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High Court: Online shoppers can be forced to pay sales tax

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States will be able to force more shoppers to pay sales tax when they make online purchases under a Supreme Court decision Thursday that will leave shoppers with lighter wallets but is a big financial win for states.

Consumers can expect to see sales tax being charged on more online purchases — likely over the next year and potentially before the Christmas shopping season — as states and retailers react to the court’s decision, said one attorney involved in the case.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Thursday overruled two, decades-old Supreme Court decisions that states said cost them billions of dollars in lost revenue annually. The decisions made it more difficult for states to collect sales tax on certain online purchases, and more than 40 states had asked the high court to overrule them.

The cases the court overturned said that if a business was shipping a customer’s purchase to a state where the business didn’t have a physical presence such as a warehouse or office, the business didn’t have to collect the state’s sales tax. Customers were generally responsible for paying the sales tax to the state themselves if they weren’t charged it, but most didn’t realize they owed it and few paid.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the previous decisions were flawed.

“Each year the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” he wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Kennedy wrote that the rule “limited States’ ability to seek long-term prosperity and has prevented market participants from competing on an even playing field.”

The ruling is also a win for large retailers, who argued the physical presence rule was unfair. Large retailers including Apple, Macy’s, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores, already generally collect sales tax from their customers who buy online. That’s because they typically have a physical store in whatever state the purchase is being shipped to. Amazon.com, with its network of warehouses, also collects sales tax in every state that charges it, though third-party sellers who use the site don’t have to.

Sellers that have a physical presence in only a single state or a few states have been able to avoid charging sales taxes when they shipped to addresses outside those states. Online sellers that haven’t been charging sales tax on goods shipped to every state range from jewelry website Blue Nile to pet products site Chewy.com to clothing retailer L.L. Bean. Sellers who use eBay and Etsy, which provide platforms for smaller sellers, also haven’t been collecting sales tax nationwide.

Under the ruling Thursday, states can pass laws requiring out-of-state sellers to collect the state’s sales tax from customers and send it to the state. More than a dozen states have already adopted laws like that ahead of the court’s decision, according to state tax policy expert Joseph Crosby.

The National Retail Federation trade group, said the court’s decision was a “major victory” but the group said federal legislation is necessary to provide details on how sales tax collection will take place, rather than leaving it to each state to interpret the court’s decision.

Chief Justice John Roberts and three of his colleagues would have kept the court’s previous decisions in place.

“E-commerce has grown into a significant and vibrant part of our national economy against the backdrop of established rules, including the physical-presence rule. Any alteration to those rules with the potential to disrupt the development of such a critical segment of the economy should be undertaken by Congress,” Roberts wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. The lineup of justices on each side of the case was unusual, with Roberts joining three more liberal justices and Ginsburg joining her more conservative colleagues.

The case the court ruled on involved a 2016 law passed by South Dakota, which said it was losing out on an estimated $50 million a year in sales tax not collected by out-of-state sellers. Lawmakers in the state, which has no income tax, passed a law designed to directly challenge the physical presence rule. The law requires out-of-state sellers who do more than $100,000 of business in the state or more than 200 transactions annually with state residents to collect sales tax and send it to the state.

South Dakota wanted out-of-state retailers to begin collecting the tax and sued several of them: Overstock.com, electronics retailer Newegg and home goods company Wayfair. After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, shares in Wayfair and Overstock both fell, with Wayfair down more than 3 percent and Overstock down more than 2 percent.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard called Thursday’s decision a “Great Day for South Dakota,” though the high court stopped short of greenlighting the state’s law. While the Supreme Court spoke approvingly of the law it sent it back to South Dakota’s highest court to be revisited in light of the court’s decision.

The Trump administration had urged the justices to side with South Dakota.

The case is South Dakota v. Wayfair, 17-494.

‘This Is Intolerable’: Air Force Fires Woman in Viral Video

A Missouri woman who was booted from the Air Force for appearing in a racist Snapchat video says she “was drunk” and needs “to seek help,“ the Air Force Times reports. Tabitha Duncan, 20, appeared in the recent video driving along a dark road with others who used the n-word. “So we going n——r hunting today or what?“ says one of them, per the Daily News. Another pipes up, “We’re going n——r hunting,“ and Duncan adds, “You get them n——-s.“ Posted on Facebook last Sunday, it caused a firestorm of online criticism and led the Air Force to release her just days after she had enlisted.

Duncan “is in the process of being released from her enlistment in the Air Force,“ said Lt. Col. Chad Gibson in an email. “The video ... is intolerable and does not reflect the values of the Air Force.“ Duncan was also fired from her waitressing job at the Social Bar & Grill in St. Louis, which released a statement calling the video “vile, disgusting and offensive.“ Duncan, meanwhile, says she’s “so sorry” for what happened. “I was intoxicated,“ she says. “I have black friends, I have black people in my family, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know that I was being (recorded).“ She adds, “I didn’t mean to hurt anybody, I was drunk. I need to seek help.“

Survey of U.S. Teens Shows Big Change in Milk Drinkers

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Fewer US teens are smoking, having sex, and doing drugs these days. Oh, and they’re drinking less milk, too. Less than one-third of high school students drink a glass of milk a day, according to a large government survey released Thursday. About two decades ago, it was nearly half. Last year’s survey asked about 100 questions on a wide range of health topics, including smoking, drugs, and diet. Researchers compared the results to similar questionnaires going back more than 25 years. One trend that stood out was the drop in drinking milk, which started falling for all Americans after World War II, per the AP. In recent decades, teens have shifted from milk to soda, then to Gatorade and other sports drinks, and recently to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull.

Some of the findings:

  • Not as many teens are having sex, although there wasn’t much change from the 2015 survey results. Last year, about 40% said they’d ever had sex, down from 48% a decade ago.
  • There was no substantial recent change for cigarette smoking, either. About 9% are current smokers, down from more than 27% when the survey started in 1991. Ditto alcohol, with 30% saying they currently use alcohol, down from 51% in 1991.
  • Marijuana use seems to hovering, with about 36% of students saying they had ever tried it. But overall, illegal drug use seems to be falling, including for synthetic marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, inhalants, and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. For the first time, the survey asked if they had ever abused prescription opioid medications. About 14% did.

New evidence that viruses may play a role in Alzheimer’s

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Viruses that sneak into the brain just might play a role in Alzheimer’s, scientists reported Thursday in a provocative study that promises to re-ignite some long-debated theories about what triggers the mind-robbing disease.

The findings don’t prove viruses cause Alzheimer’s, nor do they suggest it’s contagious.

But a team led by researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai Health System found that certain viruses — including two extremely common herpes viruses — affect the behavior of genes involved in Alzheimer’s.

The idea that infections earlier in life might somehow set the stage for Alzheimer’s decades later has simmered at the edge of mainstream medicine for years. It’s been overshadowed by the prevailing theory that Alzheimer’s stems from sticky plaques that clog the brain.

Thursday’s study has even some specialists who never embraced the infection connection saying it’s time for a closer look, especially as attempts to block those so-called beta-amyloid plaques have failed.

“With an illness this terrible, we cannot afford to dismiss all scientific possibilities,” said Dr. John Morris, who directs the Alzheimer’s research center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He wasn’t involved in the new research but called it impressive.

The study also fits with mounting evidence that how aggressively the brain’s immune system defends itself against viruses or other germs may be riskier than an actual infection, said Alzheimer’s specialist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital. With Harvard colleague Dr. Robert Moir, Tanzi has performed experiments showing that sticky beta-amyloid captures invading germs by engulfing them — and that’s why the plaque starts forming in the first place.

“The question remained, OK, in the Alzheimer brain what are the microbes that matter, what are the microbes that trigger the plaque?” explained Tanzi, who also had no role in the new research.

The team from Mount Sinai and Arizona State University came up with some viral suspects — by accident. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, wasn’t hunting viruses but was looking for new drug targets for Alzheimer’s. The researchers were using complex genetic data from hundreds of brains at several brain banks to compare differences between people who’d died with Alzheimer’s and the cognitively normal.

The first clues that viruses were around “came screaming out at us,” said Mount Sinai geneticist Joel Dudley, a senior author of the research published Thursday in the journal Neuron.

The team found viral genetic material at far higher levels in Alzheimer’s-affected brains than in normal ones. Most abundant were two human herpes viruses, known as HHV6a and HHV7, that infect most people during childhood, often with no symptoms, and then lie dormant in the body.

That wasn’t unusual. Since 1980, other researchers have linked a variety of bacteria and viruses, including another type of herpes that causes cold sores, to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. But it was never clear if germs were merely bystanders, or actively spurring Alzheimer’s.

The new study went farther: Researchers used computer models to check how the viral genes interacted with human genes, proteins and amyloid buildup, almost like the viruses’ social media connections, Dudley explained.

“We’re able to see if viral genes are friending some of the host genes and if they tweet, who tweets back,” Dudley said.

They found a lot of interactions, suggesting the viruses could even switch on and off Alzheimer’s-related genes. To see if those interactions mattered, the researchers bred mice lacking one molecule that herpes seemed to deplete. Sure enough, the animals developed more of those amyloid plaques.

“I look at this paper and it makes me sit up and say, ’Wow,’” said Alzheimer’s Association scientific programs director Keith Fargo.

He said the research makes a viral connection much more plausible but cautioned that the study won’t affect how today’s patients are treated.

If the findings pan out, they could change how scientists look for new ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, said Dr. Miroslaw Mackiewicz of NIH’s National Institute on Aging. Already, NIH is funding a first-step study to see if an antiviral drug benefits people who have both mild Alzheimer’s and different herpes viruses.

Just having a herpes virus “does not mean you’re going to get Alzheimer’s,” Mass General’s Tanzi stressed. It may not even have penetrated the brain.

But in another study soon to be published, Tanzi showed biologically how both HHV6 and a cold sore-causing herpes virus can trigger or “seed” amyloid plaque formation, supporting the Mount Sinai findings.

Still, he doesn’t think viruses are the only suspects.

“The Mount Sinai paper tells us the viral side of the story. We still have to work out the microbe side of the story,” said Tanzi, who is looking for bacteria and other bugs in what’s called the Brain Microbiome Project. “The brain was always thought to be a sterile place. It’s absolutely not true.”

Too hot to handle: Politics of warming part of culture wars

When it comes to global warming, America’s political climate may have changed more than the Earth’s over the past three decades.

NASA scientist James Hansen put the world on notice about global warming on June 23, 1988. Looking back, he says: “I was sufficiently idealistic that I thought we would have a sensible bipartisan approach to the problem.”

After all, Republicans and Democrats had worked together on an international agreement to fix the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer. Republicans would later represent eight of the 20 co-sponsors on the first major bills to fight climate change in 1980s and 1990s.

Yet 30 years after Hansen’s initial warning, the issue is as much at the core of the nation’s political divide as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration.

Most Republican candidates today cannot speak the words “climate change” — let alone support policies to address it — without risking a fierce political backlash from their base, which increasingly believes that man-made climate change is a liberal fantasy. There’s virtually no space left for a climate change advocate in the Republican Party of 2018.

Just ask Bob Inglis.

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The former South Carolina Republican lost his congressional primary in 2010 after speaking out about global warming following a trip to the Arctic. He has since dedicated his professional life to convincing conservatives that climate change must be taken seriously.

“We hit a low in the tea party,” Inglis said. “That turned out to be a false bottom because we went lower with the election of Donald Trump.”

President Trump, who once tweeted that climate change was a “Chinese hoax,” pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement — the only country to do so — and his cabinet has aggressively dismantled and dismissed government efforts to fight global warming.

“As the climate is getting worse, the politics is getting worse,” said Paul Higgins, public policy director of the American Meteorological Society.

It wasn’t always this way.

“A lot of Republicans were involved” in fighting climate change after Hansen testified, said former Democratic Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado. In 1988, two months after Hansen’s warning, George H.W. Bush vowed to fight the greenhouse effect. Even 20 years later, Republicans adopted a party platform at the 2008 convention that openly addressed the threat of climate change.

At the same time, the party’s rhetoric also began to shift dramatically, adopting former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s “Drill baby drill” catch phrase. Its embrace of fossil fuels, and rejection of climate change as a serious threat, only intensified with the 2010 rise of the tea party.

It is “a core element of Republican identity to reject climate science,” said Jerry Taylor, who for more than two decades downplayed global warming as an energy and environment analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute. Taylor now actively tries to fight climate change as founder of the Niskanen Center, a moderate think-tank with libertarian principles.

The political shifts haven’t been limited to Republicans. Many liberal Democrats have moved sharply to the left on environmental issues, ignoring nuclear energy as a necessary option to fight climate change and thinking solar and wind can do it all, when it can’t, Hansen said.

It’s not just politicians.

The 12 states with the highest per person emissions of the main heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, voted for Trump in 2016. The 10 states with the lowest per person carbon emissions voted for Hillary Clinton.

Polling suggests that global warming is now even more polarizing than abortion, said pollster and Yale Center for Climate Communication Director Anthony Leiserowitz.

Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans — or 69 percent — think the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated, Gallup found in March. Among Democrats, just 4 percent — not even 1 out of 10 — believe the issue is exaggerated.

Academics, politicians and climate scientists say politics — and an industry campaign to shed doubt on the science — led to the public divide.

Fossil fuel industry interests seeing a threat from a 1997 international treaty that required U.S. carbon emission cuts spent a lot of money to “promote a message of confusion, a message of doubt,” said Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes, who wrote the book “Merchants of Doubt” about this and other industry efforts.

“Their goal was to prevent the United States from acting on climate,” Oreskes said. “They were much more effective getting across their message of doubt than scientists were effective in getting across their message of science.”

The fossil fuel industry “took the tobacco playbook and worked to stop climate change action by denying the science,” said Northeastern University policy and communication professor Matthew Nisbet.

“They were brutal,” Sen. Wirth said.

First-term Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania struggles to understand his party’s environmental priorities.

One of the few GOP members of the Climate Solutions Caucus with a passing grade from environmental activists, Fitzpatrick is quick to call out his Republican colleagues for “not putting their money where their mouth is” on environmental issues.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that climate change is caused in large part due to human activity,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think we all need to acknowledge that basic fact.”

The newly formed American Conservation Coalition is working across two dozen states to convince Republicans to return to their pro-environment roots. Yet the group’s website doesn’t mention the words “climate change” because it would alienate conservatives, said the organization’s Benjamin Barker.

“I hope that in the next decade, or hopefully a lot sooner, we can have a discussion about climate change where it’s not so partisan,” Barker said.

This Major University Wants to Wipe Out the SATs

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The University of Chicago is becoming the first major US research university to stop requiring American undergraduate applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, reports the AP. The decision that school officials say is designed to help even the playing field for students from low-income or underrepresented communities has been made by some liberal arts colleges, but the University of Chicago is the first major research university to do so. The university also said Thursday that it will provide full-tuition aid for students whose families earn less than $125,000 and offer new scholarships to military veterans and children of veterans, police officers, and firefighters. The school will also let applicants submit a video introduction instead of requiring that they sit for an interview.

Per CBS Chicago, the school also intends to offer mentorship programs to students from underrepresented communities “The UChicago Empower Initiative levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you—you define the application,” James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of Admissions at the university, said in a statement about the decision on Thursday. The university said rollout of the initiative will begin with the class of 2023.

FDA reconsiders added sugar label for maple syrup, honey

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reconsidering its plan to label pure maple syrup and honey as containing added sugars.

Maple syrup producers had rallied against the plan, saying FDA’s upcoming requirement to update nutrition labels to tell consumers that pure maple syrup and honey contain added sugars was misleading, illogical and confusing and could hurt their industries.

After receiving feedback including more than 3,000 comments on its draft plan, the FDA said Monday that it would now come up with a revised approach.

“The feedback that FDA has received is that the approach laid out in the draft guidance does not provide the clarity that the FDA intended. It is important to FDA that consumers are able to effectively use the new Nutrition Facts label to make informed, healthy dietary choices. The agency looks forward to working with stakeholders to devise a sensible solution,” the FDA said.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb had said earlier this year that he has made nutrition one of his top priorities, and the Nutrition Facts label hasn’t been meaningfully updated in decades. He said the FDA’s goal was to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods.

In maple country of Vermont — the country’s largest producer of the sweet stuff — the congressional delegation and state’s attorney general urged the FDA commissioner to reconsider the added sugars label for maple syrup, with Attorney General T.J. Donovan calling on Vermonters to comment on the FDA’s plan.

The American Honey Producers Association said the plan could lead to consumers wondering what’s being added to pure honey, when nothing is.

“I applaud the FDA’s decision to hear Vermonters on this issue,” Donovan said on Tuesday. “We all agree that consumers have a right to know what is in their food, especially when it comes to their health and safety,” he said. “And, we also agree that common sense is a virtue.”

Maple syrup producer Roger Brown of Slopeside Syrup in Richmond, Vermont, who has been a leading voice on the issue, said the FDA’s response to the feedback is a good step.

“I applaud the FDA for acknowledging the relevance of the issue and the need to re-examine it,” he said. “I am grateful that this question and this issue has been a part of a pretty broad conversation and has generated a lot of support from the maple community, from Vermonters and maple fans around the country.

He Got a Text and She Read It. Now She’s Suing Him

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One of “many” women to have her sexual photos and videos shared among members of the University of Central Florida’s Delta Sigma Phi fraternity in a private Facebook group called the “Dog Pound” is fighting back, says lawyer Michael Avenatti. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Kathryn Novak says she discovered in March, a month after splitting from her long-distance boyfriend of five months, that he’d shared sexual images and videos of her in the group without her permission. At least one video was recorded without the Arizona student’s knowledge, says Avenatti, who also represents Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Trump, per the New York Times.

This is a “form of ‘revenge porn’ which is widely recognized as cyber-harassment, that causes its victims significant and psychological harm,“ the lawsuit reads, per Newsweek. One video showing Novak’s nude body and face was allegedly seen by more than 200 people. The lawsuit claims Novak’s boyfriend, Brandon Simpson, sent it to five fraternity brothers and showed it to more at a house meeting and notes Novak discovered the sharing during spring break in March. It alleges she was with Simpson as he received a text that referenced the video from a frat brother and that Simpson admitted his actions to her. Novak’s lawsuit, seeking $75,000 in damages, names Simpson, four other frat brothers, and the fraternity itself. Delta Sigma Phi says it has suspended the UCF chapter based on claims that “are disturbing and antithetical to our organization’s values and mission.“

Roger Stone: Russian Wanted $2M for Dirt on Hillary

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Two associates of President Trump claim the whole thing was an FBI setup. Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone admits he met a man with a thick Russian accent in Florida in 2016, and the man—who went by the name Henry Greenberg—wanted $2 million for political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Stone says he refused and texted Trump communications official Michael Caputo that the meeting was a “waste of time.“ Now, talking to the Washington Post, Stone and Caputo have produced records showing that Greenberg is a Russian national who claims to have worked for the FBI. “I didn’t realize it was an FBI sting operation at the time, but it sure looks like one now,“ says Stone. Greenberg denies Stone’s account, saying he brought a Ukrainian friend to the meeting who did the talking.

Greenberg has a colorful history, having lived in Moscow with Hollywood film producer John Daly, frequented the city’s club scene, and battled charges that he had defrauded a firm out of $2.7 million. “He is strikingly good-looking—tall with graying dark hair—and oozes self-confidence,“ the Moscow Times wrote in 2002. Greenberg also claimed in a US court filing to have worked as an FBI informant for years, but stopped after 2013. For their part, Caputo and Stone failed to reveal the Greenberg meeting to Congressional investigators but recently had their memories jogged by text messages about it. “How crazy is the Russian?“ texted Caputo. Stone replied, “Wants big &$ for the info- waste of time.“ Caputo: “The Russian way. Anything at all interesting?“ Stone: “No.“

Video Shows Border Patrol SUV Hit Guy and Drive Away

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“They just ran me over, bro.“ Those words are echoing across social media today after a Border Patrol vehicle was caught on video apparently striking a Native American man and driving away, the New York Times reports. Shot by the man on his phone, the video shows him approaching the SUV on a dirt road in Tohono O’odham Nation, roughly 60 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona. Instead of slowing or stopping, the vehicle knocks him over. Paulo Remes says he was bruised and taken to hospital, the Arizona Daily Star reports. “I’m doing all right, I’m just a little sore, really,“ he says. The 34-year-old says he noticed the SUV and walked onto the road, figuring he knew what would happen.

“I ran into the dirt road in front of my house, because I know they’ll try and hit me,“ says Remes. “I think he saw me on the landline and didn’t think I was recording.“ The FBI, the US Attorney’s Office, and the tribe’s police department are now investigating. And Indivisible Tohono, an organization that sheds light on border policies, is posting the video on Facebook and Twitter. “This is an example of the fear O’odham have to face everyday because BP ravage our communities & are careless with our lives,“ the group says in a tweet. Tensions have risen since tribal leaders opposed letting President Trump build a border wall there, and the land became a transit hub for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants.

Hoover Dam Standoff: An Armored Car and a Protest

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A 30-year-old Nevada man is in custody after a bizarre 90-minute standoff Friday at the Hoover Dam, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Police say that Matthew P. Wright drove a homemade armored vehicle onto the towering Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge and stopped, blocking traffic, with a sign reading “Release the OIG report” in the driver’s side window. The vehicle began moving around 1pm local time, reports BuzzFeed, rolling past police cars and over tire strips before eventually coming to a halt. The driver was taken into custody without incident; police found a handgun and a rifle inside the vehicle. “I thought there was an accident or something,“ said one trucker who sat for 20 minutes before traffic began to move. When the armored vehicle came into view, he panicked, thinking “I wasn’t sure if he was trying to blow up the bridge or what.“

Woman Preemptively Sues NASA to Keep Her Treasure

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Call it one small step for lunar dust owners. A Tennessee woman is suing NASA preemptively to keep a vial of what she believes is moon dust that was given to the family by Neil Armstrong. Filed in federal court, the suit is an attempt to prevent NASA—which says private citizens can’t own lunar rocks or dust, though there is no law against it—from seizing the vial. An expert tested the dust and concluded it “may have originated from lunar regolith,“ reports Cincinnati.com. Laura Murray Cicco tells the Washington Post that Armstrong gifted her the vial along with a hand-written note decades ago when she was 10. She found the vial five years ago while going through her parents’ belongings. Cicco says that Armstrong and her father were both members of a secret society of male pilots and were friends, per Fortune. The note, which has been authenticated, reads: “To Laura Ann Murray, Best of Luck—Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11.“

Cicco is filing the suit because NASA has in the past seized suspected moon dust. When an elderly widow in California asked NASA to help her find a buyer for two paperweights containing tiny fragments of alleged moon rock that she says were given to her late husband by Armstrong, NASA confronted and aggressively detained and questioned the woman in a sting operation. The woman was not charged, and she sued the agency in 2013 for wrongful seizure, wrongful detention, and other violations of her rights. Cicco’s suit is aimed at avoiding that scenario. NASA may view lunar material in private hands as stolen property, but Cicco’s attorney disagrees, telling the Post, “Laura shouldn’t be afraid that NASA is going to come knocking on her door and barge in and try and take the vial.“

Raccoon That ‘United America’ Has Been Rescued

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The skyscraper-ascending raccoon of Minnesota has reportedly been rescued. NPR reports the determined climber, which had been trapped at various spots on the UBS building in St. Paul for two days, is said to finally have been trapped by building management, per a law firm on the 23rd floor of the tower. CBS News notes the raccoon—which became an internet sensation under the #mprraccoon hashtag—had been alternately climbing and descending the 25-story building. The windows on the building don’t open, so building maintenance staff set traps on the roof, hoping the raccoon would make it to the top, per USA Today.

And the resolute raccoon did, finally climbing onto the roof early Wednesday (a local reporter has video of that small triumph). The raccoon did reportedly end up in a live trap. People in the tower, in St. Paul, and on social media had been following the raccoon’s journey, with some worried it could fall, and now everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief. “In our office we are just glad he is safe. We were all worried about him,“ says an attorney with the Paige Donnelly firm, on whose 23rd-story ledge the raccoon had rested for a while. One commenter acknowledged the raccoon’s inadvertent patriotism: “This raccoon is doing a better job at uniting America than either political party.“

For Americans, This Is the ‘Face of God’

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You can now say you’ve stared into the face of God, or at least a face Americans believe resembles it. Surprisingly, there’s no beard in sight. Instead, faces selected from pairs of photos by more than 500 US Christians tasked with choosing their vision of God combine to show a clean-cut, young Caucasian man with a slight resemblance to Ryan Gosling. Still, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say most believers imagine a God “who is suited to meet their needs and who looks like them,“ according to an egocentric bias, per the Daily Express. For example, liberals imagine a younger, more feminine, and less Caucasian God than conservatives, who chose more powerful and more Caucasian faces, researchers write in Plos One.

Why many Americans aren’t benefiting from robust US economy

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“The economy,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell declared this week, “is doing very well.”

And it is. Steady hiring has shrunk unemployment to 3.8 percent — the lowest since the 1960′s. Consumers are spending. Taxes are down. Inflation is tame. Factories are busy. Demand for homes is strong. Household wealth is up.

Yet the numbers that collectively sketch a picture of a vibrant economy don’t reflect reality for a range of Americans who still feel far from financially secure even nine years into an economic expansion.

From drivers paying more for gas and families bearing heavier child care costs to workers still awaiting decent pay raises and couples struggling to afford a home, people throughout the economy are straining to succeed despite the economy’s gains.

They are people like Katy Cole, a 33 year-old music teacher from North Creek, New York, who’s still repaying her student loans. It took her two years of working a second job to repair her credit and amass enough money to try to buy a home with her boyfriend. She just gave birth last month — the fourth child in her blended family — which means having to take unpaid leave from her school job.

“As far as the numbers saying everyone is working, that’s great,” Cole said. “But is everybody surviving? I don’t think so. In a great economy, everybody is thriving — and not just a certain group.”

When analysts at Oxford Economics recently studied American spending patterns, they found that the bottom 60 percent of earners was essentially drawing on their savings just to maintain their lifestyles. Their incomes weren’t enough to cover expenses.

“Many people are still living on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis,” said Gregory Daco, head of U.S. economics at Oxford.

Daco and other economists describe the economy as fundamentally healthy, a testament to the durable recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. The job market, in particular, is booming. But even many people who have jobs and are in little danger of losing them feel burdened and uneasy.

Here’s a look at the economy from their perspectives:

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COMMUTERS

Even with inflation running at a relatively low 2.4 percent, one particular expense is weighing on anyone idling in traffic: Gasoline prices have surged 24 percent over the past year to a national average of $2.94 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s the highest average since 2014.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley have estimated that the increase this year will likely eat away a third of people’s savings from Trump’s tax cuts. Gas prices are still below their high reached roughly a decade ago. Yet the increase this year represents an additional financial burden on consumers and businesses compared with a year ago.

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HOMEBUYERS

A strong job market can actually be a curse for would-be homebuyers. With more people drawing paychecks and able to afford a home, demand has intensified. Yet the number of homes listed for sale is flirting with historic lows. The combination of high demand and low supply has driven prices to troubling high levels.

It’s not just that home ownership is largely unobtainable in San Francisco or Seattle. The Case-Shiller index shows that home prices are rising more than 6 percent annually in Atlanta and Minneapolis. In the Detroit metro area, they’re up nearly 8 percent over the past 12 months. By contrast, average hourly wages have risen just 2.7 percent over the past year.

The real estate brokerage Redfin says the median sales price in the 174 markets it covers has jumped 6.3 percent over the past year to $305,600. A general rule of thumb is that buyers can afford a home worth roughly three times their income. So the median home sales price far exceeds what a typical U.S. household earning a median $57,000 income can manage.

On top of that, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are growing costlier. The average interest rate on these mortgages has jumped to 4.62 percent — from 3.95 percent at the start of the year — according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac.

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THE MIDDLE CLASS

$100 trillion. That’s roughly the net worth of U.S. households and nonprofits, according to the Federal Reserve.

Problem is, America’s wealth is increasingly lopsided, with the affluent and the ultra-wealthy amassing rising proportions and everyone else benefiting modestly if at all.

The top 10 percent of the country holds 73 percent of its wealth, a share that has crept steadily up since 1986, according to the World Inequality Database. The most sweeping gains are concentrated among the top 1 percent; this group holds nearly 39 percent of the wealth. And they’re arguably poised to become even more prosperous because Trump’s tax cuts largely favored the wealthiest slice of individual taxpayers.

Contrast that with the middle 40 percent of the country, a group that would historically be considered middle class. In 1986, they held 36 percent of the country’s wealth; now, it’s just 27 percent.

Worse off is the bottom 40 percent of Americans: They have a negative net worth and almost no financial cushion in case of an emergency.

Most Americans can’t draw on stocks, rental properties, capital gains or significant home equity to generate cash. They depend almost exclusively on wages. And after adjusting for inflation, the government reported that Americans’ average hourly earnings haven’t budged over the past 12 months.

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HIGH SCHOOL-ONLY GRADS

Employers increasingly favor college graduates over people with only a high school diploma. Out of the 2.6 million jobs added in the past year, the government’s job data shows that 70 percent of them went to college graduates. Workers who have graduated only from high school made up less than 1 percent of the job gains.

It wasn’t this way in May 2000, when the unemployment rate was nearly as low as today. Back then, only 30 percent of new jobs went to college graduates. Census figures show that only 30 percent of Americans older than 25 have college degrees, which means a majority of the country isn’t receiving the full benefit from the sustained job growth.

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COLLEGE GRADS

For all their good fortune as the favored recipients of job growth, there’s a major downside for recent college graduates. Obtaining a degree has increasingly coincided with ever-higher student debt loads. Since 2004, total student debt has climbed 540 percent to $1.4 trillion, according to the New York Federal Reserve. About 60 percent of college graduates from 2016 held debt, with an average of $28,400, according to the College Board. That figure doesn’t include any graduate school debt. The Urban Institute found that advanced degree students borrowed an average of $18,210 in 2015 — about triple what undergraduates borrowed that academic year.

Mounting student debt could hinder the buying of homes and formation of families that helped growth in previous decades. A survey last year by the National Association of Realtors found that student debt was delaying home ownership by seven years among millennials, a generation it defined as people born between 1980 and 1998.

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ANYONE PAYING FOR CHILD CARE

Children are immensely expensive. For nearly a third of families, the costs of child care swallowed at least 20 percent of their income, according to a survey posted in March by the caregiver jobs site Care.com. Nearly a third of parents said they went into debt to cover child care expenses.

When Care.com assessed how much its members were spending on day care centers for infants yearly, the average cost was $10,486, and it ranged as high as $20,209. Nannies were even pricier.

Research also suggests that some women remain outside the workforce because of the comparatively weak family leave and child care policies in the United States relative to those in other developed economies. A result is that families are forgoing income that would otherwise benefit them and the economy.

When the unemployment rate was last around 3.8 percent in 2000, the proportion of women who either had a job or were looking for one was peaking. For women ages 25 to 54, that proportion — called the labor force participation rate — was roughly 77 percent in 2000. It’s now 74.8 percent.

If women’s labor force participation were to return to 77 percent, there would be 1.4 million more women in the work force.

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