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2024 candidates Haley and Trump never debated each other. Do voters care?

23 February 2024 at 19:56

Anna Wilder | (TNS) The State (Columbia, S.C.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Donald Trump and Nikki Haley have thrown insults at each other over the last few weeks as the South Carolina Republican primary inches closer.

“Birdbrain,” “incompetent,” “unhinged,” and many more terms were used. Yet, they never got on stage together to debate policy, or strengths and weaknesses as candidates. Do South Carolina voters care?

Those who attended the Haley town hall this week said there should have been a debate. But those at the Trump town hall in Greenville on Tuesday were indifferent.

Leah Veldhoven attended the Fox News town hall Sunday in downtown Columbia where Nikki Haley answered questions, Veldhoven wished she had gotten a chance to see the two debate because it would have pulled Haley into the light more than she has been, she said.

“Even though she’s all over the news quite a bit, I still feel like there’s lots of people that don’t know what she’s all about, and what she truly wants to do for the country,” Veldhoven said.

Amery Davis, who also attended the Haley town hall, said Trump needed to debate Haley, and he needed to do it “now.”

“He could say what he wants to say, he’s not able, he can’t keep up with her. He couldn’t keep up with her when she was an ambassador. She would always try and clean up his mess.”

In late January at a rally in South Carolina, Haley referenced Trump saying he would score higher than her on a mental competency test. “Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But what I said was ‘OK, if that’s the case, then get on a debate stage and let’s go. Bring it Donald, show me what you got,” she told the crowd.

Jackson Gosnell, a University of South Carolina student studying broadcast journalism, said he thought a debate allows voters a “better opportunity of who to choose.”

“A lot of people could argue that it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. But maybe it would. I mean, we haven’t seen it yet. We see a town hall with each of them, but not going head-to-head, and I think that’d be pretty important.”

In 2020, the incumbent Trump stated he would not debate any primary challenger. His competitors debated each other without him.

In 2016, 12 debates and nine forums were held for candidates of the Republican party. At a March 3 debate, Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio went in on each other, but mostly on Trump. From his stance on immigration to Trump university, the debate became heated at times when candidates went after Trump on what they felt were changing opinions.

The first GOP debate of 2016 on Aug. 6, 2015. CNN reported that while the nine other contenders made “noticeable blunders,” Trump stole the show. Trump was called out for his language towards women, his flipping stance on abortion and even immigration policies. But he continued to answer with ease, CNN stated. When asked specifically about his flip on his abortion stance, he said “I’ve evolved.”

Gosnell said more people may be more likely to watch debates compared to town halls, and that a debate could reach a wider audience.

“There’s the argument that he’s so ahead, why would he even debate? But I do think a debate might be important. Maybe there is some missed opportunity with both of them not on a debate stage together.”

Noah Lindler, a second year University of South Carolina student and VP of College Republicans, also attended the Sunday Haley town hall, and said the College Republicans campus group discussed whether Trump should have joined a debate with Haley.

Lindler said he understood why Trump didn’t debate Haley.

“There was really no need just based on polling numbers and where he stands, however, from a kind of a moral point of view he should have in order to allow voters to have the chance to hear what he says and how he’s able to argue his positions compared to other other candidates,” he said.

Cammie Teems, from Manning, attended the Trump town hall, and said she felt it was helpful for voters, but she did like how debates offered different aspects than a town hall would.

“I think the things that I do like about debate is how the people respond and interact in person.”

Yvonne Julian, county chair for the Greenville Republican party, said personally no, but she did wish it had happened for people who are undecided.

“Some of the answers to questions she’s given, you know, for me would not have had any benefit for him to debate her because my mind was already made up,” Julian said.

During his town hall, Trump mentioned debating other Republican candidates. Host Laura Ingraham asked if he would wish to challenge Joe Biden in a debate. Trump said he would “right now,” because there was an obligation in that case. He said he would do as “many debates as necessary,” against Biden. However, he felt differently on debating Republicans.

“When it came to the Republicans and I was up by 40, 50, 60 points, like being up with her [Haley]. I think a poll just came out I’m at 91 and shes at 7 … you want to be smart, you don’t have to waste your time,” Trump said.

James Edward, a lift operator from Virginia, who drove down for the Trump event, said he did wished he saw Trump debate Haley.

“I feel like if you’re gonna compete against somebody then you should debate,” Edwards said. “There should be a swapping of the minds, so to speak.”

Lelis Welch, from Oklahoma, but was visiting Greenville on vacation and attended the event, said she didn’t necessarily care for Haley to debate Trump. At one point, she wasn’t anti-Nikki, but now she is, she added.

“I’ve heard her say so many negative things. One thing she said ‘he wants me to drop out, I do not do what Donald Trump says, I didn’t even do that when I worked for him,’ I thought ‘what?’ You worked for the President and you didn’t follow his instructions? So no, no. I don’t even like to hear her speak to tell you the truth.”


©2024 The State. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(Photos by Win McNamee/Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Gwen Shamblin's daughter wants to take mother's church to next level

23 February 2024 at 19:46

She's the reclusive leader of a controversial Tennessee church who reportedly hasn't been seen at services in years. But in a newly obtained recording, Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah daughter of the late Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin Lara declares her intention to take her mother's following at Remnant Fellowship to the next level.

"I want to make a difference. I want to make history. I want to start a movement around the globe," Hannah said in a New Year's message played during a Remnant service on Jan. 6. That message was leaked by a current insider and provided to Scripps News Nashville.

"My mother started it, and I want to not only keep it going but to expand it around the globe in such an exponential level that anyone who sees it can pick it up and get it."

Hannah, 42, assumed leadership of the church after her mother was killed in a plane crash in May 2021, along with her husband Joe Lara and five other Remnant leaders. Elizabeth's husband, Brandon Hannah, was among those killed.

Remnant Fellowship, which Shamblin created and declared to be "the one true church," has faced widespread criticism from former members and others as being "a cult." In the often-rambling message, which continues for 37 minutes, Hannah brushes aside such criticisms, saying her goal is to become famous in heaven.

"I want my name to be written in heaven," she said. "I want to be friends with the greats, and I want them to know that every day I woke up that I was not here for myself. I was here to make the movement happen."

Former Remnant member Helen Byrd, who appeared in an HBO Max docuseries about Shamblin and Remnant Fellowship, could barely contain her disgust as we played the recording of Hannah's message for her.

NC5PhilWilliams Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah on wanting to be known in heaven

"Are you kidding?" Byrd exclaimed at one point, laughing out loud at another.

Scripps News Nashville noted, "She sounds a lot like her mother."

"She didn't before," Byrd replied. "She absolutely does, and I think that was probably what was most triggering.

"That she has ideations of spreading this absolute pain across the world, this pain, I think that it's a scary thing," the former Remnant member continued.

As for Hannah's desire to become well-known in heaven, Byrd said: "It's incredible hubris. You know, it's just, wow! Really? And you are part of a movement that has shielded abusers, child abusers." 

When Scripps News Nashville first met Elizabeth 20 years ago, she was right at her mother's side a role she continued to play. Remnant's website now says it operates "under the leadership and direction" of Hannah.

Oddly, her brother Michael Shamblin and others say she does not attend church services, opting instead to call in or, more recently, to provide recorded messages.

Remnant members widely considered her mother, Gwen Shamblin, to be a prophet.

We asked Michael Shamblin about his sister: "Is she viewed as a prophet now?"

"She's viewed as having the lead," he answered. "I don't know if they call her a prophet, but she would be viewed as having a leading from God."

In the recorded message, Hannah calls upon Remnant members to follow her lead.

"Youll be lifted up if you follow this example, if you followed my mother and follow me as I followed her."

Helen Byrd's reaction?

"How about following Jesus? That's a good place to start. How about following Jesus?"

It comes two years after an HBO Max docuseries "The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin" that portrayed Shamblin as a power-hungry cult leader.

NC5PhilWilliams Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah compares mother to Dolly Parton

Hannah said she is working on a book about her mother.

"Im going to make a difference in this country. Im going to make a difference around the globe, and Im going to write this book about my mother and the world will one day see that shes a misunderstood woman," she said.

Among the misunderstandings, Hannah claimed, was Shamblin's role in the child abuse death of 8-year-old Josef Smith a case in which a Scripps News Nashville investigation discovered that Shamblin had praised the child's parents for locking him up in his bedroom for an entire weekend with just his Bible.

"Her philosophies on child-raising were awesome! Incredible! She couldnt hurt a fly," Hannah said.

While some suspect Hannah may still be struggling after the tragic loss of her mother and husband, she insisted she's doing well in the Remnant message.

"Dont you want to join me? Im a lot of fun, by the way. Dont just believe what you hear. You need to come party with me."

Helen Byrd was appalled.

"They're still spewing this propaganda. They're still sticking to their guns. They know that it's not the greatest place on Earth, it's the sickest place on Earth."

As for those who may ridicule her, Hannah said that's OK with her.

"Guess what? Every time theyre rude and they lie about me, then more people in heaven hear about it and I get a better standing again in heaven so they are cracking me up. The more false things they write about me and my mother, the higher up Im going to go."

NC5PhilWilliams Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah on higher spot in heaven

Scripps News Nashville asked Michael Shamblin about suggestions in the HBO Max docuseries that his sister is not well. He declined to comment.

This story was originally published by Phil Williams at Scripps News Nashville.

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Biden stakes reputation on blue-collar workers. Turns out many are Trump donors

23 February 2024 at 19:41

Jennah Haque, Madeline Campbell and Bill Allison | Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has attempted to brand himself as the most pro-labor president in U.S. history. Workers who donate to the leading presidential candidates beg to differ.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump is winning financial support from grassroots campaign contributors who work for highly unionized workplaces, including American Airlines Group Inc. and United Parcel Service Inc., according to Federal Election Commission data from the second half of 2023 analyzed by Bloomberg News.

He also has far more donors than Biden from people who report working for largely blue-collar workplaces, such as Walmart Inc. and Federal Express Corp.

That’s a symbolic blow to Biden, who has staked his political identity as an advocate for blue-collar workers and the organized labor movement. It also could be a warning sign for his 2024 reelection bid that relies on winning heavily unionized states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Biden has notched labor wins in recent weeks, including an endorsement from the United Auto Workers, but his campaign lags Trump in contributions from donors with oft-unionized job titles including mechanics and truckers, according to campaign finance records. Biden does better among workers who self-identify as professionals — including professors, scientists and psychologists — who prefer him at rates of three-to-one or more over Trump.

Political donors represent a small fraction of voters, but those who give are some of the most motivated supporters. The Federal Election Commission doesn’t ask contributors whether they are in a union, but collects data on employers and job titles, which provides a proxy for political support among union members. In an election that will likely feature two unpopular candidates, enthusiasm and turnout in key swing states will help make the difference.

Trump, who has yet to earn the endorsement of a major union, alluded to the divide between union leadership and membership after a meeting with the Teamsters in Washington last month, saying he wasn’t sure if the “top people” in the union will back him, but said he has “tremendous support” among the group members.

Biden has spent much of his time recently courting the union vote: going to a UAW picket line in Michigan, visiting union halls and embedding pro-union requirements in incentives for clean energy policies. It’s possible Biden is starting to see that pay off. Donors who report being employed by General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. — two companies that have been the subject of much of the president’s attention following last fall’s auto strike — are nearly evenly split between the two likely nominees.

Biden did beat Trump on donations from workers at some unionized businesses, including Kaiser Permanente and Boeing Co.

Not every donor lists their employer or occupation, so contributions where these values weren’t reported were excluded from this analysis of companies and professions.

Biden and Trump tout their legions of working class donors who give small amounts, but over the second half of 2023, both relied heavily on billionaires and other wealthy donors who can write much bigger checks.

Two-thirds of Biden’s fundraising haul over the last six months of 2023 — some $119 million — came from wealthy donors who gave to Biden Victory Fund, the Democratic National Committee and Future Forward PAC, his allied super political action committee. Billionaires Haim Saban and hedge fund manager George Soros, and entertainment mogul Casey Wasserman are among the major donors to Biden’s reelection effort.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley got a slightly bigger chunk (68%) of her money from large donations, including Citadel’s Ken Griffin, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum and Paul Singer of Elliot Investment Management.

Even Trump drew 46% from mega-donors, including construction billionaire Diane Hendricks and Crownquest’s Timothy Dunn, who each gave $5 million. Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus gave $1 million. Trump drew 42% of his donations over the same period from contributors who gave $200 or less.

Biden slightly edges out his Republican rival in the number of unique donors who contributed to him in the final six months of last year, but Trump donors give to his campaign more frequently and in smaller amounts. Donors to the former president who contributed less than $200 at a time gave on four different occasions on average. Biden’s small-dollar donors contributed almost two-and-a-half times on average.


Data includes donations received from July 1 to Dec. 31, 2023 and reported to the Federal Election Commission by the following committees: ActBlue, Biden For President, Biden Victory Fund, Biden Action Fund, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Grassroots Victory Committee and Future Forward PAC for donations to or supporting President Joe Biden; Donald J. Trump for President 2024, Make America Great Again PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., Save America, Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee for former President Donald Trump; Nikki Haley for President, Stand for America PAC, Team Stand for America and the SFA Fund Inc. for former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

Unique donors were identified by distinct combinations of first and last names, state and zip code. Company names and job titles were standardized where possible. For example, donors who list their employer as UPS and United Parcel Service were combined, as were lawyers and attorneys. Although employer and job title information is solicited from all donors, approximately 40% list these details.

Contribution size categories are based on donation values rather than the total amount contributed by a unique donor. Because campaigns divide contributions greater than $3,300 into separate primary and general-election transactions, Bloomberg News’ analysis also counts those donations made directly to campaigns in the $200-$3,300 category. Some contributions are not reported to the FEC.

Donations under $200 made by mail or through online services other than ActBlue or WinRed don’t have to be disclosed. Totals in this analysis are based on contribution microdata published by the FEC and not the topline numbers reported to the FEC by each committee.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

US President Joe Biden speaks during the United Auto Workers union conference at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC, on January 24, 2024. US President Joe Biden won the coveted election endorsement of America’s biggest car workers union Wednesday, in a major boost to the Democrat’s battle with Donald Trump for the crucial blue-collar vote. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Ethics panel recommends felony charges for Trump committee, lawmaker

23 February 2024 at 19:37

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission has recommended that state prosecutors file felony charges against a fundraising committee for former President Donald Trump and a Republican state lawmaker related to an effort to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

The ethics commission on Tuesday referred the alleged violations to several county prosecutors, based on documents the commission provided Friday. The commission alleges that Trump's fundraising committee and state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Trump ally, conspired in a scheme to evade campaign finance laws to support the Republican primary challenger to Vos in 2022.

Vos angered Trump after he fired a former state Supreme Court justice whom Vos had hired to investigate Trump's discredited allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Vos launched the probe under pressure from Trump, but eventually distanced himself from the false claims of election fraud and calls to overturn President Joe Biden's win in Wisconsin.

Trump and Brandtjen backed Vos's primary opponent, Adam Steen. Trump called Steen a "motivated patriot" when endorsing him shortly before the 2022 primary. Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in Wisconsin history, defeated Steen in the primary by just 260 votes. 

Steen is currently backing an effort to recall Vos from office.

SEE MORE: Cell data contradicts Fani Willis' testimony, court documents suggest

The ethics commission alleges that Trump's Save America political action committee, Brandtjen, Republican Party officials in three counties and Steen's campaign conspired to avoid state fundraising limits in the effort to defeat Vos steering at least $40,000 into the bid.

The ethics commission recommended that charges be brought against the Trump fundraising committee, Brandtjen, Steen's campaign, eight other individuals and three county Republican parties. The commission alleges that those involved took advantage of Wisconsin laws that allow for unlimited donations to political parties, but then illegally steered the money to Steen. 

State law caps individual donations to Assembly candidates at $1,000. Members of the ethics commission said in documents sent to county prosecutors that if they don't initiate charges within 60 days, the commission will go to another district attorney or the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Neither Brandtjen, Vos, Steen nor Trump's campaign immediately responded to messages seeking comment. first reported on the allegations.

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How to rent a car with points and miles — and get the best deal

23 February 2024 at 19:28

Stephanie Zito | (TNS)

Although many analysts predicted that post-COVID “revenge travel” would peak in 2022, ongoing research suggests consumers are still prioritizing spending money on travel. According to a 2023 Bankrate survey, planned leisure travel was up from 2022 — even as many Americans still had less than three months of emergency savings in the bank.

This demand has led to record-breaking revenue for the U.S. car rental industry, according to Auto Rental News data. Although rental car companies were hit hard in 2020, total revenue soared to $36.1 billion in 2022 and $38.3 billion in 2023. But while this is great news for the rental car industry, it often means higher car rental prices and lower availability for travelers.

Usually, I almost never recommend using rewards for rental car bookings since you can almost always find a rental car deal through AutoSlash, Hotwire, Kayak or Priceline if you don’t care what company you’re renting from. When these kinds of deals don’t exist, however, here’s what you need to know about booking a car rental with miles or points.

Here’s how to book a car rental with miles or points.

Airline miles and points

Nearly every airline has a frequent flyer program that has the option to redeem your points or miles for rental car bookings. The exchange value of airline miles for rental cars typically isn’t as good as using miles for booking flights, but it is an option. It might also be worthwhile if you’re earning more miles than you can spend on flights through a co-branded airline credit card.

Flexible credit card rewards

If you have a card that is part of a flexible credit card rewards program, like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can book a rental car through the travel portal just like you would for booking a flight or hotel. Redemptions are still tied to the cost of the rental but will vary based on the rewards redemption value of your particular card.

Car rental loyalty programs

If you frequently rent cars through any of the major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis or National, you should be earning rewards in the rental company’s own loyalty program. Just like airline or hotel loyalty programs, these programs are free to join.

For example, if you join the Avis Preferred program, you’ll earn 1X points per dollar spent on rentals and 2X points per dollar spent on accessories (with a minimum of 100 points per booking), and you can redeem your points for free rental days starting at 700 points. Accessories can be redeemed for 250 points each, and additional points may be available through promotions — such as those that earn you an extra 100 points for booking within the first three months of joining — or through the company’s higher-tier Preferred Plus and President’s Club programs.

If you happen to have a stash of car rental rewards, what better time to use them than the present? Likewise, if you don’t have a car rental loyalty account, it’s a good time to join since you’ll be earning lots of rewards if you wind up paying for a car rental.

When should you rent a car with points or miles?

If you’re the kind of rewards collector who likes to maximize the cents per mile you get when redeeming rewards, car rental redemptions might not be for you. Rental redemptions are almost always linked to rental prices, so if prices are high, you’ll have to pay a lot of rewards.

Value, however, isn’t always only about the numbers. If you really need a car rental and can’t afford to pay a higher rental rate, using points or miles for a car rental may still be a good value to you.

Tips for booking a car rental with points and miles

Alternatives like Turo or locally owned rental companies may offer more favorable rates, but if you’re looking to book a car for upcoming travel, my top tip is to make your plans sooner rather than later. If you decide to pay for a car rental, most companies don’t require a deposit and have very liberal cancellation rules.

It doesn’t hurt to book a paid reservation as far in advance as possible, then cancel or change the booking as you get your flights and accommodation sorted. If you’re booking with points or miles, you’ll still want to book as far in advance as possible, but make sure you know the company’s rules, as some rewards programs won’t reinstate your rewards if you have to cancel your rental.

You’ll also want to double-check the rules of your credit card rental insurance if you’re planning on using the primary or secondary rental car coverage that’s offered with many credit cards. Most credit cards only provide this insurance benefit when you use the corresponding credit card to pay for the rental. Do some research in advance to see what your credit card offers.

The bottom line

Booking car rentals with your points or miles may be worth considering when rental rates are high. Though using credit card rewards for car rental bookings isn’t always the best way to maximize redemption value for your points and miles, redeeming rewards for a rental may still be of great value to you if covering the cost of a car makes your trip possible.

(Visit Bankrate online at

©2024 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A sign indicates the rental pickup area at the Miami International Airport Car Rental Center on April 12, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Researchers find association between air pollution and Alzheimer’s

23 February 2024 at 19:20

Shelia Poole | (TNS) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — A new study from Emory University researchers has found an association between traffic-related air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

Using brain tissue donated by metro Atlanta residents, researchers evaluated their home addresses for air pollution generated by nearby traffic. The study, released Wednesday, does not prove air pollution causes Alzheimer’s, but found an association between exposure to air pollution caused by traffic and signs of Alzheimer’s in brain tissue.

Medical and environmental officials have long warned about the consequences of air pollution on respiratory and cardiac health.

The study contributes to already existing evidence that breathing pollution may lead to “plaques” or deposits in the brain — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s concerning because the reason most of the air pollution is high in Atlanta is due to traffic,” said Anke Huels, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “It’s also why we focused specifically on traffic-related air pollution exposure.“

The study is one of the first to look at the association between air pollution and signs of Alzheimer’s disease in human brain samples, she said. The findings are published in “Neurology,” the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Brain tissue used in the study was taken from 224 donors in the brain bank at Emory’s Goizeuta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center who died before 2020. The patients had lived in urban or suburban areas in the 20-county metro area. Most of the patients were white, 59% were male, and the patients’ mean age of death was 76.

Most of the brains studied were from people who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia before they died.

While the study population isn’t comparable with the general population, Huels said the study findings are still valuable because it shows pollution is associated with plaques in the brain.

More than 6.7 million U.S. residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, including at least 150,000 Georgians.

Alzheimer’s, one of the dementias, is a progressive disease that affects memory and other brain functions, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers do not know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease, but it likely is due to a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Air pollution has been suspected previously as a potential factor.

“In our study we used air pollution models, which can give us an estimate of the residential traffic-related air pollution concentration with a very fine resolution up to 200 to 250 meters,” Huels said. “Of course you would see the highest levels of these pollutants around major highways, so people who lived very close to major highways had the highest exposure to traffic-related pollutants.”

The study looked at “fine particulate matter” from traffic exhaust and whether there was an association between breathing polluted air and signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, particulate pollution is made up of tiny particles of solids or liquids so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, potentially causing health problems. They are the cause of haze in some parts of the U.S.

Huels said the findings are in line with previous studies, which have shown associations between particulate pollution and cognitive decline, memory loss or a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers also looked at patients who carried the “APOE gene” a major genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s. But the strongest association between pollution and Alzheimer’s was seen in those without that risk factor. This suggests that environmental factors like air pollution could be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease in patients in which the disease cannot be explained by genetics.

“We know that air pollution is bad for our health, including our brains,” according to a statement from Jill Disney, program director for the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter. “Multiple studies presented during AAIC 2021 were the first to suggest that reducing pollution is associated with lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Disney called for more research in areas of the United States with high levels of pollution that tend to be populated by low income individuals and people of color.

The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association last year said it invested $100 million into dementia research, the largest single-year investment since 1980 when the nonprofit was founded. In Georgia alone, $600,000 was awarded to advance research efforts in 2023.

Overall, the state of Georgia has 19 ongoing projects totaling nearly $3.5 million and includes research being conducted including looking at risk factors, care and early detection.

The Emory study was funded by an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center pilot grant through the National Institute of Aging. Huels and other researchers had no relevant financial interest in the outcome.

What is “fine particulate matter”?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these are tiny particles that are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, potentially causing health problems. They are the cause of haze in some parts of the U.S.

These particles are made up of solids or liquid droplets with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.

How small is 2.5 micrometers? Think about a single hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter – making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The Atlanta skyline. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Got a SAVE student loan forgiveness email? Here’s what comes next

23 February 2024 at 19:19

By Eliza Haverstock | NerdWallet

On Wednesday, 153,000 student loan borrowers got the surprise so many others have been waiting for: total loan forgiveness. The White House said it approved $1.2 billion of student loan forgiveness for borrowers with low balances who enrolled in the newest income-driven repayment (IDR) plan, Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE).

Impacted borrowers got an email addressed from President Joe Biden that read, “Congratulations — all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration’s SAVE Plan.”

To qualify for this wave of relief, you must have:

  • Enrolled in the SAVE plan.
  • Borrowed $12,000 or less in federal student loans.
  • Spent at least 10 years in repayment, including the pandemic pause and other time counted under the one-time IDR account adjustment.

Next week, the White House will send out another round of forgiveness emails. Borrowers who sign up for SAVE now could be eligible for the upcoming forgiveness.

“This is something that will continue on moving forward, so it’s not a one-time thing,” says Sabrina Calazans, managing director at the Student Debt Crisis Center, a nonprofit group that aims to advance student debt relief. “It is something that is now basically part of the student loan system, and so folks will be able to continuously benefit from this.”

SAVE’s benefits expand beyond 10-year forgiveness for low-balance borrowers. Monthly payment amounts are tied to your income, and you can qualify for $0 payments if you earn less than about $32,800 as an individual or $67,500 with a family of four. Unpaid interest won’t build month to month. And starting in July, payments could be cut in half for borrowers with undergraduate loans only.

Here’s what you need to know if you received a SAVE forgiveness email.

Your account won’t update immediately

After a loan forgiveness notification email, it can be tempting to repeatedly refresh your account until you see a $0 loan balance. However, the Education Department generally takes around 30 days to apply updates to borrower accounts, says Kristen Ahlenius, director of education and advice at Your Money Line, a workplace financial wellness company that works with student loan borrowers. And borrowers who received forgiveness through other programs have reported much longer wait times.

Your student loan servicer will alert you when your account updates. This will take “some time,” the White House forgiveness email said, and you should wait at least 21 days after the original notification before reaching out to your servicer with questions.

If your account still shows a payment due in the period between notification and final loan cancellation, you should make it if you can, Ahlenius says. You will get a refund for overpayments.

Scammers are targeting SAVE loan forgiveness recipients

Scammers are targeting student loan borrowers right now, Calazans says. The Education Department and your student loan servicer will never call you, and federal loan forgiveness programs don’t have fees.

All official Education Department emails, including the Feb. 21 SAVE loan forgiveness email, come from one of three senders:, or

If you think you’ve been targeted by a SAVE forgiveness scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-382-4357 or visiting

You might get a tax bill from your state

In the past, the federal government treated IDR student loan forgiveness as taxable income — landing some borrowers with a large, unexpected tax bill.

Borrowers are temporarily off the hook for federal taxes on IDR student loan forgiveness through 2025. However, a small number of states — like Indiana, North Carolina and Mississippi — consider IDR loan forgiveness taxable income, according to a 2023 report by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy nonprofit.

“Folks should just be aware and should be sure to check to see whether their state is one of those or not, so that they don’t get a surprise tax bill,” Calazans says.


The article Got a SAVE Student Loan Forgiveness Email? Here’s What Comes Next originally appeared on NerdWallet.

A student studies in a hall at the University of Texas at Austin on February 22, 2024 in Austin, Texas. President Joe Biden has announced another $1.2 billion in student loan forgiveness, adding to a total of $138 billion forgiven. That announcement comes despite a Supreme Court Ruling that blocked relief for student loan debt last June. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Google admits it erred in new AI tool for racial depictions

23 February 2024 at 19:18

Google has temporarily stopped its AI tool Gemini from producing images of people after some backlash over historically inaccurate depictions of race.

The AI tool generated false historical images of people of color. For example, pictures were altered to make White U.S. founding fathers appear Black. 

Google admits Gemini is "missing the mark."

"Some of the images generated are inaccurate or even offensive. Were grateful for users feedback and are sorry the feature didn't work well," said Prabhakar Raghavan, Google senior vice president. "Weve acknowledged the mistake and temporarily paused image generation of people in Gemini while we work on an improved version."

The feature had only been out for three weeks. Raghavan said that the model overcompensated in some cases, and was overly conservative in others, in creating its depictions. 

SEE MORE: The White House wants feedback on keeping AI private or open-source

"If you prompt Gemini for images of a specific type of person such as 'a Black teacher in a classroom,' or 'a white veterinarian with a dog' or people in particular cultural or historical contexts, you should absolutely get a response that accurately reflects what you ask for," Raghavan said. "So what went wrong? In short, two things. 

"First, our tuning to ensure that Gemini showed a range of people failed to account for cases that should clearly not show a range. And second, over time, the model became way more cautious than we intended and refused to answer certain prompts entirely wrongly interpreting some very anodyne prompts as sensitive."

Google has not said when the feature will be rereleased.

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‘Fourth wave’ of opioid epidemic crashes ashore, propelled by fentanyl and meth

23 February 2024 at 19:12

Colleen DeGuzman | (TNS) KFF Health News

The United States is knee-deep in what some experts call the opioid epidemic’s “fourth wave,” which is not only placing drug users at greater risk but is also complicating efforts to address the nation’s drug problem.

These waves, according to a report out this week from Millennium Health, began with the crisis in prescription opioid use, followed by a significant jump in heroin use, then an increase in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The latest wave involves using multiple substances at the same time, combining fentanyl mainly with either methamphetamine or cocaine, the report found. “And I’ve yet to see a peak,” said one of the co-authors, Eric Dawson, vice president of clinical affairs at Millennium Health, a specialty laboratory that provides drug testing services to monitor use of prescription medications and illicit drugs.

The report, which takes a deep dive into the nation’s drug trends and breaks usage patterns down by region, is based on 4.1 million urine samples collected from January 2013 to December 2023 from people receiving some kind of drug addiction care.

Its findings offer staggering statistics and insights. Its major finding: how common polysubstance use has become. According to the report, an overwhelming majority of fentanyl-positive urine samples — nearly 93% — contained additional substances. “And that is huge,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

The most concerning, she and other addiction experts said, is the dramatic increase in the combination of meth and fentanyl use. Methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug often in powder form that poses several serious cardiovascular and psychiatric risks, was found in 60% of fentanyl-positive tests last year. That is an 875% increase since 2015.

“I never, ever would have thought this,” Volkow said.

Among the report’s other key findings:

  • The nationwide spike in methamphetamine use alongside fentanyl marks a change in drug use patterns.
  • Polydrug use trends complicate overdose treatments. For instance, though naloxone, an opioid-overdose reversal medication, is widely available, there isn’t an FDA-approved medication for stimulant overdose.
  • Both heroin and prescribed opioid use alongside fentanyl have dipped. Heroin detected in fentanyl-positive tests dropped by 75% since peaking in 2016. Prescription opioids were found at historic low rates in fentanyl-positive tests in 2023, down 89% since 2013.

But Jarratt Pytell, an addiction medicine specialist and assistant professor at the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine, warned these declines shouldn’t be interpreted as a silver lining.

A lower level of heroin use “just says that fentanyl is everywhere,” Pytell said, “and that we have officially been pushed by our drug supply to the most dangerous opioids that we have available right now.”

“Whenever a drug network is destabilizing and the product changes, it puts the people who use the drugs at the greatest risk,” he said. “That same bag or pill that they have been buying for the last several months now is coming from a different place, a different supplier, and is possibly a different potency.”

In the illicit drug industry, suppliers are the controllers. It may not be that people are seeking out methamphetamine and fentanyl but rather that they’re what drug suppliers have found to be the easiest and most lucrative product to sell.

“I think drug cartels are kind of realizing that it’s a lot easier to have a 500-square-foot lab than it is to have 500 acres of whatever it takes to grow cocaine,” Pytell said.

Dawson said the report’s drug use data, unlike that of some other studies, is based on sample analysis with a quick turnaround — a day or two.

Sometimes researchers face a months-long wait to receive death reports from coroners. Under those circumstances, you are often “staring at today but relying on data sources that are a year or more in the past,” said Dawson.

Self-reported surveys of drug users, another method often used to track drug use, also have long lag times and “often miss people who are active for substance use disorders,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Urine tests “are based on a biology standard” and are good at detecting when someone has been using two or more drugs, he said.

But using data from urine samples also comes with limitations.

For starters, the tests don’t reveal users’ intent.

“You don’t know whether or not there was one bag of powder that had both fentanyl and meth in it, or whether there were two bags of powder, one with fentanyl in it and one with meth and they took both,” Caulkins said. It can also be unclear, he said, if people intentionally combined the two drugs for an extra high or if they thought they were using only one, not knowing it contained the other.

Volkow said she is interested in learning more about the demographics of polysubstance drug users. “Is this pattern the same for men and women, and is this pattern the same for middle-age or younger people? Because again, having a better understanding of the characteristics allows you to tailor and personalize interventions.”

All the while, the nation’s crisis continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 107,000 people died in the U.S. in 2021 from drug overdoses, most because of fentanyl.

Caulkins said he’s hesitant to view drug use patterns as waves because that would imply people are transitioning from one to the next.

“Are we looking at people whose first substance use disorder was an opioid use disorder, who have now gotten to the point where they’re polydrug users?” he said. Or, are people now starting substance use disorders with methamphetamine and fentanyl, he asked.

One point was clear, Dawson said: “We’re just losing too many lives.”


(KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs of KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.)

©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The United States is knee-deep in what some experts call the opioid epidemic’s “fourth wave,” which is not only placing drug users at greater risk but is also complicating efforts to address the nation’s drug problem. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Police: 80-year-old scammed out of $30,000 from ‘Words with Friends’ acquaintance claiming to be investment worker

23 February 2024 at 18:44

An 80-year-old Troy man reportedly fell for a ruse from scammer he met through a game on the internet — losing $30,000, police said.

According to the Troy Police Department, a resident recently reported her husband was scammed by someone he met through the web-based game, “Words with Friends.” Over the course of a year, he sent money to the alleged scammer who claimed he worked for an investment firm in Los Angeles. But when he tried to withdraw his funds, he was told more money needed to be sent, police said.

Troy Police Sgt. Benjamin Hancock told The Oakland Press that electronic transactions in such cases make them difficult to investigate. He reminds residents to never send money to people or a company they aren’t familiar with, adding: “What may sound like a good investment or a smart financial move online is likely a scam if they are claiming to return your money with earnings over a period of time or in a promised amount of time.”

A detective is assigned to the case.

Teen charged with homicide in slaying of ‘Boopac Shakur’

Sheriff: Spitting sparks fatal shooting of Pontiac man

Man who recorded video up woman’s skirt avoids additional jail time

File photo (Provided by Troy Police Dept.)

Rashida Tlaib proposes bill to combat youth homelessness with direct cash payments

23 February 2024 at 18:35
Each year, more than 3.5 million young adults and approximately 700,000 youth experience various forms of homelessness, with Black and LGBTQ+ individuals facing an even higher risk than others. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of unhoused young adults aged 18 to 24 increased by 17%.

Whitmer visits polling site to tout early in-person voting in presidential primary

23 February 2024 at 18:33

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, bearing boxes of pastries, dropped by an early voting center in Lansing on Wednesday to thank election workers and to call attention to the state’s early voting law.

More than 18,000 people have already taken advantage of the new law that allows nine days of early in-person voting at designated polling places. It’s being used for the first time as part of the state’s Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Whitmer said Michigan moving its primary earlier will make its voters more influential in choosing both parties’ nominees.

“Now is the time to make our voices heard,” said the Democratic governor. “We’ve moved up the Michigan primary, I think, because Michigan’s voice is so important that are earlier in the process. This is our chance to vote. We’ve expanded the ability to vote. We’ve made it easier to register to vote.”

Republicans were not as keen to move up the primary date to Feb. 27 because it violated national GOP rules. Michigan will apportion nominating convention delegates using a hybrid primary-and-caucus process.

President Joe Biden is widely expected to win the state’s Democratic primary while former President Donald Trump is the favorite to win the Republican primary. They are both also favorites to win their party’s nomination.

Whitmer, a national Biden campaign co-chair, says the new state law should also spur wider participation in the November election, when Michigan voters are expected to play a crucial role in the outcome.

A poll released Wednesday by the Detroit Free Press showed Trump leading Biden 45% to 41% with 14% undecided. The poll’s 4% margin of error allows the possibility of a tie. The EPIC-MRA survey of 600 registered voters was conducted last week.

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Amid falling sales, Beyond Burger changes its recipe

23 February 2024 at 18:19

Amid struggling sales, Beyond Meat said it is changing its recipe for its plant-based Beyond Burger, which the company says will improve the product's taste and nutritional benefits. 

Previously, Beyond Meat used expeller-pressed canola oil and refined coconut oil in its burgers. Now, the company will use avocado oil, which Beyond Meat says will slash saturated fat by 60%. 

Beyond Meat also says that avocado oil has a higher smoke point, which will help the burger have a more meaty flavor. While the Beyond Burger has slightly more protein than 80% lean ground beef, the protein sources for the plant-based burger come from peas, brown rice, red lentils and faba beans.

This is the fourth iteration of the Beyond Burger, and its first new recipe for the burger in three years. 

Beyond IV represents a transformative step forward in delivering plant-based nutrition to the consumer in the form of meat," said Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat founder and CEO. "The development of the new products occurred within an ecosystem of leading medical and nutrition experts, and were designed to meet the standards of national health organizations to create a product that delivers the taste, satisfaction, and utility of 80/20 beef yet is demonstrably healthier. Every ingredient in this fourth iteration was thoughtfully selected to bring the nutritional power of plants from the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats in avocado oil, to the protein and fiber in peas, red lentils, faba beans and brown rice."

SEE MORE: Dunkin' joins energy drink trend, unveils 2 new flavors

In late 2023, Beyond Meat announced it was laying off nearly 19% of its workforce. 

The company will release its annual investor report next week. According to the company, revenue for 2023 is expected to drop by about 20% compared to a year earlier. Beyond Meat said it had about $75 million in net revenue in the third quarter of 2023, which is down from $82.5 million from the same quarter in 2022 and $106 million in 2021.

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Is Donald Trump a fascist? A fascism scholar says he certainly sounds like one

23 February 2024 at 17:51

Fascism simmers underground with nationalist rantings, the demonization of minorities and anti-democratic sentiment. That bubbling has been getting closer to the surface in Europe and can be seen in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and political victories of nationalists in France and Italy.

Traditionally, fascism is not something we equate with leaders in the United States. However, Donald Trump’s presidency, as well as a rise in Christian nationalism, is making many historians and political scientists rethink some things.

Trump is running for president again. His first term was filled with daily mischaracterizations, misrepresentations and easily disprovable lies, including his “Big Lie”  about the 2020 Presidential election. That trend has continued into his 2024 campaign, as he attempts to delegitimize the various criminal and civil charges he currently faces.

“Every time the radical left, Democrats, Marxist, communists, and fascists indict me, I considered it a great badge of honor,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Waterford last weekend. “I am being indicted for you. Never forget, I’m being indicted for you. Never forget our enemies want to take away my freedom, because I will never let them take away your freedom. I will not do that.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a history professor at New York University, scholar on authoritarian leaders and the author of the book, “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.” She says the kind of rhetoric Trump is using on the campaign trail is not a surprise.

“When they play the victim, and people start to bond with them and believe them, then any subsequent indictments or revelations that come out are more proof of their persecution by their enemies.”

– Ruth Ben Ghiat, New York University professor and scholar on authoritarian leaders

“One of the things [authoritarians] do is they play the victim. Mussolini did this. Erdogan did this. Silvio Berlusconi in Italy — they all talked about witch hunts against themselves,” Ben-Ghiat said. “When they play the victim, and people start to bond with them and believe them, then any subsequent indictments or revelations that come out are more proof of their persecution by their enemies.”

Donald Trump’s legal woes have only just begun, with civil judgments leading the former president to rack up several hundred million dollars in fines and penalties. His criminal cases have been a slow moving process, as courts weigh whether Trump is immune from prosecution. However, that has not stopped him from attacking each trial judge.

“He’s a crooked judge; by a radical left wing judge, was a lawless and unconstitutional atrocity that sets fire to our laws like no one has ever seen in this country before. That happens in banana republics. It doesn’t happen in this country.”

Trump is referring to Judge Arthur Engoron who levied a $364 million fine against him earlier this month.

Ben-Ghiat says attacks by tyrants on the judiciary system is like “Authoritarianism 101.”

Listen: Interview with fascism scholar and New York University history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat

“Authoritarians are all corrupt. And many of them already have criminal records, or they are facing charges or indictments. And that’s why they run for office,” she said. “He strings together these words: ‘unconstitutional,’ ‘the radical left,’ ‘atrocity,’ ‘banana republic’ and he is saying to his followers: ‘I’m going to sweep all that away, and I’m going to establish a different kind of state, a state of law and order.'”

Demonizing outsiders is also a common tactic for authoritarians, Ben-Ghiat says, and in a recent Fox News town hall, Trump plainly announced his latest target.

“We have a new category of crime. It’s called migrant crime. And it’s going to be worse than any other form of crime,” Trump said.

Ben Ghiat says being a great communicator and using the power of speech to marginalize minorities is part of the authoritarian skillset.

Trump’s anti-democratic rhetoric is concerning for many Americans heading into the 2024 presidential election — concerns that Ben-Ghiat say are valid.

“They are telling us they’re going to end our democracy as we know it,” she said. “…I don’t think many Americans are prepared. Because there’s the idea it can’t happen here. But the outcome of my research shows that everyone thought that and then it happened, and nobody was prepared.

“So we can learn from history that it can happen anywhere. And indeed, nowadays, they tell you what they’re going to do ahead of time. And that’s what Trump and his enablers are doing.”

Use the media player above for the full interview with fascism scholar and New York University history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

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Cell data contradicts Fani Willis' testimony, court documents suggest

23 February 2024 at 17:19

A court filing in Atlanta raised new questions about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' relationship with the special prosecutor she hired to oversee the election interference case against former President Donald Trump. 

Cellphone data obtained by Trump's legal team shows Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor, visited Willis' neighborhood at least 35 times in the 11 months before Willis hired him in late 2021. Twice, Wade arrived late at night and left early the following morning.

The data shows about 2,000 calls and 12,000 text messages between Wade and Willis from January 2021 to November 2021. The data seems to contradict testimony by Wade and Willis about the timeline of their relationship.

They are under scrutiny by defense lawyers who say a conflict of interest should disqualify Willis' office from the election case.

Willis and Wade said their romantic relationship began in 2022 after a grand jury indicted Trump and 18 other people for trying to overturn Georgia's election results in 2020.

SEE MORE: Trump seeks 'presidential immunity' in classified documents case

A judge has yet to decide whether Willis' office should be removed from the case. If her office is removed, it would likely mean any potential trial against Trump in Georgia would take place after the 2024 presidential election. 

The Georgia case is one of four criminal cases Trump faces heading into the election. 

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Trump’s lawyers call for dismissal of classified documents case, citing presidential immunity

23 February 2024 at 17:14

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump urged a Florida judge to dismiss the criminal case charging him with illegally retaining classified documents, claiming in part that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution even as that sweeping argument has so far in failed in federal appeals courts in a separate case.

In one of a slew of motions attacking the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith, Trump’s lawyers late Thursday echoed arguments that were roundly rejected by a federal appeals court this month in his 2020 election interference case in Washington. Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in that case as the Republican presidential primary front-runner seeks to delay the trial until after the November election.

Trump’s lawyers wrote that the classified documents charges turn on his alleged decision to designate the papers as “personal” records under the Presidential Records Act, and argued that he cannot be prosecuted since that was an “official act” made while he was still in the White House.

Washington’s federal appeals court in its decision this month was unsparing in its repudiation of Trump’s novel claim that former presidents enjoy absolute immunity for actions that fall within their official job duties. But Trump’s lawyers argued that the appeals court’s decision was wrong, telling U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon she should not follow the court’s “poorly reasoned decision” in the classified documents case.

In other court filings late Thursday, Trump’s lawyers argued that Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appointment of special counsel Smith to investigate the former president was “unlawful” and grounds for dismissing the documents case. They also are attacking the law Trump is accused of violating as “unconstitutionally vague” as applied in his case.

The case accuses Trump of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them. A June 2023 indictment charging him with dozens of felony counts alleges investigators found boxes of sensitive documents recklessly stored at Mar-a-Lago in spaces including a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, his bedroom and a storage room.

Prosecutors have said the documents he stowed, refused to return and in some cases showed to visitors risked jeopardizing not only relations with foreign nations but also the safety of troops and confidential sources. They’ve also accused Trump of asking a staffer to delete camera footage at his Florida estate in an effort to obstruct the federal investigation into his records.

The case is currently scheduled to go to trial in May, but Judge Cannon has pushed back multiple other deadlines and signaled an openness to revisiting the trial date during a pivotal pretrial conference set for March. It’s one of four criminal cases the former president is facing as he vies to reclaim the White House in November.

Smith’s other case against Trump, accusing him of scheming to overturn his 2020 election loss, was supposed to go to trial in March, but that date was canceled while the former president pushed his claims of presidential immunity. Trump’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to keep the case on hold while he continues to fight his presidential immunity claims.

The Supreme Court has previously held that presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Trump’s lawyers have for months argued that that protection should be extended to criminal prosecution as well.

The justices’ decision on what to do and how quickly they act could determine whether the 2020 election case goes to trial before the November election. It carries enormous political ramifications, as Trump — if he wins — could potentially use his authority as head of the executive branch to try to order a new attorney general to dismiss the federal cases. Or he potentially could seek a pardon for himself — something that’s a legally untested proposition.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at the National Religious Broadcasters convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Teen charged with homicide in slaying of ‘Boopac Shakur’

23 February 2024 at 17:09

Five months after the slaying of a Pontiac man known for efforts to catch child predators, a 17-year-old has been charged with his slaying and related weapons crimes.

Robert Wayne Lee II, aka “Boopac Shakur,” was gunned down at Universal Coney Island in Pontiac last September. He was 40.

The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office said there’s no evidence the shooting was related to Lee’s “sting” operations, but rather “the charging decision comes after a thorough review of all available information.”

The alleged shooter was 16 years old at the time of the killing and is charged with homicide, felony firearm and carrying a concealed weapon. He’s charged as an adult but his name hasn’t been released. As requested by the prosecutor’s office, the case will be adjudicated in the Family Division of Oakland County Circuit Court, where cases for juveniles can be heard. The teen has been in custody since the incident for a non-fatal shooting in Pontiac; trial for that case started Feb. 22 before Family Division Judge Kameshia Gant.

Lee was slain on Sept. 29, 2023 at around 10:30 p.m., shortly after he entered the restaurant. Surveillance video shows him approaching the alleged shooter who was seated in a booth with another — later identified as his 18-year-old friend —-  and then engaging in a “physical altercation,” according to the prosecutor’s office.

As stated in a news release: “ At the same time, the defendant can be seen pulling out a semi-automatic firearm from his waistband. The defendant then aims directly at the victim and fires multiple rounds, striking the victim. The juvenile and his friend fled the location, leaving the victim.”

Law enforcement was called to the scene and Lee was transported to an area hospital where he died from his injuries.

crime scene
Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies at the scene where Pontiac resident Robert Wayne Lee, known online as Boopac Shakur, was gunned down Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. (Peg McNichol/MediaNews Group)

The other crime the teen is charged with is from a Sept. 20, 2023 shooting outside a Pontiac supermarket near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Perry Street. The teen allegedly drove up to a parking lot where two men were fighting, exited his vehicle and began shooting. He was later charged with assault with intent to murder and felony firearm.

The prosecutor’s office said the shooting was eventually reported to law enforcement by the victim’s mother who had told authorities about suspicious activity near her home that she believed was related to the shooting and potential gang activity.

In both cases, the prosecutor’s office has opted for designation which could mean lighter sentences than if the teen were tried in adult court. Those convicted in such designated cases can be sentenced as a juvenile or an adult, or can receive a sentence that incorporates both juvenile rehabilitation and adult punishment, the prosecutor’s office said.

Sheriff: Spitting sparks fatal shooting of Pontiac man



Robert Lee (Peg McNichol/MediaNews Group)

Cybersecurity incident impacting nation's pharmacies

23 February 2024 at 17:04

Pharmacies across the U.S. are having difficulty billing insurance for some prescriptions after a cybersecurity incident at a major health care technology company.

Change Healthcare released multiple statements this week providing updates to customers and informing them of the issue. 

"Change Healthcare is experiencing a cyber security issue, and our experts are working to address the matter," a statement released Friday said. "Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact. At this time, we believe the issue is specific to Change Healthcare, and all other systems across UnitedHealth Group are operational. The disruption is expected to last at least through the day. We will provide updates as more information becomes available."

SEE MORE: AT&T says widespread outage was not caused by cyberattack

The American Hospital Association issued an advisory in response to the incident. Optum and Change Health Care completed a merger in 2022. 

"We recommend that all health care organizations that were disrupted or are potentially exposed by this incident consider disconnection from Optum until it is independently deemed safe to reconnect to Optum," the American Hospital Association said. "It also is recommended that organizations which utilize Optums services prepare related downtime procedures and contingency plans should Optums services remain unavailable for an extended period."

While prescriptions are largely being processed across the U.S., it is prompting some issues, especially with billing. 

"What does this mean for you? We CAN receive your RX but MOST insurance plans we cannot bill to your insurance company," Michigan-based Canadian Lakes Pharmacy said in a Facebook post. "If you can wait a day or so to pick up your RX that would be great. If you need it today we can do our best to accommodate individual needs."

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Colleges are finally turning the corner on enrollment

23 February 2024 at 16:47

By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

The Washington Post

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center confirms that colleges and universities are finally seeing growth in student enrollment. This marks the first increase in enrollment since the coronavirus pandemic upended higher education.

Undergraduate head counts grew 1.2% this fall, amounting to about 176,000 more undergraduate students in college than the prior year. Still, there were more than a million empty seats on campuses compared to five years ago, according to the report.

“Colleges are hoping that they have finally seen the bottom and are now starting to recover,” Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director, said. “But we’re still in a deep hole.”

The report, a closely watched indicator of sector-wide trends, offers a more complete picture of fall head counts than the preliminary findings that the Clearinghouse released in October. The trend lines are largely the same, with older students driving the growth in enrollment on one end and high schoolers on the other. The most significant growth in undergraduate enrollment came from the matriculation of existing students and a return of those who previously dropped out, Shapiro noted.

Yet with more colleges reporting their fall numbers, researchers are noticing trends that could shape higher education for years to come.

Here’s a look at a few key takeaways from the report:

Older students are driving freshman enrollment

Colleges and universities counted more freshmen this fall than in years past, but recent high school graduates weren’t the ones signing up for the most classes. People aged 21 and up drove the growth in freshman enrollment, especially at community colleges. Researchers also found an influx of community college students over age 30, a rare increase in enrollment for that population, according to the report.

Enrollment of first-time undergraduate students under the age of 20 flatlined this fall and remains 5.3% below 2019 levels.

Shorter programs are all the rage

Enrollment in associate programs saw the highest growth among undergraduates, up 2.2% over the prior year, but still 14.2% below fall 2019 levels. Bachelor’s programs grew at a lower rate of less than 1% and remain 3.3% below pre-pandemic levels, according to the report.

Undergraduate certificate programs gained 18,000 students for a third consecutive year of fall term growth, although growth has tapered from its high in fall 2021. Still, enrollment in certificate programs is 15.6% above 2019 levels.

“After that initial shock when community colleges lost huge numbers of students in 2020 and 2021, students have been increasingly opting for shorter-term credentials,” Shapiro said.

Skilled trades training is booming

Community colleges focusing on vocational education registered a 16% increase in fall enrollment, bringing head counts above fall 2019 levels.

Shapiro said enrollment in mechanic and repair technologies at community colleges grew by 11.5% compared to the prior year.

Dual enrollment continues to dominate

High schoolers eager to get a jump on college courses continue to file into community colleges, which reported a 5.2% increase in dual enrollment students over the prior year.

Dual-enrollment programs, which let high school students take college classes, have been a bright spot for community colleges. Enrollment in those programs helped pull many schools out of steep declines in head counts during the height of the pandemic.

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center confirms that colleges and universities are finally seeing growth in student enrollment. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)