their jobs when the twin towers fell.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden plans to speak and lay a wreath at the Pentagon, while first lady Jill Biden is scheduled to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked planes went down after passengers and crew members tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers headed for Washington. Al-Qaida conspirators had seized control of the jets to use them as passenger-filled missiles.

Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff are due at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York, but by tradition, no political figures speak at the ground zero ceremony. It centers instead on victims' relatives reading aloud the names of the dead.

Readers often add personal remarks that form an alloy of American sentiments about Sept. 11 — grief, anger, toughness, appreciation for first responders and the military, appeals to patriotism, hopes for peace, occasional political barbs, and a poignant accounting of the graduations, weddings, births and daily lives that victims have missed.

Some relatives also lament that a nation which came together — to some extent — after the attacks has since splintered apart. So much so that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which were reshaped to focus on international terrorism after 9/11, now see the threat of domestic violent extremism as equally urgent.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Disney Releases Trailer For New "The Little Mermaid" Movie

Sat, 09/10/2022 - 23:57

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It's been a weekend of big reveals at Disney's D23 expo in Anaheim, California.

Fans of Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars all have a ton of new movies and TV shows coming soon.

When it comes to movies, the trend of live-action remakes of classic animated films continues, and fans got a first look at a big one: "The Little Mermaid" starring Halle Bailey as Ariel.

The original hit Disney animated film was released back in 1989; the new film hits theaters in May 2023.

As for streaming shows, Baby Yoda lovers got a new trailer for season three of "The Mandalorian."

SEE MORE: How Disney Got Its International Clout

The Star Wars series "Andor," which comes out later this month, is a spy thriller prequel to the 2016 movie "Rogue One."

And the man in the hat is back! Harrison Ford, the actor who played Indiana Jones, took the stage to show off some footage from the fifth Indiana Jones movie coming out next June.

The footage has not been released publicly yet, but Ford got very emotional talking about the movie, which he told the crowd is "fantastic".

D23 wraps up on Sunday.

Kentucky Residents Work To Rebuild 9 Months After Deadly Tornado

Sat, 09/10/2022 - 23:55

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It's the sound of progress, as the city of Mayfield, Kentucky rebuilds.  

Nine months later, things are looking up after an EF4 tornado ripped through Mayfield, destroying historic buildings and homes in the small city of about 10,000 people.  

Several organizations are helping families affected by the deadly tornado get back on their feet.  

Samaritan's Purse is one of them. The plan is to build around 100 new homes, free to homeowners.  

Samaritan's Purse dedicated it's second home this week.  

Angela Taylor and Ricky Jones are the proud owners.  

"This is like a dream come true," said Taylor. "I'm so happy to have this home."

Every home is equipped with a bathroom that also serves as a storm shelter.

Nine months later, lots of people are still rebuilding their homes, waiting to move back in.

About five minutes away from downtown Mayfield, there is temporary housing for some of those affected families. They're called "tiny homes" and families can stay there until they can get into permanent housing.

Local construction groups, along with other community groups, helped build 20 tiny homes for families in need.

They come fully stocked with food and other necessities. The only thing families are responsible for is paying the electricity bill.  

The goal is to get as many families in and out of these tiny homes as possible.

SEE MORE: Kentucky Deals With Effects Of Climate Crisis

Shamber Carrico and her family were among the first to move into a tiny temporary home back in March. Her tiny home is located near their actual home, currently under construction.    

"My husband went upstairs and pretty much the whole top floor was almost gone on one side of the house," said Carrico.

Living in a temporary home allows her to stay in her community.

"When you lose your house and you get displaced somewhere so far from your town, your community, and then you get to come back, it's very overwhelming. Very overwhelming," said Carrico.

As for the city itself, it is still in clean up mode. Many buildings still need to be torn down, streetlights put back in working order, debris swept off the streets.

Mayfield Rebuilds, a group of volunteers helping the city, is looking for input from the public on how they want to rebuild the city.  

Members of the community sat down with urban planner Mark Arnold to talk about Mayfield's future. Residents say they are excited to build back better.

"I'd like to see the diverse groups be more melded together and not so much division. And I think this is a great opportunity," said Judith Tuggle, a Mayfield resident.

"I would love to see even our rebuild efforts of downtown urban allow us to have opportunities to spend time together, you know, be together, not just go to appointments, but really cross paths with people," said Pastor Al Chandler, of Northside Baptist Church. "We need to spend time together. And that's what the community needs."

Lifelong resident Jill Celaya is leading the effort.   

"Every day we face that destruction. And it's just so nice to be talking about the future and something hopeful," said Celaya. "I would love for this to be a place that our children want to perhaps go off to college, but then come back and live here and raise their families here because it is a perfect place to raise a family."

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