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Infant walkers sold on Amazon deemed unsafe

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 15:31


The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced on Thursday that owners of a line of infant walkers need to immediately stop using them. 

The CPSC said that Comfi Baby Infant Walkers pose a risk of falls and entrapment to children. The CPSC added that the products violate federal safety regulations. 

"The products violate the federal safety regulations for infant walkers because they can fit through a standard doorway, are not designed to stop at the edge of a step and have leg openings that allow the child to slip down until the child’s head can become entrapped," the CPSC said on Thursday. 

The products were sold on Amazon from October 2022 through March 2023 for about $100, the CPSC said. 

SEE MORE: Thousands of baby swings recalled due to suffocation risk

Comfi Baby is printed on a label and the items have an ASIN of B0BFJNQSW7. 

The product's maker, All Merchandise, is no longer in business. Because of this, the item is not under recall and customers cannot seek a refund from the company. Owners of the products are urged to throw away the walkers immediately. 

Scripps News has reached out to Amazon to get its reaction. 

Federal rules require infant walkers to have four features:

- Prevention of falls down stairs

- Tipping resistance 

- Dynamic and static load testing on seating area 

- Occupant retention

In 2018, Nationwide Children's Hospital, based in Columbus, Ohio, published a study indicating that between 1990 and 2014, 230,676 children were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries sustained by using infant walkers. The study noted that injuries declined after 2010 when federal officials implemented stronger safety standards for walkers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended against using infant walkers. 

DOJ sues Apple in sweeping antitrust suit over iPhone monopoly in US

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 14:54


The Justice Department on Thursday announced a sweeping antitrust lawsuit against Apple, accusing the tech giant of engineering an illegal monopoly in smartphones that boxes out competitors and stifles innovation.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, alleges that Apple has monopoly power in the smartphone market and uses its control over the iPhone to "engage in a broad, sustained, and illegal course of conduct."

The lawsuit — which was also filed with 16 state attorneys general — is the latest example of the Justice Department's approach to aggressive enforcement of federal antitrust law that officials say is aimed at ensuring a fair and competitive market, even as it has lost some significant anticompetition cases.

"Monopolies like Apple’s threaten the free and fair markets upon which our economy is based. They stifle innovation, they hurt producers and workers, and they increase costs for consumers," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press conference Thursday.

He said Apple engaged in "anticompetitive conduct," such as making it more difficult to message with third-party devices. He pointed to the example of "green texts" from non-iPhone users, which don't show typing bubbles, don't allow edits on messages and send grainy videos.

In addition to messaging, Garland said Apple degrades the functionality of non-Apple apps and accessories, like third-party smartwatches synced to an iPhone.

These types of examples, he said, are what make its monopoly illegal.

"Having monopoly power does not itself violate the antitrust laws. But it does when a firm acquires or maintains monopoly power not because it has a superior product or a superior business acumen, but by engaging in exclusionary conduct," Garland said.

"As set out in our complaint, Apple has maintained its power not because of its superiority — because of its unlawful, exclusionary behavior," he said.

In response to the allegations, Apple called the lawsuit "wrong on the facts and the law" and said it "will vigorously defend against it."

President Joe Biden has called for the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to vigorously enforce antitrust statutes. The increased policing of corporate mergers and business deals has been met with resistance from some business leaders who have said the Democratic administration is overreaching, but it's been lauded by others as long overdue.

The case is taking direct aim at the digital fortress that Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, has assiduously built around the iPhone and other popular products such as the iPad, Mac and Apple Watch to create what is often referred to as a "walled garden" so its meticulously designed hardware and software can seamlessly flourish together while requiring consumers to do little more than turn the devices on.

The strategy has helped make Apple the world's most prosperous company, with annual revenue of nearly $400 billion and, until recently, a market value of more than $3 trillion. But Apple's shares have fallen by 7% this year even as most of the stock market has climbed to new highs, resulting in long-time rival Microsoft — a target of a major Justice Department antitrust case a quarter-century ago — to seize the mantle as the world's most valuable company.

Apple said the lawsuit, if successful, would "hinder our ability to create the kind of technology people expect from Apple — where hardware, software, and services intersect" and would "set a dangerous precedent, empowering government to take a heavy hand in designing people's technology."

"At Apple, we innovate every day to make technology people love — designing products that work seamlessly together, protect people's privacy and security, and create a magical experience for our users," the company said in a statement. "This lawsuit threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets."

Apple has defended the walled garden as an indispensable feature prized by consumers who want the best protection available for their personal information. It has described the barrier as a way for the iPhone to distinguish itself from devices running on Google's Android software, which isn't as restrictive and is licensed to a wide range of manufacturers.

Fears about an antitrust crackdown on Apple's business model have contributed to the drop in the company's stock price, along with concerns that it is lagging Microsoft and Google in the push to develop products powered by artificial intelligence technology.

But antitrust regulators made it clear in their complaint that they see Apple's walled garden most as a weapon to ward off competition, creating market conditions that enable it to charge higher prices that have propelled its lofty profit margins while stifling innovation.

"Consumers should not have to pay higher prices because companies violate the antitrust laws," Garland said in a statement. "We allege that Apple has maintained monopoly power in the smartphone market, not simply by staying ahead of the competition on the merits, but by violating federal antitrust law. If left unchallenged, Apple will only continue to strengthen its smartphone monopoly."

With the attempt to rein in Apple's dominance, the Biden administration is escalating an antitrust siege that has already triggered lawsuits against Google and Amazon accusing them of engaging in illegal tactics to thwart competition, as well as unsuccessful attempts to block acquisitions by Microsoft and Facebook parent Meta Platforms.

Apple's business interests are also entangled in the Justice Department's case against Google, which went to trial last fall and is headed toward final arguments scheduled to begin May 1 in Washington, D.C. In that case, regulators are alleging Google has stymied competition by paying for the rights for its already dominant online search engine to be the automatic place to handle queries on the iPhone and a variety of web browsers in an arrangement that generates an estimated $15 billion to $20 billion annually.

Now that the Justice Department is mounting a direct attack across its business, Apple stands to lose even more.

The Justice Department is following up on other recent attempts to force Apple to change the way it runs the iPhone and other parts of its business.

Epic Games, the maker of the popular Fortnite video game, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple in 2020 in an effort to break down the barriers protecting the iPhone App Store and a lucrative payment system operating within it. Apple has long collected commissions ranging from 15% to 30% on digital transactions completed within apps, a setup that Epic alleged was enabled by an illegal monopoly that drives up prices for consumers.

After a monthlong trial in 2021, a federal judge ruled mostly in favor of Apple with the exception of deciding that links to competing payment options should be permitted inside of iPhone apps. Apple unsuccessfully resisted that portion of the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in January, forcing the company to relent. But the concessions that Apple made to comply with the ruling are still facing a "bad faith" challenge from Epic, which is seeking an April 30 hearing to ask U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers to order more changes.

Apple also had to open up the iPhone to allow apps to be downloaded and installed from competing stores in Europe to comply with a new set of regulators called the Digital Markets Act, or DMA, earlier this month but its approach is being pilloried by critics as little more than an end-around the rules that will enable it to continue to muscle out real competition. European Union regulators already have vowed to crack down on Apple if it finds the company's tactics continue to thwart true consumer choice.

All of this comes on top of a $2 billion fine that European regulators slapped on Apple earlier this month after concluding that the company had undermined competition in the music streaming through the iPhone, despite Spotify being the leader in that market.

Nurse practitioner accused of rape, giving mistress abortion pills

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 14:30


A nurse practitioner in Washington state is accused of raping his mistress and giving her abortion pills, according to court documents obtained by Court TV.

David Benjamin Coots, 42, is facing multiple charges, including second-degree assault and rape. He was arrested March 11 after violating a protection order.

Coots and the unidentified alleged victim first met in Jan. 2023 when she went to his office for an appointment as a patient, states a probable cause affidavit. They began dating in September when Coots told her he was getting a divorce from his wife, Melissa Coots.

The alleged victim told police that she had a positive pregnancy test on Jan. 20, 2024, and Coots was “overly supportive” of the pregnancy. Six days later, she claims Coots gave her coffee and was insistent that she drink it. Later that evening, she said he asked multiple times about her drinking the coffee during a phone call and “how it tasted.”

The next day, she said Coots was “abnormally aggressive” during sex and wouldn’t let her use the restroom afterwards. When he left, she found a “white round pill on the toilet paper the size of an Altoid.” She immediately texted Coots and asked what it was, to which he eventually told her he “put four pills inside her” that “cause miscarriages,” states a probable cause affidavit. The alleged victim went to the emergency room, where a rape kit was performed.

In the days after, Coots allegedly offered her money and apologized profusely. Melissa Coots is also accused of contacting the woman and showing up at her house to convince her to not contact authorities. Following that incident, the woman checked into a hotel and filed a restraining order.

On March 11, Coots allegedly showed up where the woman was staying with gifts and a letter. He was arrested that day. He was later released on a $500,000 bond. Melissa Coots is also charged with tampering with a witness, reports People.

This story was originally published by Ivy Brown at Court TV.

Experts sound alarm on falling global fertility rates

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 13:36


Global fertility rates are projected to fall through the rest of the 21st century, and experts say these declines will "completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power."

According to a study published Wednesday in the Lancet, about 75% of countries will not have high enough fertility rates in 2050 to sustain their population size over time. The study notes that just six out of 204 countries will have a fertility rate that sustains their population size by 2100. 

The report says that better access to contraception and sex education in low-income countries are major reasons many nations will see a decrease in fertility rates. 

The study also projects that nearly half of all live births in the world will occur in sub-Saharan Africa by 2100. 

Generally, countries need to have a fertility rate of 2.1 children per person to sustain generational replacement. 

“In many ways, tumbling fertility rates are a success story, reflecting not only better, easily available contraception, but also many women choosing to delay or have fewer children, as well as more opportunities for education and employment,” senior author Stein Emil Vollset from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

SEE MORE: CDC confirms life expectancy on the rise again

The publication noted that the U.S. fertility rate has been below 2.1 for several decades. In 2021, the rate was 1.64 per person. By 2100, it will drop to 1.45. 

However, this fall in fertility rates will be more pronounced in other nations. For instance, Latin America and the Caribbean will expect to have a fertility rate that goes from 4.09 in 1980 to 1.31 per person in 2100. 

In South Asia, where the fertility rate was 4.96 in 1980 and 2.07 in 2021, it is expected to decline to 1.1 by 2100.

The changing birth rates present challenges on two fronts. On one end, many nations will have to figure out how to care for aging populations, with fewer young people to take the jobs of those retiring. 

On the other hand, some poorer nations could continue to see issues with overpopulation and providing resources. 

“We are facing staggering social change through the 21st century,” said Vollset. “The world will be simultaneously tackling a ‘baby boom’ in some countries and a ‘baby bust’ in the others. As most of the world contends with the serious challenges to the economic growth of a shrinking workforce and how to care for and pay for aging populations, many of the most resource-limited countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be grappling with how to support the youngest, fastest-growing population on the planet in some of the most politically and economically unstable, heat-stressed, and health system-strained places on earth.”

For nations like the U.S. that are encountering falling birth rates, some policies such as health care and child care assistance could help reverse trends, but those alone might not be enough, researchers said. 

“There’s no silver bullet,” said study co-lead author Natalia V. Bhattacharjee. “Social policies to improve birth rates such as enhanced parental leave, free childcare, financial incentives, and extra employment rights, may provide a small boost to fertility rates, but most countries will remain below replacement levels. And once nearly every country’s population is shrinking, reliance on open immigration will become necessary to sustain economic growth."

'Long, strange trip': Library book returned 37 years late with a note

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 13:26


A Colorado library was in for quite the surprise after a particular book was brought back through its doors.

The book, "Psychedelics" by Bernard Aaronson, was due back to Riverside Library and Cultural Center on May 30, 1987 — nearly 37 years ago.

"Somebody call Lt. Bookman," joked the High Plains Library District in a Facebook post. It noted the book was exactly 13,437 days past its due back date.

The book returner had quite the sense of humor, acknowledging the rather large delay with a handwritten sticky note: "Sorry so late, it's been a long, strange trip."

Issuing an apology, the note was also a nod to the book's subject matter of psychedelics.

The High Plains Library District had some fun of its own in response.

"Guns N' Roses was still a couple months away from releasing 'Appetite for Destruction' on the day this book was due!" said the library district in its Facebook post. "Lionel Messi was born like two months after this was due!"

"But, hey, we get it. Sometimes you get busy. For almost 37 years. It happens," it said.

The High Plains Library District posted photos of the blue book with trippy imagery, which appeared to be worn. The note was stuck to the inside cover.

The library district challenged anyone who may have an even older return to make to do so and break the record, offering no repercussions in the exchange.

"If anyone can beat the current record of 13,437 days, I'm offering you total amnesty for the safe return of your items. Although I'm not encouraging you to check something out TODAY and return late enough to bear the record, which would be...January 1st, 2061. We'll be closed New Year's Day. Probably. Maybe. By 2061, who knows?" said the library district.

Replying to a comment on its Facebook post, the High Plains Library District said that exact copy of the book will not be returned to shelves because "it's a bit damaged and headed for an archive." But it did note a copy of the same title is still available.

Georgia carries out first execution in 4 years

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 13:00


A Georgia man convicted of the killing of his former girlfriend three decades ago was put to death Wednesday evening in the state’s first execution in more than four years.

Willie James Pye, 59, received an injection of the sedative pentobarbital and was pronounced dead at 11:03 p.m. at the state prison in Jackson. He was sentenced to die for his conviction in the November 1993 abduction, rape and shooting death of Alicia Lynn Yarbrough.

Pye was asked by the warden whether he wanted to say any final words, and he indicated no. When asked if he wanted a prayer said for him, he indicated that he would. A member of the clergy then said a brief prayer, asking God to help Pye experience some grace and mercy.

Pye was mostly still as the drugs began to flow. He began exhaling rapid bursts of air about a half-dozen times, causing his cheeks to expand and his lips to quiver each time. Then, he was still. Several minutes later, the warden walked into the death chamber and announced the time of death.

SEE MORE: Alabama executes Kenneth Eugene Smith using nitrogen gas

Pye’s lawyers filed late appeals urging the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, but the justices unanimously rejected to stop the execution. The defense team argued the state hadn’t met necessary conditions for resuming executions after the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated arguments that Pye was ineligible for execution because of an intellectual disability. State responses argued the claims had been previously settled by the courts and were without merit. The last execution in Georgia was conducted in January 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic gained force.

Pye had been in an on-and-off romantic relationship with Yarbrough, but at the time she was killed, she was living with another man. Pye, Chester Adams and a 15-year-old had planned to rob that man and bought a handgun before heading to a party in a nearby town, prosecutors have said.

The trio left the party around midnight and went to the house where Yarbrough lived, finding her alone with her baby. They forced their way into the house, stole a ring and necklace from Yarbrough, and forced her to go with them, leaving the baby alone, prosecutors said.

The group drove to a motel, where they raped Yarbrough and then left the motel with her in the car, prosecutors said. They turned onto a dirt road and Pye ordered Yarbrough out of the car, made her lie face down and shot her three times, according to court filings.

Yarbrough’s body was found on Nov. 17, 1993, a few hours after she was killed. Pye, Adams and the teenager were quickly arrested. Pye and Adams denied knowing anything about Yarbrough’s death, but the teenager confessed and implicated the other two.

SEE MORE: Why are states considering firing squad executions?

The teenager reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and was the main witness at Pye’s trial. A jury in June 1996 found Pye guilty of murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, rape and burglary, and sentenced him to death.

Pye’s lawyers had argued in court filings that prosecutors relied heavily on the teenager’s testimony but that he later gave inconsistent statements. Such statements, as well as Pye’s testimony during trial, indicate that Yarbrough left the home willingly and went to the motel to trade sex for drugs, the lawyers said in court filings.

Lawyers representing Pye also wrote in previous court filings that their client was raised in extreme poverty in a home without indoor plumbing or enough food or clothing. His childhood was characterized by neglect and abuse by family members who were often drunk, his lawyers wrote.

His lawyers also argued that Pye suffered from frontal lobe brain damage, potentially caused by fetal alcohol syndrome, which harmed his planning ability and impulse control.

SEE MORE: Biden's Justice Dept. keeps hard line in death row cases

Pye’s lawyers had long argued in courts that he should be resentenced because his trial lawyer didn’t adequately prepare for the sentencing phase of his trial. His legal team argued that the original trial attorney failed to sufficiently investigate his “life, background, physical and psychiatric health” to present mitigating evidence to the jury during sentencing.

A federal judge rejected those claims, but a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Pye’s lawyers in April 2021. Then the case was reheard by the full federal appeals court, which overturned the panel ruling in October 2022.

Pye’s co-defendant Adams, now 55, pleaded guilty in April 1997 to charges of malice murder, kidnapping with bodily injury, armed robbery, rape and aggravated sodomy. He got five consecutive life prison sentences and remains behind bars.

There have been 75 men and one woman executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections. Pye was the 54th inmate put to death by lethal injection. There are presently 35 men and one woman under death sentence in Georgia.

Over a dozen hurt after Russia bombards Kyiv for first time in 44 days

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 12:20


Russia fired 31 ballistic and cruise missiles at Kyiv before dawn Thursday in the first attack on the Ukrainian capital in 44 days, officials said. Air defenses shot down all the incoming missiles, though 13 people including a child were injured by falling wreckage, they said.

Residents of Kyiv were woken up by loud explosions around 5 a.m. as the missiles arrived at roughly the same time from different directions, said Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv City Administration.

Ukraine’s air force said Russia launched two ballistic missiles and 29 cruise missiles against the capital.

Kyiv has better air defenses than most regions of the large country. The missile interception rate is frequently high, rendering Russian attacks on the capital significantly less successful than during the early days of the war. Even so, Ukrainian officials warn that they need considerably more Western weapons if they are to prevail against Russia's invasion.

SEE MORE: Ukraine's Zelenskyy: 31,000 soldiers have died in war with Russia

An 11-year-old girl and a 38-year-old man were hospitalized in Kyiv, the city administration said. Eight other people sustained light injuries, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Ukraine's Emergency Service said around 80 people were evacuated from their homes.

Falling wreckage from the intercepted missiles set fire to at least one apartment building, burned parked cars and left craters in streets and a small park. Some streets were littered with debris, including glass from shattered windows.

Survivors, some of them in tears and visibly shaken as emergency workers treated them in the street, recounted narrow escapes.

Raisa Kozenko, a 71-year-old whose apartment lost its doors and windows in the blast, said her son jumped out of bed just in time.

“He was covered in blood, in the rubble,” she said, trembling from shock. “And all I can say is ... the apartment is completely destroyed.”

Mariia Margulis, 31, said a decision to stay in the corridor throughout the attack saved her family.

“The blast wave blew out all the windows on the side where everything happened,” she said. “My mom was supposed to sleep in that room, but I asked her to move to the corridor in time, which saved us.”

SEE MORE: Putin threatens global nuclear conflict over Western troops in Ukraine

The attack occurred hours after a visit to Kyiv by President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, and came after repeated Ukraine aerial attacks in recent days on Russia's Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine.

On Thursday, five people were injured in the latest attack on the Belgorod region, which damaged homes and the city sports stadium, Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it stopped 10 rockets over the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened Wednesday to “respond in kind” to the attacks.

At an event in the Kremlin, Putin said Russia “can respond in the same way regarding civilian infrastructure and all other objects of this kind that the enemy attacks. We have our own views on this matter and our own plans. We will follow what we have outlined.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the country’s Western partners to send more air defense systems so they can be distributed across the country where missile strikes have become more common.

“Every day, every night such ... terror happens,” he said on Telegram after Thursday’s attack on Kyiv. “World unity is capable to stop it by helping us with more air defense systems.”

Zelenskyy said Russia doesn’t have missiles that can evade U.S.-made Patriots and other advanced air defense weapons.

European Union leaders were considering new ways to help boost arms and ammunition production for Ukraine at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Russia has largely turned its attention to other Ukrainian cities, targeting them with drones and ballistic missiles.

On Wednesday, Russian ballistic missiles killed five people and injured nine in the eastern Kharkiv region, and strike on southern Odesa last week killed 21.

CDC confirms life expectancy on the rise again

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 12:09


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Thursday that life expectancy in 2022 rose to 77.5 years, which was up from 76.4 in 2021 and 77 in 2020. 

The CDC had released preliminary data in late 2023 indicating the rise. Although life expectancies are back up after taking a dip during the COVID-19 pandemic, there remain some concerning trends. 

The CDC's report indicated that there was an uptick in deaths caused by kidney diseases in 2022. There were 13.8 deaths related to kidney disease per 100,000 people in 2022, which was up from 13.6 deaths in 2021. 

The report also indicated there was a rise in infant mortality in 2022. The infant mortality rate increased 3.6% in 2022 from 2021, going from 543.6 infant deaths per 100,000 live births to 560.4. 

The report noted increases in deaths related to sudden infant death syndrome, unintentional injuries and maternal complications among infants. 

The report also noted that death rates across most age groups decreased in 2022, but there was an increase in deaths among 1-4 year olds and 5-14 year olds. The death rate among 100,000 children ages 1-4 increased from 25 in 2021 to 28 in 2022. The death rate among 5-14 year olds jumped from 14.3 in 2021 to 15.3 in 2022, among a population of 100,000 children. 

SEE MORE: Nordic countries top happiest places on Earth, while US drops on list

The CDC defines life expectancy as "the expected average number of years of life remaining at a given age."

Life expectancy can vary greatly depending on a person's sex and race. American Indian and Alaska Native males had the lowest life expectancy at 64.6 years, while Asian females had the highest life expectancy at 86.3 years — a nearly 22-year spread. 

One major reason for the increase in overall life expectancy in 2022 was the sudden decrease in COVID-19-related deaths in 2022 compared to 2021. There were also improvements among heart disease, cancer, homicide and unintentional injury deaths. 

Alabama gov. signs bill axing diversity, equity and inclusion programs

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 11:41


Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed legislation that would ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public schools, universities and state agencies and prohibit the teaching of "divisive concepts" including that someone should feel guilty because of their race or gender.

The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, is part of a wave of proposals from Republican lawmakers across the country taking aim at diversity, equity and inclusion programs, also known as DEI, on college campuses. Republicans say the programs deepen divisions and promote a particular political viewpoint. But opponents say it is a rollback of hard-won advances and programs that welcome underrepresented student populations.

"My administration has and will continue to value Alabama's rich diversity, however, I refuse to allow a few bad actors on college campuses – or wherever else for that matter – to go under the acronym of DEI, using taxpayer funds, to push their liberal political movement counter to what the majority of Alabamians believe," Ivey said in a statement.

Also Wednesday, an Alabama House committee advanced legislation that would ban teacher-led discussions in public schools on sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit displaying Pride flags in classrooms. The measure, part of a wave of laws across the country that critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay," now moves to the full House.

The DEI measure was sharply criticized by opponents who said it was taking the state backward, instead of forward.

"This regressive measure undermines the strides we've made in cultivating an inclusive society in Alabama by stifling essential discussions and programs that are key to improving our state," Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said.

Daniels said it "detrimentally impacts the educational experience of college students by removing programs in which they can receive support, build communities, and learn how to be prosperous and inclusive citizens,"

The Alabama legislation would prohibit universities, K-12 school systems and state agencies from sponsoring DEI programs, defined under the bill as classes, training, programs and events where attendance is based on a person's race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation.

The bill also says schools, universities and state agencies cannot require students, employees and contractors to attend classes and training sessions "that advocates for or requires assent" to what the bill lists as eight "divisive concepts."

The list of banned concepts includes that "any individual should accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin," or that fault, blame or bias should be assigned to people based on race, religion, gender or national origin.

Auburn University, a public institution, said in a letter to faculty, staff and students that it was evaluating the new law's implications.

The measure will affect "use of state funds to sponsor DEI programs and activities" but does not prohibit instruction associated with accreditation standards and academic support for students of a particular demographic, university leadership wrote.

"We are resolute in our mission to deliver exceptional student experiences and to provide support to all of our students with particular emphasis on providing access and opportunity," the letter said.

The bill also would attempt to prohibit transgender people on college campuses from using multiple occupancy restrooms that correspond with their current gender identity.

The legislation says colleges and universities "shall ensure that every multiple occupancy restroom be designated for use by individuals based" on the sex that a person was assigned at birth. It is unclear how the requirement would be enforced.

SEE MORE: NAACP encouraging Black student-athletes to leave Florida schools

Milwaukee mayor signs ordinance regulating demonstrations at RNC

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 11:32


Milwaukee's Mayor Cavalier Johnson has signed an ordinance restricting demonstrations during the Republican National Convention, which will take place July 15-18. 

The ordinance creates a specific speaking area and "parade route" for community groups. Both require prior sign-ups and time slots. Inside the speaking area, demonstrators are expected to only use microphones and sound systems provided by the city and to leave the area as soon as the time slot has finished. 

If there are any cases of civil disturbance or potential violence, demonstrators will be removed immediately. 

Community organizers attended a public works meeting earlier this week to voice their concerns about the ordinance. 

They say it's too restrictive and that they don't trust the city's judgment when it comes to enforcement. City leaders, including the mayor's chief of staff, say these restrictions are necessary to make sure everyone's voices are heard fairly. 

A portal will be opening soon for individuals and groups to register to demonstrate, and to sign up for a time slot in the designated area. 

This story was originally published by Katlin Connin at Scripps News Milwaukee

Public service workers are getting $5.8B in new student debt relief

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 09:00


The Biden administration said Thursday it would commit another $5.8 billion in student debt relief for 77,000 borrowers thanks to adjustments it made to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

PSLF is a program that forgives loan balances for people working for governments and certain nonprofits, such as teachers, nurses or firefighters, who have made at least 10 years of payments on their outstanding balance.

Administration officials have highlighted the progress expanding the reach of PSLF, which now counts 871,000 eligible borrowers.

"Today, more than 100 times more borrowers are eligible for PSLF than there were at the beginning of the administration," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

The president will also send emails to hundreds of thousands of borrowers who are on track to have their debt canceled through PSLF within the next two years. He will remind them of the benefits coming up and thank them for their work.

SEE MORE: Biden administration announces $1.2 billion in new student debt relief

The latest batch of forgiveness follows a similar cancellation for nearly 74,000 PSLF borrowers earlier this year.

In 2023, a victory in court allowed the administration to widen the definition of repayment, which was particularly beneficial for borrowers over the age of 50 who were still paying down their student debt.

In total, the Biden administration has forgiven $143.6 billion in student loan debt held by close to 4 million people.

$4.25 million gene therapy for kids becomes world's priciest drug

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 02:51


A lifesaving gene therapy for children born with a rare and debilitating disease has just been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The catch? Its wholesale cost has been set at $4.25 million, making it the most expensive medicine in the world.

Orchard Therapeutics announced the hefty price for Lenmeldy Wednesday, two days after the FDA approved the therapy as the only treatment for kids with metachromatic leukodystrophy, or MLD. 

MLD is an incurable genetic disorder caused by a certain gene mutation that creates a deficiency of the enzyme arylsulfatase A (ARSA), according to the National Institutes of Health. This leads to a toxic buildup of fatty substances called sulfatides in cells, which gradually destroys the fatty covering around nerve fibers, called the myelin sheath, the NIH says. This irreversibly damages the nervous system, leading to loss of function and early death, per the NIH and FDA.

The FDA and Orchard Therapeutics estimate 1 in 40,000 Americans are affected by the rapidly progressive disease each year, meaning fewer than 40 children face the poor prognosis annually.

Most cases are categorized as late infantile MLD, meaning symptoms begin between 6 months and 2 years of age, according to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The majority of these children die by the age of 5, the NIH says.

Others can develop juvenile MLD, which sees slowly progressing symptoms begin at age 4 and continue developing through adolescence, Children's says. Those affected by this form typically pass away within 6 to 14 years of their symptom onset, according to NIH.

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Before Lenmeldy, the only treatment for any type of MLD was bone marrow transplantation to delay the progression of the disease in some infantile cases, the NIH says. Other than that, the only options were symptomatic and end-of-life care. Now, the newly approved therapy gives MLD patients a chance to live longer lives with fewer symptoms. 

The "one-time, individualized single-dose infusion," as the FDA describes it, works by adding functional copies of the ARSA gene to a patient's own blood stem cells. After a high dose of chemotherapy, a doctor would collect the cells to genetically add the vital enzyme to their cells before transplanting the modified cells back into the patient, the FDA says. Back in the body, the modified stem cells will attach and multiply within the bone marrow and facilitate the production of the ARSA enzyme, which will then break down the sulfatides and help slow — or even stop — MLD progression.

"Lenmeldy is truly a paradigm-shifting medicine and has the potential to stop or slow the progression of this devastating childhood disease with a single treatment, particularly when administered prior to the onset of symptoms," said Dr. Bobby Gaspar, co-founder of Orchard Therapeutics.

The treatment is specifically approved for pre-symptomatic late infantile and early juvenile as well as early symptomatic early juvenile MLD cases. And clinical studies have shown a high success rate.

A trial in which 37 pediatric patients with early-onset MLD received a one-time administration of Lenmeldy left each one with a significant reduction in severe motor impairment or death compared to untreated children, the FDA said. Orchard Therapeutics reported each child was alive at the age of 6 compared to only 58% of the untreated group, and at the age of 5, 71% were able to walk without help and 85% had normal speech and performance IQ scores — a finding not reported in the control group.

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But while this all sounds amazing, will any patients be able to afford the therapy? Well, it's complicated.

The wholesale price of a medicine is not usually what the average person would pay. The NIH says an average wholesale price typically represents the cost at which the drug will be sold to physicians, pharmacies, etc. based on data and results the company can sell.

Orchard Therapeutics, for example, says its wholesale cost is "reflective of the value the therapy may deliver to eligible patients and their families, as well the potential long-term impact treatment may have on overall healthcare utilization, minimization of productivity loss for caregivers, and life opportunities for patients." In other words, it appears the promise of fewer medical treatments for kids with MLD in the future means a higher cost for the one treatment now is more reasonable.

So once the manufacturer sells the medication, the price or copay a patient would see is all up to their insurance provider, which would typically be a fraction of the wholesale cost, according to the NIH. But for those uninsured, their price could depend on their pharmacy, or in some cases, the NIH says they could end up paying the full price.

Reddit's IPO anticipated to be at top of target range

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 02:46


Details on Reddit's initial public offering scheduled for Thursday have swirled in recent days, along with speculation — but, as the company is guided to a final position for the deal by shareholders and investment banks, the IPO is expected to be at the top of the target range, according to multiple reports. 

The company will be listed under the ticker symbol "RDDT." The target range is between $31 to $34 per share ahead of going public on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Reddit has reserved 8% of the total shares for retail investors. Those eligible include friends and family members of employees and directors, moderators, eligible platform users and some board members, Reuters reported

SEE MORE: Reddit, YouTube to face lawsuits claiming they enabled a mass shooter

The site, which was launched in 2005, boasts some 73 million daily active users and around 267 million weekly active users, and makes over 100,000 active forum boards or "subreddits" available for conversations and discussions. 

Mashable Sr. Technology Reporter Matt Binder said that while the site has had to evolve somewhat over the years to keep up with the times, it has tried to remain true to its original self. Some users worry it will change dramatically after the IPO.

Binder said, "The community has now felt that [Reddit CEO Steve Huffman] has now turned his back on them, based on recent changes to Reddit. For example last year, Huffman was apparently inspired by Elon Musk's changes to Twitter or X, that the community on Reddit wasn't a fan of."

The company made a profit of more than $18 million in the October-December 2023 quarter, driven mostly by advertising. 

This will be Reddit's second attempt at going public after the company filed for an IPO in December 2021. 

Unforgettable character actor M. Emmet Walsh dies at 88

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 02:29


M. Emmet Walsh, the character actor who brought his unmistakable face and unsettling presence to films including “Blood Simple” and “Blade Runner,” has died at age 88, his manager said Wednesday.

Walsh died from cardiac arrest on Tuesday at a hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, his longtime manager Sandy Joseph said.

The ham-faced, heavyset Walsh often played good old boys with bad intentions, as he did in one of his rare leading roles as a crooked Texas private detective in the Coen brothers’ first film, the 1984 neo-noir “Blood Simple.”

Joel and Ethan Coen said they wrote the part for Walsh, who would win the first Film Independent Spirit Award for best male lead for the role.

Critics and film geeks relished the moments when he showed up on screen.

Roger Ebert once observed that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.”

Walsh played a crazed sniper in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy “The Jerk” and a prostate-examining doctor in the 1985 Chevy Chase vehicle “Fletch.”

In 1982's gritty, “Blade Runner,” a film he said was grueling and difficult to make with perfectionist director Ridley Scott, Walsh plays a hard-nosed police captain who pulls Harrison Ford from retirement to hunt down cyborgs.

Born Michael Emmet Walsh, his characters led people to believe he was from the American South, but he could hardly have been from any further north.

Walsh was raised on Lake Champlain in Swanton, Vermont, just a few miles from the U.S.-Canadian border, where his grandfather, father and brother worked as customs officers.

He went to a tiny local high school with a graduating class of 13, then to Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

He acted exclusively on the stage, with no intention of doing otherwise, for a decade, working in summer stock and repertory companies.

Walsh slowly started making film appearances in 1969 with a bit role in “Alice’s Restaurant,” and did not start playing prominent roles until nearly a decade after that when he was in his 40s, getting his breakthrough with 1978’s “Straight Time,” in which he played Dustin Hoffman's smug, boorish parole officer.

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Walsh was shooting “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep in Dallas in the autumn of 1982 when he got the offer for “Blood Simple” from the Coen brothers, then-aspiring filmmakers who had seen and loved him in “Straight Time.”

“My agent called with a script written by some kids for a low-budget movie,” Walsh told The Guardian in 2017. “It was a Sydney Greenstreet kind of role, with a Panama suit and the hat. I thought it was kinda fun and interesting. They were 100 miles away in Austin, so I went down there early one day before shooting.”

Walsh said the filmmakers didn't even have enough money left to fly him to New York for the opening, but he would be stunned that first-time filmmakers had produced something so good.

“I saw it three or four days later when it opened in LA, and I was, like: Wow!" he said. "Suddenly my price went up five times. I was the guy everybody wanted.”

In the film he plays Loren Visser, a detective asked to trail a man’s wife, then is paid to kill her and her lover.

Visser also acts as narrator, and the opening monologue, delivered in a Texas drawl, included some of Walsh's most memorable lines.

“Now, in Russia they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else. That’s the theory, anyway," Visser says. “But what I know about is Texas. And down here, you’re on your own.”

He was still working into his late 80s, making recent appearances on the TV series “The Righteous Gemstones” and “American Gigolo.”

And his more than 100 film credits included director Rian Johnson’s 2019 family murder mystery, “Knives Out" and director Mario Van Peebles' Western “Outlaw Posse,” released this year.

Johnson was among those paying tribute to Walsh on social media.

“Emmet came to set with 2 things: a copy of his credits, which was a small-type single spaced double column list of modern classics that filled a whole page, & two-dollar bills which he passed out to the entire crew," Johnson tweeted. “'Don’t spend it and you’ll never be broke.' Absolute legend.”

Missing mom, 3-year-old son found dead in ditch amid custody battle

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 00:52


missing mom and son were found dead Tuesday ahead of a custody hearing over the child, and authorities say they believe it could be a murder-suicide.

Texas' Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar shared the update on what was a missing persons case and is now being handled as a homicide during a press conference at Tom Slick Park. Hours earlier, a park police officer had found the bodies of Savannah and Kaiden Kriger in a ditch that ran behind the park, Salazar said.

The discovery came after a night of searching for the 32-year-old and her 3-year-old son. Salazar said the pair were last seen at 2 p.m. leaving the child's day care center. Savannah had left work early to pick him up to take him to a doctor's appointment, the sheriff's office said.

Then around 6:30 p.m., family members had requested officials perform a welfare check at the mom and son's residence after Savannah's phone kept going to voicemail and her location services were turned off, Salazar said. But when officials arrived at the home, they found no vehicle and weren't able to get in until a relative gained them entry, the sheriff said.

Once inside, Salazar stated at the press conference that authorities "found some things that led us to believe there was certainly cause for concern for the child as well as for Savannah." The search thereafter uncovered some phone pings near the park, where Savannah's vehicle was soon recovered, the sheriff said. 

Officials planned to resume their night search after daybreak, but then the two bodies were found. Salazar said a firearm was recovered from the ditch, and evidence showed there may have been gunshots fired there. 

The gun at the scene leads authorities to believe there are no other outstanding suspects in the case besides Savannah, making a murder-suicide case a possibility, Salazar said. The sheriff said he believes the two left the mother's vehicle on foot and walked the "considerable ways" past the park to the ditch, where the suspected shooting likely occurred last night. 

Salazar said the boy's father is assisting investigators in "helping fill in whatever blanks we can." The father was the opposing party in the ongoing custody dispute over the child, of which a hearing was scheduled for later that day, Salazar said.

The sheriff said Savannah currently had full custody of the boy. 

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Biden shares his bracket for the 2024 NCAA March Madness tournaments

Thu, 03/21/2024 - 00:00


The President of the United States has spiced things up this week by filling out his NCAA March Madness brackets for both the men's and women's tournaments, sharing his winning picks.

"Folks, it's time for college basketball’s biggest tournament. I wish the best of luck to all the teams competing," President Joe Biden said in a social media post sharing his predictions. 

He locked in his Final Four picks for the women's tournament: South Carolina, Stanford, UConn, and UCLA. For the men's tournament, he also went with powerhouse selections: UConn, Houston, North Carolina, and Kansas. His bet for the winners? Riding on South Carolina's unbeatable momentum for the Women's National Championship, and banking on top-seeded UConn to triumph over North Carolina in the Men's National Championship.

"I’m picking South Carolina Women's Basketball to win it all, and in the Men’s bracket the Huskies to go back-to-back," President Biden said in a tweet.

Folks, it's time for college basketball’s biggest tournament. I wish the best of luck to all the teams competing.

I’m picking South Carolina Women's Basketball to win it all, and in the Men’s bracket the Huskies to go back-to-back.

— President Biden (@POTUS) March 20, 2024

Sharing college basketball brackets is a tradition former President Barack Obama started in 2009. Back then, he put all his marbles on North Carolina to win the Men's NCAA Tournament, and they did just that. 

"My bracket was beautiful, and people were pretty impressed. They thought, 'Look at the President of the United States; he's in the top 4% of all the people who enter in their brackets.' And I was kind of feeling it, and I thought, 'You know what? I think this is what's going to happen every year,'" Obama said on the "Ways to Win" podcast. "And I'm pretty sure each year I've lost since then. So I have not necessarily picked a winner. And I'm a little sad about that."

So, of course, he had to share his picks this year to try to snatch another win.

In his men's tournament bracket, the 44th president selected UConn, Baylor, Kentucky, and Purdue as his Final Four contenders, and just like his bestie Biden, he chose top-seeded UConn to take the W. 

In the women's tournament, Obama chose South Carolina, Southern California, Iowa, and Stanford as his Final Four, predicting — again matching his best bud's vibes — that the Gamecocks would take home the championship trophy.

Obama did ask for a favor, though: "Please don’t rub it in when my bracket gets busted."

My picks are in! I sat down to talk about them with @CraigMalRob and @UKCoachCalipari on their podcast Ways To Win from @HGMedia. Check out our conversation wherever you get your podcasts. And please don’t rub it in when my bracket gets busted.

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 19, 2024

Angela Chao was drunk when she drove into pond and died, police say

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 23:43


Angela Chao, a shipping industry CEO and sister-in-law to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was intoxicated when she drove into a pond and died last month in Texas, according to a law enforcement report released Wednesday.

The investigation by the Blanco County Sheriff's Office concluded that Chao's death was an "unfortunate accident" and her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the state's legal limit.

Chao, 50, died the night of Feb. 10 after having dinner with a large group at a ranch in Johnson City, west of Austin. The report describes a frantic scene as friends and deputies tried to pull Chao from her Tesla after she backed it into the water.

A friend told detectives that Chao called her at 11:42 p.m. and said the car was in the pond and she was trapped inside.

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Law enforcement officials and firefighters eventually managed to pull her out of the vehicle and to shore, where she was pronounced dead at 1:40 a.m. on Feb. 11. A toxicology test determined that Chao had a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.233 grams per 100 milliliters, above the legal limit in Texas of .08 grams per 100 milliliters, the report said.

Chao was the chair and CEO of her family's shipping business, the Foremost Group, and the president of her father's philanthropic organization, the Foremost Foundation. She lived in Austin, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Blanco County.

Her eldest sibling, Elaine Chao, is married to McConnell and served as transportation secretary under President Donald Trump and labor secretary under President George W. Bush.

Chao is survived by her husband, father and four sisters.

Shohei Ohtani's interpreter fired after allegations of theft, gambling

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 23:31


Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been fired from the Los Angeles Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball star.

Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was let go from the team Wednesday following reports from The Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” law firm Berk Brettler LLP said in a statement Wednesday.

Mizuhara has worked with Ohtani for years and been a constant presence with him in major league clubhouses. When Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels to sign a $700 million contract with the Dodgers in December, the club also hired Mizuhara.

The team did not have an immediate comment Wednesday. His firing was confirmed by Major League Baseball.

SEE MORE: Dodgers prepare to welcome 2-way star Shohei Ohtani to Hollywood

Talking Taxes: Scripps News answers viewers' biggest tax questions

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 23:16


It's an activity that most Americans don't like doing: A Pew Research study found 56% of Americans hate or dislike doing their taxes, saying it's too complicated and inconvenient. Many say they don't like how the government uses tax money, or simply that they simply pay too much in taxes.

Scripps News and Ted Jenkin, CEO and co-founder of oXYGen Financial, hope to make it a little easier. They answer Scripps News viewers' biggest tax questions.

Why am I getting taxed this year for the Affordable Care Act, if I wasn't taxed before?

Check your withholdings to see if you had an abnormal year of income or if you missed deductions.

If you're covered under the ACA, you can deduct the full year's cost of your health insurance premium on form 1040.

Your income may be too high. If your income exceeds 138% of the federal poverty level, you may be taxed on ACA costs.

What can I deduct if I work from home?

If you're self-employed, you may deduct $5 per square foot of home office space up to 300 square feet, as well as expenses like furniture, supplies, and marketing costs.

But remember — if you're receiving a W2 form from an employer, you generally won't be eligible for these deductions.

What if I've filed my taxes and later find deductions I missed?

Generally, the IRS allows amendments for federal and state returns for either three years following the tax year or two years after you paid the taxes — whichever is later. The IRS will give you interest if it turns out you're still owed money.

What are some of the most overlooked tax breaks?

This depends on whether you take the standard deduction, as most U.S. taxpayers do. This makes a payer ineligible for breaks on itemized costs.

But if you do itemize your taxes, you may get breaks on non-cash charitable contributions. 

You may also be able to earn tax credits on earned income, retirement savings, child care costs, student loan interest deductions and energy expenses.

Chicago sues gunmaker Glock over firearm conversions to machine guns

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 22:52


The city of Chicago sued Glock Inc. on Tuesday, alleging the handgun manufacturer is facilitating the proliferation of illegal machine guns that can fire as many as 1,200 rounds per minute on the streets of the city.

The lawsuit alleges Glock unreasonably endangers Chicagoans by manufacturing and selling semi-automatic pistols that can easily be converted to illegal machine guns with an auto sear — a cheap, small device commonly known as a "Glock switch." The switches are the size of a quarter and are easily purchased illegally online for around $20 or manufactured at home using a 3D printer.

The complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court is the first to use Illinois's new Firearms Industry Responsibility Act, passed and signed into law in 2023 to hold gun companies accountable for conduct that endangers the public.

The lawsuit states police in Chicago have recovered over 1,100 Glocks that have been converted into illegal machine guns in the last two years in connection with homicides, assaults, kidnappings, carjackings and other crimes.

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The lawsuit alleges that Glock knows it could fix the problem but refuses to do so, and seeks a court order requiring the company to stop selling guns to people in Chicago. It also seeks unspecified damages.

"The City of Chicago is encountering a deadly new frontier in the gun violence plaguing our communities because of the increase of fully automatic Glocks on our streets," Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a news release.

"Selling firearms that can so easily be converted into automatic weapons makes heinous acts even more deadly, so we are doing everything we can in collaboration with others committed to ending gun violence to hold Glock accountable for putting profits over public safety," Johnson said.

Joining the city in the lawsuit is Everytown Law, a Washington-based firm that seeks to advance gun safety laws in the courts.

"Right now, anyone in the United States with $20 and a screwdriver can convert their Glock pistol into an illegal machine gun in just a few minutes," said Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown Law.

Phone messages were left with Smyrna, Georgia-based Glock seeking comment on the lawsuit.