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What is Byte? The internets new old-school, short-form video app.

32 0 27 Jan 2020

The Byte doesn’t fall far from the Vine.

Almost eight years after launching the internet’s short-form video format, Dom Hofmann is back with a new app in what has become a crowded field.

Hofmann launched Byte, an app that gives users the ability to make short looping videos, on Friday. The app is similar to Vine, which Hofmann, Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov launched in 2012 and then sold to Twitter, which later shut it down.

This time around, Hofmann has serious competition, primarily from TikTok, the Vine-like app that has been embraced by young users as an easy way to make creative videos.

Users have already picked up on Byte’s lineage. A drove of users — including former Vine stars — have joined the app and begun crafting their own short videos.

Byte appears to be an attempt to recapture the “extremely online” humor that Vine unleashed on the internet. But where Vine had little competition when it launched, Byte now faces TikTok and a growing market of similar apps offering a variety of features.

Currently, Byte does not allow for duets — side-by-side video reactions — filters or augmented reality that has been popularized by TikTok.

Hofmann has teased that Byte is still in its beta stage — and that changes are coming.

How does Byte work?

Much like TikTok, Byte — available on iOS and Android — presents users with a feed of content from people they follow, in addition to a page to find new content, a search page and a profile page.

The content is fed in a stream of videos on an endless scroll, similar to TikTok’s “For You” page.

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Users can upload videos they’ve recorded off the app or use the app’s built-in camera to shoot six-second videos, which can then be uploaded to their page.

Videos can also be downloaded from the app to be shared on other platforms like Twitter or Instagram.

Byte, like Vine, was built to loop videos seamlessly in a way that TikTok users sometimes strive — and often fail — to replicate.

“We’re bringing back six-second looping videos and the community that loved them,” the app’s description reads in the iOS App Store. “Nostalgia is our starting point, but where we go next is up to you.”

Who is using Byte?

A range of users have already joined the app.

While some users will be brand new to short-form video, former Vine stars and current TikTok stars have already begun to appear on the app.

Vine’s Chris Melberger and TikTok’s Benji Krol both appear to have made accounts on the app.

Users on Byte have also started a trend of teasing the TikTokers who have joined the app, saying they’ll need to speed up their dance videos, a mainstay of the content produced on TikTok, in order to account for the six-second time limit. Others made videos saying to leave TikTok trends off the app.

Byte may also entice new and old users with its upcoming partner program, which will allegedly pay content creators on the platform.

“Very soon, we’ll introduce a pilot version of our partner program which we will use to pay creators. Byte celebrates creativity and community, and compensating creators is one important way we can support both. Stay tuned for more info,” Byte tweeted.

Will Byte succeed?

Byte has plenty of short-form video apps to contend with, including Dubsmash, Triller, Firework and Facebook’s Lasso, according to tech publication TechCrunch.

However, the app may have two things working in its favor.

The first is the nostalgia the app desperately hopes to capitalize on. Fans of Vine have longed for the return of the app since it was shut down by Twitter in 2016.

At its peak, Vine had more than 200 million active users, according to TechCrunch. However, that number is dwarfed by TikTok’s 1.5 billion active users, according to analytics site SensorTower.

The other element that could work in Byte’s favor among U.S. users is that it is an American-owned and made product.

TikTok is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance and has come under scrutiny for potential security risks.

ByteDance says that TikTok does not operate in China and that it stores American user data in the U.S.

That claim has been questioned by politicians, including Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who wrote in a letter in October that the app must still adhere to the laws of China.

A risk assessment of the app was later reported to have been opened by the U.S. government.

An ER doctor was charged with abusing his baby. But 15 medical experts say theres no proof.

32 0 27 Jan 2020

Dobrozsi hated to leave town on May 6, one month into her maternity leave, but she and her parents had been planning a trip to Washington, D.C., for months. They were taking the boys to an event hosted by the national Spina Bifida Association, to lobby Congress for improved health care funding. Dobrozsi said she had no concerns about leaving their newborn with her husband, a pediatric physician and experienced father.

On the evening of May 8, one of Cox’s friends came over to watch the Milwaukee Bucks game. Cox held the baby the entire night, the friend recalled in an interview, doting on his new daughter. “It was almost annoying,” he said. “Like, John, can you put her down so we can watch the game? You could tell he was genuinely in love.”

The baby woke up in her bassinet at around 5 the next morning, as she did most days, Cox said. He picked up the baby and held her in bed until she fell back to sleep, he said. Then he made the mistake of getting himself more comfortable.

“We were chest to chest, cuddling,” Cox said. “I distinctly remember thinking, ‘This is nice. I haven’t gotten this yet with my daughter.’”

Cox said he was disoriented when he awoke about an hour later to the sound of the baby’s cry. His heart raced as he came to the realization that his body had shifted, Cox said, and that he was partially on top of her, his weight pressing the baby’s shoulders together.

At Dr. Al Pomeranz’s office later that morning, Cox recounted the same sequence of events that he’d described to his wife on the phone that morning, and he shared his concern that he’d broken her clavicle. The baby appeared to be moving both arms normally at that point, Pomeranz noted in her medical records, and initial X-rays came back negative for signs of a collarbone injury. But while examining the girl, Pomeranz spotted two tiny marks on the insides of her arms, and another on the middle of her back, according to the records.

Cox hadn’t noticed them before then, he said. The marks on her arms could have come from when he picked the baby up abruptly that morning, when he initially thought he’d smothered her, Cox told the doctor, but he couldn’t say for sure.

Pomeranz, who had helped train both Cox and Dobrozsi when they were medical residents, teared up, Cox recalled, and later, in a letter, he would describe what followed as the most difficult decision of his 38 years in medicine.

Doctors in Wisconsin, as in all states, are legally required to report to authorities when they have concerns that a child may have been abused. Pomeranz told Cox and later Dobrozsi that he didn’t have that concern, but he wanted to make sure that he did the right thing, treating them no differently than he would anyone else. So he contacted the hospital’s in-house child abuse specialists — known as the child advocacy team at Children’s Wisconsin — to make them aware of the situation.

Cox tried to stay calm as Pomeranz explained his reasoning. As an ER physician, Cox knew the importance of flagging suspicious injuries. During his fellowship training, he’d worked on a research project that aimed to improve the early detection of child abuse in the emergency room. But over the years, he’d also grown uneasy with what he described as an aggressive approach by his colleagues in child advocacy anytime a child arrived with difficult-to-explain injuries, especially bruises.

“I knew in the back of my mind that this could spin out of control,” Cox said. “But I don’t think I realized just how bad it could get.”

Later that day, a child abuse pediatrician, Dr. Hillary Petska, examined the baby, and she, too, noted three small bruises, according to records. Dobrozsi had arrived back in Milwaukee by then and was in the room as Petska looked the baby over. As part of the standard child abuse workup, Petska ordered a slew of additional tests, including full body X-rays and labs to screen for bleeding disorders that could lead to easy bruising.

The baby screamed as a hospital staff member pricked the bottom of her foot and squeezed it to draw a blood sample that afternoon, Dobrozsi recalled. Finally Dobrozsi was cleared to take her home.

That night, after Cox and Dobrozsi had gotten the kids to bed, two investigators with Child Protective Services knocked on their front door. They asked to see the baby.

Cox hadn’t expected the state to get involved so quickly, he told them, given that the hospital hadn’t even completed its evaluation. Dobrozsi got the baby out of bed and undressed her. The child welfare workers examined her arms and back, looking for the reported bruises.

“Well,” Cox and Dobrozsi recalled one of the workers telling them before leaving that night, “those are underwhelming.”

A focus on ‘sentinel injuries’

Small bruises might seem insignificant, but to Dr. Lynn Sheets, they sometimes signal something more ominous. As the top child abuse pediatrician at Children’s Wisconsin and the medical director of its child advocacy team, Sheets has gained national acclaim for her work studying the ways small, seemingly trivial injuries can foreshadow serious abuse.

Sheets has preached the same message for years: If doctors can better recognize early warning signs of abuse, they might be able to save lives. Her 2013 research into these “sentinel injuries” — a term she coined and popularized — found that nearly a third of seriously abused children had previously suffered minor injuries, such as bruises.

Dr. Lynn Sheets.Scott Paulus / Milwaukee Business Journal

In 2019, the research became the inspiration for federal legislation now working its way through Congress. The bill would provide funding to perform exhaustive medical examinations, including full-body X-rays and CT scans, on infants who come to hospitals with bruises and other common injuries.

“One of the things we realized is, if you just call it a bruise, everyone has bruises,” Sheets told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last year, after the bill was introduced. “Everyone thinks about it as a minor injury, including the doctors, including child welfare. So we needed to change the way people are thinking about these minor injuries in young infants.”

But some doctors, defense lawyers and parental rights advocates have criticized the effort to redefine minor injuries as beacons of future danger. They warn that it opens the door for increased prosecutions of innocent families, especially people of color, who are more likely to be flagged as abuse suspects, and parents of children with rare disorders that predispose them to bruising.

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In interviews, several emergency room doctors at Children’s Wisconsin said they’ve seen firsthand the unintended consequences of the philosophy.

“I agree that children are abused and that we need to protect them,” one physician said. “But it seems there’s a total disregard for the harm done to the child and family when there’s a complete medical workup done and charges brought when it’s not really abuse.”

Several Children’s Wisconsin physicians said they had concerns about the work of child advocacy specialists prior to Cox’s ordeal, but after watching the handling of his case, they are seeing many of the team’s practices in a new light.

For example, several staff members told a reporter that child abuse pediatricians at the hospital routinely review medical records of children who’ve been admitted to the ER — even when no doctor has asked for their opinion — and then weigh in on whether Child Protective Services should be called. Sometimes child abuse specialists send notes scolding ER physicians for failing to flag children, even though those physicians did not believe the child had been abused, several doctors said.

In at least three instances, according to interviews and two sets of internal messages reviewed by a reporter, some child abuse pediatricians have gone so far as to ask treating physicians to edit a child’s medical records, deleting or amending passages in which they had initially noted little concern for abuse.

In one such case, Sheets suggested amending a medical record because she was concerned that, without language noting a concern for abuse from the initial treating physician, Child Protective Services would stop investigating, according to messages between doctors.

Sheets did not respond to an email from a reporter, and hospital officials did not respond to detailed written questions about internal concerns raised by members of the medical staff.

Diane Redleaf, a family law attorney in Illinois who wrote a paper on the ethics of expert physician testimony in child abuse cases, said the practice of editing medical records to assist with state child welfare investigations is “unethical” and “shocking.”

“Doctors are not supposed to be advocates for a result, especially a legal result; doctors are supposed to be providing medical information,” Redleaf said.

Keith Findley, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School who co-founded the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said that when physicians work in concert to shape the message sent to investigators, “it undermines the legal system’s access to full truth.”

“What they’re really doing is shaping the evidentiary record, and in fact deliberately hiding from the legal system inconsistent opinions that might be useful to the legal fact finders who are working to determine what actually happened,” Findley said. “It’s deeply problematic.”

Sheets and her team have shaped more than just hospital practices; her vigilance for seemingly minor injuries has also permeated the child welfare and criminal justice systems in Milwaukee.

After Child Protective Services workers initially visited Cox and Dobrozsi at their home, one of them noted in her written report that the baby’s bruises were “very small” and “unremarkable,” according to a motion filed by Cox’s lawyer in Milwaukee County Circuit Court arguing that the state lacked enough evidence to bring charges. But, due to a concern about “sentinel injuries,” Cox and Dobrozsi later learned, the worker’s Child Protective Services supervisors determined that additional action needed to be taken.

The next morning, Cox received a call from a different case worker, Jessica Barber, who explained that “higher-ups” at Child Protective Services and the hospital had decided that the baby needed to immediately undergo an additional evaluation with another child abuse specialist, Cox said. And this time, she told Cox, neither he nor his wife could attend. Cox was at work and relayed the message to his wife.

An agency spokesman declined a reporter’s request to interview Child Protective Services staffers who worked on Cox’s case.

Barber showed up at their home 20 minutes later. Dobrozsi pleaded with her: “Why can’t I come? I don’t understand why this is happening.”

Barber told her that it was “normal procedure” for parents to be blocked from attending appointments with child abuse specialists, Dobrozsi recalled. Later, she said Barber gave a different explanation: They weren’t allowed to attend, because as doctors, they would be in a position to ask hard questions and challenge the assessment.

As a pediatric oncologist, that didn’t sound right to Dobrozsi. One of the most important steps in making an accurate diagnosis is talking to patients or their parents. How could someone assess the credibility of Cox’s story if they didn’t bother to hear it?

Barber asked Dobrozsi if she had her consent to take the baby.

“It sounds like I don’t have a choice,” Dobrozsi remembered saying.

She cried as Barber loaded the girl into her car and drove away.

‘You’re taking my child’

Nearly two hours later, Barber called Dobrozsi and told her she could come meet her at the hospital. As she sat with the caseworker that afternoon, awaiting additional test results, a police officer entered the room and explained that someone at the hospital had reported a baby with unexplained injuries.

Dobrozsi was stunned. She said she turned to Barber and demanded to know what had happened during the medical examination that morning.

It turns out, a nurse practitioner on the hospital’s child abuse team, Rita Ventura, had examined the baby and concluded that her body was covered in more than a half dozen bruises, including along the backs of her arms.

“Those are birthmarks!” Dobrozsi remembers telling Barber. Plus, she said, none of the doctors who’d examined the baby a day earlier had noticed any other bruises.

Det. James Donovan spent hours questioning both Dobrozsi and Cox separately at the hospital that Friday afternoon, they recalled in an interview. He also reviewed the medical findings and examined the baby. Afterward, he asked to speak privately with one of the Child Protective Services caseworkers.

Donovan told the worker “he wasn’t sure why they were even out there as he did not see anything criminal,” the worker wrote in her notes, according to a motion filed as part of the criminal case.

A spokesman for the Wauwatosa Police Department declined a request to interview Donovan, citing a department policy of not commenting on pending criminal matters.

Despite the officer’s initial reservations, Cox and Dobrozsi entered into a safety agreement with Child Protective Services that evening. While child welfare workers and police continued their investigations, Dobrozsi’s parents would move in with them and supervise them at all times when they were with their children.

If they just followed the rules and continued to tell the truth, Cox and Dobrozsi told themselves, everything would be OK.

Two days later, at the urging of Pomeranz, their pediatrician, they took the baby to see a pediatric dermatologist at Children’s Wisconsin, Dr. Yvonne Chiu, for a second opinion.

Chiu examined the girl and reviewed photos taken during her initial doctor’s visit with Pomeranz on the morning of the incident. Chiu, who as a dermatologist is an expert in differentiating bruises from other skin marks, concluded that the baby had suffered only the three small bruises Pomeranz had originally noticed, which had mostly resolved over the weekend. The other marks on her body were birthmarks or other benign lesions that are common in newborns, Chiu wrote.

Chiu believed that the two arm bruises could have been the result of the way Cox picked the baby up when he was panicked. And the bruise on the baby’s back appeared to match Cox’s wedding band and was located in the spot where he normally patted her back while burping her, according to Chiu’s report.

Like Pomeranz, Chiu had no concerns that the girl had been abused. She shared her findings with Child Protective Services and police. Later, six other dermatologists reviewed the medical records and agreed that Ventura had been mistaken when she reported “widespread contusions.”

But when Cox and Dobrozsi later filed a grievance with Children’s Wisconsin administrators over Ventura’s finding, child advocacy team leaders responded that they were better equipped than dermatologists in these matters: “Differentiating accidental from inflicted injuries is the primary focus of child abuse medical professionals and is not usually a primary focus of dermatologists,” they wrote.

Kate Judson, a lawyer in Madison and executive director of the Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences, reviewed the case at NBC News’ request and said it follows a familiar pattern that she’s observed over the years. Child abuse specialists, she said, sometimes overstate their expertise while minimizing the expertise of other subspecialists.

“What’s striking to me is that you have these leaps in logic that are unsupported,” Judson said. “So you have a nurse practitioner here saying, ‘Well, I can determine with accuracy and certainty that this bruise was intentionally inflicted.’ And then you have a dermatologist, who is unquestionably an expert in the examination of skin lesions, who’s saying, ‘Well, this isn’t even a bruise.’”

Authorities in Milwaukee took Ventura’s word for it.

On May 24, two weeks after the initial incident, Child Protective Services workers returned to Cox and Dobrozsi’s home. They had come to take the baby, and this time they wouldn’t be bringing her back.

Cox and Dobrozsi said they pleaded with the caseworker, Amy Scherbarth, the same one who they said weeks earlier had described the babies injuries as “underwhelming.” What about the dermatologist’s report? Shouldn’t her opinion carry more weight than a nurse practitioner who never heard Cox’s account of what happened or talked to anyone who’d cared for the baby?

Why couldn’t Dobrozsi’s parents continue to supervise them? What had changed?

Scherbarth said she understood the dispute over whether some of the baby’s birthmarks had been confused for bruises, Dobrozsi recalled, but the worker said nobody could explain the bruise on the bottom of the baby’s foot.

What bruise? Dobrozsi demanded. There was never a bruise on her foot.

“You’re taking my child from me and you can’t answer any of my questions,” Dobrozsi remembered saying.

“And then she looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’re not her mother.’”

Dobrozsi’s parents and Cox were all present and attested to her description of the exchange.

Afterward, Dobrozsi asked her mom to shove some diapers and formula into a bag. Dobrozsi grabbed the baby’s stuffed unicorn and a pacifier. Then she and Cox sat on the floor with her and took turns holding her as they sobbed.

“We told her that we loved her,” Dobrozsi said, “and that we would do everything we could for the rest of our lives to try to get her to come home.”

A few minutes later, she was gone.

A series of mistakes

Night after night, for weeks afterward, Dobrozsi would wake up in a panic, terrified that her children were in danger. She would get out of bed to check on each of the boys, placing her hand on them as they slept.

Then she would go to the baby’s room and stand over her empty crib, before curling up on the nursery floor and crying herself to sleep.

Because the adoption had not yet been finalized, Cox and Dobrozsi were not granted the same legal rights as other parents. They could not visit the baby, and the state did not allow her to stay with family members.

During the day, between their busy work schedules and taking care of their boys, Cox and Dobrozsi tried to fight the allegations. They hired a lawyer and began digging through medical records.

Dobrozsi said she soon identified a series of mistakes and misstatements by Ventura, the nurse practitioner who’d reported numerous bruises to authorities, and Petska, the child abuse pediatrician who’d initially seen the baby a day earlier.

Neither Ventura or Petska responded to messages seeking comment.

They both inaccurately described Cox’s account of what happened — not surprising, Dobrozsi said, considering that neither of them ever spoke with him in person.

They both also wrongly reported that the baby had suffered an earlier bruise on her face, twisting an account provided by Dobrozsi, who at one point mentioned noticing a mark on the girl’s face weeks earlier that lasted just a few hours, after she’d slept on a pacifier clip. Dobrozsi said she never described the earlier mark as a bruise, but highlighted it as evidence that the baby’s skin was sensitive.

And most notably, both Petska and Ventura had incorrectly reported that the results of the baby’s initial lab tests were negative for a bleeding disorder that could cause easy bruising. Dobrozsi, who as a pediatric hematologist oncologist is an expert in assessing children for bleeding disorders, was outraged when she read the test results.

The labs indicated a delay in how quickly the baby’s blood formed clots, which suggested a possible bleeding disorder and should have resulted in a referral for more extensive testing, according to four hematologists, including the medical director of the Comprehensive Center for Bleeding Disorders at Children’s Wisconsin, who have since reviewed the records.

Instead, Petska reported to authorities that the blood tests were normal. And Ventura wrote, “Results available at this time indicate no concern for a clinically significant bleeding disorder.”

Cox and Dobrozsi have shared the expert hematology reports with Child Protective Services, the county prosecutor and hospital administrators, but as far as they know, no follow up testing has been completed.

The girl did undergo additional X-rays in the weeks after Child Protective Services took her, and one of the scans seemed to bolster Cox’s case. It showed a healing collarbone fracture, not only confirming the initial concern that prompted Cox to take the baby to the doctor, but according to four orthopedic surgeons who have since reviewed the medical records, validating the account he gave to authorities.

But child abuse specialists and state authorities saw it differently, according to documents filed as part of the criminal case. They concluded that the broken collarbone was further evidence of abuse, seeming to contradict medical literature on the subject. Numerous published studies say collarbone fractures are common in infants and are not particularly concerning for abuse.

“Honestly,” wrote Dr. Matthew Wichman, one of the orthopedic surgeons who reviewed the medical records, “this all seems quite preposterous.”

In response to complaints filed last year by Cox and Dobrozsi over the hospital’s handling of their case, Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children’s Wisconsin, defended the work of the hospital’s child abuse specialists.

“In this rapidly unfolding situation, a good faith effort was made to protect the child, individuals involved in the process and the rights of those involved,” Gutzeit said in the Aug. 1 letter. “It is my opinion that all involved in the case have attempted to provide compassionate, competent care focussing on the best interests of [the child].”

The most unsettling error wasn’t revealed until November, five months after the state had taken the baby. That’s when Child Protective Services finally provided Cox and Dobrozsi with photos that Ventura took during her examination, which inexplicably had been stored outside of the child’s medical records and shared only with investigators.

Dobrozsi and their lawyer scrolled through the images on his computer. Her heart sank when they reached the picture of the bottom of the baby’s foot.

The child welfare worker had been right; there was a bruise on the baby’s heel. And once Dobrozsi saw it, she knew immediately how it had gotten there.

Ventura initially had a hunch, telling Child Protective Services that the bruise could have been the result of a heel prick, according to a motion filed by Cox’s lawyer in his criminal case. But Ventura said that was an unlikely explanation since it had been a month since the baby had blood drawn for her newborn screening, according to the motion.

If Dobrozsi had been allowed to attend the appointment, she could have helped Ventura solve the mystery. She’d been in the room, just a day earlier, when a hospital worker pricked the baby’s foot to collect a blood sample ordered by Petska — the same lab work that pointed to a potential bleeding disorder, but that doctors failed to read correctly.

Dobrozsi cried, angry at herself for not making the connection sooner.

The injury that a Child Protective Services worker cited as the primary basis for taking her baby had been inflicted, not by Cox, but by staff at Children’s Wisconsin.

‘It has to end’

In mid-January, Cox was notified that — despite the outside medical opinions, despite the repeated mistakes by medical staff, despite the fact that investigators never even interviewed the friend who’d been with him just hours before the incident — the county was preparing to file criminal charges.

Cox was booked at the county jail on Thursday and released.

At least eight dead in Alabama marina fire that destroyed 35 boats

24 0 27 Jan 2020

At least eight people died as flames consumed a marina full of house and recreational boats in far northeast Alabama early Monday, authorities said.

The blaze destroyed 35 vessels at Jackson County Park, along the Tennessee River, in Scottsboro, Alabama, about 100 miles northeast of Birmingham and 40 miles east of Huntsville, officials said.

A fire burns on a dock where at least 35 vessels were destroyed by a fire in Scottsboro, Ala., on Jan. 27, 2020.Mandy Durham / AP

“At this point, we can confirm eight fatalities,” Scottsboro Fire Chief Gene Necklaus told reporters just before noon Monday.

Scottsboro firefighters and Jackson County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the blaze, which was reported about 12:40 a.m., officials said.

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First responders said they struggled to pin down an exact number of missing people because houseboat residents are frequently in and out of their boats.

Firefighters and sheriff’s deputies have made the search for victims a priority, Necklaus said.

“This is not going to be over today. We’re going to be out there for a while. I’d estimate three to four days, possibly longer,” the fire chief said.

“Our primary objective remains to check every boat, every vessel, everything we can check to ensure we’ve accounted for all the victims.”

Debbie Ashley, a 61-year-old resident of Gadsden, Georgia, was camping nearby when she was jarred awake by what she thought were gunshots.

But then she looked outside, spotted the fire and drove to the scene to take footage of the blaze.

“I opened the door, and I could see it glowing over the hills,” she told NBC News. “I got my dog and drove down there.”

Seven boaters were treated at a local hospital, most for hypothermia having jumped into the water to escape flames, officials said. It was about 43 degrees in Scottsboro when the fire began.

“Multiple boats sunk, some of them at the dock, some of them floated away from their moorings … and sunk in the lake,” Necklaus said.

The park on the Tennessee River includes hiking trails, cabin rentals, spots for recreational campers, docks and KC’s BBQ, a restaurant that’s been turned into a command post for first responders.

“This is a mecca for bass fishing and people come here from far and wide,” said former Jackson County Emergency Management director Mike Ashburn, volunteering with his old agency Monday.

Rima Abdelkader, Kathryn Prociv and Associated Press contributed.

Coronavirus threat needs a national emergency response. Trumps putting ours at risk.

28 0 27 Jan 2020

As a pulmonologist in Seattle, near where the first case of the new coronavirus was confirmed in the United States last week, I relied heavily on the city’s hospitals, clinics and departments of health to protect our community. And they did so admirably, immediately acting decisively and shrewdly despite the fear and uncertainty that always arises with an invisible biological threat.

Keeping these centers primed and ready means continued investments in medical equipment, personal protective wear and training of personnel so they are capable and effective.

This began with the chief infection control officer at my hospital sending a detailed email to all health care providers within hours of the infected patient arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The message told us what personal protective equipment to wear, which tests to order, the best ways to approach treatment and how to employ isolation precautions to minimize the potential for an outbreak. The communication was clear; there was strong coordination with local and state health officials; and mechanisms were in place to seek assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for lab testing and treatment guidance as needed.

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Even if you live in a zip code far outside the Northwest, chances are you are also benefiting from a similar rapid-response system. This system was instituted under the Obama administration after the Ebola virus reached American shores from Africa in September 2014 and now operates so seamlessly that it often goes unnoticed. My colleagues and I working on the front lines of our health care system have come to expect this emergency response to be activated rapidly and effectively whenever a new health threat arises.

But unless something changes by May, this emergency response system will be gravely hollowed out, deprived of the $70 million in funding it was infused with in 2015 during the federal government’s bipartisan response to the Ebola outbreak the year before. Instead, Congress is considering a far more scaled-down version that won’t be nearly as comprehensive, focused on maintaining only a few advanced care facilities nationwide that could treat patients infected with these types of diseases. This reduction in preparedness makes no sense and puts Americans needlessly at risk.

This money has until now ensured that nearly every emergency department and hospital across the country have processes in place to screen for and initially respond to cases that have outbreak potential such as the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December. That means if you’re experiencing symptoms like the one associated with the epidemic (fever, body aches, a dry cough), you’ll likely be tested for the disease or transferred to an assessment center close by that is resourced to do so.

At least 60 such centers exist nationwide to contend with complex diseases that can transform into outbreaks. Keeping these centers primed and ready means continued investments in medical equipment, personal protective wear and training of personnel so they are capable and effective. Medical readiness, just like military readiness, costs money.

Yet our Homeland Security agenda doesn’t seem to reflect the urgency of this issue. Right now we’re haggling over renewing the $70 million allocation that went to upgrading our hospital infrastructure, while President Donald Trump is pushing the construction of a wall along the southern border that would cost upward of $12 billion. The wall is justified by the administration as needed to bolster defense of the homeland — which is clearly threatened any time a major potential outbreak breaches our borders.

If maintaining a strong homeland health defense is now a heavy political lift, it’s not surprising that the administration has little interest in investing in staunching health threats abroad. Just 0.19 percent of the U.S. budget goes toward pandemic preparedness overseas. Yet any money that we do spend means we mitigate the risk of facing outbreaks at home.

For context, 22 countries have given to the World Health Organization’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, specifically aimed at rapidly providing funds to support response efforts to global health emergencies. In 2019, these contributions totaled approximately $136 million. What’s America’s part of that pie? Nothing.

Unless hospitals and providers are given the necessary financial resources, Americans may soon be more vulnerable to threats like Ebola and coronavirus.

A National Academy of Medicine commission was tasked with studying existing financial shortfalls in pandemic preparedness in the wake of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. This commission identified a need for almost $4.5 billion annually to bolster global preparedness — beyond what the U.S. spends domestically — to prevent the next infectious disease outbreak.

Obviously, we are far short of this financial goal. And it’s not just inadequate funding that keeps us behind. Two high-profile global health security experts departed the administration in 2018, diminishing the chances that leadership from within may change these dangerous realities. Which means that unless hospitals and providers are given the necessary financial resources, Americans may soon be more vulnerable to threats like Ebola and coronavirus that pay no attention to politics or budgetary cycles but which demand a health system ready and primed to respond.

In 5-4 ruling, Supreme Court allows Trump plan to deny green cards to those who might need govt aid

27 0 27 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order Monday allowing the Trump administration to begin enforcing new limits on immigrants who are considered likely to become overly dependent on government benefit programs.

The court acted on a vote of 5-4. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said they would have left a lower court ruling in place that blocked enforcement while a legal challenge works its way through the courts.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in August that it would expand the definition of “public charge,” to be applied to people whose immigration to the U.S. could be denied because of a concern that they would primarily depend on the government for their income.

In the past, that was largely based on an assessment that an immigrant would be dependent upon cash benefits. But the Trump administration proposed to broaden the definition to include non-cash benefits, such as Medicaid, supplemental nutrition, and federal housing assistance.

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Anyone who would be likely to require that broader range of help for more than 12 months in any three-year period would be swept into the expanded definition.

But in response to a lawsuit filed by New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New York City and immigrant aid groups, a federal judge in New York imposed a nationwide injunction, blocking the government from enforcing the broader rule. Congress never meant to consider the kind of time limit the government proposed, the judge said, and the test has always been whether an immigrant would become primarily dependent on cash benefits.

The government has long had authority to block immigrants who were likely to become public charges, but the term has never been formally defined. DHS proposed to fill that void, adding non-cash benefits and such factors as age, financial resources, employment history, education, and health.

DHS official Ken Cuccinelli said the proposed rules would reinforce “the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America.”

Two federal appeals courts — the 9th Circuit in the West and the 4th Circuit in the Mid-Atlantic — declined to block the new rule. They noted that the law allows designating someone as inadmissible if “in the opinion of” the secretary of Homeland Security, that person would be “likely at any time to become a public charge,” which the courts said give the government broad authority.

The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to lift the nationwide injunction imposed by the New York trial judge, given that two appeals courts have come to the opposite conclusion. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas said Monday that district court judges have been issuing nationwide injunctions much more often.

They called on their colleagues to review the practice, which said they has spread “chaos for the litigants, the government, the courts, and all those affected by these conflicting decisions.”

But the challengers of the public charge rule urged the justices to keep the stay in place.

They said lifting it now, while the legal battle is still being waged “would inject confusion and uncertainty” in to the immigration system and could deter millions of non-citizens from applying for public benefits.

More than 100 tested for coronavirus in the U.S.; just 5 cases confirmed so far, CDC says

24 0 27 Jan 2020

Of the 110 people in the U.S. undergoing testing, the five cases in Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington are the only ones to come back positive. Thirty-two have tested negative. The rest of the results are pending at the CDC.

The 110 samples for testing have come from 26 states, though the CDC declined to say which states.

Right now, blood and respiratory samples from suspected patients are all sent to the CDC to test for the new virus. The CDC is working to make test kits available to state health departments, but it’s going to be at least another week or two before those are ready, Messonnier said.

Health officials have been screening passengers traveling from Wuhan and arriving at five major airports: New York’s John F. Kennedy International, San Francisco International, Los Angeles’ LAX, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and O’Hare in Chicago.

So far, around 2,400 passengers have been screened.

The purpose of the screenings is not just to identify ill passengers; they’re also an opportunity for health officials to provide information about what symptoms to watch for, as well as what people should do if they start developing a fever or a cough.

That education is key, as at least two of the confirmed patients in the U.S. weren’t ill when they flew home from China. They developed symptoms after getting home.

Health officials are also monitoring dozens of people who’ve had close contact with the five patients in the U.S. The incubation period, that is, the time from when a person is exposed to the virus to the time they become ill, is anywhere from two to 14 days, according to the CDC.

Officials said the health risk to the general American public remains low. “We’re being aggressive and cautious in tracking those close contacts,” Messonnier said. “So far, we have not seen any human-to-human transmission in the U.S.”

The agency suggests people avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei Province in China, where Wuhan is located. Messonnier suggested talks are ongoing about changing that travel guidance, but declined to elaborate.

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Trump impeachment trial live coverage: The presidents defense begins day 2

27 0 27 Jan 2020

GOP Sen. Murkowski says she’s ‘still curious’ about what Bolton might say

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday that she was “still curious” to hear what ex-national security adviser John Bolton could say in testimony following the reported revelations in his upcoming book.

“I’ve said before I’m curious about what Ambassador Bolton might have to say,” Murkowski said. “I’m still curious.”

In a written statement, Murkowski said, “I stated before that I was curious as to what John Bolton might have to say. From the outset, I’ve worked to ensure this trial would be fair and that members would have the opportunity to weigh in after its initial phase to determine if we need more information. I’ve also said there is an appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information —that time is almost here. I look forward to the White House wrapping up presentation of its case.”

Fellow moderate Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins also said Monday that the Bolton revelations strengthen the case for calling witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial. 

Hawley, preparing motions to subpoena Bidens, Schiff, whistleblower, says Bolton reporting ‘a bunch of hearsay’

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told “Fox & Friends” on Monday that if new testimony is approved, the Senate should hear from those Trump-sought witnesses too — something he tweeted about last week.

In the event additional witness testimony and documents are approved, Hawley said he has prepared subpoenas for testimony and documents from the Bidens, the whistleblower who alerted Congress to Trump’s Ukraine dealings and lead House manager Adam Schiff, among others. His office said the subpoenas would also include documents and testimony from and intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

Of Bolton’s book, Hawley said “it’s certainly going to sell a lot of” copies.

“Listen, I can’t tell from the New York Times report what is actually being reported here,” he said. “I can’t tell if this is something new. I can’t tell if they’ve actually seen the manuscript. It’s all a bunch of hearsay and clearly it’s an attempt to try to influence the course of the trial.”

Trump says ‘nothing was ever said’ to Bolton

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that “nothing was ever said” to his former national security adviser, John Bolton, who reportedly alleges in an unpublished book that Trump told him he would continue to withhold aid to Ukraine to pressure its leaders to announce investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens.

“Well, I haven’t seen a manuscript, but I can tell you, nothing was ever said to John Bolton. But I have not seen a manuscript. I guess he’s writing a book. I have not seen it.”

Trump tweeted earlier Monday, “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump wrote. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

“The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify,” the president added, though the House asked but did not subpoena Bolton for testimony. “It is up to them, not up to the Senate!”

Graham says he wants to subpoena Bolton manuscript

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Monday that he is interested in subpoenaing John Bolton’s manuscript for his upcoming book — in which the former national security adviser reportedly claims President Trump linked Ukrainian aid to the investigations of Democrats in an August 2019 discussion.

“I want to know what’s in the manuscript,” Graham said. “Yeah, I think that’s important.”

Graham said Bolton’s claims are “probably” not going to “change” his view of Trump’s innocence, “but I’ll determine whether or not it’s relevant.’

Asked if he trusts Bolton, Graham said, “I don’t know if I trust anybody right now.”

“He may be a relevant witness, but I’ve also said I want to comply with reasonable requests by the president about the Bidens and their involvement with Burisma,” he said, adding, “We’re not going to get part of it, we’re going to get all of it.”

Graham declined to commit to voting in favor of witnesses and documents.

GOP Sen. Braun: Bolton revelations ‘may move the needle’ toward a vote on witnesses

Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters at a Monday news conference that they weren’t terribly concerned with Bolton’s reported claims and pointed to the president having denied making such comments to his then-national security adviser.

But Braun said the revelations “may move the needle” toward a vote on witnesses in Trump’s impeachment trial.

The latest reports on Bolton’s book will “change the decibel level and the intensity of which we talk about witnesses,” Braun said, earlier pointing to the president’s denial.

Barrasso called the reporting a “so-called blockbuster” and said it was more a “story about selective leaks.” He insisted the president did not engage in a quid pro quo with regard to Ukraine, said there is “nothing new here,” and compared the revelations to reports from Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

Their comments came after Romney and Collins said the revelations from the soon-to-be-released book strengthened the case for witnesses, with Romney saying it was “increasingly likely” enough Republicans will vote in favor of new testimony.

So who knew about the Bolton book, and when?

A source familiar with the matter says the president’s defense team was largely blindsided by The New York Times report on the Bolton book, as were members of Congress. Note that National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement, “No White House personnel outside NSC have reviewed the manuscript.” It’s possible that could be an attempt to absolve Cipollone and his team from blowback if they had known and didn’t share.

What’s the thinking about witnesses now from that end of Pennsylvania Avenue

An acknowledgment that this increases the pressure on the Senate to call witnesses. So what will the defense team do if in fact senators vote to call witnesses? Sources have repeatedly said they’re prepared for all contingencies — including that one.

Collins says Bolton revelations strengthen case for witnesses

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, tweeted out a statement saying the “reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

The statement also maintained, “I’ve always said that I was likely to vote to call witnesses, just as I did in the 1999 Clinton trial.”

Another moderate Republican senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, said earlier Monday that it’s “increasingly likely” there will be enough Republican senators to vote in favor of calling witnesses in the president’s ongoing trial.

“I think, with the story that came out yesterday, it’s increasingly apparent that it would be important to hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters in brief comments.

Read the full story.

Schumer, citing reporting on Bolton, implores Senate Republicans to call him to testify

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the revelations from a soon-to-be released book by former national security adviser John Bolton “stunning” on Monday and implored Senate Republicans to vote to call Bolton and others to testify.

“It goes right to the heart of the charges against the president,” Schumer said, referring to The New York Times report on a manuscript of Bolton’s book.

“Bolton essentially confirms the president committed the offenses charged in the first article of impeachment,” Schumer said. “He is ready and willing to testify. How can Senate Republicans not vote to call that witness and request his documents?”

“It’s up to four Senate Republicans — just four Senate Republicans,” Schumer said. 

The minority leader added that if Senate Republicans “are not going to vote to call Bolton” and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, “they’re going to be part of the cover-up.”

What to expect from Trump’s defense team today

What’s today’s overriding headline?

The Bolton book. You saw the president’s tweet-denials overnight and this morning of the allegations Bolton reportedly makes. Pompeo, Mulvaney and Barr all mentioned as well. Hill team will have best guidance on what they’re hearing from Senate Republicans on whether this will be a game-changer for the impeachment trial witness vote, but the White House is keeping a close eye.

What to expect from defense team today

The “big guns,” so to speak, and the argument that the president’s conduct did not rise to the constitutional level of removal. This will be Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz’s areas of presentation, among others. You will likely hear more about the Bidens. And it’ll go longer than Saturday’s short session, though TBD on whether the defense team will choose to finish up Tuesday or not.

Meanwhile, at the White House …

The president is meeting with both Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz (separately!) today, with his Middle East peace plan on the agenda.

U.S. military plane crashes in Taliban-held region of Afghanistan

27 0 27 Jan 2020

A U.S. military plane crashed in the central Afghanistan province of Ghazni on Monday, according to images of the site analyzed by NBC News.

Photos and video from the scene showed what appeared to be a U.S. E-11A military aircraft and what looked like a U.S. military insignia on the plane.

The number of people on board was not immediately known, nor was the cause of the crash.

U.S. officials did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. military told the Associated Press that it is investigating and that it remained unclear whose aircraft was involved in the crash.

Site of the plane crash in Deh Yak, in Ghazni province, AfghanistanGoogle

Arif Noori, a spokesperson for the province’s governor, earlier said damage was so extensive it was difficult to identify bodies in the wreckage.

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Earlier, Noori had also said that around 100 people were killed in the crash, but it later emerged that an E-11A was involved, which typically has a two-person crew. NBC News has reached out to Noori for clarification on his earlier comments but did not receive a response.

The plane went down in Deh Yak in Ghazni, around 100 miles south of Kabul.

Noori told the Associated Press separately that the crash site is in territory controlled by the Taliban. He said the plane went down around 1:10 p.m. local time (3:40 a.m. ET.)

Much of Afghanistan is inaccessible to journalists and NBC News was not able to confirm the reports.

Afghanistan’s state-owned airline Ariana Afghan Airlines denied that the plane was one of theirs.

The last major commercial air crash in Afghanistan occurred in 2005, when a Kam Air flight from the western city of Herat to Kabul crashed into mountains as it tried to land in snowy weather.

The war, however, has seen a number of deadly crashes of military aircraft. One of the most spectacular occurred in 2013 when an American Boeing 747 cargo jet crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram air base north of Kabul en route to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. All seven crew member were killed.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that large military vehicles were inadequately secured and had shifted during flight, causing damage to the control systems that “rendered the airplane uncontrollable.”

Caroline Radnofsky and Mohammed Syed contributed.

At least three dead, five missing in Alabama marina fire that destroyed 35 boats

31 0 27 Jan 2020

At least five people died as flames consumed a marina full of house and recreational boats in far northeast Alabama early Monday, authorities said.

Three others are missing after the fire destroyed 35 vessels at Jackson County Park, along the Tennessee River, in Scottsboro, Alabama, about 100 miles northeast of Birmingham and 40 miles east of Huntsville, officials said.

A fire burns on a dock where at least 35 vessels were destroyed by a fire in Scottsboro, Ala., on Jan. 27, 2020.Mandy Durham / AP

“We have five bodies at this time,” Jackson County Coroner John David Jordan told NBC News.

Scottsboro firefighters and Jackson County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the blaze, which was reported at 12:30 a.m., officials said.

The park on the Tennessee River includes hiking trails, cabin rentals, spots for recreational campers, docks and KC’s BBQ, a restaurant that’s been turned into a command post for first responders.

“This is a mecca for bass fishing and people come here from far and wide,” said former Jackson County Emergency Management director Mike Ashburn, volunteering with his old agency Monday.

This is a developing story, please check back here for updates

Associated Press contributed.

Husband of woman who died in crash that killed Kobe Bryant speaks out about tragedy

32 0 27 Jan 2020

The husband of a woman who died Sunday along with Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash said there are “no words” to describe the tragedy.

“It’s horrible,” Matt Mauser said, holding back tears while talking about the death of his wife, Christina Mauser.

“I got three small kids and am trying to figure out how to navigate life with three kids and no mom,” he said during an interview Monday on the “TODAY” show.

Christina Mauser, 38, was one of seven people, in addition to Bryant and his daughter, who died Sunday morning in the Calabasas crash. She was the assistant coach for Gianna Bryant’s Mamba Academy basketball team, a job for which Mauser said Bryant personally selected her.

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“He picked her because she was amazing,” Mauser said. “I was so proud of her and she was so happy.”

Matt and Christina Mauser, whose three kids are ages 11, 9 and 3, were both teachers working at a small private school that Bryant’s daughters attended. Mauser said he was the basketball coach and his wife was the assistant coach when Bryant noticed “what an amazing mind” Christina Mauser had for the game and brought her on his coaching team.

“He asked her to teach the kids defense,” Mauser said of his wife, adding Bryant said that wasn’t his specialty. “They called her the mother of defense.”

“She was beautiful, smart, funny,” he said of Christina Mauser. “She was incredibly deep … just an amazing person.”

Other victims included John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California; his wife, Keri; and their daughter Alyssa. The college, in confirming the deaths, said in a statement that Altobelli had coached there for 27 years.

Payton Chester, a 13-year-old basketball player, and her mother, Sarah, were also on board. Calling the crash a “freak accident,” Payton’s grandmother Catherine George told NBC News that “they had to get on the helicopter as a convenience today, they usually drove by car.”

Mauser said he and his family have been trying to avoid watching the news, but when he briefly turned on SportsCenter last night, one of his daughters turned to him and said it was “nice to know everyone was hurting along with us.

“I’m scared, I think more than anything, I’m a little scared about the future,” Mauser said of his life without his wife.