Seven months after the Carter Center announced he was entering end of life hospice care, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn made a rare, surprise appearance during a peanut festival in their hometown of Plains, Georgia.

As they waved to bystanders while riding in an SUV that proceeded down the main street of Plains, it marked the beginning of a week celebrating Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday on Sunday – a milestone few thought the longest living U.S. President might reach.

“I think there is a misunderstanding about hospice that its only for people who are days away from death,” explains author Jonathan Alter. “That’s not what the hospice movements says.”

Alter, who wrote a biography about Jimmy Carter titled His Very Best, says the Carters are choosing to spend the end of their lives in much the same way as the rest of it. “Do as much as you can for as many as you can for as long as you can,” he says.

While retired from public life, Alter says announcing Carter’s transition to hospice, and revealing that Rosalynn Carter has dementia, provides the former president and first lady the opportunity to use their journey as another teachable moment for others.

“It was very intentional on their part to do some good for the world by sending a message that you don’t have to shrink from these end-of-life decisions, and there are other options for letting go,” he says.

While they have let go of the day-to-day operations of the global non-profit they founded in 1982, Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander says thousands of employees and volunteers around the world continue their work without interruption promoting peace and combating neglected tropical diseases.

“The last time we talked, he didn’t ask me about politics, he didn’t ask me about anything except guinea worm numbers,” Alexander told VOA during a recent Skype interview.

In a 2015 press conference announcing he was battling life threatening cancer, which he recovered from, Carter expressed his greatest wish: “I want the last guinea worm to die before I do,” he told the assembled crowd.

When the Carter Center took on guinea worm in the 1980s, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. Alexander says the complete eradication of the neglected tropical disease is now closer than ever. “We’re down to six human cases in two countries,” she says.

Alexander told VOA she continues to have occasional phone conversations with President Carter.

“When I spoke to him last to wish him a happy birthday early, he said ‘I’m not quite sure how happy it is to be turning 99.’ His body is failing him. He doesn’t have the same physical abilities he used to have, but mentally, he remains pretty sharp, and I think that keeps him going,” Alexander said.

She notes that Carter is aware, and appreciative of the continued outpouring of support and admiration, most recently the stream of happy birthday wishes by video and photos the Carter Center is collecting for an interactive online mosaic.

“I think it might be the special sauce of what keeps him going right now. That and peanut butter ice cream,” she said.

It is a special dessert Alexander says the Carters enjoy together, sometimes surrounded by family, in the small community they have called home since the 1920s.

“They are exactly where they want to be – together … in their hometown of Plains, Georgia,” says Alexander. 

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A populist former prime minister and his leftist party won parliamentary elections in Slovakia, staging a political comeback after campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message, according to almost complete results.

With results from 99.2% of some 6,000 polling stations counted by the Slovak Statistics Office early Sunday, former Prime Minister Robert Fico and the leftist Smer, or Direction, party led with 23.3% of the votes.

The election Saturday was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and the win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.

The country of 5.5 million people created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

With no party winning a majority of seats, a coalition government will need to be formed. The president traditionally asks an election’s winner to try to form a government, so Fico is likely to become prime minister again. He served as prime minister in 2006-2010 and again in 2012-2018.

A liberal, pro-West newcomer, the Progressive Slovakia party, was a distant second, with 17% of the votes.

The left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini, was in third with 15%. Pellegrini parted ways with Fico after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.

Another potential coalition partner, the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a clear pro-Russian group, received 5.7%.

Those three parties would have a parliamentary majority if they joined forces in a coalition government.

Fico opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

Hungary has been sanctioned by the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, while EU institutions say Poland has been on a slippery slope away from the EU’s rule-of-law principles. Fico has threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

Hungary also has — uniquely among EU countries — maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

Fico repeats Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country’s east needed protection. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.

The populist Ordinary People group, the conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity also won seats in parliament.

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President Joe Biden has signed a bill to fund the U.S. government through mid-November and avoid a shutdown, less than an hour before money for federal agencies was set to run out.

Biden posted a picture of himself signing the bill on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, late Saturday night. In the message, he urged Congress to get to work immediately to pass funding bills for the full fiscal year.

The U.S. Senate, in a rare weekend meeting, approved a funding bill Saturday night, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature and averting a widely dreaded shutdown of the federal government.

The bill, which passed the Senate 88-9 after winning approval in the House of Representatives, would fund the federal government through Nov. 17. The bill contains $16 billion in disaster aid sought by Biden but did not include money to help Ukraine in its war against Russia’s invasion.

After the vote, Biden released a statement saying the bill’s passage prevented “an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hardworking Americans.”

“We will have avoided a shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement after the vote. “Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed. And the American people can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Had the bill not been approved by Congress and signed by the president by midnight Saturday, the federal government would have shut down.

More than 4 million U.S. military service personnel and government workers would not be paid, although essential services, such as air traffic control and official border entry points would still be staffed. Pensioners might not get their monthly government payments in time to pay bills and buy groceries, and national parks could be closed.

For days all of that seemed inevitable.

The abrupt turn of events began Saturday when Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy changed tactics and put forward the funding bill that hard-line members of his Republican caucus opposed.

The House passed the bill, 335-91. More Democrats supported it than Republicans, even though it does not contain aid for Ukraine, a priority for Biden, Democrats and many Senate Republicans.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans have lost, the American people have won,” top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries told reporters ahead of the vote.

Republican Representative Lauren Boebert criticized the passage of the short-term stopgap bill.

“We should have forced the Senate to take up the four appropriations bills that the House has passed. That should have been our play,” she told CNN. “We should have forced them to come to the negotiating table, to come to conference, to hash out our differences.”

McCarthy is likely to face a motion from the right-wing members of his party to remove him as speaker.

“If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy said of the threat to oust him. “But I think this country is too important.”

Ukraine aid still likely

In his statement, Biden noted the lack of funding for Ukraine in the bill and said, “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.”

Support for Ukraine remains strong in Congress and late Saturday night, a bipartisan group of Senate leadership members, led by Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, released a statement vowing to ensure the United States continues “to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine.”

NBC News quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Biden and the Defense Department have funds to meet Ukraine’s battlefield needs “for a bit longer,” but it is “imperative” that Congress pass a Ukraine funding bill soon.

In the House, the lone Democrat to vote against the funding bill was Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus. “Protecting Ukraine is in our national interest,” he said.

“This does look very chaotic, but this is not the first time it’s happened,” Todd Belt, director of the school of political management at The George Washington University, told VOA. “There is a price that has to be paid here. But that is the price of democracy. It does seem very messy sometimes. But eventually, usually you get some compromise.”

Such shutdowns have occurred four times in the last decade in the U.S., but often have lasted just a day or two until lawmakers reach a compromise to fully restart government operations. However, one shutdown that occurred during the administration of former President Donald Trump lasted 35 days, as he unsuccessfully sought funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

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U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein returned Saturday to her hometown for the final time when a military jet carrying the late Democratic senator’s body landed at San Francisco International Airport.

The long-serving senator and political trailblazer died Thursday at her home in Washington, D.C., after a series of illnesses. At 90, she was the oldest member of Congress after first being elected to the Senate in 1992.

The arrival of her body was not open to the public. No details have been shared about services.

The former San Francisco mayor was a passionate advocate for priorities important to her state, including environmental protection, reproductive rights and gun control. But she also was known as a pragmatic, centrist lawmaker who reached out to Republicans and sought middle ground.

Her death was followed by a stream of tributes from around the nation, including from President Joe Biden, who served with Feinstein for years in the Senate and called her “a pioneering American” and a “cherished friend.”

California’s junior senator, Democrat Alex Padilla, called her “a towering figure — not just in modern California history, but in the history of our state and our nation.”

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters said Feinstein “spent her entire career breaking glass ceilings and opening doors into areas that had been perpetually dominated by men.”

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to soon appoint a replacement for the vacant Senate seat.

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Voters in Slovakia cast ballots Saturday in early parliamentary elections, and two exit polls pointed to a tight finish between a liberal, pro-West newcomer and a populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russia and anti-American message.

The polls by the Focus and Median SK agencies gave a slight edge to the Progressive Slovakia party, saying it could capture between 20% and 23.5% of the vote. Former Prime Minister Robert Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party appeared headed to getting between 19% and 22%, the polls indicated.

Official results were not expected until Sunday.

The election was a test for the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and a win by Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico, 59, vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeded.

Michal Simecka, a 39-year-old member of the European Parliament who leads the liberal Progressive Slovakia, campaigned promising to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine.

But no party was expected to win a majority of seats, meaning a coalition government would need to be formed.

The exit polls pointed to a third-place finish with 11%-12% for the left-wing Hlas (Voice) party, led by Fico’s former deputy in Smer, Peter Pellegrini. Pellegrini and Fico parted ways after Smer lost the previous election in 2020, but their possible reunion would boost Fico’s chances to form a government.

Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.

Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.

Progressive Slovakia, which was formed in 2017, sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.

The party also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.

“Every single vote matters,” Simecka said Saturday.

Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20% of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.

The exit polls indicated that seven or eight political groups and parties might surpass the 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council.

“It’s important for me that the new coalition would be formed by such parties that can agree on the priorities for Slovakia and ensure stability and calm,” Pellegrini said after voting in Bratislava.

The others include the Republic, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the EU and NATO.

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The fall of Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales, forced to resign over an unwanted kiss of midfielder Jenni Hermoso, was due in no small part to the work of an upstart sports news site that is shaking up the comfortable world of Spanish sports reporting.

Founded in May 2022, the media site Relevo wanted to focus attention on teams and women’s sports that receive less coverage by its more established competitors, and to engage more with younger audiences.

Fermin Elizari, Relevo’s new communities’ manager, said unlike most traditional media, journalists worked closely with social media, commercial and branding teams.

“Our values … make us quite different,” he told VOA. “Spanish sports news is very traditional, very focused on men and not women and not very innovative. So, we thought that, let’s be very innovative, very inclusive and independent.”

That method was tested with the website’s coverage of the Rubiales incident. And with it, said Elizari, “We have proved (our model) works.”

The scandal

The soccer scandal came in the wake of Spain’s victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

To many, Rubiales’ actions in kissing Hermoso seemed out of place, but Rubiales insisted the player consented, even though she was later filmed in the dressing room telling teammates, “I didn’t like it.”

The incident, along with footage of Rubiales clutching his crotch during the match against England in August while standing near the teenage daughter of Queen Letizia of Spain, sparked controversy around the world.

As the Spanish team flew back to Madrid, Rubiales sought to quell the row by issuing an apology, putting out a statement in which Hermoso was quoted as saying, “[The kiss] was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the huge joy of winning a World Cup.”

But Revelo revealed that Hermoso never uttered those words and even refused to appear alongside Rubiales in a video recording of his apology.

The exclusive put pressure on Rubiales, who resigned from his post. He is now facing a criminal investigation for sexual assault and coercion. He insists the kiss was consensual.

The judge in the case has widened the investigation to include Jorge Vilda, the soccer team manager, until he was fired on September 5, along with two other officials. Those officials have been placed under investigation for alleged coercion and will appear in court on October 10.

Part of the success of Relevo was due to a deliberate strategy in a world of Spanish sports coverage dominated by daily newspapers like Marca, Sport, and AS, which focus coverage on Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

Until recently, these established newspapers paid scant attention to women’s soccer, whereas Relevo reported widely on women’s sports, sharing its scoops on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch.

Natalia Torrente, the Relevo journalist who landed the Rubiales exclusive, said they carried out a survey that found women, Generation Z (aged 10-24) and millennials were dissatisfied with existing sports reporting.

“Our journalism does not just talk to women; it talks to Generation Zers and millennials. We use their language, and we report things in a style and a platform which they read. That is why the site looks a bit like TikTok,” she told VOA.

Torrente said she landed her scoop after realizing words attributed to Hermoso did not appear to be something she would ever say.

“When the soccer federation put out the statement with Hermoso’s words, we said they were words ‘attributed to’ her. Then I spoke to three independent sources who confirmed that she and her family were put under pressure, but she refused,” she said.

Her reporting is indicative of what Revelo had set out to achieve in its approach.

When it was being set up, managers offered the most promising journalists with major sports newspapers — good salaries and the chance to do in-depth reports.

Alfredo Matilla, head of news at Relevo, said the project was launched on social media in May of last year, becoming a website only in October, after it had built up a following.

“We were surprised at the strategy, but the idea was to build up a following who knew us and liked what we were doing before we launched the website,” he told VOA.

Matilla said another part of the strategy that distinguishes Relevo from other Spanish sports media: launching website content that is different from what’s posted to X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok or Twitch.

“We have specialists for each social media who can help us adapt the content,” he said. “We don’t just put the same stuff on every [platform].”

With a young staff — Matilla estimates an average age of 33 — Relevo has also tried to get as many women working for the site as men.

“I am sure the fact that we had so many women allowed a greater sensitivity to things during the Rubiales case,” Matilla said.

‘We want to establish … trust’

For a media organization dedicated to sports, Matilla said getting sports people “to want to talk to us” was crucial.

“At the moment, they don’t want to talk to the media, and they just say things which their [media relations professionals] allow them to say,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want to establish the trust so that they come to us.”

Fernando Kallas, Iberia sports correspondent for Reuters news agency, said Relevo was good for Spanish journalism.

“It has taken something from The Athletic model and many of the best journalists have gone from newspapers like AS.com,” he said. “Some of the older journalists on the established papers say it will not work, but it is doing well so far.”

Graham Hunter, a British journalist who is an expert on Spanish football, said Relevo was shaking up the traditional media, whose relationship with the sports establishment has become too “comfortable.”

‘Refreshing, defiant’

“Relevo in Spanish can be a military term meaning the relief watch, the people who take over. There is a refreshing, defiant, non-institutional attitude [or] tone to what they report on,” he said. “Slightly more fearless than the established media, many of whom have earned their reputation by not kowtowing to the grand institutions but by having contacts there which are too symbiotic, which perhaps become too comfortable.

“Relevo has set themselves to become more independent, more challenging,” Hunter added. “It is having an impact both for readers and for the traditional media who need to look over their shoulder and think ‘Are we a bit too stuffy? Are we a bit too safe?'”

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In pockets of Europe’s Alpine mountains, glaciers are abundant enough that ski resorts operate above the snow and ice.

Ski lifts, resorts, cabins and huts dot the landscape — and have done so for decades. But glaciers are also one of the most obvious and early victims of human-caused climate change, and as they shrink year by year, the future of the mountain ecosystems and the people who enjoy them will look starkly different.

Glaciers — centuries of compacted snow and ice — are disappearing at an alarming rate. Swiss glaciers have lost 10% of their volume since 2021, and some glaciers are predicted to disappear entirely in the next few years.

At the Freigerferner glacier in Austria, melting means the glacier has split into two and hollowed out as warm air streamed through the glacier base, exacerbating the thaw.

Gaisskarferner, another glacier that forms part of a ski resort, is only connected to the rest of the snow and ice by sections of glacier that were saved over the summer with protective sheets to shield them from the sun.

But the losses go beyond a shorter ski season and glacier mass.

Andrea Fischer, a glaciologist with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said the rate of glacier loss can tell the world more about the state of the climate globally and how urgent curbing human-caused warming is.

“The loss of glaciers is not the most dangerous thing about climate change,” said Fischer. “The most dangerous thing about climate change is the effect on ecosystems, on natural hazards, and those processes are much harder to see. The glaciers just teach us how to see climate change.”

From a vantage point above the mountains in a light aircraft, the changing landscape is obvious. The glaciers are noticeably smaller and fewer, and bare rock lies in their place.

Much of the thawing is already locked in, so that even immediate and drastic cuts to planet-warming emissions can’t save the glaciers from disappearing or shrinking in the short term.

While the extent of glacier melt can create awareness and concern for the climate, “being only concerned does not change anything,” Fischer said.

She urged instead that concern should be channeled into “a positive attitude toward designing a new future,” where warming can successfully be curbed to stop the most detrimental effects of climate change.

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