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Tracy Morgan Responds After Wal-Mart Blames Him for Injuries

Tracy Morgan Responds After Wal-Mart Blames Him for Injuries

Virginia Sherwood/NBC(NEW YORK) — Tracy Morgan is speaking out one day after Wal-Mart blamed the comedian and his fellow passengers for their injuries in the fatal June crash on the New Jersey Turnpike involving one of its drivers.

In a formal response to a suit brought against the retailer, Wal-Mart said the passengers should’ve been wearing seat belts when the car they were riding in was struck by a Wal-Mart truck.

In a statement to ABC News, the 30 Rock star said, “After I heard what Wal-Mart said in court I felt I had to speak out. I can’t believe Wal-Mart is blaming me for an accident that they caused. My friends and I were doing nothing wrong. I want to thank my fans for sticking with me during this difficult time. I love you all. I’m fighting hard every day to get back.”

In court papers Monday, Wal-Mart broadly denied allegations of recklessness and negligence when the vehicle Morgan and his friends were riding in was struck by Wal-Mart truck driver Kevin Roper’s rig, and said the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused “by failure to wear an appropriate available seatbelt restraint device.”

Had Morgan and the others been wearing seat belts, Wal-Mart said, “all or a portion of the injuries could have been diminished or minimized.”

Morgan was seriously injured in the crash. He suffered a broken femur, a broken nose and several broken ribs, among other injuries. His friend, comedian James McNair, died.

Wal-Mart declined to answer a specific allegation that its driver, Roper, was fatigued, because the company is also involved in the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

An attorney for Morgan and the other plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit called Wal-Mart’s argument “surprising and appalling.”

In a new statement, the retail chain said Tuesday, “Walmart is committed to working to resolve all of the remaining issues as a result of the accident. As part of the ordinary course of legal proceedings, Walmart filed an initial response yesterday to the lawsuit that included facts and defenses that may impact the case moving forward.  While we were required to respond to the lawsuit, we have also taken steps to encourage settlement discussions. Our thoughts continue to go out to everyone involved, and we remain committed to doing what’s right.”

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Consumer Confidence Declines, More Losses on Wall Street

Consumer Confidence Declines, More Losses on Wall Street

JaysonPhotography/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Tuesday marked another day of losses for Wall Street, as all three major indices closed lower for the second day in a row.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 28.32 to 17,042.90.

The Nasdaq slipped 12.46 to 4,493.39, while the S&P 500 closed at 1,972.29, down 5.51.

The Conference Board said on Tuesday that consumer confidence, which increased in August, slipped back downwards in September. August’s mark had been the highest level in about seven years. The Conference Board noted that “a less positive assessment of the current job market” played a role in the decline.

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Secret Service Director: White House Intrusion ‘Unacceptable’

Secret Service Director: White House Intrusion ‘Unacceptable’

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Facing an outraged Congressional committee, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson admitted the agency’s security plan “was not properly executed,” calling the White House intrusion that took place on Sept. 19 “unacceptable.”

“I take full responsibility,” Pierson said. “It will never happen again.”

In a startling security lapse earlier this month, 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, armed with a 3 ½ inch serrated knife, scaled the north fence at the White House, stormed through the unlocked North Portico door, and barreled past an agent into the East Room just minutes after the first family had departed the White House.

Before he scaled the fence, Pierson revealed that two agents recognized and observed Gonzalez, who was caught with a hatchet tucked in his waistband and several firearms stashed in his car near the White House earlier this summer, but did not make contact with him or report that he was present.

“We all are outraged within the Secret Service of how this came to pass,” Pierson said. “It’s obvious that mistakes were made.”

“Protecting the White House complex is a challenge in any environment,” she added. “We are never satisfied by the status quo and we are constantly reviewing our security protocols.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa called lawmakers back to Capitol Hill to convene the rare recess hearing, saying the failure “has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service” to protect the president.

“Common sense tells us that there were a series of security failures, not an instance of praiseworthy restraint. Inexplicably, Omar Gonzalez breached at least five rings of security on September 19th,” Issa, R-Calif., said. “The White House is supposed to be one of America’s most secure facilities, and in fact, one of the world’s most secure facilities. So how on earth did it happen?”

Pierson — brought in just 18 months ago to clean up the scandal-plagued agency — now faces a scandal of her own.

She said 16 people have been apprehended for scaling the fence over the past five years, including six this year.

“Our goal today is also clear: to determine how this happened and make sure it does not happen again,” said Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. “I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House. That possibility is extremely unsettling.”

A “crash box” alarm that should have alerted agents of an intruder had been muted at the behest of the chief usher’s office, the Washington Post reported Monday, and the agent guarding the door had no time to lock it before Gonzalez entered.

While the incident was the primary focus of the hearing, lawmakers also demanded answers about an incident the next day when an unauthorized vehicle was cleared into the White House compound, as well as a 2011 incident when a man fired several rounds at the White House while some of the president’s family was inside.

Pierson reportedly requested that much of the hearing take place behind closed doors, calling a public discussion of Secret Service practices “beyond reckless.” Lawmakers claimed the public deserves to know what happened, but agreed to hold a classified session immediately following Tuesday’s open hearing.

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Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps ‘Deeply Sorry’ After DUI Arrest

Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps ‘Deeply Sorry’ After DUI Arrest

Chris Hyde/Getty Images(BALTIMORE) — Olympic legend Michael Phelps said he was “deeply sorry” after authorities arrested him early Tuesday morning for suspicion of driving under the influence in Maryland.

“I understand the severity of my actions and take full responsibility,” Phelps tweeted and said in a prepared statement released through his agent. “I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.”

The gold medalist was pulled over in his white Land Rover by police at 1:40 a.m., originally for speeding, police told ABC News.

Phelps, 29, was going 84 mph in a 45 mph zone and was also seen crossing double lane lines, police said.

The officers realized he was intoxicated and gave him a field sobriety test, authorities said.

“Mr. Phelps was identified as the driver by his driver’s license and appeared to be under the influence. He was unable to perform satisfactorily a series of standard field sobriety tests,” a spokesperson for Maryland Transportation Authority told ABC.

Phelps has been charged with speeding, DUI and crossing double lane lines, police said. He has since been released, they added.

This is the athlete’s second DUI arrest. He was arrested in 2004, also in his native Maryland. He pleaded guilty to that arrest and got 18 months probation.

Phelps is one of the most notable Olympians ever, winning 22 total medals — 18 of which are gold. He won his first Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 and competed recently in the 2012 London Games.

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Face-to-Face with Patients in the Ebola Ward

Face-to-Face with Patients in the Ebola Ward

ABC NewsREPORTER’S NOTEBOOK By ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser

(MONROVIA, Liberia) — “Before we enter the Ebola ward, we pray,” Dr. Jerry Brown tells me as we stand just outside the second-oldest Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia, clad in layer after layer of protective gear.

I’m about to become the first journalist allowed inside. My head tells me we’re safe, but my heart is pounding.

A few minutes earlier, three people watched and made adjustments as I put on scrubs, boots, a pair of gloves, foot covers, a full-body Tyvek suit, a second pair of gloves, a respirator mask, a second hood, goggles, a third pair of gloves and a heavy, yellow apron. Not a speck of skin is exposed to the air. After just five minutes in this cocoon, I am saturated in sweat.

My producer hands me two GoPro cameras, and I follow Brown inside to see his patients. Although the ward was designed to hold 40 people, I’m told there are 60 patients here today.

“When you leave the clinic and see people lying on the ground, sick with Ebola and wanting help, how can you say no?” a doctor who works with Brown told me. “We make room.”

Our first stop is the area designated for suspected Ebola cases. These people have symptoms consistent with Ebola and exposure to a known Ebola patient, but they have not yet been tested.

Children mix in with adults. Some of the patients are in individual patient bays divided by canvas walls. Others are in the main room, an open area containing no more than 10 cots. I notice one major infection control issue: there is only one toilet, and everyone shares it. This is problematic because Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. But it’s all they have to work with.

Brown makes his rounds, asking everyone how they are doing. If I saw some of these patients in my office, I wouldn’t think they were sick. Others look near death.

Loud music blares over the radio. “I want them to have some entertainment,” Brown explains.

I am struck by how frightening it must be for these patients, especially the children. To them, we are coming toward them in space suits with only our eyes visible to show we’re human. I focus on trying to smile with my eyes for each child I see.

We round a corner and move into the area with confirmed Ebola patients. The first two are out in the corridor under an awning. One man looks deathly ill. Dehydration from the diarrhea, Brown tells me.

Inside the main ward, there are more than a dozen patients. In a corner, I see 10-year-old Richmond, wearing an American shirt with “Wisconsin” written across the front. I catch myself before I ask him if he’s ever been there. Contaminated clothes are taken away from each patient when they enter the ward. He got that shirt as a replacement when he arrived.

I ask how he’s doing. He looks good.

“Fine,” he says. “My chest hurts.”

His mother tells us that he coughed up blood that morning, a very bad sign for someone with Ebola. Brown will keep a close eye on him.

Next, we stop by a single room no bigger than a closet to check on a 26-year-old man. He says he caught Ebola sharing a room with a man who had a fever. The man was tested for malaria and then typhoid fever. By the time he was tested for Ebola, he had infected his roommate.

“Brown, you gave me life!” he beamed as he reached down to touch Dr. Brown’s feet in a sign of respect.

Brown jumped back. “No touching!”

“But you are God!” he countered.

“I am not God,” Brown said. “I’m so glad you are feeling better.”

As we move into the main common room, I’m caught off guard. A flat screen TV hangs on the wall and 15 or so Ebola patients sit watching it, clearly no longer ill. Since the ward won’t release patients until they undergo two negative Ebola tests administered at least 10 days apart, patients need something to do as they get better. This room reminds me more of a community center than a ward for the deadliest disease on the planet.

Down the hall, I see many rooms with sicker patients: a nurse who’d been bleeding, a young man with anemia. Brown said he gave them blood transfusions.

“We can’t match blood types here so we give everyone O-positive.” He said, adding that the blood came from Ebola survivors — the same treatment given to Dr. Rick Sacra, the American Ebola patient treated in Nebraska. The blood had been tested to make sure it didn’t have HIV or hepatitis B.

Then, Brown explains one of the most amazing things about the unit. There were many health workers treated there, so as they started to improve, he put them to work. They became his monitoring system.

He gave instructions to a recovering nurse as we entered the room.

“I’ve just started blood transfusions on two patients,” he said. “Keep an eye on them. Look at their skin. If you see a rash, borrow a cell phone and call me.”

“Do I touch the skin?” the nurse asked.

“No, just look and let me know.”

What a wonderful idea, making use of the skills of the patients in the unit. It’s so hard to stay in the unit in protective gear. After 30 minutes, I was already worried that I was getting dehydrated. But putting recovering patients and those who have already had the virus to work solves that problem because they don’t need to wear the cumbersome gear.

After 40 minutes, I tell Brown that I should probably leave. He administers a couple IV medicines to patients, gives a big goodbye to the ward before leading me toward the exit.

Getting out of the protective suit takes even longer thank it took to put it on. Between every layer I take off, a hygienist sprays me down with bleach. Another layer, more bleach.

Stepping out into the sunlight, I feel a weight lifting off my chest. I know the feeling is more than just relief to be leaving the ward. What I saw filled me with hope. Each patient was a person first.

The unit was doing everything it could to save each life and, at least for some, it was succeeding.

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What to Expect from Microsoft Windows 10

What to Expect from Microsoft Windows 10

Microsoft(NEW YORK) — It’s not coming out until 2015, but Microsoft offered a peek at what users can expect from the latest generation of the company’s operating system called Windows 10.

Many keen Microsoft observers will note that the company skipped over the number nine in naming the latest iteration of the software. It’s something a company spokesman said signals how the operating system has evolved.

“Windows 10 carries Windows forward into a new way of doing things. It is not an incremental change, but a new Windows that will empower the next billion users,” the spokesperson said.

Here’s a look at some upgrades Microsoft has made to Windows 10:

Working Is a Snap

There’s nothing more annoying than having to toggle between two windows you’re trying to work out of at the same time. No more!

Users will be able to snap four apps to the same screen, meaning work just got that much easier.

Mobile-First, Cloud-First World

When apps from the Windows store are opened, they’ll run the same way as desktop apps — in a Window. They can easily be minimized, maximized, moved around and closed with just one click.

Multiple Desktops

Working on a slew of different projects? Create a desktop for each one.

Not only do we see this feature making it easier to focus on getting work done, but the best part: your working doesn’t have to be staring you down all the time. Let it live in its own desktop.

Task View

When you want to pull up that big project, it’s easy to do so.

A new button called “Task View” allows users to quickly switch between open files and new desktops they have created, making working in the operating system incredibly efficient.

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California Enacts Statewide Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags

California Enacts Statewide Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags

iStock/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California has become the first state in the country to make it illegal for grocery stores to give out plastic grocery bags.

While many cities had already banned the bags, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday banning them up and down California.

“This bill is a step in the right direction — it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown said in a statement. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Under the legislation, grocery stores and pharmacies are banned from distributing the bags after July 2015. Convenience and liquor stores will be subject to the change the following year.

The bill will also provide up to $2 million in competitive loans for businesses to transition to reusable bags.

Lawmakers are touting it as a win for the environment, but critics say it won’t help.

Bag makers are already trying for a voter referendum to repeal the new law.

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Ark. Real Estate Agent Targeted Because She Was ‘Woman that Worked Alone’

Ark. Real Estate Agent Targeted Because She Was ‘Woman that Worked Alone’

Pulaski County Sherrif’s Office(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) — The man accused of kidnapping and killing Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter said Tuesday she was targeted because she was “a woman that worked alone.”

Aaron Lewis, an ex-con, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of capital murder, robbery and kidnapping in connection with Carter’s death. He is being held on $1 million bail.

Lewis, 33, admitted during police questioning to kidnapping Carter, 50, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Lt. Carl Minden told ABC News. Lewis did not admit to the slaying and did not provide any details about Carter’s whereabouts, Minden said.

The suspect spoke briefly to reporters Tuesday morning as he was taken from the jail to the sheriff’s office, where he was to be interviewed again after spending more than 12 hours with investigators Monday.

When asked by reporters why Carter was targeted, Lewis responded: “Because she was just a woman that worked alone — a rich broker.” He denied killing her.

Carter’s body was found in a shallow grave at the Argos Concrete Co., about 20 miles from the town of Scott, Arkansas, where Carter had an appointment to show a house for sale.

Carter’s family issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “We are devastated at the loss of our precious Beverly. There is now a hole in our hearts that will never be filled. Mr. Lewis robbed us of an amazing wife, loving mother and grandmother. Her grandkids will never get to the know the magnitude of her greatness.”

The real estate agent’s disappearance had rattled her colleagues, most of them women, who routinely agree to meet strangers at empty homes that are for sale.

“They’re scared, and I need someone to give them some reassurance,” said Brenda Rhoads, the principal broker at the real estate company where Carter worked.

Rhoads, who was good friends with Carter and worked with her for nine years, told ABC News that she arranged for a police detective to come and speak to her colleagues at Crye Leike Real Estate Services Monday to try and calm their fears.

Some have said that Carter, a 50-year-old grandmother, should not have met the prospective buyer alone, but Rhoads dismissed those critiques, saying, “That’s our job.”

“I would say that 80 percent of my agents are women, but the men, they are devastated, too,” she said.

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After Autistic Girl Finds Success in Art World, Parents Shield Her from Spotlight

After Autistic Girl Finds Success in Art World, Parents Shield Her from Spotlight

Courtesy Arabella Carter-Johnson(NEW YORK) — When Iris Grace Halmshaw’s parents introduced her to painting, they were hoping the activity would be a fun diversion and a way to get their autistic child to express herself.

But as soon as Iris picked up a brush, her parents were blown away by how she approached the painting. She shied away from doing simple paintings of houses or smiling stick figures and, instead, created colorful abstract pieces that appeared to express deep emotion.

“It was on her first painting I noticed a difference in her painting compared with how you would normally expect a child to paint,” Iris’ mom, Arabella Carter-Johnson, wrote to ABC News in an email. “She filled the page with colour but with thought and consideration. …We didn’t think [too] much of it at the time, we were just so happy to have found an activity that brought her so much joy.”

When her parents shared her artwork online, people started to contact them and ask to purchase prints. When the parents started to sell her work online, Iris’ name and work grabbed headlines and high prices.

Last summer, several of Iris’ paintings were sold individually for as much as 1,500 pounds and the pint-size painter has nearly 90,000 likes on Facebook.

But as Iris’ work grabbed the spotlight, the family also focused on protecting her and keeping her day-to-day life stable.

“We are trying to keep our lives as normal as possible for Iris, so our same routine continues,” wrote Carter-Johnson. “I am educating her at home and this week we have been concentrating on animals, so nothing has changed in Iris’s world.”

While Iris’ parents say her autism likely helped her to create incredible artwork, it can also make her anxious around new people and she had trouble speaking until recently. While her art has been a way to express herself, her parents are careful not to overwhelm the 5-year-old.

“She has a fantastic concentration span but as her parent and educator I have to keep an eye on that and help her move onto other things,” said Carter-Johnson. “I can see nature in her paintings, water, trees, flowers, and also we can see Thula her cat in many of them.”

The family decided to sell Iris’ paintings both as a way to fund her private therapists and to raise awareness about her condition. According to the family, all the profits from Iris’ work will go to pay for her art materials and her ongoing private therapists. The money also goes to a savings account for Iris and to fund a club for autistic children run out of the Halmshaw home called the Little Explorers Activity Club.

After Iris was introduced to art, Carter-Johnson said, her daughter can now express herself in other ways besides speech or words. Iris’ mother said Iris can get lost in her work and spend as long as two hours painting her abstract pieces.

“She has an understanding of colours and how they interact with each other,” wrote Iris’ parents on a website dedicated to her work. “She beams with excitement and joy when I get out the paints, it lifts her mood everytime.”

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US, Afghanistan Sign Bilateral Security Agreement

US, Afghanistan Sign Bilateral Security Agreement

iStock/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) — After a long wait, the U.S. and Afghanistan finally signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) on Tuesday, allowing U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of the year.

The signing came a day after Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as the new president of Afghanistan.

The BSA allows about 10,000 American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. military’s combat mission ends on Dec. 31, to help train Afghan forces as they take over responsibility for the country’s security.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the agreement, prompting the Pentagon to threaten to pull all of its troops out.

President Obama praised the signing of the BSA, saying it marks a ‘historic day’ in the U.S.-Afghan partnership.

“This agreement represents an invitation from the Afghan Government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years and provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces,” Obama said in a statement Tuesday.

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Will Chocolate Be Next Casualty of Ebola Outbreak?

Will Chocolate Be Next Casualty of Ebola Outbreak?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Fears that the Ebola virus may spread to more countries in West Africa could also affect one of the region’s major exports, cocoa, which has been steadily increasing in price over the last year.

About 70 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West African nations, with Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana accounting for over 55 percent of global cocoa supply, according to IBISWorld chocolate analyst Amal Ahmad. But the recent surge in cocoa prices is not the result of the Ebola outbreak, Ahmad told ABC News.

The price per ton of cocoa has increased steadily since May 2013, according to the International Cocoa Organization. The price of coca was $3,330 per ton Tuesday morning, compared to $3,252 on Aug. 29. Last month, cocoa prices reached highs not seen since January 2011.

Ahmad said rising cocoa prices have so far had more to do with basic economic trends — strong global demand outstripping limited global supply — than with Ebola. The epidemic will raise cocoa prices significantly only if it affects workers in cocoa fields, limiting global supply further, Ahmad said.

The current outbreak is the worst since the Ebola virus was first identified in 1976, with more than 6,000 reported cases, about half of them fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

The big players will be affected more than smaller artisan producers, who do not lean as heavily on West African beans and instead favor cocoa from Central and South America or the East Indies, said Michael Laiskonis, creative director at the Institute of Culinary Education.

ADM, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, has cocoa bean facilities in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, plus cocoa processing operations in the latter two countries. None of those countries have reported cases of Ebola, according to the WHO.

Jackie Anderson, a spokeswoman for ADM, which bills itself as the world’s premier cocoa and chocolate manufacturer, said that cocoa operations have not been impacted in West Africa. However, the company is monitoring the situation closely, Anderson said.

As the primary October harvest approaches, all eyes are on the ongoing spread of the virus, the restricted mobility of the migrant workforce, and the transport of the commodity itself throughout and out of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Laiskonis said.

“Though the Ebola outbreaks presents an unprecedented crisis, the general political and social conditions in many cocoa-growing regions has occasionally been cause for caution amid the global trade,” Laiskonis said.

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Under New Leadership, PayPal to Split from eBay

Under New Leadership, PayPal to Split from eBay

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(SAN JOSE, Calif.) — PayPal and eBay are separating to become two independent, publicly-traded companies. An eBay announcement Tuesday said the breakup, to be completed in the second half of 2015, is the “best path for growth and shareholder value creation for each business.”

Dan Schulman, a former executive at American Express, will take over the new, independent PayPal as CEO, effective immediately.

“Dan’s impressive track record of growing consumer brands and his experience in payments and mobile technology make him a natural fit for PayPal today,” eBay President and CEO John Donahoe said Tuesday in a statement. “He brings both dynamic leadership and vision as the company accelerates into the future.”

EBay shares jumped more than 10 percent in pre-market trading Tuesday as news of the split became public.

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Russia Pulls of Out US Funded Student Exchange Program

Russia Pulls of Out US Funded Student Exchange Program

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Amid political tensions with the West, Russia is pulling out of a popular high school exchange program funded by the U.S. government, according to the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

“We deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States,” Ambassador John Tefft said in a statement.

The Future Leaders Exchange program, known as FLEX, places students from former Soviet countries in year-long exchanges at high schools around the United States, where they live with an American family.

According to the U.S. Embassy, more than 8,000 Russian high school students have participated in the program since it launched 21 years ago. The goal was to help foster closer ties and understanding between the former Soviet world and the West after the Cold War.

One of those students was Elena Chernenko, now a correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant. From 1999-2000 she attended high school in Arlington, Texas, and forged lifelong friendships.

“It was a great experience, both for me, as a participant of this program and for my host family and the friends that I met there. I think this program is very important,” she said in a phone interview, using the English she perfected in the U.S.

Chernenko said the program helped break down stereotypes she held of Americans and she was able to teach her classmates about Russia.

“I was the only foreigner there. And my friends were asking, like, do you have television? Do you have electricity?” she recalled with a chuckle.

“I do not understand really why our government would shut down a program like this,” she lamented. “I’m very sad. I don’t think that this is something that should be done. Cultural exchanges, student exchanges, scientific exchanges, they should stay whatever the political situation is.”

She also left an impact on her host family, inspiring her “younger brother” to study Russian in college.

Chernenko said the program taught her as much about herself as it did about the United States, and she left determined to go back and work in Russia.

Russian authorities have yet to explain the decision to suspend cooperation with FLEX, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has taken a confrontational stance towards the United States in recent years. In 2012, Russia kicked out the U.S. Agency for International Development and has targeted non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding, branding them “foreign agents.”

Those tensions boiled over this year after Russia seized Crimea and fomented tensions in Ukraine, leading to several rounds of American and European sanctions.

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Hong Kong Protests Grow Over Demands for Reforms

Hong Kong Protests Grow Over Demands for Reforms

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) — The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is showing no signs of receding as demonstrators continued filling the streets Tuesday to protest Beijing’s attempt at quashing reforms.

At issue is mainland China’s determination to run its own candidate in Hong Kong’s 2017 leadership election with most in the financial hub of seven million demanding open nominations.

Up to now, Chinese soldiers have not intervened as demonstrators are condemning what they say are heavy-handed tactics by police that include tear gas and billy clubs.

Massive protests are rare in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997. However, fears are growing that Beijing is increasingly trying to wield more influence in what has long been an autonomous city.

If Beijing doesn’t respond by Wednesday, leaders for reform say they will announce new civil disobedience rules.

Meanwhile in Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest urged Chinese authorities to “exercise restraint,” adding, “The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong” and residents should have “a genuine choice of candidates.”

More ABC news videos | ABC Entertainment News

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Arsonist Suspected of Setting 23 Fires in Washington State

Arsonist Suspected of Setting 23 Fires in Washington State

iStock/Thinkstock(SPOKANE, Wash.) — Fire officials in Washington state suspect an arsonist is responsible for igniting 23 fires in the past few weeks, including one that burned through eight acres and put Spokane County residents on edge.

Nearly all of the fires happened in the Greenacres area. Most were small brush fires, but several homes have been threatened, ABC News affiliate KXLY reported.

“We’re blessed that nobody has been injured yet, but that’s just a matter of time,” Greenacres resident Carolyn Staples told KXLY.

Two of the fires were set in vacant model homes. The first blaze was the Saltese Lake Fire on Sept. 18.

Officials have asked the public to be vigilant, report any suspicious persons and keep an eye on their security cameras.

The hunt for an arsonist was a personal mission for one Spokane firefighter.

Greg Godfrey, an assistant chief of Spokane County Fire District #8, worked in California when a fellow firefighter was convicted of setting about 2,000 fires in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s and 1990s. John Orr, who was a captain and arson investigator at the Glendale Fire Department, is now serving life in prison.

“The fire department is a family,” Godfrey told KXLY. “We’re a very tight-knit group of individuals. We have to trust each other.

“He betrayed that,” Godfrey added. “He put our people in jeopardy.”

One of the California fires killed four people, but Godfrey hopes officials catch the Washington arsonist before anyone gets hurt.

“We’ve been lucky,” he told the station. “We’ve had small fires and one that started to get big, but we’ve been extremely lucky.”

Spokane County Fire District officials did not immediately return a call from ABC News.

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‘Heartbroken’ Nicole Kidman Speaks Out About Father’s Death

‘Heartbroken’ Nicole Kidman Speaks Out About Father’s Death

Brad Barket/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Actress Nicole Kidman is still grieving the loss of her father Antony earlier this month at the age of 75.

Kidman, 47, and her husband, Keith Urban, released a joint statement on Facebook Tuesday.

“We would just like to thank everyone for their love and prayers over these past couple of weeks,” the couple wrote. “We are all heartbroken but knowing we are in the hearts and thoughts of others is so comforting. Sending love, Nic and Keith xx.”

The cause of Antony Kidman’s death has not been revealed by authorities, but the clinical psychologist was confirmed to be in Singapore, visiting family, when it was announced on Sept. 12 that he had died.

“Nicole and her family are in shock by the sudden death of her father,” a statement from Nicole Kidman’s rep said at the time of her father’s death.

Additionally, Urban canceled a charity event after he heard the news of his father-in-law’s death and jumped on a jet from California to get to his and Kidman’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Ford Cuts Profits Outlook for 2014

Ford Cuts Profits Outlook for 2014

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Will Ford’s profit warning be the first of many?

The share price of the second-largest U.S. auto company plunged more than 7 percent as the firm cut its full-year profits outlook.

At a conference call for investors Monday, Ford CEO Mark Fields said he expects a pretax profit of around $6 billion this year, down from the $7 billion to $8 billion the firm previously forecast.

The decline is mainly attributed to weak sales in Russia, which has been slapped with economic sanctions that have impacted the country’s growth.

Ford’s European operations are likely to declare a loss of well over $1 billion this year. The region’s economic troubles and slower growth in South America are a worry for many large multi-national corporations.

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Say ‘Ello’ to the Guy Who Invented an Alternative to Facebook

Say ‘Ello’ to the Guy Who Invented an Alternative to Facebook

Ello(NEW YORK) — Say “Ello” to Paul Budnitz.

Budnitz, 47, owns a luxury bicycle shop in Burlington, Vermont, that bears his last name. He’s also an author, photographer, filmmaker and the owner of Kidrobot, a company that creates toys, apparel and accessories.

He can now add social network co-founder and CEO of Ello to his already eclectic resume.

“My grandfather was a small-town doctor and he used to say that I was missing a gene that told me that some giant risk I am about to take with my life is both stupid and dangerous,” Budnitz says on his website. “I’m grateful for this. Everything beautiful that we create in life requires a leap of faith.”

His latest leap is Ello, a social network that has generated buzz by positioning itself as the anti-Facebook. The site is advertising free and Ello says it will never sell data about its users to third parties.

Budnitz thinks it’s Ello’s promise that is wooing tens of thousands of people to the site every hour to request an invitation.

“A social network is a place to be in contact with each other and talk to friends. If it becomes full of ads, it becomes clunky and cluttered and a little violating,” Butnitz told Bloomberg Businessweek. “That’s what people are responding to and why they are coming over to Ello.”

Budnitz, who splits his time between Burlington, where Ello is based, and New York City, knows the social network will have to find a way to monetize itself when it’s out of beta mode.

His solution is another departure from the norm: Budnitz plans to introduce an app-store model to Ello, where users can add on new features to their profile. If they like a feature, users can add it and chip in “a very small amount of money.”

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Alfonso Ribeiro Has Lost 17 Pounds on “Dancing with the Stars”

Alfonso Ribeiro Has Lost 17 Pounds on “Dancing with the Stars”

ABC/Craig Sjodin(LOS ANGELES) — Alfonso Ribeiro is already making his mark as a front runner on Dancing with the Stars. The former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star, 43, has good reason for his early success — he’s practicing eight hours a day.

“I’m doing four, five hours at the studio, then I come home and work for three or four hours on the dances myself, just kind of get it into my body,” he told ABC News. “It’s really, really, really difficult. People seem to think I’m this professional dancer and that’s so not the case. I’ve only done tap dancing before.”

He continued, “All of this is brand new. Like this week we are doing the quick step…It’s been a tough, tough journey. But every day we go into it saying, ‘Let’s do the best we can today’ and hope that keeps us near the top.”

Ribeiro said the first week where his dance floored the judges was the easiest because he had three weeks to prepare; now he only has four days a week to get ready.

“It’s so hard, but it’s a lot of fun and I’m having a blast. I’ve got the best partner in Witney Carson, she’s just amazing. We are having a blast with it,” he said.

Ribeiro is not only having fun, he is also seeing immediate physical benefits from his rigorous dance schedule.

“I’ve already lost 17 pounds,” he revealed. “There’s been a lot of change.”

Ribeiro said his wife Angela Unkrich and family are partially to thank for the change.

“Well, we work hard as a team,” he added. “She’s been supporting me and making sure I’m eating all the best stuff at home. That is where my family has been so supportive. They understand how important this is to me and obviously my wife knows how hard I like to work. she totally gets it.”

With an almost 1-year-old son — Alfonso Lincoln Ribeiro, Jr., who was born last October — at home, the TV star said he still does get to see who matters most to him.

“I do get my time in the morning with them and a little time in the evening,” he said.

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How This Enterovirus Outbreak Could Affect Adults

How This Enterovirus Outbreak Could Affect Adults

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — There’s one silver lining in the ominous news about the mysterious respiratory virus that has sickened children in 46 states since August, even causing paralysis in some: It does not seem to be spreading into adults.

But experts aren’t sure why.

“Everyone is scratching their heads on this one,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

One possible theory is that the current pathogen, enterovirus 68, or a virus very similar to it has circulated undetected in the past, Schaffner said. That means adults may have already been exposed to it and have built up immunity.

However, Schaffner said it’s more likely that adults aren’t being infected because enteroviruses are so common.

“Older family members may have built up some antibodies to enteroviruses in general that are providing some cross-protection,” he said.

Dr. Michael Tosi, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said he doesn’t expect to see many adult cases if any at all.

“In general we see enteroviruses more in children than adults anyway,” Tosi said. “When they do get them they are often asymptomatic or have less serious reactions that don’t require hospitalization.”

Schaffner agreed it’s unlikely there will be mass outbreak in older people. The virus has been around since the summer and children have been exposing their families to it for months, he said. If it was going to spread to adults, it probably would have already.

However, he noted that enterovirus 68 is a bit of a rogue.

“Many enteroviruses are transmitted and live in intestinal tract but this virus is spread by a respiratory route, more like how winter flus are spread,” he explained. “We’ll definitely have to watch it and see how it behaves.”

Enterovirus 68 is similar to the common cold, but symptoms can be more serious, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes wheezing and in some instances, neurological symptoms and temporary paralysis. How it spreads is unclear, though most enteroviruses spread through contact with respiratory secretions like saliva and mucous, as well as feces.

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