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Updated: 6 days 1 hour ago

Young American Fighting in Ukraine GoPros War From Trenches

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:56

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This is the front line view from a trench in eastern Ukraine, seen through the GoPro camera of a 23-year-old American who does not speak the language of his fellow soldiers. 

Newsy first met "Alex," who asked his real name not be used, back in May. He had come to Kyiv with a fellow foreign fighter. The day after this interview, he headed east alone to join a mostly-Ukranian army unit. 

In the months that ensued he fought in Kharkiv and then the Donbas region, and as part of the larger fighting force in the lightning counteroffensive. 

Alex stopped in Kyiv again for a few hours on his way to meet up with a special unit. 

NEWSY'S JASON BELLINI: I know you don't want to talk about where you're going next, what you're doing next. What do you think the next few weeks are going to be like for you?

ALEX: More battle, more like this unit in particular, these people fight and these people they get their hands dirty. And that's what I want to get in.

In other words, less time in the trenches, where he fires at an enemy he rarely and barely sees, while being hunted by and hiding from enemy artillery.

SEE MORE: 2 Foreign Fighters Share Stories Of Battle Against Russian Forces

BELLINI: As a young foreigner, do you feel like they treat you well, treat you with respect? 

ALEX: It has its days. We all, you know, poke fun at each other,  the usual… it's a brotherhood.

BELLINI: Some of the brothers that you showed me in that video, you said they're no longer with us. 

ALEX: They were given another objective to take. We were separated from my outfit. 

BELLINI: How did you find out they were dead? 

ALEX: The commander gathered us all in for a meeting and told us that the attack was a success. And he read the list of heroes. And when they read the list of heroes, that means those people are not coming back. And my pals were on that list.

A few weeks ago, Alex shared photos of the tank in which he was asked to perform a grim duty. 

ALEX: The sergeant pulled me over and said, 'hey, I need some help moving bodies.' I was like, 'all right.' Inside the tank was the body of a sergeant. A Ukrainian sergeant.

It was someone he had met before, who had thanked Alex for his service in Ukraine. 

BELLINI: And you pulled him out of the tank? 

ALEX: He was in pieces. 

BELLINI: That sounds traumatic.

ALEX: It is what you- [he struggles for words]

Beyond words — six months and 5,700 miles away from home.

BELLINI: How much longer you think you're going to be here?

ALEX: I'm going to be here for the winter. I know that much. But I don't know. I don't know. I'm not quitting. I can tell you that much. I'm far from it now. Like we're winning. And that's what I like to see.

Ukraine Combs Mass Burial Site, Says Russia 'Leaves Death'

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:38

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Ukrainian authorities began recovering bodies Friday from a mass burial site in a forest recaptured from Russian forces — a find that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said was an example of "what the Russian occupation has led to."

The site, which police said contained 445 graves, was discovered close to Izium after a rapid counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces retook the northeastern city and much of the Kharkiv region, breaking what had largely become a stalemate in the nearly seven-month war. Ukrainian officials said they have also found evidence that people were tortured during the Russian occupation of the area.

To bolster the offensive, the Biden administration announced another $600 million package of military aid Thursday for Ukraine, including more of the weaponry that has helped its troops seize the momentum.

Associated Press journalists who visited the burial site Thursday saw graves amid the pine trees, marked with simple wooden crosses. Most were numbered — and the count went into the 400s.

It was not clear who was buried under many of the dirt mounds or how all of them died, though witnesses and a Ukrainian investigator said some were shot and others were killed by artillery fire, mines or airstrikes.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Zelenskyy Visits Recently Retaken, Devastated City

The majority of the people buried were believed to be civilians, according to Ukrainian officials. But there was at least one mass grave, with a marker saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.

In his nightly televised address on Thursday, Zelenskyy said "more information — clear, verifiable information" about the burial site was expected Friday.

"We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to," he said.

Zelenskyy invoked the names of other Ukrainian cities where authorities said retreating Russian troops left behind mass graves of civilians.

"Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izium," he said. "Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for it."

The marking of individual graves with wooden crosses differed from some other burial sites discovered earlier in the war and seen by AP journalists — including some around Kyiv that are being investigated as sites of possible war crimes. Bodies found outside the capital in the town of Bucha and elsewhere after Russian forces withdrew had been dumped together and buried without markers.

Izium resident Sergei Gorodko said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves were dozens of adults and children killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building.

He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble "with my own hands."

Sergei Bolvinov, a senior investigator for Ukrainian police, told British TV broadcaster Sky News that some of the people buried were shot, while others died from artillery fire, mines or airstrikes.

The mass grave of Ukrainian soldiers could contain more than the 17 bodies mentioned on its marker, said Oleg Kotenko, an official with the Ukrainian ministry tasked with reintegrating occupied territories.

"We haven't counted them yet, but I think there are more than 25 or even 30," he said, basing his estimate on video footage of the site that Russian soldiers posted on social media.

Kotenko also said that individual graves marked with crosses contained civilians who died. He said he expected the bodies would be exhumed for DNA testing.

Ukraine's national police chief, Ihor Klymenko, said about 445 graves had so far been found at the site and that the "majority" were believed to be civilians.

The work to determine what caused their deaths "is not a one-week job. These bodies have been buried there since March," he said.

Before exhumation work began, investigators with metal detectors scanned the site for any hidden explosives. Soldiers strung red and white plastic tape between the trees to mark off parts of the site. A few graves had wreaths of flowers hanging from the crosses, and some bore people's names.

Izium was a key supply hub for Russian forces until they withdrew in recent days. Izium city councilor Maksym Strelnikov told reporters in an online briefing from an undisclosed location this week that hundreds of people had died during the fighting and after Russia seized the town in March. Many died from shelling and couldn't get a proper burial, he said.

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

His claims could not be immediately verified, but similar scenes have played out in other cities captured by Russian forces, including Mariupol.

Strelnikov said an untold number of people also died from lack of proper health care since the "medical infrastructure of the city was destroyed." Most of the city's pre-war population of 47,000 fled to Ukrainian-held territories. Strelnikov said 10,000 residents remain in the ruined city — bracing for more hardship with winter coming and most infrastructure destroyed.

The national police chief, Klymenko, said "torture chambers" have also been found in recaptured towns and villages of the Kharkiv region. The claim could not be independently verified.

Prayers and counts of the days spent in detention were found on the walls of places that held people in Izium, he said.

Six Sri Lankan students who fell into Russian hands in Kupiansk, also in the Kharkiv region, have also said that they were held and mistreated, he said.

"They are scared, they were abused," he said. They include "a woman who can barely speak" and two with torn toe nails.

Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said bodies exhumed in the region also showed "traces of a violent death, but also of torture — cut off ears, etc. This is just the beginning."

"All these traces of war crimes are now carefully documented by us. And we know from the experience of Bucha that the worst crimes can only be exposed over time," Enin said in an interview with Ukraine's Radio NV.

The $600 million in additional U.S. military aid announced Thursday will include more of the same types of ammunition and equipment that have helped the Ukrainian counteroffensive beat back Russian forces in large portions of the east and in the south.

The aid was "carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table when the time is right," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press. 

Veteran NY Judge Named As Arbiter In Trump Mar-a-Lago Probe

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:33

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A federal judge on Thursday appointed a veteran New York jurist to serve as an independent arbiter and review records seized during an FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Florida home last month.

In her order, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon refused a Justice Department request to lift her temporary prohibition on the department's use of the roughly 100 classified records that were taken during the Aug. 8 search. She also granted the newly named special master, Raymond Dearie, access to the entire tranche of documents seized from the property even though the department had said the arbiter shouldn't be permitted to inspect the batch of classified records.

The Justice Department is expected to contest the judge's order to a federal appeals court. It had given Cannon until Thursday to put on hold her order barring the continued review of classified records, and said it would ask the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene if she did not do so then.

A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately return a message Thursday evening.

The selection of Dearie, a former federal prosecutor who for years served as the chief judge of the federal court based in Brooklyn, came after both the Justice Department and Trump's lawyers made clear that they would be satisfied with his appointment as a so-called special master.

In that role, Dearie will be responsible for reviewing the documents taken during the search of Mar-a-Lago and segregating out any that may be covered by claims of privilege. It is not clear how long the work will take but the special master process has already delayed the investigation, with Cannon directing the Justice Department to temporarily pause core aspects of its probe.

The Justice Department is investigating the hoarding of top-secret materials and other classified documents at the Florida property after Trump left office. The FBI says it recovered more than 11,000 documents from the home during its search, including roughly 100 with classification markings.

Trump’s lawyers had asked last month for a judge to name a special master to do an independent review of the records and segregate any that may be covered by claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege. The Justice Department argued the appointment was unnecessary, saying it had already done its own review and Trump had no right to raise executive privilege claims that ordinarily permit the president to withhold certain information from the public and Congress.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, disagreed and directed both sides to name potential candidates for the role. She also ordered the Justice Department to halt its review of the documents for investigative purposes until “further Court order” or until the special master completes their review.

The Trump team recommended either Dearie or a Florida lawyer for the job. The Justice Department said that, in addition to the two retired judges whose names it submitted, it would also be satisfied with a Dearie appointment.

Dearie served as the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York from 1982 to 1986, at which point he was appointed to the federal bench by then-President Ronald Reagan. He has also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes Justice Department wiretap applications in investigations involving suspected agents of a foreign power.

He took senior status in 2011, but the Justice Department has said he remains active and had indicated to officials that he was available for the position and could work expeditiously if appointed to it.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Younger Britons Are Less Likely To Support The Continued Monarchy

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:31

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A poll conducted during the Queen's Platinum Jubilee earlier in 2022 showed the vast majority of respondents over the age of 65 believe the monarchy should continue.

But only a third of those 18-24 support the institution. 

Some see the end of Queen Elizabeth II's reign as an opportunity to evaluate the necessity of the monarchy in Britain.

 

SEE MORE: King Charles III, In First Address, Vows 'Lifelong Service'

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Sends Migrants To Massachusetts By Plane

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:07

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Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis took part in the latest tactic Republican governors have employed to push back on what they view as President Biden and Congressional democrats’ inaction on the migrant crisis. DeSantis sent two charter planes Wednesday carrying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard — a popular vacation spot off the coast of Massachusetts.

"The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berserk and they’re so upset this was happening," DeSantis said.

The planes, which were carrying roughly 50 migrants including children, arrived around 3pm with no warning, according to local officials. 

Earlier this summer, Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas began sending buses full of migrants apprehended at the southern border to Washington D.C., often with no warning. 

"In any one sector in the state of Texas, we have more than 5,000 people coming across that sector every single day," Abbott said.

SEE MORE: 129 More Migrants Arrive In New York City From Texas

On Thursday, two buses carrying migrants also arrived at the U.S. Naval Observatory — the vice president’s official residence in Washington D.C. Those buses came from Del Rio, Texas.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency last week in order to redirect more resources to support the thousands of migrants who have arrived in the nation’s capital from Texas and Arizona. And just last month, Texas Gov. Abbott began sending migrants to New York and Chicago as welll. 

Illinois governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation and has tapped the state's national guard to help handle the hundreds of migrants being sent from Texas. 

"Let me be clear: while other states may be treating these vulnerable families as pawns, here in Illinois, we are treating them as people and when a person comes urgently seeking help here in Illinois we offer them a helping hand," Pritzker said.

Nearly a dozen busloads of immigrants have arrived in recent weeks in Chicago, with some migrants being relocated by the state to hotels in the suburbs — angering local mayors. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called on the Biden administration to provide more federal assistance in light of Texas’ action. 

"Governor Abbott's racist and xenophobic practices of expulsion have only amplified the challenges many of these migrants have experienced on their journey to find a safe place," Lightfoot said.

Why Does Our Vision Get Worse As We Age?

Fri, 09/16/2022 - 00:03

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Our aging eyes can start to see some problems. The gift of vision is one that researchers say wanes over time. Why? 

Dr. Robert Layman is one of the nation’s leading optometrists, with over four decades of experience in eye care

"The parts that make up your vision system, our lifetime cells, they’re brain tissue, and they never get a replacement part. So what you're seeing with at 80 is what you started with at one," said Layman.  

80% of the information we take in comes through the eye. Light travels through different structures, like the cornea at the front, which helps you focus light to see clearly. Or the iris that gives you your eye color and the pupil that lets light into the retina. 

Once light is allowed through that lens, it travels through the retina to the back of the eye. 

Special cells turn the light into electric signals that go through the optic nerve, to the brain. 

Over the years those signals pick up mileage and, like an old car, begin to slow down. 

"If you ever seen car headlights that have been outside, and they're not transparent anymore, they get kind of frosted, that's what happens to the cells inside your eye over eight decades to nine decades."

Dr. Layman is describing cataracts. The age-related eye condition affects over 24 million people, according to the National Eye Institute.

SEE MORE: How Social Media Has Fueled The 'Clean Eating' Movement

Another ailment is presbyopia, which comes from two Greek words that mean "old man" and "eye." 

It’s when our eye’s lens loses its natural flexibility over time and makes nearby objects tougher to see. 

"We're born with this really elastic lens inside the eye and it can adjust from 25 feet to one inch and then gradually it loses the one inch to become six inches; and then gradually 12 inches and the closest point of focus you have is going to gradually go away from you. And that's perfectly normal," said Layman. 

These conditions are often solved with an assist from glasses, contact lenses or surgery. But are there other ways to fend off father time? 

Dr. Layman says we hold the keys to slowing the eye-aging process. 

"You have a role to play. People that have diets of lots of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, they're gonna get nutrients that help transport good stuff into the eye cells and bad stuff out of the eye cells back to the kidney and liver to get recycled," said Layman. 

The eye serves as a small but mighty part of the human engine. 

And with maintenance, can help you see more clearly as the miles pick up. 

Why Is The Trucking Industry Changing?

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 23:43

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Manny Guzman's life on the road is a far cry from his long days four years ago when the father of one was taking orders for wedding cakes and pastries at a bakery in Chicago. 

"I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week — there was no day off," said Guzman. "I got my license and I was lucky enough to get a job with this company that does flatbed haul steel." 

Manny is part of a new breed of truckers that's critical to the rapidly-changing backbone of American commerce. 

The American Trucking Association said it was already short about 61,000 drivers before the pandemic decimated the industry. 

Even back in 2017 Leah Shaver, COO of the National Transportation Institute, said "students are not coming in at fast enough rates, and they're not sticking with the industry the way we need." 

So when 2020 came around, trucking was nowhere near prepared for what happened. Just as demand for shipping skyrocketed, more drivers decided to hang up the keys. 

"Most of the drivers are aging out, we're in our 50s, 60s and 70s and we raised our families — its time to come off the road," said Mary Okeefe, a Pinellas Technical College lead instructor.

SEE MORE: Truckers Protest Proposed Restrictions On Private Contractors

Fewer drivers on the roads and more cargo ships sitting on ports made for a supply chain mess. But more than two years later a new breed of truckers could drive what trucking schools hope will be a rebound in late 2022.

"We normally have 55 to 60 students. We have 82 right now. All of the companies are experiencing shortages. They call us constantly and they call constantly for drivers," said Larry Scott, an instructor at ATDS Driving School.   

And trucking's rebirth, if you will, is also an opportunity to change how it looks. Right now, the average truck driver is a white 48-year-old man. But the American Trucking Association says the rate of Black and Latino drivers over the last two decades has jumped 45%. 

It's still just shy of 8% of all drivers today that are women, but that's an all-time high. 

"I love to travel. I don't have any kids yet so whats wrong with seeing the world and making some money," said Tanzania Kellum, an ATDS student. 

And if we didn't understand the value of truckers before COVID, our increased demand for them has given drivers more leverage to get more out of their work. 

The average driver made more than $69,000 last year. 

That's 18% higher than the year prior. 

Trucking companies hope higher wages attract younger drivers and tee up long-term careers, to give the industry some stability. 

But federal regulations can make that tricky. While most states let anyone over 18 get a commercial driver's license, federal law says no one under 21 can drive a big rig across state lines. 

The federal Safe Driver Apprenticeship Pilot Program aims to change that by allowing drivers under 21 to cross state lines while accompanied by an experienced trucker. It's a move that could help fill driver gaps. 

So could autonomous semi-trucks. They're currently undergoing tests in Arizona, with commercial shipments expected to start next year.  

"We believe autonomous trucking is coming to the industry, we believe its gonna be on our roads in the very near future," said Lee White, the VP of strategy for TuSimple. 

Until then, industry leaders hope more truckers like Manny Guzman see driving as a life-changing career, to cushion their bank accounts and stabilize the American economy.  

"It is the best decision because I've made more money doing this than I ever made in my life doing the bakery thing, owning my own business. Even when I started driving for somebody else, I was making more money than I was making working 16 hours a day seven days a week for myself. It was like a no-brainer," said Guzman.  

'Glass Onion' Review: A Middling Satire With Appealing Performances

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 22:07

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“It’s so dumb!” - Daniel Craig in one of the more entertaining scenes of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”, but also an accurate description of how I felt for stretches of the sequel to 2019’s widely beloved “Knives Out.” That’s OK, though. While "Onion" lacks the same charisma, charm and wit as its predecessor, it’s still undoubtedly a crowd pleaser that buzzes along despite a 139-minute runtime.  

Craig’s shtick as renowned detective Benoit Blanc is perhaps even more fun this time around. Rian Johnson is also back as writer/director, with a new murder mystery that, to his credit, has an entirely distinct setup from the last film.  

A group of friends (Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, Jessica Henwick, Dave Bautista, Madelyn Cline), all successful in their very different careers, receive an invitation in the mail. Their ultra-rich tech buddy, Miles Bron (Edward Norton), is inviting them to stay at his remote Greek island to solve his own murder — as in a dinner party murder mystery. (Blanc also gets an invite, though Bron swears he never sent him one. Blanc would like a prize… perhaps an iPad… for whoever solves the mystery). But when this much wealth, privilege and ignorance among friends considered “disrupters” in their respective fields gathers under one roof, something bad is bound to happen. It does, of course – just not in the way, or when, we expect. And so, we’re off.  

Johnson ratchets up the comedy in “Glass Onion” to mixed results. The first third of the film is an unwelcome (and unnecessary) reminder of pandemic lockdowns and mandates, along with an over-reliance on spoofing the ultra-wealthy. Of course, lampooning the ignorance of privilege is part of the fun of both "Knives Out" movies, but some of the satire in this case is so on the nose that it feels patronizing. You can almost feel Johnson elbowing the audience saying, “Rich people, am I right or what?!” There must be a more creative, thoughtful way to riff on toxic greed and influencer culture than, for instance, Hudson’s character casually tweeting an antisemitic remark because she’s a self-proclaimed "truth teller." These types of punchlines are neither nuanced nor outrageous enough to be particularly funny.  

The hit-and-miss nature of the laughs isn't helped by a cast of characters I just never wanted to spend time with. Johnson mostly gives his actors caricatures to work with, and the dialogue does a little too much winking to the audience for its own good. Again, both “Knives Out” movies featured mostly unlikeable characters. I found the first bunch deplorably fun, while I wouldn’t want to RSVP to a party with this crew — even on a Greek island with a literal onion-shaped glass room.  

Along with Craig, Monáe is excellent as Andi Brand, the lone member of the friend group with a soul. Monáe is asked to carry large parts of the movie. She succeeds, giving us some of the most intriguing moments of the film as the puzzle pieces come together. Norton also completely works playing the insufferably snobbish genius who feels compelled to rent the actual Mona Lisa from The Louvre (the museum needed some money during the pandemic) just to remind his friends — and himself — how impressive he is. The entire ensemble, really, understands the assignment here. This is a big, ridiculous, meta whodunnit. The talent of the main cast (plus fun cameos!) is not in question.  

SEE MORE: Streaming Is Changing How Companies Make Money, For Better Or Worse

The good news is "Onion" begins to click once we get all the unpleasantries of meeting these unsavory characters out of the way and the mystery plot kicks in. The more screen time for Craig and Monáe, the better. Johnson clearly recognizes what he has with the pairing, not unlike Craig and Ana de Armas in 2019. Their chemistry is delightful, and their comedic moments feel organic and earned.  

What starts as Johnson's forced attempt to show he can still subvert the murder mystery genre with biting social commentary turns into another fun trip through the peculiar mind of one Benoit Blanc. “Glass Onion” is consistently entertaining; and just as Johnson said after the TIFF premiere that he’ll keep making these movies until Craig blocks his number, I’ll keep watching Craig have fun in this role. I can’t help but feel, though, that this second entry into the franchise suffers a bit from the Netflixification of cinema, with a baseline level of competence from everyone involved in a big-budget production that’s just serviceable; you stream it and move on. At least that iPad will come in handy. 

U.S. Moved Online, Worked From Home More Often As Pandemic Raged

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 20:12

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During the first two years of the pandemic, the number of people working from home in the United States tripled, home values grew and the percentage of people who spent more than a third of their income on rent went up, according to survey results released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Providing the most detailed data to date on how life changed in the U.S. under COVID-19, the bureau's American Community Survey 1-year estimates for 2021 showed that the share of unmarried couples living together rose, Americans became more wired and the percentage of people who identify as multiracial grew significantly. And in changes that seemed to directly reflect how the pandemic upended people's choices, fewer people moved, preschool enrollment dropped and commuters using public transportation was cut in half.

SEE MORE: Census Data Shows America Is More Racially Diverse

The data release offers the first reliable glimpse of life in the U.S. during the COVID-19 era, as the 1-year estimates from the 2020 survey were deemed unusable because of problems getting people to answer during the early months of the pandemic. That left a one-year data gap during a time when the pandemic forced major changes in the way people live their lives.

The survey typically relies on responses from 3.5 million households to provide 11 billion estimates each year about commuting times, internet access, family life, income, education levels, disabilities, military service and employment. The estimates help inform how to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending.

Response rates significantly improved from 2020 to 2021, "so we are confident about the data for this year," said Mark Asiala, the survey's chief of statistical design.

While the percentage of married-couple households stayed stable over the two years at around 47%, the percent of households with unwed couples cohabiting rose to 7.2% in 2021 from 6.6% in 2019. Contrary to pop culture images of multigenerational family members moving in together during the pandemic, the average household size actually contracted from 2.6 to 2.5 people.

People also stayed put. More than 87% of those surveyed were living in their same house a year ago in 2021, compared to 86% in 2019. America became more wired as people became more reliant on remote learning and working from home. Households with a computer rose, from 92.9% in 2019 to 95% in 2021, and internet subscription services grew from 86% to 90% of households.

The jump in people who identify as multiracial — from 3.4% in 2019 to 12.6% in 2021 — and a decline in people identifying as white alone — from 72% to 61.2% — coincided with Census Bureau changes in coding race and Hispanic origin responses. Those adjustments were intended to capture more detailed write-in answers from participants. The period between surveys also overlapped with social justice protests following the killing of George Floyd, who was Black, by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020 as well as attacks against Asian Americans. Experts say this likely lead some multiracial people who previously might have identified as a single race to instead embrace all of their background.

"The pattern is strong evidence of shifting self-identity. This is not new," said Paul Ong, a professor emeritus of urban planning and Asian American Studies at UCLA. "Other research has shown that racial or ethnic identity can change even over a short time period. For many, it is contextual and situational. This is particularly true for individuals with multiracial background."

SEE MORE: Census: Federal Relief Programs Kept People Out Of Poverty In 2020

The estimates show the pandemic-related impact of closed theaters, shuttered theme parks and restaurants with limited seating on workers in arts, entertainment and accommodation businesses. Their numbers declined from 9.7% to 8.2% of the workforce, while other industries stayed comparatively stable. Those who were self-employed inched up to 6.1% from 5.8%.

Housing demand grew over the two years, as the percent of vacant homes dropped from 12.1% to 10.3%. The median value of homes rose from $240,500 to $281,400. The percent of people whose gross rent exceeded more than 30% of their income went from 48.5% to 51%. Historically, renters are considered rent-burdened if they pay more than that.

"Lack of housing that folks can afford relative to the wages they are paid is a continually growing crisis," said Allison Plyer, chief demographer at The Data Center in New Orleans.

Commutes to work dropped from 27.6 minutes to 25.6 minutes, as the percent of people working from home during a period of return-to-office starts and stops went from 5.7% in 2019 to almost 18% in 2021. Almost half of workers in the District of Columbia worked from home, the highest rate in the nation, while Mississippi had the lowest rate at 6.3% Over the two years, the percent of workers nationwide using public transportation to get to work went from 5% to 2.5%, as fears rose of catching the virus on buses and subways.

"Work and commuting are central to American life, so the widespread adoption of working from home is a defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Burrows, a Census Bureau statistician. "With the number of people who primarily work from home tripling over just a two-year period, the pandemic has very strongly impacted the commuting landscape in the United States."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Detroit Auto Show Returns After 3 Years, Focus On Electric Vehicles

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 18:43

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The Detroit Auto Show is back after a three year pit stop due to COVID.  

The big focus this year is electric cars.

American Road Trip is going to be fully electrified, whether you're driving coast-to-coast along I-10. Or on I-75 in Michigan. Charging stations will be up and easy to find as gas stations are now. 

President Biden helped jump-start the electric fanfare, announcing $900 million to install EV chargers along 53,000 miles of U.S. highways across 35 states.

They'll need to be built quickly. EV sales are shocking analysts. They're up 60% in the first quarter of the year. They account for about five percent of the sales, but they only make up one percent of the 250 million cars on the road.

SEE MORE: New Gas-Powered Cars Will Be A Thing Of The Past By 2035 In California

But sales are kicking into overdrive. EV sales are expected to make up 30% of all car sales by the end of the decade, almost half by 2035 and the majority of sales in less than 30 years. 

Whether you prefer a sports car, truck, or SUV, there's an electric version of everything. 

The big auto makes, like GM, are focusing on electric and pledging to only sell electric cars by the middle of the next decade.

One of the big deterrents, though, is cost.

The average gas-powered car costs about $48,000  while the average EV costs about $66,000.  

GM is trying to get cars into middle-class driveways, unveiling its new fully electric Equinox for just $30,000.

"We really think this is going to be a key point for EV adoption," Equinox EV Chief Engineer Matt Purdy said. And we’re going to see that we're priced right in the right segment with the right vehicle."

SEE MORE: Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Boom Nationwide

All of the big automakers are betting big on electric.

GM is spending $7 million on new electric battery planes in Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Ford is writing a $11 billion check for EV plants in Tennessee and Kentucky, that will employ 11,000 people. Meanwhile, Telsa is building a new plant in Austin, Texas. And Stellantis is dropping more than $2 billion on a battery plant in Indiana.   

Ford basically split its company in half — half gas, half electric — and it's already paying off.  

Last month, its EV sales jumped 307%, driven by its electric F-150 pick-up and Mustang models. It will sell 600,000 EVs this year and two million annually in just four years.  

Not to be left out in the dark, Stellantis, which owns Jeep, announced its new hybrid Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But not everything is electric. This year, they will also debut the Farwell Edition of the Chrysler 300, which is a large gas-powered sedan. 

Griner, Whelan Families To Meet Biden Amid U.S.-Russia Talks

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 18:42

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President Joe Biden plans to meet at the White House on Friday with family members of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, both of whom remain jailed in Russia, the White House announced Friday.

"He wanted to let them know that they remain front of mind and that his team is working on this every day on making sure that Brittney and Paul return home safely," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Thursday's press briefing at the White House.

The separate meetings are to be the first in-person encounter between President Biden and the families and are taking place amid sustained but so far unsuccessful efforts by the administration to secure the Americans' release. The administration said in July that it had made a "substantial proposal" to get them home, but despite plans for the White House meetings, there is no sign that a breakthrough is imminent.

Griner has been held in Russia since February on drug-related charges. She was sentenced last month to nine years in prison after pleading guilty and has appealed the punishment. Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage-related charges that he and his family say are false. The U.S. government regards both as wrongfully detained, placing their cases with the office of its top hostage negotiator.

Friday's meetings, which both families have long sought, are intended to underscore the administration's commitment to bringing home Griner, Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad, as well as to "connect with them on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them," said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as the meetings had not yet been publicly announced.

SEE MORE: Why Is It So Difficult To Bring Detained Americans Home?

Negotiations have been complicated by the tense relations between Washington and Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of announcing two months ago that the administration had made a substantial proposal to Russia. Since then, the administration has followed up in multiple ways to press its offer and get serious negotiations underway, one of the administration officials said Thursday.

The Russians, who have indicated that they are open to negotiations but have chided the Americans to conduct them in private, have come back with suggestions that are not within the administration's ability to deliver, said the official, declining to elaborate. But the U.S. has been following up through the same channels that produced an April prisoner swap that brought Marine veteran Trevor Reed home from Russia, the official said.

The administration has not provided specifics about its proposal, but a person familiar with the matter previously confirmed it had offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms dealer now imprisoned in the U.S. It is also possible that, in the interests of symmetry, Russia might insist on having two of its citizens released from prison.

SEE MORE: Paul Whelan's Family 'Cautiously Hopeful' For Potential Prisoner Swap

President Biden spoke by phone in July with Griner's wife, Cherelle, and with Whelan's sister, Elizabeth, but both families have also requested in-person meetings. On Friday, President Biden plans to speak at the White House with Cherelle Griner and with the player's agent in one meeting and with Elizabeth Whelan in the other.

The meetings are being done separately so as to ensure that each family has private time with the president. But the fact that they are happening on the same day shows the extent to which the two cases have become intertwined since the only deal that is presumably palatable to the U.S. is one that gets both Americans — a famous WNBA player and a Michigan man who until recently was little known to the public — home together at the same time,

In the past several months, representatives of both families have expressed frustration over what they perceived as a lack of aggressive action and coordination from the administration.

Cherelle Griner, for instance, told The Associated Press in an interview in June that she was dismayed after the failure of a phone call from her wife that was supposed to have been patched through by the American Embassy in Moscow left the couple unable to connect on their fourth anniversary.

Whelan's relatives have sought to keep attention on his case, anxious that it has been overshadowed in the public eye by the focus on the far more prominent Griner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA all-star. They also conveyed disappointment when Whelan, despite having been held in Russia since December 2018, was not included in a prisoner swap last April that brought home another detained American, Marine veteran Trevor Reed.

Friday's meeting was scheduled before news broke this week of an unconnected trip to Russia by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has been a veteran emissary in hostage and detainee cases. Administration officials reacted coolly to that trip, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Wednesday that dialogue with Russia outside the "established channel" risks hindering efforts to get Griner and Whelan home.

Administration officials say work on hostage and detainee cases persist regardless of whether a family receives a meeting with the president, though there is also no question that such an encounter can help establish a connection. President Biden met in the Oval Office in March with Reed's parents after the Texas couple stood with a large sign outside the White House calling for their son's release.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Florida Relocates Migrants To Martha's Vineyard

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 18:18

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies.

Flights to the upscale island enclave in Massachusetts were part of an effort to “transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations,” said Taryn Fenske, DeSantis' communications director.

SEE MORE: The Biden Administration To End 'Remain In Mexico' Border Policy

While DeSantis' office didn't elaborate on their legal status, many migrants who cross the border illegally from Mexico are temporarily shielded from deportation after being freed by U.S. authorities to pursue asylum in immigration court — as allowed under U.S law and international treaty — or released on humanitarian parole.

Massachusetts’ Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he was in touch with local officials and that short-term shelter was being provided.

Martha’s Vineyard has styled itself as a “sanctuary destination” that welcomes migrants — a position it took early in former President Donald Trump’s administration.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, who represents Martha’s Vineyard, tweeted: “Our island jumped into action putting together 50 beds, giving everyone a good meal, providing a play area for the children, making sure people have the healthcare and support they need. We are a community that comes together to support immigrants.”

SEE MORE: Why Are Border Encounters At An All-Time High?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began busing thousands of migrants to Washington in April and recently added New York and Chicago as destinations. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has been busing migrants to Washington since May. Passengers must sign waivers that the free trips are voluntary.

DeSantis, who is mentioned as potential presidential candidate, appears to be taking the strategy to a new level by using planes and choosing Martha's Vineyard, whose harbor towns that are home to about 15,000 people are far less prepared than New York or Washington for large influxes of migrants.

The move is likely to delight DeSantis' supporters who deride Democrat-led, immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities and anger critics who say he is weaponizing migrants as pawns for political gain.

The Florida Legislature appropriated $12 million to transport “illegal immigrants” from the state consistent with federal law, Fenske said.

“States like Massachusetts, New York, and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as 'sanctuary states' and support for the Biden Administration’s open border policies,” Fenske said.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Biden: Rail Strike Averted Is 'Big Win For America'

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 17:31

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President Joe Biden announced Thursday that a tentative railway labor agreement has been reached, averting a nationwide strike that could have been devastating to the economy before the pivotal midterm elections.

Railroads and union representatives had been in negotiations for 20 hours at the Labor Department well past midnight to hammer out a deal, as there was a risk of a strike starting on Friday that could have shut down rail lines across the country.

The president brought business and union leaders to the Oval Office on Thursday morning, then hailed the deal in remarks in the White House Rose Garden.

"This agreement is validation of what I've always believed, unions and management can work together — can work together — for the benefit of everyone," President Biden declared.

President Biden made a key phone call to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at 9 p.m. Wednesday as the talks were ongoing after Italian dinner had been brought in, according to White House officials who insisted on anonymity to discuss the conversations. On speakerphone, the president told the negotiators to get a deal done and to consider the harm to families, farmers and businesses if a shutdown occurred, the officials said.

SEE MORE: Possible Railroad Worker Strike Could Upend U.S. Supply Chain

What resulted from the back and forth was a tentative agreement that will go to union members for a vote after a post-ratification cooling off period of several weeks. One union had to wake up its board to move forward on the agreement, which involved 50 calls from White House officials to organized labor officials.

In the Oval Office, a beaming President Biden joked that he was surprised everyone was "still standing" after the late night and that they should be "home in bed."

The strike would also have disrupted passenger traffic as well as freight rail lines, because Amtrak and many commuter railroads operate on tracks owned by the freight railroads. Amtrak had already canceled a number of its long-distance trains this week, and said the rest of its long-distance trains would stop Thursday ahead of the strike deadline.

Following the tentative agreement, Amtrak said it was "working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures."

The five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses that a Presidential Emergency Board recommended this summer. But railroads also agreed to ease their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions' concerns about working conditions.

Railroad workers will now be able to take unpaid days off for doctor's appointments without being penalized under railroad attendance rules. Previously, workers would lose points under the attendance systems that the BNSF and Union Pacific railways had adopted, and they could be disciplined if they lost all their points.

The unions that represent the conductors and engineers who drive the trains had pressed hard for changes in the attendance rules, and they said this deal sets a precedent that they will be able to negotiate over those kinds of rules in the future. But workers will still have to vote whether those changes are enough to approve the deal.

SEE MORE: Biden Intervenes In Railroad Contract Fight To Block Strike

The threat of a shutdown had put President Biden in a delicate spot politically. The Democratic president believes unions built the middle class, but he also knew a rail worker strike could damage the economy ahead of the midterms, when majorities in both chambers of Congress, key governorships and scores of important state offices will be up for grabs.

That left him in the awkward position on Wednesday. He flew to Detroit, a stalwart of the labor movement, to espouse the virtues of unionization, while members of his administration went all-out to keep talks going in Washington between the railroads and unionized workers.

As the administration was trying to forge peace, United Auto Workers Local 598 member Ryan Buchalski introduced President Biden at the Detroit auto show as "the most union- and labor-friendly president in American history" and someone who was "kickin' ass for the working class." Buchalski harked back to the pivotal sit-down strikes by autoworkers in the 1930s.

In the speech that followed, President Biden recognized that he wouldn't be in the White House without the support of unions such as the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, saying autoworkers "brung me to the dance."

But without a deal among the 12 unions in talks back in Washington, President Biden also knew that a stoppage could halt shipments of food and fuel at a cost of $2 billion a day.

Far more was at stake than sick leave and salary bumps for 115,000 unionized railroad workers. The ramifications could have extended to control of Congress and to the shipping network that keeps factories rolling, stocks the shelves of stores and stitches the U.S. together as an economic power.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking aboard Air Force One as it jetted to Detroit, said a rail worker strike was "an unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people."

President Biden faced the same kind of predicament faced by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 with coal and Harry Truman in 1952 with steel — how do you balance the needs of labor and business in doing what's best for the nation? Railways were so important during World War I that Woodrow Wilson temporarily nationalized the industry to keep goods flowing and prevent strikes.

Union activism has surged under President Biden, as seen in a 56% increase in petitions for union representation with the National Labor Relations Board so far this fiscal year.

With the economy still recovering from the supply chain disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic, the president's goal was to keep all parties so a deal could be reached. President Biden also knew a stoppage could worsen the dynamics that have contributed to soaring inflation and created a political headache for the party in power.

Eddie Vale, a Democratic political consultant and former AFL-CIO communications aide, said the White House pursued the correct approach at a perilous moment.

"No one wants a railroad strike, not the companies, not the workers, not the White House," he said. "No one wants it this close to the election."

Sensing political opportunity, Senate Republicans moved Wednesday to pass a law to impose contract terms on the unions and railroad companies to avoid a shutdown. Democrats, who control both chambers in Congress, blocked it.

The economic impact of a potential strike was not lost on members of the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based group that represents CEOs. It issued its quarterly outlook for the economy Wednesday.

"We've been experiencing a lot of headwinds from supply chain problems since the pandemic started and those problems would be geometrically magnified," Josh Bolten, the group's CEO, told reporters. "There are manufacturing plants around the country that likely have to shut down. ... There are critical products to keep our water clean."

By 5:05 a.m. Thursday, it was clear that the hard work across the government, unions and railway companied had paid off as President Biden announced the deal, calling it "an important win for our economy and the American people."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

How Accent-Changing Apps Are Removing Communication Barriers

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 17:02

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Accents are diverse and unique, but sometimes accents get in the way of understanding people. An app called Sanas looks to remove that barrier by using AI technology to take away a person's accent.

"We're all trained with the products, with the services," said Dwayne Alviola, "Whether we're in the Philippines or in a different country, rest assured that we're trained in every detail to handle your accounts."

Alviola lives in the Philippines and has worked for U.S.-based companies for eight years. He previously worked in call centers and now works in customer service.

Throughout the years of working in call centers, Alviola says he and his coworkers faced discrimination and racism on the other end of the call.

SEE MORE: Call Center Technology Could Remove Accents From Customer Service

"Usually, the "f-you" word, then usually they'll be in different types of curses, but since it's our second language, we don't even mind it," Alviola said. "But, racism comes in, even if we know that we're not the one being blamed for their experience, it still hits us the most."

Alviola says they're stuck. When he was working in call centers, they're not allowed to hang up, so they have to be on the call until the caller on the other line clicks off. He says accent-altering apps can lead to smoother communication and less verbal abuse.

"Especially for new graduates who just entered training, then it would help them boost their confidence," Alviola said. "That's also one reason why I like the app, because if it was developed just a few years ago when I was starting, I would love it."

Others find the Sanas app especially helpful when cops or hospitals are involved.

"If there is a law, like a with discussion, with the cop, with their doctor mainly, there are a lot of problem when communicating with the doctor if you don't know proper English," said Mehboob Ahmedabadi, an Indian man working in media.

On the flip side, others argue that apps that take away accents perpetuate racism and discrimination by masking the problem at hand. Judy Ravin, the founder of Accents International, says there's a way to do things differently.

SEE MORE: Changing Your Password Too Often Might Be Hurting Your Account Privacy

"At the conclusion of our program, which is called Powerful Pronunciation, people will still have an accent," Ravin said. "We think that's a good thing. An accent is a piece of our cultural and linguistic identity. What we won't have is a communication barrier due to pronunciation."

Unlike the app that filters voices, Accents International improves pronunciation through real time coaching. For example, the vowel sounding "aw" used in words like "law" or "daughter" can be tough for those not familiar with pronouncing it.

"The way we teach it is both," Ravin said. "What does it look like, and what does it feel like? Well, it looks like someone's popped an egg in their mouth. It looks like a perfect oval... and a person can feel the top of their tongue behind their lower teeth. So what does it look like? What does it feel like... not, what does it sound like?"

Vincent Dixon had a thick Irish accent, but through years of teaching English in France, he learned to communicate more effectively.

"I think sometimes people feel that their accents makes them lesser or more, and it really doesn't," Dixon said. "It just makes you who you are. It's like the color of my eyes or the color of my hair."

In a world filled with more AI listening, trying to get machines to understand despite an accent can be especially frustrating.

"It's very frustrating because I talk to my watch, I talk to my husband," said Eileen Panzardi, a Puerto Rican living in Atlanta. "I talk to my phone, and I have to pass it to my daughter, who was born here in Atlanta, and ask her to say whatever word it is for Siri to understand me because sometimes she don't even get me."

Ultimately, the goal of accent-changing technology is to create better person-to-person communication in an ever-increasing, globalized world.

"For me, the key point is not their identity in communication," said Haulk A, a Kurdish software engineer living in Chicago. "In the communication, the important thing is to the message that you send and the message that you get."

Car Buyers Left With Few Options As Difficult Auto Market Persists

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 16:31

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Whether new or used, buying a car is tough these days. If you do find one, chances are the cost is sky-high.  

"The price of a used car was the price of a new car, pretty much," potential car buyer Yesenia Maura said. 

A new report shows consumers paid an average $44,559 for a new, non-luxury car in August. And the average used car went for just under $32,000 in July. 

Stubborn inflation coupled with supply chain issues have made the auto market feel impossible for consumers.  

SEE MORE: Cars Are Costing Americans More Money

Now, many are holding on to the cars they already have for longer.  

"It used to be people would keep their cars eight years. Then it was 10 years. Now, it's 12-14 years the average person is keeping their car for," Ron Katz with Midas said. 

But it's not just a problem for your average car buyer. Even police departments are having a hard time. 

"This past Monday, we were notified that Ford canceled all of our orders for 2022 police interceptors," said Robert L. Ruxer III, law enforcement services division commander for the Colonial Heights, Virginia, police department.

The department was then given the chance to buy 2023 models instead. But that came at an extra cost of $7,500 per vehicle, which the city government ended up covering.  

SEE MORE: President Biden Touts Electric Vehicles At Detroit Auto Show

It's the latest example of automakers prioritizing their more expensive models at a time when potential buyers have fewer options. For example, Cadillac will soon debut a $300,000 electric vehicle.  

It's a move that's paying off for luxury car makers. Porsche, which is expected to go public by the end of the year, is expecting to see $39 billion in sales for 2022, up 20% from 2021. 

Meanwhile, consumers are left with fewer and more costly options. 

Fewer Americans Filed Unemployment Claims Again Last Week

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 16:01

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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell again last week to a four-month low even as the Federal Reserve continues its aggressive interest rate cuts to bring inflation under control.

Applications for jobless aid for the week ending Sept. 10 fell by 5,000 to 213,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That's the fewest since late May.

First-time applications generally reflect layoffs.

The four-week average for claims, which offsets some of the weekly volatility, fell by 8,000 to 224,000.

The number of Americans collecting traditional unemployment benefits inched up by 2,000 for the week that ended Sept. 3, to 1.4 million.

SEE MORE: U.S. Hiring Slows As Employers Add Just 315,000 Jobs In August

Hiring in the U.S. in 2022 has been remarkably strong even in the midst of rising interest rates and weak economic growth. The Federal Reserve has aggressively raised interest rates in an effort to bring down inflation, which generally also slows job growth.

Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that employers added still-strong 315,000 jobs in August, though less than the average 487,000 a month over the past year. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7%, its highest level since February, but for a healthy reason: Hundreds of thousands of people returned to the job market, and some didn’t find work right away, so the government’s count of unemployed people rose.

The U.S. economy has been a mixed bag this year. Economic growth has declined in the first half of 2022, which, by some informal definitions, signals a recession.

But businesses remain desperate to find workers, posting more than 11 million job openings in July, meaning there are almost two job vacancies for every unemployed American.

Inflation continues to be the biggest obstacle for a healthy U.S. economy. The rise in consumer prices slowed modestly the past couple months, largely due to falling gas prices. But overall, prices for food and other essentials remain elevated enough that the Federal Reserve has indicated it will keep raising its benchmark interest rate until prices come back down to normal levels.

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

Most economists expect the Fed to raise its benchmark borrowing rate by three-quarters of a point when it meets next week.

The Fed has already raised its short-term interest rate four times this year and Chairman Jerome Powell has said that the central bank will likely need to keep interest rates high enough to slow the economy “for some time” in order to tame the worst inflation in 40 years. Powell has acknowledged the increases will hurt U.S. households and businesses, but also said the pain would be worse if inflation remained at current levels.

Some of that so-called pain has already begun, particularly in the housing and technology sectors. Online real estate companies RedFin and Compass recently announced job cuts as rising interest rates have tripped up the housing market.

Other high-profile layoffs announced in recent months include Tesla, Netflix, Carvana, and Coinbase.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

New Poll Shows Biden's Approval Rating Rising Ahead Of Midterms

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 14:47

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President Joe Biden’s popularity improved substantially from his lowest point this summer, but concerns about his handling of the economy persist, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Support for President Biden recovered from a low of 36% in July to 45%, driven in large part by a rebound in support from Democrats just two months before the November midterm elections. During a few bleak summer months when gasoline prices peaked and lawmakers appeared deadlocked, the Democrats faced the possibility of blowout losses against Republicans.

Their outlook appears better after notching a string of legislative successes that left more Americans ready to judge the Democratic president on his preferred terms: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.”

SEE MORE: White House Officials: Inflation Relief Is Coming

The president’s approval rating remains underwater, with 53% of U.S. adults disapproving of him, and the economy continues to be a weakness for President Biden. Just 38% approve of his economic leadership as the country faces stubbornly high inflation and Republicans try to make household finances the axis of the upcoming vote.

Still, the poll suggests President Biden and his fellow Democrats are gaining momentum right as generating voter enthusiasm and turnout takes precedence.

Average gas prices have tumbled 26% since June to $3.71 a gallon, reducing the pressure somewhat on family budgets even if inflation remains high. Congress also passed a pair of landmark bills in the past month that could reshape the economy and reduce carbon emissions.

Republicans have also faced resistance since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its abortion protections. And Biden is openly casting former President Donald Trump as a fundamental threat to democracy, a charge that took on resonance after an FBI search of Trump's Florida home found classified documents that belong to the U.S. government.

This combination of factors has won President Biden some plaudits among the Democratic faithful, even if Americans still feel lukewarm about his leadership.

The president's approval rating didn't exceed 40% in May, June or July as inflation surged in the aftermath of Russia invading Ukraine.

The president's rating now is similar to what it was throughout the first quarter of the year, but he continues to fall short of early highs. His average approval rating in AP-NORC polling through the first six months of his term was 60%.

Driving the recent increase in the president's popularity is renewed support among Democrats, who had shown signs of dejection in the early summer. Now, 78% of Democrats approve of President Biden’s job performance, up from 65% in July. Sixty-six percent of Democrats approve of his job on the economy, up from 54% in June.

Republicans feel just as negative about the president as they did before. Only about 1 in 10 Republicans approve of the president overall or on the economy, similar to ratings earlier this summer.

About a quarter of Americans now say things in the country are headed in the right direction, 27%, up from 17% in July. Seventy-two percent say things are going in the wrong direction.

Close to half of Democrats — 44% — have an optimistic outlook, up from 27% in July. Just 9% of Republicans are optimistic about the nation’s direction.

The poll of 1,054 adults was conducted Sep. 9-12 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Roger Federer Announces Retirement From Professional Tennis

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 14:32

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Roger Federer announced Thursday that he is retiring from professional tennis at age 41 after winning 20 Grand Slam titles.

This decision comes just days after the end of the U.S. Open, which is expected to be the last tournament of 23-time major champion Serena Williams’ career, and signals the real end of an era in tennis.

❤️ pic.twitter.com/YxtVWrlXIF

— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) September 15, 2022

Federer has not competed since Wimbledon in July 2021 — he has had a series of knee operations — and so in that sense, the news is not surprising.

But he had appeared at an event marking the 100-year anniversary of Centre Court at the All England Club this July and said he hoped to come back to play there "one more time."

He also had said he would return to tournament action at the Swiss Indoors in October.

Federer's last match anywhere came on July 7, 2021, when he lost at Centre Court in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0.

Soon after, Federer had surgery to repair damage to his meniscus and cartilage in his right knee — his third operation on that knee in a span of 1 1/2 years.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Retail Sales Up 0.3% In August From July Amid Inflation

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 14:12

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Americans picked up their spending a bit in August from July even as surging inflation on household necessities like rent and food took a toll on family budgets.

U.S. retail sales rose an unexpected 0.3% last month after falling 0.4% in July, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Excluding business at gas stations, sales rose 0.8%.

Sales at grocery stores rose 0.5% , helped by rising prices in food.

There was, however, weakening in some areas of discretionary spending with Americans fully aware of inflation's bite. Business at restaurants ticked up 1.1%, but the pace has slowed. Sales at furniture stores fell 1.3%. Online sales fell 0.7% last month after Amazon's Prime Day boosted e-commerce sales in July.

SEE MORE: Stocks Edge Higher On Wall Street After Painful Sell-Off

"Retailers would probably like to be growing more, especially relative to inflation, but I'm not sure they could realistically hope for much more," said Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com. "Consumer spending habits are changing as the pandemic continues to recede and inflation remains high."

Consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of U.S. economic activity and Americans have remained mostly resilient even with inflation near four-decade highs. Yet surging prices for everything from mortgages to milk have upped the anxiety level. Overall spending has slowed and shifted increasingly toward necessities like food, while spending on electronics, furniture, new clothes and other non-necessities has faded.

On Thursday, it appeared that the U.S. dodged a national freight rail strike, which could have sent retail prices higher.

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

Still, inflation remains stubbornly high. Lower gas costs slowed U.S. inflation for a second straight month in August, but most other prices across the economy kept going up — evidence that inflation remains a heavy load for American households.

Consumer prices rose 8.3% from a year earlier and 0.1% from July. But the jump in "core" prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, was especially worrisome. It outpaced expectations and sparked fear that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates more aggressively and raise the risk of a recession.

The government's monthly report on retail sales covers about a third of all consumer purchases and doesn't include spending on most services, ranging from plane fares and apartment rents to movie tickets and doctor visits. In recent months, Americans have been shifting their purchases away from physical goods and more toward travel, hotel stays and plane trips as the threat of the virus fades.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Debate On Monarchy's Ties To Commonwealth Reignited After Queen Death

Thu, 09/15/2022 - 14:00

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During Queen Elizabeth II's reign, British soldiers committed widespread atrocities against Kenyans at the height of the Mau Mau uprising between 1952 and 1960. Roughly 1.5 million people were forced into concentration camps, subjected to torture, rape and other violation. 

It's little wonder that on the streets of Nairobi, people's memories of colonial Britain — an empire fundamentally connected to monarchy — are not often positive.  

"I remember the Mau Mau struggle with a lot of bitterness," Nairobi resident Max Kahindi said. "One: I was young. But even as young as I was, we suffered a lot. Our fathers, our uncles, our relatives — they either were in detention or they were killed. It is a lot of bitter memories."

Unlike Kenya, which declared independence in 1963, there are 14 countries that retain the British sovereign as their head of state.  

On Saturday, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda announced plans to hold a referendum on becoming a republic. And debates that have rumbled on for years about ties to the monarchy have been reignited across the Commonwealth, from Australia to Canada to the Caribbean.   

SEE MORE: Barbados Swears In First President, Transforms Into Republic

"I think mainly out of respect for Elizabeth II, these discussions were not taking place," historian Ed Owens said. "There was, I think, an anticipation that these conversations would start when the new king came to the throne, and that's what we're seeing."

The recent visit of Prince William and Kate to Jamaica earlier this year triggered debates about Britain's colonial past.

From the photos of Will and Kate shaking hands with Jamaican children through a wire fence, to the military parade in which the pair stood dressed in white in an open top Land Rover — the optics were described as a throwback.

As the trumpets rang out amidst the pomp and ceremony of centuries old tradition, few inside the 900-year-old Westminster Hall would have questioned the existence of monarchy in Britain in 2022.

But for Race on The Agenda Chief Executive Maurice McLeod, who is the son of South African and Jamaican immigrants to the U.K., the royal family and its connection to democratic constitution needs a complete rethink. 

"If we're talking about a world of freedom and inclusivity and equality, it just doesn't tally," he said. "They are the symbol of Britain's history and that's what they're held up as … But if you're doing that, you also have to take the bad. They're also the symbol of the Mau Maus, the symbol of all that slavery and oppression. You can't unpick those two things. And I think that's what's so difficult, especially in the Commonwealth."   

SEE MORE: Queen Elizabeth II's Lasting Legacy On Britain And The World

Queen Elizabeth II was the living embodiment of an institution, which, for some, bears no rational justification whatsoever; in fact, a hereditary position that harks back to an era in which atrocities, genocides even were committed in the name of the crown all over the globe. Should this country now begin a process of constitutional change?

"I think looking at what certain countries have done recently to reject the royal family, to remove them from state — it's time to move on, I think," said Feliks Mathur, the son of an Indian immigrant.

"They're going to have to change all the pound coins and that sort of thing. The queen's image is synonymous with Britain," said Kemi Akinola, the daughter of Nigerian and Granadian immigrants. "We might be looking at how this relationship will develop and what the modern-day monarch will look like to the U.K. moving forward, and now is a good time to start doing that."

"I don't really think, to be honest with you, that it has any great relevance. We have moved on," Jamaican immigrant to the U.K. Noel Taylor said. "And as far as I'm concerned, coming from an African-Caribbean background, I don't see monarchy has played any definitive role in advancing our way of life."  

The death of the queen brings the constitutional role of monarchy in 21st century Britain and 14 other Commonwealth countries into sharp focus.

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