Alcohol harms the brain in teen years –– before and after that, too



If we only paid attention to ads, it might seem as though alcohol — a beer or glass of wine, a shot of fiery liquor or sophisticated cocktail — merely served as a way to bring people together and make them happy. Drink responsibly, the ads wink, without ever explaining the toll that frequent or excessive alcohol use exacts, particularly at certain stages in life. Because alcohol doesn’t just get us drunk, impair our judgment, and hurt our liver: it can have many other bad effects on our bodies — including effects on the brain.

In a recent editorial in The BMJ, a trio of scientists pointed out that there are three periods in life when the brain goes through major changes and is particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Two of those periods are at the beginning and end of life. When pregnant women drink alcohol, it can damage the developing brain of the fetus, leading to physical problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. When people over the age of 65 drink alcohol, it can worsen declines in brain function that happen during aging.

The third period is adolescence. During those years of transition between childhood and adulthood, the brain grows and changes in many important ways that are crucial for that transition to be successful. When teens and young adults drink alcohol, it can interfere with that process of brain development in ways that affect the rest of their lives.

Alcohol use in teens and young adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the US. Although rates of drinking and binge drinking have been going down over recent decades, national surveys show that among youth and young adults, one in five report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, and one in 10 report binge drinking. The 2019 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found that more than a quarter of high school students drank alcohol in the 30 days before they took the survey, and one in seven reported binge drinking in that same time period.

That’s an awful lot of youth who could be changing their brains — and their lives — forever.

Here is what the parents of teens can and should do:

  • Talk to your teens about alcohol and its effects — all of them. Make sure they have the facts.
  • Have strict rules about alcohol use, and consequences if those rules are broken. Yes, it’s normal for teens to experiment, but if you condone going to parties with alcohol, binge drinking, or driving while drinking, it could literally ruin your child’s life — or end it.
  • Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends, and work toward having a shared, community responsibility for keeping everyone safe.
  • Set a good example. Drink responsibly, just as those ads encourage.

For more advice on talking to your teen and strategies for preventing alcohol use and abuse, visit the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

The post Alcohol harms the brain in teen years –– before and after that, too appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.

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Eighteen years and six premiers later, calls for an inquiry into child sex abuse in Tasmania have been answered


Almost 20 years have passed and six premiers have held office in Tasmania since the Greens first called for a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse in the state.

In November, Premier Peter Gutwein, under increasing pressure as allegations relating to three departments came to light, announced a commission of inquiry to investigate Tasmanian government agencies’ responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.

“Things have gotten to the point where the Government can no longer duck and weave,” said Angela Sdrinis, a lawyer who specialises in child sexual abuse.

“We’ve known for a long time, certainly through my work, that there have been some very serious systemic issues in terms of how the Tasmanian Government has dealt with issues of child sexual abuse.”

The national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse did not look specifically at Tasmanian government institutions.

A 2004 Tasmanian ombudsman’s inquiry heard from people with stories of abuse dating back to the 1950s.

The allegations that have recently come to light have led to multiple state service employees being stood down, pending investigations.

The royal commission

Justice Peter McClellan and Justice Jennifer Coate on the first day of the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission’s public hearing in 2013.(AAP: Jeremy Piper)

While the pressure in Tasmania came to a head last year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which delivered its final report in 2017, was a major turning point in Australia.

Social welfare historian, Australian Catholic University Emeritus Professor Shurlee Swain, said it did away with focusing on “bad apples”, a tactic that had been used to shut down previous investigations.

“It’s the only way to bring about change because if you think it’s just the individual bad apple, you’re never going to know who the bad apple is until the behaviour starts to manifest,” Professor Swain said.

“If you look at what is it in this situation, in the institutional situation that creates the environment in which the bad apple, if indeed it is a bad apple, can thrive, then you can identify features that enabled the behaviour to be hidden in the past.”

The royal commission also recommended a raft of legislative changes, which have been adopted by the Tasmanian Government, including removing the time limit for survivors to take civil legal action.

Survivors with civil claims have turned to interstate lawyers with expertise in child sexual abuse matters.

“Pressure from outside lawyers probably has made at least some difference in terms of saying we need to hold the government to account and there appears to be a culture sometimes in Tasmania of not holding the government to account,” Odin Lawyers director Sebastian Buscemi said.

Sebastian Buscemi looks at the camera.
Sebastian Buscemi says no-one really understands the extent of child sexual abuse in Tasmanian government institutions.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Secrecy more of a problem in Tasmania: lawyer

Ms Sdrinis, whose Melbourne firm opened an office in Hobart in 2018, said that while she had encountered secrecy and cover-ups in other jurisdictions, it seemed to be more of a problem in Tasmania.

“The evidence is that the Tasmanian Government denies right to information requests at a much greater level than other Australian jurisdictions,” she said.

“The fallback position always seems to be deny, deny, deny, and then if pressed provide some information.”

Responding to criticism late last year about the Government’s record on Right to Information requests, Mr Gutwein said the Government “will take whatever steps we need to ensure we can provide a full, frank, open and transparent government that is accountable to the Tasmanian people”.

People Protecting Children president Allison Ritchie said the commission of inquiry was a chance to overcome the secrecy that has existed around institutional abuse for too long.

“There’s a feeling in the community that governments and other authorities just don’t want to get to the bottom of these things,” she said.

“We need to see that that’s not the case, that it’s a no holds barred inquiry that it will go where it needs to to get to the bottom of what’s gone on in this state.”

Allison Ritchie looks at the camera.
Allison Ritchie says the commission of inquiry must take a “no holds barred” approach.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

‘No-one really understands why that was happening’

The commission of inquiry will be the first formal investigation of Tasmanian government institutions’ responses to child sexual abuse allegations.

Education Department documents associated with a civil court case show two teachers who were the subject of numerous complaints, and who were later convicted of child sexual abuse, were moved from school to school.

“No-one’s gotten to the bottom of it, no one really understands why that was happening, who was behind it and how high up it went,” Mr Buscemi said.

‘We have missed 20 years’

Peg Putt was Tasmanian Greens leader and Nick McKim, now a Senator, the justice spokesman when the Greens tried in 2003 and again in 2004 to establish a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Portrait of woman with out of focus trees in the background
Peg Putt says Tasmania has “missed 20 years” in which it could have tackled the problem of child sexual abuse.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

The then Bacon Labor government, which had established a more limited ombudsman’s inquiry into abuse in state care, opposed the inquiry.

One Liberal — Peter Gutwein — crossed the floor to vote with the Greens in 2003. The Liberals supported the Greens’ 2004 attempt.

“There’s been some sort of development in society where we now begin to recognise that if we don’t uncover this and track it right down to the last little bit, then we’re not going to deal with it, it’s not going to go away, and we have shirked our responsibility to people in society who need our help the most.”

When he announced the commission of inquiry, Mr Gutwein said the current Government was taking decisive action in response to allegations of child sexual abuse.

“I have great faith that our current processes and practices ensure higher safeguards and swifter action than was historically the case,” he said.

“Over a number of years significant systems have been implemented to protect our children and young people.”

Mr Gutwein has released the draft terms of reference for the inquiry and the commission is expected to begin its work early this year.

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Trudeau says he still has ‘a lot to do,’ and wants to serve for ‘number of more years’


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, giving a rare insight into his future plans, said he wanted to serve Canadians for a number of years to come, and shied away from saying who he thought should succeed him.

Trudeau, speaking at the Reuters Next conference, also said he was opposed to the idea of obliging people to carry digital proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Trudeau’s ruling Liberals, now in their second term, only have a minority in the House of Commons, which means he relies on the opposition to govern and can be brought down at any time.

Trudeau, 49, has three school-age children. He first took over as prime minister in November 2015 and has at times appeared tired amid the relentless COVID-19 crisis. He admitted dealing with the pandemic had been hard, but made clear he had no plans to quit soon.

“I’ve still got a lot to do in terms of serving this country, so I’m looking forward to a number of more years of serving Canadians,” he said in an interview aired on Thursday.

The comments were the clearest signal he has given that his political ambitions are far from exhausted.

Trudeau came to power promising to focus on causes such as feminism and the environment. But he quickly found himself having to deal with issues such as how to handle U.S. President Donald Trump and then the pandemic.

He has come to rely heavily on Chrystia Freeland, a close ally, who now occupies the positions of both finance minister and deputy prime minister. Liberal insiders say this would give her an advantage in a future leadership race.

Asked whether Freeland might one day become Liberal leader, Trudeau replied: “My responsibility is to bring around me the best possible team I can to serve Canadians … I won’t speculate on what could happen years down the road.”

Vaccine passports

The Liberal government has spent more than $200 billion in direct aid to help people and businesses survive the pandemic. Trudeau reiterated Ottawa planned to spend another $100 billion over the next few years to kickstart an economic recovery.

But he made clear he opposed a vaccine passport for people who had received inoculations, an idea already being developed in Denmark, saying it was fraught with challenges.

“I think the indications that the vast majority of Canadians are looking to be vaccinated will get us to a good place without having to take more extreme measures that could have real divisive impacts on community and country,” he said.

 

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Earth to reach temperature tipping point in next 20 to 30 years, new study finds — ScienceDaily


Earth’s ability to absorb nearly a third of human-caused carbon emissions through plants could be halved within the next two decades at the current rate of warming, according to a new study in Science Advances by researchers at Northern Arizona University, the Woodwell Climate Research Center and the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Using more than two decades of data from measurement towers in every major biome across the globe, the team identified a critical temperature tipping point beyond which plants’ ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon — a cumulative effect referred to as the “land carbon sink” — decreases as temperatures continue to rise.

The terrestrial biosphere — the activity of land plants and soil microbes — does much of Earth’s “breathing,” exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen. Ecosystems across the globe pull in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and release it back to the atmosphere via the respiration of microbes and plants. Over the past few decades, the biosphere has generally taken in more carbon than it has released, mitigating climate change.

But as record-breaking temperatures continue to spread across the globe, this may not continue; the NAU, Woodwell Climate and Waikato researchers have detected a temperature threshold beyond which plant carbon uptake slows and carbon release accelerates.

Lead author Katharyn Duffy, a postdoctoral researcher at NAU, noticed sharp declines in photosynthesis above this temperature threshold in nearly every biome across the globe, even after removing other effects such as water and sunlight.

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever, and much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” Duffy said. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

This study is the first to detect a temperature threshold for photosynthesis from observational data at a global scale. While temperature thresholds for photosynthesis and respiration have been studied in the lab, the Fluxnet data provide a window into what ecosystems across Earth are actually experiencing and how they are responding.

“We know that the temperature optima for humans lie around 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), but we in the scientific community didn’t know what those optima were for the terrestrial biosphere,” Duffy said.

She teamed up with researchers at Woodwell Climate and the University of Waikato who recently developed a new approach to answer that question: MacroMolecular Rate Theory (MMRT). With its basis in the principles of thermodynamics, MMRT allowed the researchers to generate temperature curves for every major biome and the globe.

The results were alarming.

The researchers found that temperature “peaks” for carbon uptake — 18 degrees C for the more widespread C3 plants and 28 degrees C for C4 plants — are already being exceeded in nature, but saw no temperature check on respiration. This means that in many biomes, continued warming will cause photosynthesis to decline while respiration rates rise exponentially, tipping the balance of ecosystems from carbon sink to carbon source and accelerating climate change.

“Different types of plants vary in the details of their temperature responses, but all show declines in photosynthesis when it gets too warm,” said NAU co-author George Koch.

Right now, less than 10 percent of the terrestrial biosphere experiences temperatures beyond this photosynthetic maximum. But at the current rate of emissions, up to half the terrestrial biosphere could experience temperatures beyond that productivity threshold by mid-century — and some of the most carbon-rich biomes in the world, including tropical rainforests in the Amazon and Southeast Asia and the Taiga in Russia and Canada, will be among the first to hit that tipping point.

“The most striking thing our analysis showed is that the temperature optima for photosynthesis in all ecosystems were so low,” said Vic Arcus, a biologist at the University of Waikato and co-author of the study. “Combined with the increased rate of ecosystem respiration across the temperatures we observed, our findings suggest that any temperature increase above 18 degrees C is potentially detrimental to the terrestrial carbon sink. Without curbing warming to remain at or below the levels established in the Paris Climate Accord, the land carbon sink will not continue to offset our emissions and buy us time.”

Funding for this research was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grant NNX12AK12G), National Science Foundation (NSF) East-Asia Pacific Summer Institute Fellowship (1614404), the Royal Society of New Zealand Foreign Partnership Programme (EAP- UOW1601) and the New Zealand Marsden Fund (grant 16-UOW-027). This work used eddy covariance data acquired and shared by the FLUXNET community, including AmeriFlux, AfriFlux, AsiaFlux, CarboAfrica, CarboEuropeIP, CarboItaly, CarboMont, ChinaFlux, Fluxnet-Canada, GreenGrass, ICOS, KoFlux, LBA, NECC, OzFlux-TERN, TCOS-Siberia and USCCC networks.

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Five years after the Tasmanian Government pledged to put patients first, hospital wait times remain a sore point


Donna Emery has experienced the best and worst Tasmania’s public health system has to offer.

Her 14-year-old son Luke has cystic fibrosis, a degenerative condition requiring regular check-ups at the Launceston General Hospital (LGH).

“When he needs an admission, which is generally about once a year, we kind of get straight in,” Ms Emery said.

“We don’t have to go to emergency, we don’t call ambulances, so I don’t have that experience with him.”

Having her parents admitted for acute care was not as smooth.

Ms Emery’s father spent two days in the emergency department (ED) before he was flown to the Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) for a triple bypass.

When her mother presented to the same unit, she was sent home with a suspected middle ear infection.

A CT scan uncovered a tumour which required urgent removal. When the time came for palliative care, her mother could not be admitted to a free bed in her local hospital at Beaconsfield because the specialist did not work weekends.

“She spent Saturday night and Sunday at the LGH ED before they could get her back to Beaconsfield on Monday, and she passed away on Wednesday,” Ms Emery said.

“I can see they need more money, they need more staff and that’s just the crux of it.”

The Patients First initiative was designed to ease pressure on the Launceston General Hospital.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The Liberals came to power in 2014 pledging to fix what even they described as a broken health system.

Almost five years after the former health minister introduced the Patients First initiative to improve bed access at Tasmania’s major hospitals, consumers, unions and the Opposition are asking when the promised benefits will finally flow.

‘Demographic time bomb heading our way’

Patients First, introduced early in 2016, was made up of 19 actions aimed at easing pressure on the stressed emergency departments at the LGH and the RHH.

The plan included better utilising rural hospital beds, a trial of allowing senior nursing and allied health staff to discharge patients earlier in the day, and creating a list of “red flag” events that would receive urgent attention once noted.

Neither Health Minister Sarah Courtney nor the Tasmanian Health Service (THS) responded to requests for comment on which actions had been implemented and how effective they had been.

Health and Community Services Union state secretary Tim Jacobson says while some of the 19 initiatives from Patients First have been implemented, “the problem is it really hasn’t made any demonstrable improvement to what we’ve got”.

In the past week, paramedics at both hospitals have reported issues with ambulance ramping — in which paramedics have to provide care in an ambulance setting — because of issues with patient flow.

“This Government has known since they took office that we have a demographic time bomb heading our way,” Mr Jacobson said.

“And while they’ve done work with [new RHH wing] K Block to improve capacity, it has not been enough.”

A building facade behind tree branches
One health union says the RHH’s new K Block building is not enough to improve capacity at the hospital.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Tasmania’s population has a greater proportion of older people than other states, as well as mores smokers, people who are overweight or obese, and people who are financially disadvantaged.

As a result, the state has a higher number of people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.

With data showing about half of all potentially preventable hospitalisations are related to chronic conditions, Health Consumers Tasmania chief executive Bruce Levett said there should be a greater focus on providing Tasmanians with access to community-based care.

A spokesman for the Tasmanian Health Service said many of the Patients First initiatives had been implemented, but the project had been rolled into a new strategy.

“Since 2017, there has been significant investment in our hospitals and a continued focus on patient flow, so some initiatives have been combined with others, following continual consultation with our clinicians,” the spokesman said.

Labor Member for Rumney Sarah Lovell May 9, 2017
Sarah Lovell says promises are not converting to action.(ABC News: Rhiana Whitson)

Health Minister Courtney released a discussion paper, Our Healthcare Future, in November which was billed on the THS website as focused on fixing the “long-term challenges our health system faces”.

Described as stage two of the Government’s long-running health system reforms, the project acknowledges the Tasmanian health system does not have enough subacute, primary, community and home-based services.

To Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell, the latest pledge to fix the health system is the latest in a long line of promises since the Liberals came to power in 2014.

In addition to the One State, One Health System reforms in 2014, which drew the state’s traditionally disparate regional health organisations under one umbrella, the Government has announced:

  • The Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment
  • Upgrades to the Launceston General Hospital
  • The Access Solutions roundtable, supposed to reduce bed block
  • The Rethink Mental Health reforms
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service reforms

“There have been a number of working groups and focus groups and a lot of talking around these issues,” Ms Lovell said.

“We come out of these talkfests with a list of actions, but then in terms of implementation and in terms of funding to see that implementation through into the long term, that’s where the Government continues to let down Tasmania.”

Ambulance ramping at the Royal Hobart Hospital
Paramedics have reported ambulance ramping at the Launceston General and Royal Hobart hospitals during the past week.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

RHH Staff Association chairman Frank Nicklason said the Government’s pledges had recorded varying degrees of success.

While the new K Block development was “a great space”, Dr Nicklason said it was “not as much of a positive as people who weren’t in the know were led to believe”.

“That’s reflected in the fact we’ve got days with high levels of escalation and people waiting a long time in the hospital,” Dr Nicklason said.

He gave credit to primary health initiatives, like Hospital in the Home, and said coronavirus had proven the state’s health strengths.

“In one way it’s a big success story, though it’s put a few things on the backburner,” Dr Nicklason said.

Consultation on Our Healthcare Future ends on February 12.

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Pakistan sentences Lakhvi to five years for terrorism financing



FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Shiv Sena, a Hindu hardline group, holds Pakistan’s national flag and a portrait of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi during a protest against Lakhvi’s release, in New Delhi April 11, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo

January 8, 2021

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistan court on Friday sentenced Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior official of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to five years in jail for terrorism financing.

Lakhvi and the group are accused by India and the United States of being behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks – though the charges or sentence are not related to any specific incident.

He was sentenced to five years concurrently on three counts, with a fine of 100,000 rupees on each count, an order from the court seen by Reuters said.

India has long called on Pakistan to try Lakhvi for the Mumbai attack, in which over 160 people were killed, but Islamabad has said that Delhi has not given it concrete evidence that it can use in a court to try the LeT leader, which it had initially arrested in 2008 but was later released on bail.

He was arrested again on charges of terrorism financing on Saturday.

The United States welcomed his arrest but called for him to be tried for the Mumbai attacks, too.

“We will follow his prosecution & sentencing closely & urge that he be held accountable for his involvement in the Mumbai attacks,” the U.S. State Department said on Twitter.

According to Delhi, the lone surviving gunman of the attack, who was executed in 2012 after sentencing by an Indian court, told interrogators that the assailants were in touch with Pakistan-born Lakhvi, who is said to be LeT’s chief of operations

A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee says Lakhvi is involved in militant activity in a number of other regions and countries, including Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. .

Lakhvi’s lawyer did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

A spokesman for the Counter Terrorism Department said in a statement that Lakhvi had been sent to prison to serve the sentences.

Another man that India says was the mastermind of the Mumbai siege, Hafiz Saeed, was convicted by a Pakistani court on two charges of terrorism financing last year.

Saeed denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood)



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Judge halts 1st US execution of female inmate in 67 years


MISSION, Kan. — A judge has halted the U.S. government’s first execution of a female inmate in nearly seven decades, saying a court must first determine whether the Kansas woman who killed an expectant mother, cut the baby from her womb and then tried to pass off the newborn as her own is mentally competent.

The order, handed down less than 24 hours before Lisa Montgomery was set to be executed Tuesday at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, temporarily blocks the federal Bureau of Prisons from moving forward with her execution. The Justice Department didn’t immediately comment.

Montgomery’s lawyers have said their client suffers from hallucinations — including hearing her abusive mother’s voice — as well as a disoriented sense of reality and gaps in her consciousness. They have long argued that she is not mentally fit to be executed because she suffers from serious mental illness and faced years of emotional and sexual trauma as a child.

U.S. District Judge James Patrick Hanlon found that the court must first hold a hearing to determine whether Montgomery meets the legal criteria for competency before the execution can move forward, finding she “would be irreparably injured if the government executes her when she is not competent to be executed.”

Kelley Henry, one of Montgomery’s attorneys, praised the ruling and said her client is “mentally deteriorating.”

“Mrs. Montgomery has brain damage and severe mental illness that was exacerbated by the lifetime of sexual torture she suffered at the hands of caretakers,” Henry said.

Separately, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued another stay in Montgomery’s case for an appeal related to the Justice Department’s execution protocols and said briefs must be fully filed in that case by Jan. 29, raising the prospect her execution could be delayed until after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden has said he opposes the death penalty and a spokesman told the AP he would work to end its use in office, but Biden’s team has not said whether he would halt executions after his inauguration on Jan. 20.

Montgomery drove about 170 miles (274 kilometers) from her Melvern, Kansas, farmhouse to the northwest Missouri town of Skidmore under the guise of adopting a rat terrier puppy from Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a 23-year-old dog breeder. She strangled Stinnett with a rope before performing a crude cesarean and fleeing with the baby.

She was arrested the next day after showing off the premature infant, Victoria Jo, who is now 16 years old and hasn’t spoken publicly about the tragedy.

“As we walked across the threshold our Amber Alert was scrolling across the TV at that very moment,” recalled Randy Strong, who was part of the northwest Missouri major case squad at the time.

He looked to his right and saw Montgomery holding the newborn and was awash in relief when she handed her over to law enforcement. The preceding hours had been a blur in which he photographed Stinnett’s body and spent a sleepless night looking for clues — unsure of whether the baby was dead or alive and no idea what she looked like.

But then tips began arriving about Montgomery, who had a history of faking pregnancies and suddenly had a baby. Strong, now the sheriff of Nodaway County, where the killing happened, hopped in an unmarked car with another officer. He learned while en route that the email address fischer4kids@hotmail.com that was used to set up the deadly meeting with Stinnett had been sent from a dial-up connection at Montgomery’s home.

“I absolutely knew I was walking into the killer’s home,” recalled Strong, saying rat terriers ran around his feet as he approached her house. Like Stinnett, Montgomery also raised rat terriers.

Bobbie Jo Stinnett’s mother, Becky Harper, sobbed as she told a Missouri dispatcher about stumbling across her daughter in a pool of blood, her womb slashed open and the child she had been carrying missing.

“It’s like she exploded or something,” Harper told the dispatcher on Dec. 16, 2004, during the desperate yet futile attempt to get help for her daughter.

Prosecutors said her motive was that Montgomery’s ex-husband knew she had undergone a tubal ligation that made her sterile and planned to reveal she was lying about being pregnant in an effort to get custody of two of their four children. Needing a baby before a fast-approaching court date, Montgomery turned her focus on Stinnett, whom she had met at dog shows.

Montgomery’s lawyers, though, have argued that sexual abuse during Montgomery’s childhood led to mental illness.

Her stepfather denied the sexual abuse in videotaped testimony and said he didn’t have a good memory when confronted with a transcript of a divorce proceeding in which he admitted some physical abuse. Her mother testified that she never filed a police complaint because he had threatened her and her children.

But the jurors who heard the case, some crying through the gruesome testimony, disregarded the defense in convicting her of kidnapping resulting in death.

Prosecutors argued that Stinnett regained consciousness and tried to defend herself as Montgomery used a kitchen knife to cut the baby girl from her womb. Later that day, Montgomery called her husband to pick her up in the parking lot of a Long John Silver’s in Topeka, Kansas, telling him she had delivered the baby earlier in the day at a nearby birthing center.

She eventually confessed, and the rope and bloody knife used to kill Stinnett were found in her car. A search of her computer showed she used it to research caesareans and order a birthing kit.

Montgomery originally was scheduled to be put to death on Dec. 8. But the execution was temporarily blocked after her attorneys contracted the coronavirus visiting her in prison.

The U.S. has executed 10 people at Terre Haute since the resumption of federal executions after a 17-year pause started on July 14. Anti-death penalty groups said President Donald Trump was pushing for executions prior to the November election in a cynical bid to burnish a reputation as a law-and-order leader.

U.S. officials have portrayed the executions as bringing long-delayed justice for victims and their families.

The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Brown Heady on Dec. 18, 1953, for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Missouri.

The last woman executed by a state was Kelly Gissendaner, 47, on Sept. 30, 2015, in Georgia. She was convicted of murder in the 1997 slaying of her husband after she conspired with her lover, who stabbed Douglas Gissendaner to death.

———

Associated Press writer Mike Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

———

This story has been corrected to reference Montgomery’s ex-husband, not Stinnett’s, in one paragraph.

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Audi to phase out combustion engines in 10-15 years – WirtschaftsWoche





FILE PHOTO: New Audi automobiles are shown for sale after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state will ban the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars and trucks starting in 2035 in a dramatic move to shift to electric vehicles to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, in Carlsbad, California, U.S., September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

January 8, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Volkswagen’s premium carmaker Audi aims to phase out combustion engines and offer only electric cars in 10 to 15 years, at the latest, German weekly WirtschaftsWoche reported, citing no sources.

The company is currently working on a concrete time plan and expects to have target dates in the coming months for the phase-out at individual plants, it said.

It cited Audi Chief Executive Markus Duesmann as saying in an interview that “protection of the environment and economic success go together well”.

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Riham Alkousaa)




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Madrid Is Buried Under Heaviest Snowfall in 50 Years


The heaviest snowfall in five decades has blanketed Madrid over the past few days, after a giant storm hit southern and central Spain, causing at least three deaths and prompting the authorities to activate a red alert in the capital.

Madrid was brought to a standstill as Storm Filomena covered the city and surrounding areas in more than a foot and a half of snow from Friday to Saturday, the most snow the city has seen since 1971, according to the Spanish national weather agency.

The storm also battered the Canary Islands, off the coast of North Africa, and other regions in the south of Spain with strong winds and heavy rains. The town of Estepona, on the Costa del Sol, and surrounding areas saw more than 60 percent of their average annual rainfall arrive in three days, the newspaper Diario Sur reported.

Filomena “exceeded the most pessimistic forecasts we had,” José Luis Ábalos, the Spanish transport minister, said on Saturday.

The storm has claimed at least three lives: A man was frozen to death in Madrid, and two people were found in a car that was swept away by floods after a river burst its banks in southern Spain.

Blizzards halted nearly all transport over the weekend, including forcing the closure of Madrid-Barajas Airport. Rail services in the areas worst affected were suspended, and 12,500 miles of roads were closed or suffered serious disruption. The emergency services have rescued about 2,500 people from snowbound vehicles, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported.

Madrid was placed on red alert on Friday, along with the surrounding provinces of Guadalajara, Cuenca, Albacete and Toledo, the first time that the highest level of weather warning has been used in these central Spanish areas since the system was introduced in 2007.

Christopher Bjork, a Norwegian who has lived in Madrid for 20 years, said he was used to plenty of snow in his home country but had never seen his adopted city covered so completely. “This is a unique situation for Madrid,” he said. “I don’t know to what extent they are prepared for this,” he added, acknowledging the difficulties for the authorities.

There were small signs on Monday of progress in clearing the effects of the storm. Madrid-Barajas Airport was gradually resuming flights, and Spain’s national train operator, Renfe, said it hoped to offer about three quarters of its normal service, according to local reports. Soldiers have been called in to clear hundreds of roads, and more than 3,500 tons of salt is expected to arrive in Madrid to help de-ice the roads and sidewalks, local news outlets reported.

Spurred by the unusual downfall, a giant snowball fight broke out on Gran Vía, one of Madrid’s main thoroughfares, and skiers and snowboarders turned out across the city center. But under the weather warning and with the coronavirus still raging across Spain, the government has urged people to stay at home and avoid nonessential travel. The authorities have also asked residents not to use their cars to leave the roads clear for emergency vehicles.

Madrid’s subway system, the only part of its public transport network to operate without interruption since the storm struck, reported a spike of 21 percent in the number of passengers on Monday, compared with a week earlier.

Schools, colleges and universities in Madrid and in the central region of Castilla-La Mancha were closed until at least Wednesday.

There have also been warnings of further hazards this week as the snow turns to ice and a further cold snap is expected. “We have difficult days ahead,” the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, said at a news conference on Monday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote on Twitter on Monday, “We cannot lower our guard.”

“Stay alert and prepared” for the cold, he added.

The snowstorm has presented the Spanish government, still struggling with a rising coronavirus caseload, with another battlefront. Spain’s Covid-19 death toll, more than 51,000, is one of the highest in Europe.

As well as the temptation for people to mix outside, there were fears that the snow could spell disaster for the distribution of a shipment of about 300,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine to regional health authorities. But Mr. Grande-Marlaska, the interior minister, said on Monday that the vaccine had arrived safely and promised that the distribution would go ahead “without incident.”

The storm is also a further challenge for health workers in the region, with videos on social media showing doctors and nurses going to extreme lengths to trek through the snow to work.

“The commitment being shown by all health workers is an example of solidarity and dedication,” the Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, said on Sunday.

Raphael Minder and Mark A. Walsh contributed reporting.



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Retiring Chief Deputy in Olympia, Washington, Gives Emotional Final Sign-off After 38 Years of Service



Chief Deputy Dave Pearsall with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office in Olympia, Washington, broke down in tears giving his final sign-off as he retired on December 31. Pearsall, who began his career with the sheriff’s office in 1982, made an emotional final radio transmission to dispatch from his patrol car, video shows. In the video, Pearsall said: “I’ll be out of service. End of watch. It’s been a great ride.” Credit: Thurston County Sheriff’s Office via Storyful

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