July 17, 2018

The Afghan government is planning its second-ever ceasefire with the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night.

The ceasefire is scheduled to coincide with a Muslim holiday in August. Its announcement comes close on the heels of a United Nations report that civilian deaths for the first six months of 2018 are at a record high since the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking casualties in 2009.

Taliban leaders agreed to an initial ceasefire timed for another holiday in June. The agreement did not include foreign troops, like U.S. forces, and other militant groups, like the Islamic State, were not involved.

The new ceasefire is intended to pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban, the United States, and the Afghan government. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he does not think a "military victory" is plausible in Afghanistan; rather, "the victory will be a political reconciliation" between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Bonnie Kristian

July 4, 2018
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Hawaii is doing something about dying coral reefs, becoming the first state to ban the sale of any sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate.

Gov. David Ige (D) signed the legislation on Tuesday, saying this is "just one small step toward protecting and restoring the resiliency of Hawaii's reefs." The ban will go into effect in 2021.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are in the majority of sunscreens, and scientists say the chemicals increase coral bleaching, cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms, and cause mortality in developing coral, USA Today reports. Once those sunscreen products are prohibited, they will only be available in Hawaii to people with a prescription from their physician. Catherine Garcia

June 19, 2018
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The National Park Service is set to reintroduce more than two dozen wolves to Michigan's remote Isle Royale, on the western edge of Lake Superior, in an attempt to right an ecological disaster that was set off when the population was decimated by a disease brought over by a sick domestic dog in 1982, Popular Science reports. In the intervening years, the wolf population on Isle Royale has plunged from 50 to just two, setting off a chain reaction — the wolves kept the moose population down, but with no natural predators, the herbivorous ungulates have exploded in number, chewing their way through the island's balsam firs.

The moose population has grown so large that "add a few more moose and one harsh winter, and the population will starve and collapse if previous trends hold true," Popular Science writes.

Unlike other regions where predators have been reintroduced, like wolves in Yellowstone or panthers in Florida, Michigan's Isle Royale is relatively undisturbed by humans. That makes it a key location for ecological research, both prior to and after the wolf reintroduction.

"The bottom line is safely capturing and releasing wolves into very remote habitat that's difficult to access," said the park's superintendent, Phyllis Green. Read more about the process of reintroducing the wolves at Popular Science. Jeva Lange

June 4, 2018
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A new study has found that most women who have early-stage breast cancer might not need to go through chemotherapy, with surgery and hormone therapy being enough.

The study was presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers focused on women with early-stage breast cancer that had not spread and was hormone-positive. For these patients, they typically undergo surgery and then take hormone-blocking drugs, but they are often urged to also go through chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that remain.

During the study, the largest one ever done on breast cancer, 10,273 patients took a test called Oncotype DX, which uses a biopsy sample to see how cells are growing and how they respond to hormone therapy, in order to estimate the risk the cancer will recur, The Associated Press reports. The 17 percent of women who had high-risk scores were advised to undergo chemotherapy, while the 16 percent of patients with a low-risk score were told they could skip it. The 67 percent of women at intermediate risk were split into two groups, with all of them having surgery and hormone therapy, but one group also going through chemo.

After nine years, 94 percent of both groups are still alive, and 84 percent are alive without any signs of cancer, showing the chemo didn't change anything. "The impact is tremendous," Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the study's leader, told AP. The researchers say that the findings do not apply to women who have larger tumors or whose cancer has spread, and they need to conduct studies on those patients. Catherine Garcia

March 8, 2018
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While speaking at the United Nations headquarters on Thursday, Reese Witherspoon announced that Time's Up, the campaign launched by women in the entertainment industry to fight sexual harassment in the workplace, has been able to assist 1,500 women since it started in January.

The Time's Up Legal Defense Fund has received more than $20 million, Witherspoon said, and helped 1,500 women file harassment suits against their employers for abuse and assault. The response has been "incredible," Witherspoon said, and proof "we are no longer to be harassed, we are no longer going to be mistreated or discriminated against. We are going to create more opportunity for each other." Catherine Garcia

January 24, 2018

Starbucks is investing $250 million into increased pay and benefits for its workers, CNBC reported Wednesday. A Starbucks press release noted that this decision was motivated "by recent changes in the U.S. tax law" and will affect more than 150,000 workers.

In April, Starbucks employees will receive wage increases "based on regional cost of living" that total $120 million. The company is also doling out stock grants; baristas and other store staff will receive at least $500 grants while store managers will get $2,000 grants.

The coffee-chain behemoth is also offering more generous benefits. Employees working full time will be able to accumulate up to five paid sick days per year, and "non-birth parents" will be eligible to take up to six paid weeks off to spend time with their newborn. Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 23, 2018
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Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) will give birth to her second child in April, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday. Ten lawmakers from the House of Representatives have given birth while in office — including Duckworth, back in 2014 — but Duckworth will be the first sitting senator to give birth while serving, the Sun-Times notes.

The journey to Duckworth's second pregnancy was an arduous one. "I've had multiple [in vitro fertilization] cycles and a miscarriage trying to conceive again, so we're very grateful," she told the Sun-Times, adding that the miscarriage happened while she ran for her Senate seat in 2016.

The 49-year-old senator was a House representative for Illinois' 8th district when she gave birth to her daughter in 2014. "As tough as it's been to juggle motherhood and the demands of being in the House and now the Senate, it's made me more committed to doing this job," Duckworth said. Kelly O'Meara Morales

December 5, 2017

Weight loss might be more effective in achieving remission for Type 2 diabetes than traditional medical treatments, scientists have found. A new paper published in the medical journal The Lancet chronicles a three-year study of patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes, the version of the disease that manifests in adulthood, and found that 86 percent of participants who lost a certain amount of weight achieved remission from the disease, BBC reports.

Specifically, that 86 percent of patients came from the pool of study participants who lost 33 or more pounds. By comparison, just 4 percent of patients who used traditional treatment methods achieved remission, BBC reports. In total, nearly half of all participants who used a weight-loss treatment plan saw their diabetes enter remission.

The weight loss treatment required participants to stop taking medication and instead eat low-calorie liquid meals for three to five months, after which they would go on a diet approved by a dietician. Weight loss reduces fat buildup around the pancreas, the organ that regulates blood glucose levels, which the researchers found allowed diabetics to produce more insulin, thus lowering their blood sugar levels.

Patients who lost large amounts of weight had the highest rates of remission — the 86 percent mentioned above — but 34 percent of participants who lost between 11 and 22 pounds also achieved remission, as well as more than half of the patients who lost between 22 and 33 pounds. Doctors did warn, however, that the disease could return if patients do not manage their weight. Read the full study at The Lancet. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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