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Looking back on Gen. Mark Milley's Joint Chiefs tenure

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 23:56


Gen. Mark Milley became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2019, after then-President Donald Trump appointed him. So began a dance between military and civilian affairs in a career spanning more than four decades.

The nation's highest ranking military officer leaves behind a complicated legacy.  In 2020, after being photographed by then President Donald Trump's side at a chaotic George Floyd protest in the nation's capital, Gen. Mark Milley apologized to Americans: 

"That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society," he said in a televised address. "I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

In the waning days of Trump's presidency, Milley worked around him, according to Bob Woodward's book "Peril." According to the book, Milley called the general of the People's Liberation Army to avert potential conflict with China, and instructed US military officers not to take orders without him, to prevent Trump from potentially launching a nuclear weapon.

Those revelations spurred praise from supporters. "I think General Milley did exactly what he was supposed to do and should do in that situation," Sen. Angus King told CNN at the time.

The revelations also spurred calls for his firing from critics. "We're questioning in your official capacity going and undermining the chain of command, which is obviously what you did," said Rep. Matt Gaetz in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

SEE MORE: Senate confirms chairman of Joint Chiefs, evading GOP senator's block

After the 2020 election, Milley spoke about what the oath of office meant to him. "We are unique among armies, we are unique among militaries. We do not take an oath to a king or queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe, or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution."

Following the U.S. capitol riot, Milley supported a requirement that service members learn about domestic extremism. He told lawmakers, "I want to understand White rage, and I'm White and I want to understand it. So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building, and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America, what caused that?"

After the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Milley broke with the Biden administration over whether the chaos was avoidable, testifying that he had recommended leaving 2,500 U.S. troops behind. 

"It is clear, it is obvious the war in Afghanistan did not end on the terms we wanted with the Taliban now in power in Kabul," he said.

In 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Milley became one of the U.S.'s strongest advocates for Kyiv's defense, standing side by side with Volodymyr Zelenskyy — one of the most important missions he is handing off to his successor.

Court rejects Trump's effort to delay trial after fraud ruling

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 22:43


An appeals court Thursday rejected Donald Trump’s bid to delay a civil trial in a lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general, allowing the case to proceed days after a judge ruled the former president committed years of fraud and stripped him of some companies as punishment.

The decision by the state’s intermediate appellate court clears the way for Judge Arthur Engoron to preside over a non-jury trial starting Oct. 2 in Manhattan in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil lawsuit.

Trump is listed among dozens of possible witnesses, setting up a potential courtroom showdown with the judge. The fraud ruling Tuesday threatens to upend his real estate empire and force him to give up prized New York properties such as Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building, golf courses and a suburban estate.

Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing that some of his assets are worth far more than what’s listed on annual financial statements that Engoron said he used to secure loans and make deals. Trump has argued that the statements have disclaimers that absolve him of liability. His lawyers have said they would appeal.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday with Trump’s lawyers and James' office.

SEE MORE: Republicans hold first Biden impeachment inquiry hearing

In New York "these cases take many years to get to trial," Trump wrote Wednesday in a post on his Truth Social platform that appeared to conflate several of his legal foes. "My Political Witch Hunt case is actually scheduled to start on Monday. Nobody can believe it? This is a 'Railroading' job, pushed hard by the Radical Left DOJ for purposing Election Interference. A very SAD time for New York State, and America!"

Trump’s lawyers had sought the trial delay prior to Engoron's ruling, alleging he abused his authority and hindered their preparations by failing to comply with a June appeals court order that he narrow the scope of the trial based on the statute of limitations.

They filed a lawsuit against Engoron on Sept. 14 under a provision of state law known as Article 78, which allows people to challenge some judicial authority, and asked that the trial be postponed until that matter was resolved.

An appeals court judge, David Friedman, granted an interim stay of the trial while the full appeals court considered the lawsuit on an expedited basis. Thursday’s ruling lifted the stay, allowing the trial to proceed as scheduled. Through a court lawyer, Engoron declined to participate in the appeals court process.

Engoron ruled Tuesday that Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, defrauded banks, insurers and others with annual financial statements that massively overvalued his assets and exaggerated his wealth. Engoron ordered some of Trump’s companies removed from his control and dissolved. James alleges Trump boosted his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion.

After the ruling, Trump's lawyers again urged the appeals court to delay the trial.

They argued in court papers that Engoron showed in his 35-page decision that he was intent on defying the appeals court by ignoring the statute of limitations issue. Engoron refused to dismiss any claims and based his fraud ruling partly on stale allegations that should've been thrown out, Trump lawyer Clifford Robert said.

Engoron's fraud ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolved the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but six others remain. They include allegations of conspiracy, falsifying business records and insurance fraud. The judge will also decide on James’ request for $250 million in penalties.

James’ office argued Trump's lawsuit against Engoron was a "brazen and meritless attempt" to usurp his authority and that any delay “would likely wreak havoc on the trial schedule” and could cause conflicts with Trump’s four pending criminal cases.

The civil trial is the culmination of a yearslong investigation by James’ office that saw Trump questioned under oath and millions of pages of documents change hands. Engoron has said it could take three months.

Sycamore Gap tree, made famous in 'Robin Hood,' cut down by 'vandals'

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 21:40


Authorities in the north of England say a 16-year-old teenager has been arrested and accused of cutting down the iconic 300-year-old Sycamore Gap tree made famous in a film about Robin Hood and located next to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland.

Police say the legendary tree was "deliberately felled" and people in the area have been asked to stay away during the investigation. 

Officials with the Northumberland National Park Authority said they had struggled to "see the logic" in cutting the historic tree down. It was made famous when it appeared in the film "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," starring Kevin Costner.

Police said they immediately launched an investigation after discovering the tree was cut down, calling it "vandalism."

Kevin Waring of Northumbria police called the tree "world-renowned" and said "the events of today have caused significant shock, sadness and anger throughout the local community and beyond."

SEE MORE: At least 50 arrested after mass organized looting in Philadelphia

The sycamore tree, believed to be hundreds of years old, was considered to be an important feature of the landscape of the area. Police were still considering exactly what criminal offenses had been committed. 

The tree was awarded Tree of the Year in 2016, the BBC reported. It notably grew inside of a natural landscape dip. The local tourism industry was shocked and saddened by the news, with one business owner in the area calling the tree an "emblem."

"It's a terrible, terrible day for the North East. I'm devastated," Anna Charlton told the BBC. 

Waring told the Guardian, "Given our investigation remains at a very early stage, we are keeping an open mind. I am appealing to the public for information to assist us. If you have seen or heard anything suspicious that may be of interest to us, please let us know."

Republicans hold first Biden impeachment inquiry hearing

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 21:28


House Republicans launched a formal impeachment hearing Thursday against President Joe Biden, promising to “provide accountability” as they probe the family finances and business dealings of his son Hunter and make their case to the public, colleagues and a skeptical Senate.

The chairmen of the Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees used the opening hearing of their impeachment inquiry to review the constitutional and legal questions involved. Republicans are trying to show what they say are links to Biden's son Hunter’s overseas businesses, though key witnesses said they do not yet see hard evidence of impeachable offenses.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky, the Oversight chairman, said the lawmakers have “a mountain of evidence” that will show that the elder Biden “abused his public office for his family's financial gain.” He added that the panel will continue to “follow the money and the evidence to provide accountability” to the American people.

It’s a high-stakes opening act for Republicans, coming in the midst of a potential federal government shutdown, as they begin a process that can lead to the ultimate penalty for a president, punishment for what the Constitution describes as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The more than five-hour hearing comes as House Republicans face scattered resistance to an impeachment inquiry from their own ranks and deep reluctance in the Senate from Republicans who worry about political ramifications, and say Biden’s conviction and removal from office is a near impossibility.

As the hearing began, Democrats displayed a screen showing the days, hours and minutes left until the government shuts down as Congress struggles to fund the government before Saturday’s deadline.

“We’re 62 hours away from shutting down the government of the United States of America and Republicans are launching an impeachment drive, based on a long debunked and discredited lie,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel as the day began.

SEE MORE: Is impeachment being weaponized?

Raskin questioned the legitimacy of the hearing since the House has not voted to formally launch the impeachment inquiry. He said Republicans are rehashing five-year-old allegations raised by Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in 2024, during the former president's 2019 impeachment over Ukraine.

“They don’t have a shred of evidence against President Biden for an impeachable offense,” he said.

The hearing Thursday is not featuring witnesses with information about the Bidens or Hunter Biden's business. Instead, the panel heard from outside experts in tax law, criminal investigations and constitutional legal theory.

A top Republican-called witness, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who is an expert in impeachment issues, said he believed the House had passed the threshold for an inquiry but that the current evidence was not enough for charges.

“I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” Turley said.

Democrats, who decry the investigation as a political ploy aimed at hurting Biden and helping Trump as he runs again for president, brought in Michael Gerhardt, a law professor who has also appeared as an expert in previous impeachment proceedings.

In detailing the reasons Republicans say they have to impeach Biden, Gerhardt concluded: “If that’s what exists as a basis for this inquiry, it is not sufficient. I say that with all respect.”

Gerhardt said, “A fishing expedition is not a legitimate purpose.”

Still, questions remain as Republicans dig into the Biden family finances and Hunter Biden, who has acknowledged being a drug user during much of the time under scrutiny.

Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden for years, since his father was vice president. And while there have been questions raised about the ethics around the family’s international business, none of the evidence so far has proven that the president, in his current or previous office, abused his role, accepted bribes or both.

One former business partner of Hunter Biden has told House investigators the son was selling the “illusion of access” to his father.

Turley told the lawmakers the question remains, “Was the president involved?”

In the run-up to the hearing, Republicans unveiled a tranche of new documents and bank records that detail wire transfers from a Chinese businessman to Hunter Biden in 2019. Hunter Biden had listed his father’s address on the wire transfer form, which Republicans say provided a clear link to the president.

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said the address on the wire transfer, which he says was a loan, was listed to the president's Delaware home because it was the address on Hunter Biden's driver's license and "his only permanent address at the time.”

“Once again Rep. Comer peddles lies to support a premise — some wrongdoing by Hunter Biden or his family — that evaporates in thin air the moment facts come out,” Lowell said in a statement.

SEE MORE: Hunter Biden indicted by federal prosecutors on gun charges

The White House issued statements throughout the hearing saying nothing can distract from the Republicans' inability to govern as hours moved toward a shutdown.

House Republicans are also looking into the Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden's taxes and gun use that began in 2018. Two IRS whistleblowers came forward to Congress in the spring with claims that department officials thwarted their efforts to fully investigate Hunter Biden and that they faced retaliation when they pushed back.

The claims have since been disputed by the Department of Justice, the IRS and FBI agents who worked on the case.

“The Biden Justice Department protected the Biden family brand.” said Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican and Ways and Means chairman.

What Smith did not mention was that the discussions occurred during the Trump Justice Department and were likely in keeping with the agency’s practice of avoiding overt investigative steps concerning political candidates in the immediate run-up to an election.

But Republicans have pointed to a failed plea deal over the summer as proof that Hunter Biden received preferential treatment because of who his father was.

“They tried to put together this sweetheart deal,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the Judiciary chairman.

The impeachment inquiry hearing is taking place as the federal government is days away from what is likely to be a damaging government shutdown that would halt paychecks for millions of federal workers and the military and disrupt services for millions of Americans.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry this month, egged on by Trump and with mounting pressure from his right flank to take action against Biden or risk being ousted from his leadership job.

Trump is the only president to be twice impeached, first over accusations he pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden and later over accusations that he incited the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. He was acquitted in both cases by the Senate.

The hearing Thursday is expected to be the first of many as House Republicans explore whether or not they will pursue articles of impeachment against the president.

It's unclear if McCarthy has support from his slim Republican majority to impeach Biden. If Biden were impeached, the charges would then be sent to the Senate for a trial.

Court documents allege Cher hired men to abduct her son from hotel

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 21:15


Newly surfaced details found in a court filing accuse singer Cher of hiring four men to forcibly remove her son, Elijah Blue Allman, from a New York hotel. 

The claim was found in Los Angeles Superior Court documents signed on Dec. 4 by Allman's estranged wife, musician Marie Angela King. Allman and King have been involved in a lengthy divorce than he filed in November 2021. The claims characterize the alleged removal from the hotel as an abduction. 

SEE MORE: Michael Gambon, 'Harry Potter' Dumbledore actor, dead at 82

According to reports and court documents, Cher asked King to vacate their family home, even after she and Allman had made a commitment to try and work to improve their relationship. 

King says in the court filing that she and Allman had spent 12 days together to try and work out their differences, from Nov. 18 to Nov. 30, 2022. The night of Nov. 30, their wedding anniversary, is when the abduction took place.

Allman is said to have gone to a treatment facility for substance abuse, and King said she was denied access to Allman, who allegedly had his phone taken away. 

Cher did not immediately respond to the allegations. 

King said she has been "unaware" of her husband's location or his well-being. 

“I understand his family’s efforts to make sure he is well, and I want what is best for my husband," she said in court documents. 

Allman has had a documented history with substance abuse, including heroin. 

He told Entertainment Tonight that he has had a history of opiate use, among other drugs. 

Report says TikTok steroid videos pull millions of views, target teens

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 20:45


TikTok videos promoting and glorifying steroids and other performance enhancement products are pulling in hundreds of millions of views, and sometimes teenagers are the target audience, according to a new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). 

Researchers with CCDH, which is a non-profit watchdog group, said videos with hashtags promoting the use of steroid-like drugs were viewed up to 587 million times by U.S. users in the last three years. 

In several cases, researchers identified videos in which users explicitly stated they were under the age of 18 and were taking these steroid-like drugs to reach their bodybuilding goals. One video the group found encouraged followers to “just tell your parents they’re vitamins.” 

The group said other videos specifically targeted teenage boys by using the hashtags #teenfitness and #teenbodybuilding in the captions. 

TikTok’s community guidelines prohibit content that promotes recreational drug use or the sale of drugs. But CCDH said they found 35 influencer accounts on the app that actively promote steroid-like drugs through brand partnerships. 

“Too many young people have already died striving for a superhero physique unattainable without drugs — each one leaving behind a trail of grief,” said CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed in a press release. “It is TikTok’s job to keep the platform safe, and enforce its community rules, but our research has found that the platform turns a blind eye to the promotion of dangerous and potentially illegal drugs. At the same time, we’ve found that boys and young men are being bombarded with toxic content that seeks to promote and profit from body dysmorphia.

According to NBC News, a TikTok spokesperson criticized the report’s methodology, saying the numbers in it also include “positive content” related to recovery from drugs. CCDH responded with, "our analysis only examined hashtags where a majority of content posted with those hashtags promotes, sells or otherwise normalizes use of steroids or steroid-like drugs."

SEE MORE: TikTok hit with $368 million fine for failing to protect child privacy

Planned Parenthood clinic offering free vasectomies

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 20:34


Men will be able to get free vasectomies in Oklahoma. 

Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which is located in Oklahoma City, is offering the service for two days in October. 

The clinic put out a call on Facebook on Sept. 19, asking those interested in the procedure to reach out for a consultation to make sure they are a good candidate. Two days later, Planned Parenthood Great Plains said all of the free vasectomy appointments had been reserved. However, people can still get on a waitlist for the Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 appointments by contacting the clinic. 

SEE MORE: FDA approves first over-the-counter birth control pill

A vasectomy, also known as male sterilization, is a form of male birth control. The National Institutes of Health says the surgical procedure involves "cutting the tubes (the vas deferens) that carry sperm from the testicles."

Most women whose husband or partner got a vasectomy said they elected for the procedure because they already had all the children they wanted, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer that one out of 100 women gets pregnant in the year after her male partner undergoes the procedure, the CDC notes. 

While getting a vasectomy is an effective form of birth control, health officials remind men that it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. 

California to raise minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 per hour

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 19:32


California fast food workers will be paid at least $20 per hour next year under a new law signed Thursday by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

When it takes effect on April 1, fast food workers in California will have among the highest minimum wages in the country, according to data compiled by the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. The state's minimum wage for all other workers — $15.50 per hour — is already among the highest in the United States.

Cheering fast food workers and labor leaders gathered around Newsom as he signed the bill at an event in Los Angeles.

“This is a big deal,” Newsom said.

Newsom's signature on Thursday reflects the power and influence of labor unions in the nation's most populous state, which have worked to organize fast food workers in an attempt to improve their wages and working conditions.

It also settles — for now, at least — a fight between labor and business groups over how to regulate the industry. In exchange for higher pay, labor unions have dropped their attempt to make fast food corporations liable for the misdeeds of their independent franchise operators in California, an action that could have upended the business model on which the industry is based. The industry, meanwhile, has agreed to pull a referendum related to worker wages off the 2024 ballot.

“This is for my ancestors. This is for all the farm workers, all the cotton-pickers. This is for them. We ride on their shoulders,” said Anneisha Williams, who works at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Southern California.

SEE MORE: The average American won't work for less than $78,645, data finds

California's fast food workers earn an average of $16.60 per hour, or just over $34,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's below the California Poverty Measure for a family of four, a statistic calculated by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Equality that accounts for housing costs and publicly-funded benefits.

In California, most fast food workers are over 18 and the main providers for their family, according to Enrique Lopezlira, director of the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center’s Low Wage Work Program.

The $20 minimum wage is just a starting point. The law creates a fast food council that has the power to increase that wage each year through 2029 by 3.5% or the change in averages for the U.S. Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, whichever is lower.

The raise takes effect on April 1 and applies to workers at restaurants that have at least 60 locations nationwide — with an exception for restaurants that make and sell their own bread, like Panera Bread.

Now, the focus will shift to another group of low-wage California workers waiting for their own minimum wage increase. Lawmakers passed a separate bill earlier this month that would gradually raise the minimum wage for health care workers to $25 per hour over the next decade. That raise wouldn’t apply to doctors and nurses, but to most everyone else who works at hospitals, dialysis clinics or other health care facilities.

But unlike the fast food wage increase — which Newsom helped negotiate — the governor has not said if he would sign the raise for health care workers. The issue is complicated by the state’s Medicaid program, which is the main source of revenue for many hospitals. The Newsom administration has estimated the wage increase would cost the state billions of dollars in increased payments to health care providers.

Labor unions that support the wage increase point to a study from the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center that said the state’s costs would be offset by a reduction in the number of people relying on publicly funded assistance programs.

SEE MORE: California health workers could soon get $25 minimum wage

Study: Sharks pull a fast one on liver-loving orcas, migrate to safety

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:58


Orcas are skilled at hunting great white sharks to primarily consume their livers.

For years, great white shark carcasses washed up on South Africa's False Bay and Gansbaai shores in the Western Cape.

But then, between 2015 and 2017, they suddenly vanished. The carcasses stopped washing up ashore, and the sharks were no longer seen swimming in that area, causing conservation concerns for the species.

“The decline of white sharks was so dramatic, so fast, so unheard of that lots of theories began to circulate," Michelle Jewell, an ecologist from the Michigan State University Museum, told Hakai Magazine.

Some of the theories were that the sharks had just died off from being constantly persecuted by these killer whales.

However, a new study published in the journal Ecological Indicators found that the sharks didn’t just die off; they simply migrated and found refuge in a different area.

According to the report, scientists tracked human-shark incidents and found that South African shark populations had moved from the Western to the Eastern Cape, such as to Algoa Bay and the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

“The number of predation events by killer whales is likely more frequent than documented, as not all white shark carcasses would have washed ashore and been recorded,” the study read, adding that the fear of being hunted significantly affected how the sharks behaved, and the incidents led to white sharks quickly abandoning the area.

The study also found no evidence of a species decline in South Africa but notes that ongoing monitoring of their locations is essential. 

Despite protective measures put in place in 1991, the study states there's a decrease in the average size of female white sharks in bather protection programs, and there's been no population increase.

Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms investigated for child labor violations

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:37


The U.S. Department of Labor has launched an investigation into meat processing giants Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms following a report that the companies had children as young as 13 working overnight shifts at their facilities.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a harrowing story about a migrant child whose arm was nearly torn off while working at a Perdue slaughterhouse in Eastern Virginia. According to the Times, 14-year-old Marcos Cux had been hired by one of the company's contractors to clean machinery.

The in-depth report said several other middle- and high school-age children made up about one-third of the overnight shifts at the plant, and mentioned some who worked at Tyson facilities. They were reportedly tasked with handling acid and pressure hoses to clean blood and scraps off industrial machinery.

Under federal law, those types of tasks are strictly prohibited to anyone under the age of 18.

SEE MORE: Tyson Foods to close 4 chicken processing plants as sales slip

The federal probe comes about seven months after the Biden administration pledged to crack down on illegal child labor. In February, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services announced a new task force that was designed to fight the exploitation of children in the workforce. 

According to data from the Department of Labor, the number of minors employed in violation of child labor laws has been on a steep decline since 2001. But since 2015, violations have been creeping up.

Last year, the U.S. Labor Department recorded a 37% increase in the number of minors employed in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Most cases involve children working more or later hours than allowed. But the Department of Labor found nearly 700 children working illegally in hazardous jobs in fiscal year 2022.

This ballet is putting a new twist on 'Cinderella' with a male lead

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:30


The Scottish Ballet is putting a unique twist on a centuries-old fairy tale. 

“Cinders” will mix in all the ingredients of the classic “Cinderella” story, but on some nights the performance will center around a man being swept off of his feet by a princess instead of a woman being charmed by a prince. 

And the audience won’t know which version of the story they’re getting until the curtain rises. 

The Scottish Ballet said breaking tradition in theater is a tradition in itself. 

“Cinders will be everything audiences adore about the enchanted fairytale — made sparkling, fresh and new,” the ballet said in a press release. 

The prince will still be played by a male dancer and the princess will be played by a female dancer. The show will feature the same costumes in each performance, including the iconic “Cinderella” dress. 

Only a bit of the choreography and the lead in the story will change throughout their tour, the ballet said. But it will always be a surprise at the start of the show. 

On the ballet’s website, it said the story will not surround an LGBTQ+ couple “this time around,” but the audience will see that representation in the background with other characters in the story. 

Performances of “Cinder” will begin in December at the Theater Royal in Glasgow, Scotland before the group travels to other parts of the U.K. 

SEE MORE: Remastered 'Sound of Music' soundtrack to feature 40 unreleased songs

JetBlue becomes 4th major airline to keep kids, adults together

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:26


Budget airliner JetBlue announced this week that passengers under age 13 will be guaranteed a seat next to an adult traveling with them on the same reservation at no added fee. 

JetBlue said it is establishing a new system that "proactively identifies reservations with children and adults traveling together without prior seating assignments." The airline said those flying under the airline’s version of basic economy will be included.

“We know traveling with young children can add challenges, and we want to do everything we can to put parents and families at ease by providing a smooth trip each time they choose JetBlue,” said Joanna Geraghty, president of JetBlue. “This enhanced family seating policy reflects our commitment to continue to meet the needs of our customers and provide exceptional service.”

SEE MORE: Delta tried to change its rewards program. It backfired

According to the Department of Transportation, JetBlue has become the fourth major domestic carrier to ensure children under age 13 can stay with an adult on flights. Alaska, American and Frontier also have similar policies. 

Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a proposal to Congress to require airlines to ensure children and adult companions can sit together at no additional cost. 

The department also launched a dashboard for fliers to see which airlines have promised to keep kids together with adults.

Last year, the Transportation Department sent the major airlines a letter requesting that they adopt policies to keep families seated together in all price tiers. 

Nearly all airlines have options allowing customers to pick their seats, but those options typically cost more than basic economy.

Latinos keeping US economy stocked with workers, report finds

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:21


An annual report highlighting Latinos' impact on the U.S. economy shows that Latinos have accounted for 73% of the growth in U.S. labor force participation from 2010 through 2020. 

The report released by the Latino Donor Collaborative by researchers at Arizona State University indicates that in 2021, the total economic output of U.S. Latinos was $3.2 trillion. The amount of consumption by U.S. Latinos would make it the fifth largest economy in the world alone, behind just the U.S., China, Japan and Germany. 

While the U.S. itself had a 2% annual growth in gross domestic product from 2011 through 2021, the GDP growth of U.S. Latinos was at 4% per year during the same time. 

Researchers noted that the median age of Latinos is lower than the rest of the U.S., meaning their importance to the U.S. economy will become even greater. 

"Without question, the U.S. Latino economy is a force to be reckoned with, driven by robust GDP growth, significant population growth, the strongest workforce participation rate, and increased educational attainment," Sol Trujillo, co-founder of the Latino Donor Collaborative, said. "It is imperative that we now invest in the future of our country by investing in U.S. Latinos. This is not about diversity and inclusion. This is just business."

SEE MORE: Hispanic homebuying power grows despite affordability challenges

The report noted that in 2011, labor force participation among non-Latinos was about 64%. A decade later, the percentage dropped to 62%. Meanwhile, participation among Latinos held steady at around 68%. 

Also, 2021 marked the first time Latinos were more likely than non-Latinos to have a bachelor's degree, the report said. 

The report said that real annualized wage and salary growth among Latinos was nearly twice as much as non-Latinos from 2011 through 2021. 

But there remain challenges for Latinos across the U.S. The Census Bureau reports that Hispanics were twice as likely to be in poverty than non-Hispanic White Americans. 

Median income among Hispanics was 25% lower than White Americans as of 2021, the Census Bureau says. 

The Census Bureau says the terms Latino and Hispanic are generally used interchangeably.  

Dutch police: 3 people killed at university hospital and nearby home

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:15


A lone gunman wearing a bulletproof vest opened fire in an apartment and a hospital in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam on Thursday, killing three people, including a 14-year-old girl, police said.

The shooting sent patients and medics fleeing the Erasmus Medical Center in downtown Rotterdam, including some who were wheeled out of the building in beds. Others barricaded themselves into rooms and stuck hand-written signs to windows to show their location.

Police Chief Fred Westerbeke told reporters that the shooter was a 32-year-old student from Rotterdam. He was arrested at the hospital carrying a firearm. His identity was not released, and the motive for the shootings was still under investigation.

He first shot and killed a 39-year-old woman and seriously injured her 14-year-old daughter at an apartment close to where the suspect lived, Westerbeke said. Police said the girl later died of her injuries.

SEE MORE: Police stop mass shooting plot at Virginia church minutes beforehand

The shooter then went to the nearby Erasmus Medical Center where he shot and killed a 46-year-old man, a teacher at the academic hospital, the police chief added. He also started fires at the scenes of both shootings.

The identities of the victims were not released.

The suspect was cooperating with police, Westerbeke said.

“It was a black day,” said Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima expressed their sympathy on social media. “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victims of the violence this afternoon in Rotterdam,” the royal pair wrote. “We also think of everybody who lived in fear during these terrible actions,” they added.

The Erasmus Medical Center appealed on social media for people not to go to the hospital, but later said it was reopening. It said that all appointments scheduled for Friday would go ahead as planned.

Bricks of cocaine wash ashore on a Texas beach

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 18:09


Border agents made a disturbing discovery on Boca Chica Beach in Brownsville, Texas. 

Twenty-five bricks of cocaine recently washed ashore, according to Gloria Chavez, chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley Sector. 

Chavez said an additional brick was found on the nearby Padre Island National Seashore. 

The bricks reportedly weighed a total of 75 pounds. The estimated street value is $2.3 million, Chavez said. 

It's unclear where the cocaine came from, but the region is continually combating the flow of drugs entering the country. 

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Colombia produces about 90% of the cocaine powder that enters the U.S. Most of it enters through Mexico, the DEA says.

SEE MORE: Police find $2 million worth of cocaine in 54-year-old man's home

This is not the first time cocaine bricks have washed ashore in Texas. 

KTRK-TV in Houston reported in April 2022 that three bricks of what appeared to be cocaine washed up on Galveston beaches. In San Antonio, KABB reported in 2021 that two women found a brick of cocaine washed up on a beach near Beaumont. 

A DEA agent said at the time that the bricks could be coming from cartels who get spooked when the U.S. Coast Guard interrupts their drug runs. 

The Centers for Disease Control continually reports on the dangers of cocaine. In 2021, nearly 25,000 people died from an overdose involving cocaine, CDC said.  

SEE MORE: 'Euphoria' actor Angus Cloud's cause of death revealed

Hurricane Ian 1 year later: Fort Myers tries to come back to life

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 17:40


It's been one year since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Fort Myers, Florida.

The popular tourist destination was left in ruins after the hurricane came ashore.

Those communities that were hit hardest are still trying to rebuild and return their once-idyllic city to its former self.

But the process has been slow, and Fort Myers Beach still has thousands of buildings waiting to be rebuilt.

When the high water came in, it wiped everything out, leaving behind empty ghost buildings. Only 29% of the island's hotel rooms have reopened.

However, amid the challenges, there's a glimmer of hope at a pizza joint. The owner, Carlos Chavez, lost two other buildings but managed to salvage Bella Mozzarella. He shares that even after a year, the business is still struggling to stay afloat.

The customers are slowly returning to Bella Mozzarella.

“It was horrible; we never expected that it was going to be this bad,” said Chavez.

Chavez makes the pizzas himself, but there’s a lot less to make now. He's just glad to be open.

Most of the restaurants, hotels and stores surrounding his place on Fort Myers Beach are still empty shells.

“The tourism is not here because there are no places for them to stay,” said Chavez.

There’s some construction, but not much, and time is running out for owners and residents to clean up or demolish what’s left of their homes and businesses. The deadline is next month.

Everything changed one year ago as one of the strongest hurricanes in U.S. history took aim at this small beach town.

SEE MORE: More Americans are feeling the direct effects of climate change

Hurricane Ian reached Category 5 status, with sustained winds of more than 157 miles per hour, and dropped to Category 4 just before making landfall, but it didn't make much difference.

The storm surged 10 to 15 feet, quickly filling the town; the small buildings on the island didn’t have a chance.

Hurricane Ian killed 156 people, most of them dying in the storm surge.

The damage was overwhelming. The buildings, large boats, stores and restaurants were all destroyed.

Ian caused almost $113 billion in damages, making it the third-costliest hurricane in U.S. history and the most expensive ever in Florida.

A Scripps News team found themselves caught in the surge, but luck was on their side as the crew of a sea trek spotted them and came to their aid.

They sought refuge from the storm on a ship led by Captain Robbie Donze, with his team, Matt and Ryan, skillfully navigating and managing to keep the ship steady.

As the storm raged on, the sea trek eventually got stuck in the mangroves, providing a safe haven.

Donze spent eight months fixing the sea trek, and there were many times he didn’t think he’d finish it.

“This was a sensory overload. My house is getting washed away. My Jeeps were washed away. My grandma’s down there, getting washed away. The boat's in the woods — it's hard to imagine us getting back for red snapper season, our biggest moneymaker of the year," said Donze. 

Downtown, Chavez is waiting for the tourism rush. Right now, the lunch rush is keeping him afloat.

“It’s going to take years to be able to have the kind of business we used to have — at least three years,” said Chavez. 

Which is as long as it is expected to take to rebuild many of the tourist attractions on Fort Myers Beach.

Alabama's new super-sized prison is costing over $1 billion to build

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 17:07


The cost of a new Alabama super-size prison now under construction rose to more than $1 billion, complicating the state's plans to build two of the behemoth facilities.

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority approved a final price Tuesday of $1.08 billion for the prison now under construction in Elmore County. The cost will devour most of the $1.25 billion that lawmakers in 2021 initially agreed to spend to build two prisons each housing 4,000 inmates.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement blaming inflation for the price escalation but said the facility is needed.

“The new prison facilities being built in Alabama are critically important to public safety, to our criminal justice system and to Alabama as a whole,” Ivey said. “We have not built new prisons in more than 30 years, and if it was easy, it would have been attempted by a governor before me.”

The planned 4,000-bed prison in Elmore County, including facilities for medical care and vocational training, is expected to be completed in May of 2026, according to the contract terms.

The Alabama Legislature in 2021 approved a $1.3 billion prison construction plan — that tapped $400 million from pandemic relief funds — to build two prisons and renovate the others. However, inflation and design changes caused cost estimates to rise, state officials said.

The Finance Authority in March increased the authorized spending on the first prison from about $623 million to $975 million. The latest action approved spending of a little more than $1 billion, which state officials said is the final price for the project.

Rep. Rex Reynolds, chairman of the House General Fund budget committee, said the price of labor, concrete and other materials have risen since lawmakers approved the project.

“That's just something we can't control ... But we've got to move forward with doing this job,” Reynolds said.

“This is about not just creating a safer environment for the inmates, this is about a safer environment for our corrections officers to work in. The design of these prisons will better manage the prison population. It's more conducive for the vocational teaching of our inmates,” Reynolds said.

Asked if the lawmakers would pursue borrowing additional money for the construction of the second prison, Reynolds said it is too early to know. He said the state does have “cash in hand” that could be used to pay for design costs and delay the need to borrow money.

Texas power regulators prepare for October solar eclipse

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 16:39


ERCOT, Texas' electric provider, said it is preparing for next month's annular solar eclipse, which could cause a quick but abrupt disruption in the state's solar energy supply. 

According to a presentation provided to Scripps News by ERCOT, its solar energy production will drop to as low as 13% of its clear sky capability on Oct. 14 at around 11:50 a.m. local time. The drop in production begins around 10:15 a.m. and continues through about 1:40 p.m. 

ERCOT said it is working with solar forecast vendors and will pre-position its systems' needs. 

Unlike a total solar eclipse, when the moon completely blocks the sun, in an annular eclipse the moon merely gets in front of the sun in the sky. At the height of an annular solar eclipse, the moon is surrounded by a ring of light from the sun. 

The full annular solar eclipse only lasts several minutes, but for several hours on Oct. 14, the moon will partially block the sun throughout all of Texas. 

A swath including Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Odessa will see the full annular solar eclipse. 

SEE MORE: How to see the 2023 'Ring of Fire' solar eclipse in October

Other parts of the state will experience a partial solar eclipse. Swaths of Oregon, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico will also experience a full annular solar eclipse. 

Nearly all of the continental U.S. will experience a partial solar eclipse on Oct. 14. 

Although there will be a brief reduction in Texas' solar energy production, solar energy only accounts for a fraction of the state's power generation. According to the state, 4% of Texas electricity is produced by solar energy, as of 2021. Natural gas makes up 42% of the state's electric generation, while wind generates about 24% of the state's power. 

Although officials said they'll monitor conditions, as of now, ERCOT said it has not issued any conservation calls during the eclipse.

The annular solar eclipse will just be a primer for an April 2024 total solar eclipse that will cut through the middle of the U.S.

Remains of Colorado woman who went missing in 2020 discovered

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 16:24


The remains of Suzanne Morphew, who was reported missing in May 2020, have been found, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation revealed.

Investigators said Morphew's remains were discovered in Moffat on Sept. 22 during a search connected to an unrelated investigation.

Moffat is about 45 miles south of the Maysville area, where the mother of two was last seen.

No arrests have been made since the remains were located, CBI said. 

Barry Morphew was initially accused of killing his wife in 2020 and charged with first-degree murder. The case was dismissed in April 2022 because a body hadn't been found and prosecutors said they were not able to call certain expert witnesses because of discovery issues. 

In May, Barry Morphew filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $15 million, claiming his arrest affidavit included false and misleading information.

SEE MORE: Man decorated home with stolen body parts in bizarre scheme

In a statement, Iris Eytan, Barry Morphew's attorney, said the family is "struggling with immense shock and grief." She added that the Morphews "had faith that their wife and mom would walk back into their lives again."

"We hope the authorities will quickly admit their wrongful persecution of Barry, an innocent man, to treat the Morphews like the victims they are, and charge the person(s) responsible for Suzanne’s killing," said Eytan.

CBI said specific information on exactly where the human remains were found — and the state of them — is being withheld. 

Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze said the case garnered attention from around the world over the past three years. 

“We have never stopped our investigation and will continue to follow all leads in pursuit of justice for Suzanne," he said. 

X has more fake news than other social media platforms, EU reports

Thu, 09/28/2023 - 16:11


False information is spread more on X than other social networks, according to a report from the European Union. 

The EU’s analytics firm, TrustLab, studied activity on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn and X – which was still referred to as Twitter in the report – in Poland, Slovakia and Spain. 

TrustLab teams in each country searched the platforms for “disinformation keywords” and then analyzed how many of the posts containing those keywords spread misinformation using fact-check websites. 

A variety of topics were covered, including politics, health care and the Russia-Ukraine war. 

The pilot study found engagement was typically higher on posts with false information on X and YouTube, while TikTok had the opposite effect.

SEE MORE: Experts track a surge of hate speech on the X social network

This report is being used as a benchmark, while the firm plans to conduct more detailed studies in other countries in the future. 

European Commission VP for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova released a statement Tuesday, calling out X’s performance in the study and urging social networks to do more to prevent the spread of misinformation.

"Russian propaganda and disinformation is still very present on online platforms,” Jourova said. “This is not business as usual. The Kremlin fights with bombs in Ukraine, but with words everywhere else, including in the EU.” 

The study was commissioned by Meta, YouTube, TikTok and LinkedIn as part of the European Commission’s Code of Practice — something Elon Musk pulled out of when he took over Twitter. 

This insight comes at the same time X removed a feature that let users self-report political misinformation on the platform, according to CNN.  

SEE MORE: Elon Musk addresses why he plans to start charging all X users