Alex Trebek opens up to People about cancer treatment and staying positive

23 0 29 May 2019

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May 29, 2019, 12:03 PM UTC / Source: TODAY

By Gina Vivinetto

Alex Trebek believes in the power of positive thinking — and he’s vowing to beat the odds as he battles stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

In this week’s People magazine cover story, on newsstands Friday, the beloved “Jeopardy!” host, 78, revealed he’s responding so well to chemotherapy treatments, some of his tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.

“The doctors said that they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory,” he shared. “It’s kind of mind-boggling. I’ve already gone from where I was to this. The doctors are so excited, just beside themselves with joy.”

Trebek, who’s hosted “Jeopardy” since 1984, received a standing ovation after winning a Daytime Emmy earlier this month.Gregg DeGuire / Getty Images

“I got a little emotional,” he added. “But these were tears of joy — not tears of great depression.”

Trebek, who revealed his cancer diagnosis in a video message to fans on March 6, stayed on the job as he began chemotherapy, taping five episodes of “Jeopardy!” twice each week until the show went on summer hiatus in April.

During that time, he suffered through chemo’s side effects, including hair loss and the loss of his sense of taste.

Through it all, he’s stayed upbeat thanks in no small part to the steadfast support of his wife of 29 years, Jean Currivan, and their children, Matthew, 28, and Emily, 25.

“They’re very positive and until I demonstrate otherwise, they’re going to continue in that vein,” he shared.

He’s also been showered with love from “Jeopardy” fans.

“I had a couple of million people out there who expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy and their prayers. The doctors said it could very well be an important part of this,” he noted.

Though the survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is less than 10 percent, Trebek is facing his fight with courage — and hope.

“There’s always a reason to hope,” he said. “If I’m going to be the public spokesperson for pancreatic cancer, my message to others is this: ‘Let’s be positive.'”

Fans stay away as debate over Arsenals Mkhitaryan shrouds Europa League final in Azerbaijan

19 0 29 May 2019

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May 29, 2019, 11:17 AM UTC

By Alexander Smith

LONDON — When Arsenal faces Chelsea in a major European soccer final on Wednesday, the club will be missing one of its star midfielders.

But Henrikh Mkhitaryan is not injured, suspended, or out of favor with his coach.

He will miss one of the games of his life because of an obscure, Soviet-era conflict that’s been simmering for decades on the fringes of Europe and Asia.

Wednesday’s game is not being held in London, where the two rivals are separated by a short 45-minute hop on the subway. Instead it will take place some 2,500 miles away in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

Hosting the showpiece Europa League final was meant to be a PR coup for the country.

Instead it has become something of a publicity nightmare for both Azerbaijan and the sport’s governing bodies, which picked it as the venue for this year’s game.

The country has an “appalling” human rights record, according to Human Rights Watch, and has proved maddeningly inaccessible for many fans traveling from western and central Europe.

For Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan it presented an even more acute problem.

Mkhitaryan has scored six goals in 39 appearances for Arsenal this season.Hannah McKay / Reuters file

He is from neighboring Armenia, which is locked in conflict with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under the Soviet Union, the region belonged to Azerbaijan, but 95 percent of its population are ethnic Armenians. At the twilight of the Cold War, Nagorno-Karabakh attempted to declare independence, sparking a conflict between the neighbors that left 30,000 people dead before a ceasefire in 1994.

Since then Armenian forces have controlled the territory. Negotiations chaired by the U.S., Russia and France have seen little progress, and border skirmishes still claim several lives each year.

Given the volatile atmosphere, Uefa, the sport’s governing body in Europe, said it had “sought and received assurances” about Mkhitaryan’s safety “from the highest authorities in the country.”

The player was not convinced. He consulted his family and his club, and ultimately decided to stay home.

The neighbors have severed diplomatic ties, but Azerbaijani officials insist that Mkhitaryan would not only be welcomed, but that his safety would be given the utmost priority.

“He will be welcome in Baku, he will be safe in Baku, I offered him my personal guarantees up to the highest degree — whatever I can do, whatever I can provide — to make him change his mind,” Tahir Taghizadeh, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, told NBC News in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of using the soccer final for “provocative purposes” and attempting to “turn sport into an instrument of politics.” The ambassador suggested he believes Mkhitaryan’s decision was not born out of genuine safety concerns.

“If I tell you that I don’t believe him and I think that there is politics at play, then I will be criticized for not trusting a player, not trusting the man’s feelings,” Taghizadeh added. “If I tell you that I trust him then I will be going against my own convictions and against my own position, against my beliefs that it is safe in Baku. “

Azerbaijan points out that other Armenian athletes have competed in the country before, but none nearly so high profile as the Arsenal star. And even these minor athletes were subjected to boos and heckles from the crowd.

“We have a situation that is completely unacceptable,” said Arsenal’s managing director, Vinai Venkatesham. “It is not our decision or Henrikh’s but one we made together.”

Mkhitaryan isn’t the only one caught up in this dispute.

A number of British fans of Armenian heritage were initially denied a visa, and only granted one after Uefa intervened and contacted the Azerbaijani government, the sports governing body told NBC News in an email.

For many critics, it is unthinkable that such a high profile sporting event should be awarded to a country where the safety and attendance of players and fans is even open to question.

“This is a scandal. It is a deeply ugly side to the beautiful game,” Tom Watson, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said in the House of Commons last week.

Watson highlighted Uefa’s slogan: “Everyone should be able to enjoy football. No matter who you are, where you’re from or how you play.”

In reality, most supporters will skip the game altogether.

London to Baku is about the same distance as Los Angeles to New York, but on the week of the final there were only three direct flights, all of which sold out almost immediately.

When Uefa awarded the final to Baku in 2017, it admitted that its airport was so small it would have to compensate by reducing the number of tickets allocated to the finalists.

Each team was awarded about 6,000 tickets, despite the Baku Olympic stadium having a capacity of 68,000. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Even so, both Arsenal and Chelsea said they have returned around half of these tickets unsold because demand is so low.

Many die-hard supporters are staying away because of what Chelsea called “a complicated and challenging process.”

The few fans who are traveling were faced with grueling and expensive journeys.

“It’s an awful place to put a European cup final. Baku isn’t even geographically in Europe,” said Keith Ly, 26, one of the Arsenal supporters making the trip.

His journey took 37 hours, flying from London to Prague, then onto the Ukraine capital of Kiev and finally Tbilisi, Georgia. From there, still some 300 miles from his destination, he took a 12-hour train to the Azerbaijani capital.

“It’s been an incredibly long journey for just one game of football,” said Ly, who works as a barrister in London. “I’m just pleased my employer have given me the time off work.”

Keith Ly has finally arrived in Baku ahead of Wednesday’s final.Keith Ly

It’s not just the flights.

In its own report on Baku’s hosting bid, Uefa noted that the number of hotel rooms near the stadium “falls short of Uefa’s minimum requirements.” Some fans have reported price-gouging, and even hotels canceling their rooms and releasing them again at a higher rate.

Given the Mkhitaryan situation, coupled with the impractical location and questions over human rights, the event is seen by many as emblematic of a wider malaise within the sport.

These critics decry what they say is yet another example of the game’s authorities dismissing fans and ethical concerns, and instead prioritizing global commercial appeal.

Many of the same allegations are directed at FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, which awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite fears about the unsuitably hot climate, corruption and human rights.

Azerbaijan, around the size of South Carolina and with a population of around 10 million people, has no real footballing pedigree. It sits 108th in the FIFA world rankings behind Kenya and Madagascar.

The Maiden Tower in Baku.Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

When the country’s president, Ilham Aliyev, was re-elected last year with more than 86 percent of the vote, Human Rights Watch said the ballot “lacked competition,” “took place in a restrictive political environment” and curtailed “fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Dozens of journalists and human-rights activists remain imprisoned in the country, the watchdog says.

For Uefa, the obscurity was part of the reason it awarded the final to Baku.

Its reasoning is that most high-profile games are in an elite group of countries, such as Saturday’s Champions League final in Madrid, Spain. It says that other, less well-known countries should be exposed to these events.

“It is fair and due, not only to give other fans the possibility of a unique live experience, but also to stage events which can greatly boost the promotion of football in an entire region,” Uefa said in a statement reacting to the criticism from the fans, teams and lawmakers.

“It will put us even more on the international map,” said Taghizadeh, the ambassador.

“Besides getting more and more fans, it’s also in terms of spreading the geography of the game … to make it wider and to make the game more popular.”

Harris says Trumps overseas tweets contrary to the best interests of our country

23 0 29 May 2019

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May 29, 2019, 5:48 AM UTC

By Vaughn Hillyard

SPARTANBURG, South — Kamala Harris railed on Tuesday night against President Trump’s derogatory tweets about former Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend, calling them “contrary to the best interests of our country and the integrity of our country.”

At an MSNBC town hall, Harris said the tweets, including one in which Trump referenced smiling when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse,” were more examples of “why he should not be president of the United States.”

“The idea that this president on foreign soil attacked the previous vice president of the United States —I don’t care what the differences on policy issues,” Harris said from the Wofford College stage. “I don’t care what the differences in terms of party affiliation. It is wrong.”

The California senator also rolled out her latest policy proposal, a plan to press for federal legislation that would require state and local governments with a history of having violated abortion rights under Roe v. Wade to receive Department of Justice approval for changes to future abortion laws.

“Are we going to go back to the days of back alley abortions? Women died before we had Roe v. Wade in place,” Harris said. “And so I’m going to tell you, on this issue, I’m kind of done.”

When asked by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell how she would acquire the 60 votes in the U.S. Senate necessary to pass such a proposal, Harris said voters must turn their attention to Senate races, along with the presidency, in 2020.

“Everything that we need to do is going to require 60 votes in the United States Senate, which is why I would say to everybody: 2020 is about the White House, [but] it’s also about the United States Senate,” she said.

Harris also criticized Trump’s enduring trade hostilities with China, labeling the cost burdens on Americans as “Trump trade tax.”

“We are all paying a price for the policies, which have resulted in the Trump trade tax,” she said. “We are paying more for washing machines and shampoos. We are paying more in terms of our farmers having to eat the cost of having soybeans that they have been growing, rotting in bins. We are paying more in terms of autoworkers losing their jobs.”

Harris will make campaign stops in Greenville and Anderson on Wednesday, wrapping up her sixth stop to South Carolina since launching her presidential bid.

Job burnout: How to spot it and take action

28 0 29 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 9:38 PM UTC

By Shamard Charles, M.D.

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is a challenge that many workers in the United States face.

Excelling in the office, exceeding expectations, and climbing the corporate ladder are all a part of the American dream. But many Americans struggle to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life.

And that struggle can lead to an all-too-familiar feeling: burnout.

In fact, occupational burnout is such a problem in the U.S. and around the world that the World Health Organization decided to address the problem during its recently concluded World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The WHO said Tuesday that “burnout” is an “occupational phenomenon” that could lead someone to seek care although they did not go as far as to call it an official medical condition.

The international body even updated its International Classification of Diseases list, which is used globally as a benchmark for health diagnosis, to include the following identifiers to help doctors easily spot the syndrome:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Why are we so burned out?

One reason may be the increasing globalization and technology use, which compel 24/7 connectivity, creating an environment in which it is almost impossible to disengage from work.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which represents the vast majority of the world’s most advanced economies, says 11 percent of U.S. employees work 50 or more hours a week and the average American spends 40 percent of their day dedicated to their job. As a result, the U.S. ranks toward the bottom of the work-life balance spectrum among developed countries.

And there’s a cost to the burnout: Stressful jobs contribute to 120,000 deaths each year and cost U.S. businesses up to $190 billion in health care costs, according to a 2016 paper from researchers at the Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

We asked a psychologist, Shainna Ali, owner of Integrated Counseling Solutions in Orlando, Florida, how to spot work burnout and prevent it before we log hours far beyond the point of diminishing returns.

Suddenly hitting a wall?

Job burnout can result from a number of factors, including work-life imbalance, a dysfunctional work environment and unclear job expectations.

“Job burnout normally includes signs of mental health concerns that are based around work … [such as] depleted mood, lack of motivation, or anxiety,” Ali said. “People joke about the Sunday night blues. It’s as if around 4 p.m., they give a collective groan — that’s a real thing. People should ask themselves, do I feel better when I’m leaving work? Do I grow anxious when others discuss work in leisure settings?”

She also notes that burnout is often generally related to anxiety, and less commonly, to depression, but that it varies from person to person. One reason may be that U.S. adults are stressed in general and are not taking enough personal time away from work.

A 2018 Gallup poll of 150,000 people around the world found that Americans were the most stressed. Fifty-five percent of Americans said they had experienced stress during much of their day in 2018 — much higher than the global average, which sat around 35 percent. They also found that Americans take fewer vacation days than people in any other country in the world.

Ways to combat work burnout

Ali says breaking negative patterns that lead to job burnout can be tricky, but paying attention to one’s needs is essential to promoting well-being in the workplace.

She suggests three ways to establish self-care in the workplace:

  • Foster wellness in the workplace by establishing healthy connections at work
  • Use break time effectively, by going for walks and participating in quick, enjoyable activities
  • Take a vacation.

She adds that the WHO’s guideline changes highlight the need for human resources departments to look more deeply into establishing positive workplace environments.

“I think this acknowledgement by the WHO gives job burnout some validity that this is a concern at work and warrants attention. Self-care is important and surging in popularity, even in the workplace,” Ali told NBC News.

“It’s easy to forget about self-care. We may not notice it initially but over time the effect can be dramatic, even dangerous. Fortunately, as people weigh the costs and benefits of self-care more and more, they are finding that healthy mental practices can have a tremendous effect in and out of the workplace,” she added.

Fact check: Why are Trump and the Democrats talking about the 1994 crime bill

13 0 29 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 7:24 PM UTC / Updated May 28, 2019, 7:49 PM UTC

By Allan Smith

The crime bill that former Vice President Joe Biden helped write as a senator 25 years ago has been thrust into the spotlight on the 2020 campaign trail.

His primary competition, including Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., have condemned the legislation, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, as having contributed to mass incarceration. And over the Memorial Day weekend, President Donald Trump attacked Biden for his involvement in it.

Here’s what was in the bill, who supported it, and what is known about the law’s effects.

What is the 1994 crime bill?

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, or the 1994 crime bill as it became known, earmarked billions in funding for states to build new prisons, train and hire additional police, expanded the federal death penalty and instituted a federal “three-strikes” life sentence mandate.

The legislation also included the original Violence Against Women Act, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and more than $6 billion in funding for crime prevention programs.

The bill was intended to combat and deter violent crime, which peaked nationally in the early 1990s. On a political level, Clinton and Democrats hoped that passage of a tough law would help them blunt or reverse long-running GOP charges that their party was soft on crime.

Violent crime started to fall before the bill was passed, though it dropped much more dramatically from 1994 to 2000, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive law and policy institute.

Who was for it, who was against?

Both Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, though there were detractors in both parties.

Democrats, including most of the Congressional Black Caucus, Republicans and substantial numbers of African American pastors and mayors backed the legislation, according to reports at the time.

Most supporters saw it as a way to respond to the peak in violent crime in the early 1990s that came on the heels of a decades-long increase, a trend that would soon begin to reverse.

“The American people have been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Clinton said at a bill-signing ceremony in 1994. “In the last 25 years, half a million Americans have been killed by other Americans. For 25 years, crime has been a hot political issue used too often to divide us while the system makes excuses for not punishing criminals and doing the job.”

Biden had been working with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., on similar legislation even before Clinton took office.

When the Senate passed its version of the bill in November 1993, on a 95-4 roll call, former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, boasted about it.

“I believe the American people are starting to see that we mean business about crime, and that this bill is going to make a difference,” he said then. “As in all bills, there may be some things that I do not particularly like. But, overall, this bill is a tremendous addition to the fight against crime. It is, I think, the finest anti-crime bill in the history of this country.”

Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was among those who voted for it.

But there was a war brewing in the House, in which Republicans were concerned over whether the bill was tough enough on offenders, whether it spent too much on crime-prevention programs rather than punishment — the “midnight basketball” program became a talking point for conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh — and whether it should include a ban on certain semiautomatic weapons. Some centrist Democrats shared these objections.

A House-Senate conference committee had to write two different “final” versions of the legislation before it could pass muster, and an unlikely coalition of Republican and Democratic opponents temporarily killed it in the House by winning on a procedural vote. Clinton agreed to demands to trim back spending for prevention programs and tweak the weapons ban to secure the votes he needed in the House.

In the end, 235 House members, including 46 Republicans, voted for it. (Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, then an independent representative from Vermont, was among the “yes” votes.)

But with the National Rifle Association actively engaged against the bill, and focusing its arguments on aspects other than gun control, it suddenly became a much tougher vote for GOP senators. Biden and his allies needed 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a procedural block, which meant they had to get at least six Republicans on board. They got seven and the bill went to Clinton for his signature. McConnell voted against it the second time around.

Critics found fault

Detractors at the time warned that the bill co-written by Biden was far too punitive and did not put enough of an emphasis on dealing with broader structural issues that led to the increase in violent crime. Though there was money allocated for preventative programs, the bill was focused on cracking down on crime and throwing the book at criminals.

There were alternative legislative efforts. Then-Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said that providing billions for prison expansion was a “simplistic approach to the crime problem.” Conyers offered up a bill that focused on job opportunities, drug treatment and additional crime prevention programs.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., one of the Congressional Black Caucus members who voted against the crime bill, said, “You wouldn’t ask an opponent of abortion to look at a bill with the greatest expansion of abortion in the history of the United States, and argue that he ought to vote for it because it’s got some highway funding in it.”

What Biden says now

Biden has faced questions and criticism about the legislation this year, before and after announcing his bid to challenge Trump in 2020. He’s mostly defended the law and taken credit for some of its successes.

“You know I’ve been in this fight for a long time,” Biden said in January at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Washington, without explicitly remarking on the 1994 bill. “I haven’t always been right, I know we haven’t always done things the right way. But I’ve always tried.”

At a New Hampshire campaign stop in May, Biden talked up several specific components of the bill.

“There’s a whole lot of talk about, you know,” Biden said. “It had three big things in it,” he continued, listing off the funding that was allocated toward crime prevention programs, as well as the Violence Against Women Act and the ban on assault weapons, both of which are now expired.

Sanders also has defended his vote in favor of the bill in a similar fashion, telling CNN that if he hadn’t, he would be getting asked today about why he “did not vote for a ban on assault weapons.”

Did it lead to “mass incarceration”?

During that same New Hampshire event, Biden claimed that the 1994 bill did not lead to mass incarceration.

“Folks, let’s get something straight, 92 out of every 100 prisoners who end up behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison,” he said. “This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.”

Though the bill was not the root cause of “mass incarceration,” it was “the most high-profile legislation to increase the number of people behind bars,” according to a Brennan Center analysis in 2016.

The crime bill granted states billions to build prisons if they passed laws requiring inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, the Brennan Center said, noting that 30 states introduced or amended laws between 1995 and 1999 so that they would be in compliance and receive the money. By 1999, 42 states had “truth-in-sentencing” laws on the books, which contributed to an increase in imprisonment.

“By dangling bonus dollars, the crime bill encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course,” the Brennan Center wrote.

Jonathan Allen and Mike Memoli contributed.

Netflix says it will team up with ACLU in fight against Georgia abortion law

17 0 29 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 6:02 PM UTC / Updated May 28, 2019, 8:37 PM UTC

By Daniel Arkin

America’s top entertainment companies have largely stayed quiet ever since Georgia, a major hub for film and television productions, passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

But on Monday, Netflix stepped into the fray and announced it would “fight” against Georgia’s controversial “heartbeat bill.”

The streaming giant — which produces popular series such as “Stranger Things” and “Ozark” in the state — said it will team up with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to challenge the law.

“We have many women working on productions in Georgia, whose rights, along with millions of others, will be severely restricted by this law,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, said in a statement. “It’s why we will work with the ACLU and others to fight it in court.”

Sarandos said that the company would continue to film in Georgia “while also supporting partners and artists who choose not to.” He added that if the law were to take effect in 2020, Netflix would “rethink our entire investment in Georgia.”

In an email to NBC News, the ACLU thanked Netflix for “offering to support our upcoming lawsuit against Georgia’s unconstitutional abortion ban.”

It was not immediately clear what other groups Netflix planned to partner with in its fight against the law. The company said it could not provide additional details at this time.

In recent weeks, entertainment industry backlash to the law has been limited to independent, small-scale production companies, including Color Force (“Crazy Rich Asians”), Killer Films (“Boys Don’t Cry”), and “The Wire” creator David Simon’s Blown Deadline Productions.

The law also drew criticism and calls for a boycott from individual performers, such as #MeToo activist Alyssa Milano (Netflix’s “Insatiable”), “This Is Us” star Mandy Moore, “Wild Wild Country” co-producer Mark Duplass, and Mark Hamill of the “Star Wars” franchise.

Two high-profile projects — Amazon Studios’ 10-episode drama series “The Power,” directed by Reed Morano (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Lionsgate’s “Barb and Star Go the Vista Del Mar,” co-starring Kristen Wiig — withdrew from planned shoots in the state.

Other industry players, such as J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele, who are co-producing HBO’s upcoming horror series “Lovecraft Country” — have announced they would keep plans to film in Georgia but donate their “episodic fees” to groups opposing the law, including the ACLU and Fair Fight Georgia.

Georgia’s bill, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on May 7, would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks, before some women know they are pregnant.

“Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families. It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged,” said Chris Ortman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), an industry lobbying group.

“The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process,” Ortman added.

In response to requests for comment, spokespeople for Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures referred NBC News to the MPAA statement. (Universal Pictures is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)

Georgia’s generous tax incentives — uncapped credits, chief among them — have helped turn the state into a production behemoth, leading some in the industry to call it “Hollywood of the South.”

The state is the shooting location for AMC’s hit zombie saga “The Walking Dead” and recent entries in the Marvel franchise, including “Black Panther.” In 2016, 17 of the 100 highest-grossing American movies were filmed in the state, according to the nonprofit Film LA.

In addition to “Stranger Things” and “Ozark,” the list of shows Netflix has shot in Georgia includes “Insatiable,” “The Haunting of Hill House,” and the first two seasons of the “Queer Eye” reboot.

The streaming service’s big-name competitors — including Disney, AT&T’s Warner Bros., and Sony — were relatively more vocal in 2016 amid a debate over a Georgia bill that would have legalized “faith-based” refusal of services to LGBTQ people.

Disney and Netflix threatened to yank productions from the state; CBS, Sony, Time Warner and other leading media companies publicly decried the proposed law. The bill was eventually vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

Federal Election Commission data reviewed by NBC News shows that Netflix has donated some $10,000 to Los Angeles County’s Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project in the last five years.

Lyft passenger caught on camera violently beating driver

17 0 29 May 2019

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May 29, 2019, 12:50 AM UTC

By Safia Samee Ali and Caitlin Fichtel

Authorities in New York are searching for a passenger who violently attacked a Lyft driver during the course of a trip last Thursday.

The driver, 36-year-old Eduardo Madiedo, said he was beaten while driving two passengers to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Astoria, Queens.

Madiedo’s dashcam captured the encounter, which began after a male passenger got into the car with an older woman who held him as he laid in the backseat moaning as if in pain for several minutes.

The passenger then removes his shirt and tells Madiedo to drive faster by cutting in front of the cars ahead using profane language.

Madiedo warns the passenger, “excuse me, man, if you’re gonna be disrespectful I’ll just pull over right now,” which triggered the man to repeatedly and violently punch Madiedo’s head while the car was still moving.

“Out of nowhere, he started punching in back of the head as much as he could,” Madiedo told NBC News, adding that he was in the middle of rush hour traffic and was struggling to keep control of the car during the attack. “I wear driving glasses that he knocked off my face.”

The video then shows the passenger lunging forward in an effort to get into the front seat while aggressively grabbing Madiedo by the neck as he pulls the car over.

The woman urges the man, who is screaming hysterically, to stop and they both exit the car. Seconds later, the man pummels Madiedo once again through the window. “He tried to open my door from the inside to pull me out of the car,” Madiedo said.

Lyft said it permanently banned the man from the ridesharing app, according to WNBC-TV. The company has not released details of the man’s identity.

“It is unacceptable for a professional driver to have to fear being in his work environment. We are grateful that Mr. Madiedo wasn’t seriously injured, and have every confidence that his attacker will be facing the consequences of his actions as soon as possible,” said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates the for-hire vehicle industry in New York City, according to WNBC-TV. “It should also be noted that Mr. Madiedo was victimized while communicating a crucial safety message to his two passengers, which makes this unwarranted violence all the more disturbing.”

Aside from bumps on the back of his head, bruises, and soreness, Madiedo said he did not suffer any serious injuries, but the incident was a “turning point” for him and he’s not sure he’s going to continue working as a rideshare driver.

“I feel anxious to go back to work,” he said. “I have to go in a different direction, it’s not a safe way to go anymore.”

Madiedo said he is sharing the harrowing video in the hopes that it will help apprehend the man who attacked him.

“I want the gentleman to get caught and face consequences,” he said. “If there are no repercussions, anyone can do this.”

Biden campaign says Trumps comments are beneath the dignity of the office

18 0 28 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 6:51 PM UTC

By Dartunorro Clark and Mike Memoli

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign hit back at President Donald Trump on Tuesday after the commander in chief quoted North Korea’s criticisms of Biden while in Japan over the weekend.

“The President’s comments are beneath the dignity of the office,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement released shortly after Trump returned to the United States. “To be on foreign soil, on Memorial Day, and to side repeatedly with a murderous dictator against a fellow American and former Vice President speaks for itself.”

“And it’s part of a pattern of embracing autocrats at the expense of our institutions — whether taking Putin’s word at face value in Helsinki or exchanging ‘love letters’ with Kim Jong Un,” Bedingfield continued, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the North Korean leader.

Trump and Kim held a summit in Singapore in 2018 to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Another summit followed in February 2019 in Hanoi but was cut short without an agreement.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted about recent North Korean missile tests, saying that he is confident in his relationship with Kim and quoting an editorial published by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency that derided Biden with a series of insults, including that he has a “low IQ.”

“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump tweeted. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”

The Trump campaign on Tuesday called the Biden campaign’s response to the president’s tweet “rich” given Biden’s remarks criticizing the administration’s policies while in Germany earlier this year.

“But unlike the Obama-Biden administration, which failed to make any progress with North Korea, President Trump has actually increased pressure and gotten them to the negotiating table,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “If you want an example of ‘siding with a murderous dictator,’ how about the disastrous Iran nuclear deal? Or failing to follow through on the ‘red line’ with Syria? From the Iraq war to the Russia reset, Joe Biden has been wrong on virtually every foreign policy call in the last four decades. Just ask former Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates.”

Trump also responded later Tuesday, saying he was really “sticking up” for Biden because his phrasing in the tweet was “softer” than the terms used by the Korean Central News Agency.

“Kim Jong Un called him a ‘low IQ idiot,’ and many other things, whereas I related the quote of Chairman Kim as a much softer ‘low IQ individual.’ Who could possibly be upset with that?” the president tweeted.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that both Trump and Kim “agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden.”

“I think they agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden,” Sanders said, speaking from Japan, where she accompanied the president. “The president doesn’t need somebody else to give him an assessment of Joe Biden. He’s given his own assessment a number of times. I think you’ve seen it. I’m sure you’ve covered it on your program. The president watched him and his administration with President Obama fail for eight years.”

During his campaign launch in Philadelphia earlier this month, Biden criticized Trump for his relationships with Kim and Putin. He asked the crowd, “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong Un?”

Days later, the Korean Central News Agency blasted Biden for “rhetoric slandering the supreme leadership” of North Korea, and claimed the former vice president “has gone reckless and senseless, seized by ambition for power.”

“What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician,” the state-run news agency said.

Biden and Trump have sparred since the former vice president entered the 2020 race. Biden has called Trump the “divider-in-chief,” and Trump has sent out numerous Twitter missives aimed at Biden, whom he has called “SleepyCreepy Joe.” Trump also called Biden a “low-IQ individual” in a March tweet.

Some Republican members of Congress criticized the president for quoting North Korea’s insults of Biden over the holiday weekend.

“Wrong for @POTUS Trump to criticize @JoeBiden in Japan and to agree with Kim Jong-un,” New York Rep. Pete King tweeted Monday. “Politics stops at water’s edge. Never right to side with murderous dictator vs. fellow American.”

“It’s Memorial Day Weekend and you’re taking a shot at Biden while praising a dictator,” Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted Sunday. “This is just plain wrong.”

Trump’s comment on Saturday was part of a string of tweets aimed at Biden over the holiday weekend. On Monday, Trump criticized Biden, former Democratic senator from Delaware, for his role in passing the 1994 crime bill as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able to vote for you,” Trump tweeted Monday. “I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, and helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!”

“Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing,” Trump wrote in a second tweet. “That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!”

Biden has claimed the bill did not spur mass incarceration, as critics of the legislation contend. But former President Bill Clinton, who signed the bill into law, said in 2015 that it “made the problem worse.”

Earlier this month, another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, took issue with Biden’s claim about the legislation, saying it “encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law.”

“It funded the building of more prisons in the states,” she said. “So I disagree, sadly.”

Monica Alba contributed.

Missouris abortion providers vow to continue helping women

17 0 28 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 8:04 PM UTC

By Erika Edwards and Ali Galante

Doctors in Missouri may only have a few more days to perform abortions, but they insist their care for patients who want to terminate a pregnancy won’t end anytime soon.

“Despite what happens on Friday, we will continue to help our patients access care when they need it,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said on a call with reporters today.

That includes helping women who are seeking to end a pregnancy find help in other states. “We will make sure Missourians who need abortion care will be able to get it, whether that be with us or with another provider,” McNicholas said.

McNicholas said the center takes care of several thousand women seeking an abortion each year. She and clinic director Dr. David Eisenberg spoke with NBC News on Friday, the day Missouri’s governor signed into law a bill that would prohibit abortions after eight weeks gestation.

“This is a government intrusion into the practice of medicine,” Eisenberg said.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America said Missouri’s health department is threatening not to renew the St. Louis Planned Parenthood’s license to provide abortions. The clinic is the only one in the state that offers abortion services.

Anita Murphy directs patient phone calls at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region in St. Louis, Missouri; some call to ask if they can still get abortion services.Ali Galante / NBC News

If the license is not renewed by May 31, doctors at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region will no longer be able to perform abortions, though they will still provide other medical care. That would leave more than 1 million women of childbearing age without access to abortion in the state.

“This is not a drill. This is not a warning,” Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters in the phone call. “This is real, and this is a public health crisis.”

The group announced it is filing a lawsuit against the state of Missouri in an effort to maintain abortion services past the May 31 deadline.

Doctors who perform abortions in Missouri were already grappling with how to handle that state’s newly signed law banning abortions after eight weeks gestation, except in cases in which they are “medically necessary.”

Obstetrician gynecologist Dr. Colleen McNicholas speaks with a patient at the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region in St. Louis, Missouri.Ali Galante / NBC News

Doctors say that creates a huge problem, particularly in circumstances that require snap medical decisions. “How do I know what I think is a medical emergency will be viewed as such by the attorney general?” McNicholas asked.

“What a terrible place we are putting physicians in, a totally untenable ethical position where they have to choose between providing the appropriate care for their patient, or potentially going to jail or losing their medical license,” she added.

Some states’ new abortion bans have been referred to as “heartbeat” bills by politicians, and mean that abortions would be prohibited after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected. But doctors say what physicians are hearing at six to eight weeks gestation isn’t a true heartbeat; it’s just electrical activity.

“At six weeks, we’re talking about essentially two tubes that are aligned by some cardiac cells that can do some vibration,” McNicholas said. She says equating that electrical activity with a fully functioning heart is simply medically inaccurate.

Women seek abortions for a number of reasons, and the decision can be incredibly difficult.

“Sometimes the choice to end a pregnancy, even when it was a highly desired one, is a really difficult one for people,” Eisenberg said.

Jennifer Box, 38, of St. Louis, Missouri, was in such a position. She made the painful decision to end her pregnancy at 15 weeks. Doctors had discovered her growing fetus had a genetic disorder called trisomy 18, an abnormality that usually results in either stillbirth or the death of the baby within a year.

Jennifer Box says ending her pregnancy with a fetus with a rare and deadly chromosomal abnormality was the most compassionate choice for the baby, as well as her two older children.Courtesy Jennifer Box

Babies with trisomy 18 often have heart defects, difficulty eating and breathing, and are susceptible to serious infections.

“I made a decision in consultation with multiple doctors, genetic counselors and different hospitals. We made a medical choice as parents for our daughter,” Box said. She and her husband, Jake, found out the fetus was a girl, and named her Libby Rose.

“It was heartbreaking, but I can’t imagine giving birth to a child only to know that she would suffer indefinitely until she would die,” Box said.

“I believe my greatest act of love as her mother was to suffer myself instead.”

Meanwhile, physicians at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood say they will continue to provide assistance to women.

“When abortion is safe and accessible, it’s the safest medicine that’s provided,” Eisenberg said. “The fact is, it’s basic health care for women.”


Did the Iranians create fake U.S. social media accounts and pose as GOP politicians?

19 0 28 May 2019

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May 28, 2019, 7:00 PM UTC

By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — Starting in April 2018, a group of anonymous people created fake American social media accounts to pose as journalists, plant letters to newspapers and impersonate Republican candidates for Congress — all in an apparent effort to promote Iranian interests.

Was this the work of an Iranian intelligence service? A third country? A band of pranksters?

No one can be 100 percent certain who was behind the campaign, according to reports released Monday by Facebook and a leading cyber security company, FireEye.

But what it shows, the companies say, is that the tech-fueled media environment which makes the United States a global beacon for free expression has also opened American consumers to exploitation and manipulation. And there is yet no good answer for what to do about it.

A post identified by Facebook.via Facebook

“This demonstrates that actors who engage in this type of influence activity leverage all manner of different tactics and techniques that stretch across a wide variety of media and platforms,” said Lee Foster, who leads FireEye’s intelligence team. “This is a society-wide issue that we really have to come to terms with and figure out a way to effectively tackle.”

He added, “We risk the U.S. information space effectively becoming a free-for-all for foreign interference.”

The FBI declined to comment, pointing NBC News to a statement by Director Christopher Wray, who told Congress May 7, “On the counterintelligence side we’re facing a uniquely challenging time in terms of foreign investment, foreign influence; China, Russia, North Korea, Iran. I could go on and on there.”

Based on a tip from FireEye, Facebook said Monday it removed 51 Facebook accounts, 36 Pages, seven Groups and three Instagram accounts involved in what it called “coordinated inauthentic behavior that originated in Iran.”

“The individuals behind this activity — which also took place on other internet platforms and websites — misled people about who they were and what they were doing,” Facebook’s Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy, said in a blog post.

“They purported to be located in the US and Europe, used fake accounts to run Pages and Groups, and impersonated legitimate news organizations in the Middle East. The individuals behind this activity also represented themselves as journalists or other personas and tried to contact policymakers, reporters, academics, Iranian dissidents and other public figures. A number of these account owners also attempted to contact Instagram accounts, some of which later posted content associated with this activity. “

The Facebook action encompassed accounts that were different from but related to the ones FireEye identified, including accounts that were aimed at countries aside from the U.S. and the UK. Facebook takes down accounts engaged in deception, not because of who they are or what they say, Facebook officials say. Facebook said it would prove the operation originated in Iran, but was not prepared to attribute it to specific people or the government.

The focus of the Facebook campaign was not so much to build followers, but to create fake personas that could be used to reach out to real people, Gleicher said.

A Facebook page purports to show anti-government graffiti in Saudi Arabia.via Facebook

The new disclosures come on the heels of a report by FireEye last year that identified an Iranian influence operation making use of fake news sites and social media accounts aimed at audiences around the world. The tactics included impersonating Americans of all political stripes.

Last month, Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, uncovered what it said was a separate pro-Iranian influence operation that used social media to spread bogus articles online and attack Iranian adversaries.

In its latest report, FireEye identified a network of English-language social media accounts “that engaged in inauthentic behavior and misrepresentation and that we assess with low confidence was organized in support of Iranian political interests,” the company said Monday in a report obtained by NBC News.

“In addition to utilizing fake American personas that espoused both progressive and conservative political stances, some accounts impersonated real American individuals, including a handful of Republican political candidates that ran for House of Representatives seats in 2018.”

Most of the Twitter accounts in the network appear to have been suspended on or around May 9, the report says.

According to a Twitter spokesperson, “We removed this network of 2,800 inauthentic accounts originating in Iran at the beginning of May. FireEye, a private cybersecurity firm, has issued a report and chosen not to share information or insights with Twitter prior to publication which is outside standard, responsible industry norms. Responsible disclosure should include notification and information sharing to protect against informing bad actors. Going public without these elements harms the credibility of the security research community, whose insights we support and appreciate.

“Our investigations into these accounts are ongoing. As we continue to investigate potential wider networks and actors, we typically avoid making any declarative public statements until we can be sure that we have reached the end of our analyses. As standard, once we have completed our review, we disclose the full account sets and content to our archive of information operations to enable public and academic research.”

Fake personas in the network had material published in U.S. and Israeli media outlets, lobbied journalists to cover specific topics, and appear to have orchestrated audio and video interviews with unsuspecting Americans and British citizens about various political issues, FireEye reported.

Many of the accounts tweeted the same messages, which is one way FireEye assessed they were linked.

“While we have not at this time tied these accounts to the broader influence operation we identified last year, they promoted material in line with Iranian political interests in a manner similar to accounts that we have previously assessed to be of Iranian origin,” the company said in a report obtained by NBC News. “Most of the accounts in the network appear to have been suspended on or around the evening of May 9, 2019.”

The fake personas expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal, denounced the Trump administration’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and criticized a U.S.-led conference in Warsaw that focused on Iranian influence in the Middle East.

An allegedly inauthentic post about ISIS.via Facebook

They also blasted Trump’s veto of a resolution passed by Congress to end U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict.

There were some indicators that the network was operated by Iranians, FireEye said. For example, one account in the network, @AlexRyanNY, created in 2010, had only two visible tweets prior to 2017 — one of which, from 2011, was in Persian.

In 2017, @AlexRyanNY claimed in a tweet to be “an Iranian who supported Hillary.”

Additionally, while most of the accounts in the network had their interface languages set to English, one account had its interface language set to Persian, FireEye found.

Last year, one of the accounts impersonated Marla Livengood, a Republican candidate for California’s 9th Congressional District, using a photograph of Livengood and a campaign banner for its profile and background pictures.

The account began tweeting about generic news but then segued into promoting material more closely aligned with Iranian interests, FireEye said. For example, the account, along with others in the network, commemorated the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child with a photograph of emaciated children in Yemen, and called attention to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Those are two stories that tend to be bad for Iran’s mortal enemy, Saudi Arabia.

One of the posts identified by Facebook.via Facebook

“We were not aware of it,” said Scott Winn, who helped run the Livengood campaign.

“This seems to be kind of an ongoing problem in campaigns…we have people that are looking at what happened in the 2016 election and trying to duplicate that on a local level.”

Another fake account impersonated Jineea Butler, a Republican candidate for New York’s 13th Congressional District, using a photograph of Butler for its profile picture and incorporating her campaign slogans into its background picture, as well as claiming in its Twitter bio to be a “US House candidate, NY-13” and linking to Butler’s website,

The network also impersonated regular Americans. One fake personas was “Ed Sullivan,” who sent letters that were published in the New York Daily News and the Los Angeles Times, including one headlined, “Don’t shrug off Khashoggi’s murder.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have the capacity to determine whether this was an Iranian influence campaign, experts say. FireEye said it would continue to pursue that question.

“If it is of Iranian origin or supported by Iranian state actors,” the report concludes, “it would demonstrate that Iranian influence tactics extend well beyond the use of inauthentic news sites and fake social media personas, to also include the impersonation of real individuals on social media and the leveraging of legitimate Western news outlets to disseminate favorable messaging.”