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November 29, 2018

The life expectancy for Americans dropped again last year, a record number of Americans died, and the suicide rate hit a 50-year high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a series of reports Thursday. Public health experts can't point to any one factor for the 70,000 more deaths in 2017 — for a record 2.8 million deaths total — but the rise in suicide and drug overdose deaths, plus an uptick in fatal flu and pneumonia cases, helped explain the grim news.

The drop in life expectancy — children born in 2017 were expected to live to 78.6, from 78.7 years in 2016 — combined with similar annual declines since 2014, put the U.S. in the longest slide in life expectancy since 1915-1918, a period that included World War I and the deadlines flu pandemic in modern history. "I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States," Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Washington Post. "Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn't be declining in the United States."

Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, said he sees a correlation between rising deaths and falling hope tied to financial struggles and divisive politics. "I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide," he told The Associated Press.

Among the CDC's new 2017 statistics, fatal drug overdoses hit a new record of 70,237, including 47,600 deaths from opioids, a six-fold increase over 1999; West Virginia once more had the highest overdose rate. There were also more than 47,000 suicides, up from just under 45,000 in 2016. The suicide rate in rural counties was twice as high as in urban counties, the CDC said, a disparity experts said was fueled by greater access to firearms in rural areas. You can read more about the rise in suicides at USA Today. Peter Weber

4:04 p.m.

The University of Oklahoma has been supplying false information to U.S. News & World Report for the last 20 years, reports CNN.

U.S. News & World Report, which creates the annual Best Colleges rankings, says the university has given "inflated" numbers on its alumni giving rates, of all things. Oklahoma will now be unranked in the 2019 rankings.

The university inflated its alumni giving rate by more than 4 percent, incorrectly claiming it was 14 percent instead of 9.7 percent. The alumni giving rate makes up 5 percent of the rankings formula, as it "measures student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement," reports CNN.

The school said it noticed the error in reporting in 2018 and immediately gave the accurate information to U.S. News. OU was ranked 97th in 2018 among both public and private institutions.

The revelation marks the second time in two years that a college has provided false information to U.S. News for several years, following Temple University's admission it had inflated information about its online M.B.A. program, per Inside Higher Ed. Marianne Dodson

3:15 p.m.

Adam Levine has turned his chair for the final time.

The Maroon 5 frontman announced season 16 of The Voice would be his last as a coach, revealing the decision in an Instagram post Friday morning.

Levine has been with the talent competition show since its premiere in 2011 and is one of two judges, along with Blake Shelton, to remain as a coach during the show's 16 seasons. Levine and Shelton struck up a friendship and rivalry during the show's tenure, which has been credited as bolstering the show's success, reports People.

"Our friendship is and always will be one for the books," Levine wrote about Shelton on Instagram. "Whatever this whole surreal experience was, [I'm] just happy I got to experience it with you."

Levine ends his run on The Voice with three wins to his name, half of Shelton's six.

The Voice host Carson Daly told The Today Show that Levine's replacement would be former coach Gwen Stefani, who is dating Shelton. Marianne Dodson

2:54 p.m.

After the Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday that it would scrap an Obama-era policy that expressly forbade health care providers from discriminating against transgender patients, advocacy groups and lawmakers alike began criticizing the move as damaging to a vulnerable group of Americans.

The pending change reverts regulations back to prohibiting discrimination solely based on sex, not gender identity. "When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform," HHS Director of the Office for Civil Rights Roger Severino told The Washington Post.

Democrats who are running for president in 2020 wasted no time in decrying the Trump administration.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pointed out another aspect of the HHS change: As Axios reports, the rolled-back nondiscrimination policy could also let adoption agencies reject same-sex couples, leaning on new religious exemptions.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has vowed to fight the proposed change — once the policy is rewritten it will surely face several legal challenges, something many 2020 Democrats suggested is necessary. Summer Meza

2:53 p.m.

The live-action Sonic won't be arriving in theaters as fast as expected.

Sonic the Hedgehog, the new live-action movie based on the hit video game franchise, has been delayed until February 2020 from its original release date of November 8, director Jeff Fowler announced on Friday. This comes after the decision was made to redesign the character amid widespread criticism. Fowler on Twitter suggested this delay will take some of the pressure off the movie's team of animators, as was a concern when the redesign was announced.

Fowler's tweet also seemingly teases one of the changes to Sonic's look: in the drawing he posted, Sonic's wearing a white glove like in the video games, whereas the version of Sonic shown off in the film's trailer just had white hands. The creator of Sonic himself had previously criticized that choice by saying he would "prefer it if they'd put some gloves on," Kotaku reports.

The reception to the live-action Sonic was almost universally negative after he was revealed in the film's official trailer last month, with fans objecting to, among other things, the character's weirdly human teeth and muscular legs. In a fairly unprecedented move, the team behind Sonic decided to respond to this criticism by actually going back and changing the film. Originally, they had just six months from that announcement to the release date, but another three months has just been added to that timetable.

Sonic is now set to be released on Valentine's Day 2020, one week after a Peter Rabbit sequel and Warner Bros.' Harley Quinn-centered Birds of Prey, as well as the same day as the next Kingsman. But considering fans had plenty of other problems with that initial trailer that had nothing to do with how Sonic looked, we'll find out next February whether this extraordinary effort was even worth it. Brendan Morrow

2:25 p.m.

Weed is thriving in the stock market, but companies will need to hash out some legal issues if they want to reap the benefits in the U.S.

The stock market has given several marijuana companies valuations as high as $20 billion, but these stocks are listed with the caveat that they are unable to operate in the U.S. due to federal restrictions, reports Markets Insider. Under current laws in the U.S., the production, possession, and consumption of marijuana remains a criminal act.

Despite these restrictions, weed stocks are "astronomically valued" when compared to the tech, alcohol, and tobacco sectors, per Markets Insider.

Support for the legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high in the U.S., and 11 states have made the drug fully legal. But despite some states' support, weed companies cannot be listed in the U.S. market without violating federal law. Marianne Dodson

1:35 p.m.

Rudy Giuliani is refusing to apologize after sending a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) out to his 317,000 Twitter followers.

Giuliani on Thursday tweeted a video that had been spreading online, which takes footage from a Pelosi speech and slows it down to make her sound drunk. Giuliani wrote, "Her speech pattern is bizarre." He later deleted the tweet.

President Trump's lawyer told The New York Times that he "didn't know" the video was doctored when he shared it and had "no reason to believe" it was because it "looked like enough of an extension of the way she communicates anyway." He also suggested it's "hypocritical" to "overreact" to him sharing this fake video because Pelosi in recent days has questioned Trump's "competence."

Giuliani also claimed to CNN he had "no way to know" if the video was fake and asked the Times, "Where do you go to check that it's inaccurate? How could I have figured out that it was inaccurate?” The Washington Post's Aaron Blake shot back on Twitter, "there is no way he couldn't have known."

Giuliani separately told the Post he shared the video because he has "been noticing a gradual change in [Pelosi's] speech pattern and gestures for some time."

On his Twitter page, Giuliani on Friday refused to apologize for posting the fake video, first sending an incomprehensible tweet in which he seemed to coin the word "ivesssapology." In a follow-up, he said that Pelosi must "withdraw her charge" that Trump needs an "intervention" before he apologizes.

Trump himself also shared an edited video of Pelosi on his Twitter account, although this one did not doctor her actual speech but instead edits together different moments from a press conference in which she stumbles over words. Asked on Friday about the manipulated footage of Pelosi spreading online, Trump claimed he "doesn't know about the videos." Brendan Morrow

12:40 p.m.

President Trump on Friday announced plans to send 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran.

"We want to have protection," Trump told reporters on Friday, saying it will be a "relatively small number of troops, mostly protective." He confirmed the 1,500 number that had previously been reported and said that "some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now, and we'll see what happens."

The president spoke after The Associated Press reported the administration had notified Congress of its plan, saying that the troops' activities will be "defensive in nature" and will protect U.S. forces in the region. U.S. officials in recent weeks have warned of a "number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran, with the State Department ordering the evacuation of non-emergency personnel from the Baghdad embassy.

"Our job is deterrence," Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said, The Washington Post reports. "This is not about war." Trump had said on Thursday he did "not think" it would be necessary to send more troops to the Middle East but that he would "certainly" do so if necessary, and he was reportedly convinced during a Thursday meeting. He tweeted last week that "if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran." Brendan Morrow

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