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WASHINGTON — The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a bill ensuring that a victims compensation fund for the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

The 402-12 vote sends the bill to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to call a vote before Congress goes on its August recess.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

Stewart called the sparse attendance at the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution.” He later targeted McConnell for slow-walking previous version of the legislation and using it as a political pawn to get other things done.

Stewart said Friday that replenishing the victims fund was “necessary, urgent and morally right.”

Replenishing the fund will not fix the health problems of emergency workers and their families, but it would remove “a 15-year, unnecessary burden placed by their own government upon them,” Stewart said at a Capitol news conference.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers credited Stewart for raising the profile of the issue, which has lingered on Capitol Hill for years.

“You made it too hot to handle” in the Senate, Pelosi, D-Calif., told Stewart, praising him for shining his “celebrity spotlight” on the issue.

Eleven Republicans and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan opposed the bill. No Democrat voted against the measure.

The bill would extend a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks through 2092, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.

The Congressional Budget Office said in a report this week that the bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed. The bill would require that victims whose compensation payments were reduced because of the fund’s declining balance be made whole.

“This was not a hurricane or a flood or a tornado. This was the largest terrorist attack ever on American soil,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said in a floor speech before the House vote. “As Jon Stewart testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, these terrorists weren’t saying ‘Death to Tribeca’. This was an attack on all of us as Americans and we all should be voting yes today as Americans.”

Zeldin and other lawmakers noted that one of the bill’s most prominent advocates, former New York City police detective Luis Alvarez, did not live to see its passage. Alvarez, who testified with Stewart at last month’s House hearing, died June 29 at age 53.

Alvarez, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016, traced his illness to the three months he spent in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers after the attacks.

Alvarez “shouldn’t have had to come down here to fight on behalf of all of these other victims and first responders in the first place,” Zeldin said. “Month after month, year after year … how many first responders have made dozens of trips (to the Capitol) educating, advocating, passionately asking members of Congress for their support?”

The bill was renamed to honor Alvarez and other first responders.

McConnell said in a statement after the House vote that the Senate will take up the legislation soon.

“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001, are the very definition of American heroes and patriots,” he said. “The Senate has never forgotten the victim compensation fund and we aren’t about to start now.”

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Jeremy Corbyn says Boris Johnson ‘hasn’t won support of our country’ and demands election

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LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn has demanded a general election after saying new Prime Minister Boris Johnson had not won the support of the country.

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Doctors find differences in brains of U.S. diplomats who alleged mystery attacks in Cuba

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WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. government workers potentially exposed to unexplained phenomena in Cuba have less white matter in their brains and less connectivity in the areas that control vision and hearing than similar healthy people, doctors have found.

The findings from University of Pennsylvania researchers are the most specific to date about the neurological condition of the U.S. diplomats, spies and their families who reported strange sounds and sensations while serving in Havana between 2016 and 2018.

Yet while doctors found “significant differences” in their brains compared to a control group, they couldn’t say whether they were caused by whatever may have happened in Cuba, nor whether those differences account for the Americans’ symptoms.

Maps of white matter and gray matter tissue volume were created for each participant using T1-weighted images and registering them to a template. For panel A, axial views of the brain, and panel B, sagittal views of the cerebellum and cerebrum, locations of chosen slices are shown by
red lines on the template brain (first image in each panel).

Watch Josh Lederman on Andrea Mitchell Reports today for more

The medical findings, revealed Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, come as U.S. national security officials tell NBC News that more than two years into the mystery, the government still has not determined who or what is responsible for what transpired in Havana.

The FBI, enlisted in 2017 to investigate what the U.S. has called “targeted attacks,” paid multiple trips to Havana but has exhausted its leads in the case, individuals briefed on the investigation say. While the investigation hasn’t been formally closed, no external energy source in Cuba has yet been identified that could have caused the injuries, they said. The FBI declined to comment.

Although the Trump administration has not retreated from its assertions that its workers in Cuba were attacked, officials at the FBI, the CIA and the State Department are also examining the possibility that mass psychogenic illness, or psychosomatic symptoms that spread through a community, may be to blame in at least some of the cases, officials said.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, the Cuban Neuroscience Center chief who has been investigating the U.S. claims, said there were major “causes for concern” in the study’s methodology, including the makeup of the control group and assertions about brain changes that he said could have resulted from “many factors, including psychological states.”

“The most worrisome aspect is the attempt to link these findings with an unspecified ‘directional phenomenon,'” Valdés-Sosa said. “The research in this area has been cloaked in secrecy, and driven by cold war paranoia.”

Twenty-six Americans who served in Cuba were “medically confirmed” by the State Department to have been affected. The Penn study included most of those workers, their relatives who lived with them and other U.S. workers referred to Penn for potential exposure, bringing the total to 40.

Using a battery of advanced MRIs, researchers created a detailed map of their brains, including the pathways and connections that let parts of the brain communicate with one another. It takes a computer more than 24 hours to process the data and create the maps, officials tell NBC News. The results from all individuals in the Cuba group were combined, then custom software was used to compare those results to a map made from MRIs of 48 individuals of similar age and ethnicity.

Doctors found that in measuring white matter — nerve fibers that form the brain’s communications network — the Cuba patients had a mean volume that was 27 cubic centimeters smaller than the control patients. Overall, they had similar volumes of grey matter — rich with brain cells that process information — but in some regions of the brain, the Cuba patients had more grey matter.

Advanced neuroimaging that tracks how water molecules travel through the brain found decreased connectivity in the networks related to seeing and hearing, which tracks with many of the symptoms reported, but not in the networks that handle higher-level thinking processes. Still, doctors were unable to draw a clear connection between the findings and the patients’ symptoms, which also included problems with balance, sleep and memory.

NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres said the small sample size and high sensitivity of the brain scans could have produced results that appear unusual but aren’t clinically significant.

“Even though, as a group, these government personnel have changes to parts of their brains seen on MRI images, those changes cannot be tied directly to what they report happened in Cuba,” Dr. Torres said.

Starting in late 2016, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba started reporting strange incidents that the Penn study describes as “potential exposure to uncharacterized directional phenomena” of unknown origins, “manifesting as pressure, vibration or sound.” Some reported ear-piercing sounds in their homes at night that would suddenly disappear when they moved just a few feet away.

The mysterious noises initially led investigators to suspect a sonic weapon, but investigators ruled out the possibility sound waves could have caused the damage. Officials have explored other possibilities such as a microwave or other electromagnetic energy source, as well as potential environmental causes and psychosomatic illness.

Because of how much is still unknown about the brain’s inner workings, it’s difficult to say whether any of those theories could neatly explain the specific changes to brain matter volume and connectivity identified by the MRI study, medical experts said.

The bizarre saga has inflicted significant damage on a U.S.-Cuba relationship that was only beginning to warm in recent years following half a century of enmity.

After declaring that its diplomats had been attacked, the United States pulled most of its workers out of Cuba and warned all Americans not to travel there. Those ties have been further weakened by the Trump administration’s crackdown on Cuba and re-imposition of sanctions and travel restrictions that had been eased during the Obama administration.

In addition to Penn’s study, the National Institutes of Health is conducting its own “brain injury research study” involving the Cuba patients with help from Energy Department supercomputers and national laboratories capable of processing massive amounts of neurological data. The Defense Department has also been engaged to look into technologies that could have been used to harm the Americans, NBC News has reported.

The State Department said it was aware of the new study from Penn doctors and “welcomes the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue.”

“The department’s top priority remains the safety, security and well-being of its staff,” the State Department said in a statement.

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Boris Johnson cabinet: Sajid Javid, Angela Leadsom and Jacob Rees Mogg 'lined up'

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AFTER being announced as the new Conservative leader and Britain’s next Prime Minister, all eyes now turn to who will make up the new cabinet as star names jostle for a place at the table.

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