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(Van Buren) – A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that 1,253,703 visitors to Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 2013 spent $51,265,200 in communities near the park; which meant 719 jobs in the local area.

According to Park Superintendent Bill Black National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in the local economy as well.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz for the National Park Service. The report shows $14.6 billion of direct spending by 274 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 237,599 jobs nationally, with 197,343 jobs found in these gateway communities, and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging was 30.3 percent, followed by food and beverages at 27.3 percent, gas and oil at 12.1 percent, admissions and fees was 10.3 percent and souvenirs and other expenses was 10 percent. The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars at 50,000 jobs and lodging at 38,000 jobs.

(West Plains) – Northern Howell County Commissioner Bill Lovelace wants to remind listeners that the county commission is open to the public on Mondays and Thursdays, and are open during lunchtime:

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Lovelace added that people in Howell County should call the county commission office at 417-256-3872 with any problems.

(Springfield) – The Preppers and Patriots Expo is scheduled for August 16-17 at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Glenstone and Kearney in Springfield.

According to event organizer Mike Slack slogan is two days that can save your life, and we are doing our best to live up to that standard. There will be approximately 30 speakers over the two days covering self-reliance and disaster preparedness topics.

The Expo will be held from 9AM-6PM both days, with $10 admission for the entire weekend. Children under the age of 12 are free. Topics will include man-made disasters such as terrorist threats, social collapse and nuclear reactor meltdown; natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes and pandemics; and economic collapse which could require use of precious metals or barter items.

Speakers will cover alternative energy such as solar power, wind power, making alcohol and biodiesel, wood gas and small steam engines for electricity generation. Others will cover water filtration, long-term storage food, survival in the wilderness, home prepared antibiotics and medicines and how to suture a wound when no doctor is available.

A number of farmers, conservative columnists and talk show hosts are scheduled to attend. For more information call 417-264-2435.

(West Plains)- Journey Church Ozarks is hosting ‘Water Blast’, a free two hour long Pool Party for everyone in our community on Friday, August 1.

The event will be held at the West Plains Aquatic Center from 5:30-7:30PM. Both pools and the water slide will be open. A full staff of certified lifeguards will be provided by West Plains Parks and Recreation.

West Plains Parks and Recreation will also have the concession stand open for this event, so people will be able to purchase snacks and drinks. Journey Church will also be giving away prizes at the event.

West Plains Aquatic Center is located in Butler Park at 1136 West Broadway Street in West Plains. Journey Church is located at 2350 McFarland Drive in West Plains.

For more information, go to www.journeyozarks.com or call 417-257-7957.

A Palestinian man carries a child, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, towards the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tank shells hit the compound, killing more than a dozen people and wounding dozens more who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Palestinian man carries a child, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, towards the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tank shells hit the compound, killing more than a dozen people and wounding dozens more who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

(Gaza City) (AP) – A U.N. school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire Thursday, killing at least 15 civilians and leaving a sad tableau of blood-spattered pillows, blankets and children’s clothing scattered in the courtyard.

Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the shelling, which wounded dozens and came on the deadliest day so far of the current round of fighting. However, the Israeli military said the school “was not a target in any way” and raised the possibility the compound was hit by Hamas rockets.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon angrily denounced the attack, saying the killing must “stop now.” But the frantic diplomatic efforts spanning the region were running into a brick wall: Israel demands that Hamas stop firing rockets without conditions, while Gaza’s Islamic militant rulers insist the seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory must end first.

“Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said in a statement, though he did not elaborate and a later U.N. communique made no mention of humanitarian workers being among the casualties.

In the aftermath of the attack, a child’s sandal decorated with a yellow flower lay in a puddle of blood, while sheep and cattle belonging to those seeking shelter grazed in the grass nearby. A large scorch mark scarred the spot where one of the shells hit. Dozens of wounded, including many children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital as sirens wailed.

The U.N. said it had been trying to achieve a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow the evacuation of civilians from the area.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said people were boarding buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in Gaza fighting since the Israeli operation began on July 8. UNRWA, the U.N’s Palestinian refugee agency, has said it discovered dozens of Hamas rockets hidden inside two vacant schools, but U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the school hit Thursday in the northern town of Beit Hanoun was not one of them.

The U.N. has also expressed alarm that rockets found in the schools have gone missing after they were turned over to local authorities in Gaza. “Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. staff and anyone seeking shelter there, a U.N. statement said.

Fighting was fierce across Gaza Thursday, and at least 119 Palestinians were killed, making it the bloodiest day of the 17-day war. That raised the overall Palestinian death toll to at least 803, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground war. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

Israel says the war is meant to halt the relentless rocket fire on its cities by Palestinian militants in Gaza and to destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas is using to sneak into Israel to try to carry out attacks inside communities near the border.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells hit the U.N. compound. But Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, said the military was investigating and it was too early to know if the deaths were caused by an errant Israeli shell or Hamas fire. “We are not ruling out the possibility that it was Hamas fire,” he said.

Another army spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said there had been Hamas fighting in the area.

“We do not target the U.N. We do not target civilians. There was no target in the school. Gunmen were attacking soldiers near the facility. The school was not a target in any way,” Lerner said.

The military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the shelling incident, Almoz said, adding that there had been an increase in Hamas attacks from the area in recent days.

“Despite repeated calls from the military to the U.N. and international organizations to stop the shooting from there because it endangers our forces, we decided to respond. In parallel to our fire there was Hamas fire at the school,” Almoz said.

The attack was likely to increase pressure on international diplomats shuttling around the region in an effort to broker a cease-fire.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the foreign ministers of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar to press for a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

“We still have more work to do. … The tragic incident today and every day just underscores the work we are trying to do and what we are trying to achieve. So we’re going to keep at it,” Kerry said after meeting with the U.N. chief late Thursday. “It’s so imperative to try to find a way forward.”

Ban also urged an end to the fighting. “I am telling … both the Israelis and Hamas: `You must stop fighting and enter into dialogue,’” he said. “Whatever grievances you may have, this is wrong. There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other.”

As in years past – most recently in 2012 – the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate each side’s demands. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to an end to the 7-year-old economic blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamic militant group violently seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border tunnels that had sustained Gaza’s economy, while also being used by the militants to smuggle in arms.

Netanyahu made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… and we shall return it,” he said after meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Israel.

More than 2,300 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered 31 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to try to carry out attacks inside Israel. On Thursday, soldiers detained two militants as they emerged from such a tunnel, the army said.

Ominously, meanwhile, violence spread to the West Bank, where thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers late Thursday in Qalandia, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. At least one Palestinian was killed and dozens were injured, a Palestinian doctor said.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood took nearly two hours to die and gasped for about 90 minutes during his execution in Arizona on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.  (AP Photo/Arizona Department of Corrections, File)

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood. Wood took nearly two hours to die and gasped for about 90 minutes during his execution in Arizona on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Arizona Department of Corrections, File)

(St. Louis) (AP) – The nation’s third botched execution in six months offers more evidence for the courts that lethal injection carries too many risks and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, death-row lawyers and other opponents said Thursday.

Death-penalty opponents say an Arizona inmate who gasped for breath for more than 90 minutes showed that executions using different drugs and dosages are a callous trial-and-error process. The result: Every few months, a prisoner gasps, chokes and takes an unusually long time to die.

“These executions are experiments on human subjects,” said Cheryl Pilate, an attorney for several Missouri death-row inmates. “The potential for things to go wrong is almost unlimited.”

Lethal injection has been challenged in the courts many times, mostly without success. The biggest recent obstacle for death-penalty states has been obtaining lethal chemicals after major drugmakers stopped selling drugs for use in executions. That forced states to find alternative drugs.

The drugs are mostly purchased from loosely regulated compounding pharmacies. Arizona, Texas, Florida and Missouri refuse to name the supplier and offer no details about how the drugs are tested or how executioners are trained.

The Supreme Court will probably face increasing pressure to examine how American executions are carried out, said Deborah Denno, a Fordham University School of Law death penalty expert.

“Every time this happens, it makes it far more difficult for a state corrections department to justify using a drug such as midazolam that’s so consistently problematic, and to justify the secrecy,” Denno said.

Some death-penalty opponents are zeroing in on midazolam, a sedative commonly given to people with seizures. It was first used in an execution in October in Florida.

This year, three of the 10 U.S. executions using the drug have gone wrong. The latest was Wednesday, when Arizona inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood took two hours to die. He was put to death for killing his former girlfriend and her father.

Most lethal injections kill in a fraction of that time, often within 10 or 15 minutes.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer ordered a review of the state’s execution protocol. Wood’s lawyer demanded an independent investigation.

Governors in Ohio and Oklahoma ordered similar reviews after bungled executions in those states earlier this year.

In January, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire snorted and gasped for 26 minutes before dying. State corrections officials have said they do not believe McGuire suffered, but they increased the drug dosage “to allay any remaining concerns.”

In April, Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution began. The state’s prison’s chief directed the executioner to stop administering the drugs when he learned there was a problem with the IV.

Both Arizona and Ohio used a two-drug protocol of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. Oklahoma used a three-drug combination of midazolam, the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

State protocols on how to use midazolam vary greatly. Some inject it as part of a two-drug method, others three. The amount of the drug given also varies. Ohio used 10 milligrams of midazolam in the McGuire execution. Oklahoma’s protocol calls for 100 milligrams. Florida uses 500 milligrams.

“They don’t know,” Denno said. “We don’t have experts on how to inject someone to death.”

Texas and Missouri, two of the most active death penalty states, use the single drug pentobarbital. Still, death row lawyers say the same potential exists for problems to occur.

Pilate and James Rytting, a Houston lawyer who represents several condemned inmates in Texas, plan to cite the botched Arizona execution in appeals for inmates awaiting execution.

“These agonizing and horrifying situations are going to happen,” Rytting said.

Texas plans no changes based on what happened in Arizona, corrections spokesman Jason Clark said, noting that Texas uses pentobarbital.

“The agency has used this protocol since 2012 and has carried out 33 executions without complication,” Clark said.

Ohio corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the state is “always evaluating” policies to ensure executions “are carried out in a humane and lawful manner.”

Florida death-row attorney Sonya Rudenstine said it’s possible that Florida inmates have also suffered.

“We haven’t had the kind of display of agony in Florida that there has been in the other states,” but that’s because the state first gives prisoners a paralyzing agent, Rudenstine said.

She has asked the state to eliminate the paralytic drug during the upcoming execution of inmate Paul Howell, but the Department of Corrections refused. She said Howell made the request because the paralytic causes pain and could prevent authorities from knowing if he has a bad reaction to midazolam.

In Louisiana, corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde said the department is “considering alternative methods of execution, including the most effective drugs and dosage levels” for lethal injections.

In this photo taken Wednesday, July 16, 2014, job seeker U.S. Army veteran John Godman, right, talks to recruiters Nicole Rushton, left, and Megan Hogan, center, at a Hiring Fair For Veterans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

In this photo taken Wednesday, July 16, 2014, job seeker U.S. Army veteran John Godman, right, talks to recruiters Nicole Rushton, left, and Megan Hogan, center, at a Hiring Fair For Veterans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, July 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

(Washington) (AP) – The risk of losing your job is getting smaller and smaller.

As the U.S. economy has improved and employers have regained confidence, companies have been steadily shedding fewer workers. Which is why applications for unemployment benefits have dwindled to their lowest level since February 2006 – nearly two years before the Great Recession began – the government said Thursday.

The trend means greater job security and suggests a critical turning point in the economic recovery. It raises the hope that workers’ pay will finally accelerate after grinding through a sluggish recovery for the past half-decade.

When the economy sank into recession at the end of 2007, employers cut deeply into their staffs. And then during the recovery, they hired only hesitantly. Instead, they sought to maximize the productivity of their existing employees.

But in recent months, the picture has brightened. Employers have added 200,000-plus jobs for five straight months, and the unemployment rate has reached 6.1 percent, the lowest since 2008.

Now, the steadily declining level of layoffs suggests that employers may have to hire even more aggressively and raise pay if they want to expand their businesses, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers.

“They’ve been continually working their workers harder and longer,” Naroff said. “As a result of that, we have consistent growth and you can’t lay off people anymore.”

The shortage of laid-off workers searching for jobs means that more companies may need to pay more to attract talent. Thus far, wage growth has essentially only kept pace with inflation, and household incomes remain below their 2007 levels.

Most businesses have so far been hesitant to raise wages, so there may be a lag before workers see higher paychecks.

“But when the dam breaks, it’s really going to break,” Naroff predicted.

Some firms say they’re already dealing with wage pressures.

Cleveland-based Applied Medical Technology has raised hourly pay for warehouse employees from $8.25 to $10. It did so both to attract new hires and because it heard that some of its employees had quit for raises elsewhere, said Jeff Elliott, the company’s chief financial officer.

The company also started holding pizza parties and summer cookouts. Elliott said it’s cheaper and easier to keep existing employees than to find and train new ones.

Throughout the economy, layoffs have fallen so much that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits plunged last week to a seasonally adjusted 284,000, a low last achieved in February 2006. And after accounting for U.S. population growth, the number of people applying for unemployment aid has reached its lowest point since 1999.

The four-week average of applications, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, has dropped to 302,000 from 348,500 when the year began.

“In the weeks that follow,” said Michelle Girard, chief economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland, “claims look likely to hold at or below the 300,000 mark.”

The sharp decline has paralleled healthy monthly employment reports. Employers added a net 288,000 jobs in June, capping the first five-month stretch of gains above 200,000 since 1999 at the height of the dot-com boom.

The consensus forecast of economists is that the government will announce next week that employers added 225,000 jobs in July, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

Not every company is avoiding layoffs. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced that it would cut 18,000 workers – the biggest layoffs in its 39-year history. But layoff announcements now mainly reflect strategic changes within individual companies, rather than broader economic conditions, Naroff said.

Other data confirm that across the economy, job cuts have reached unusually low levels. Total layoffs in May dropped below pre-recession levels, the government said in a separate report that reveals how many people were hired, fired or quit jobs.

Just 1.58 million people were laid off in May, according to the Labor Department. That was the third-lowest monthly figure since the government began tracking the data in 2001.

Still, while layoffs have fallen 7.5 percent this year, actual hiring has increased just 3 percent. That’s a big reason the job market might not seem as healthy as the series of strong monthly net job gains might suggest.

Even so, more people with jobs means more people with paychecks, which tends to boost consumer spending and growth. After a sharp contraction in the economy in the first three months of the year, most economists expect growth to exceed a 3 percent annual pace in the second half of 2014.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The federal government says well more than 100 unaccompanied children in Arkansas have been placed with sponsors so far this year after they crossed the border into the United States.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement released a state-by-state breakdown Thursday of the numbers of unaccompanied minors in each state that were placed with parents, relatives or family friends after crossing the border. The ORR says from Jan. 1 to July 7 that 166 unaccompanied children were placed with a sponsor in the state.

The office says all sponsors undergo background checks and the children are vaccinated and medically cleared before being placed with a sponsor.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – A decline in the amount of Missouri Lottery proceeds provided to education is due partly to the types of Lottery games people chose to play during the past year, a Lottery official said.

Despite record high sales figures, the Lottery transferred $21.5 million less to education during the 2014 budget that concluded June 30 than during the previous year. That led Gov. Jay Nixon to seek a review of the agency’s operations.

The Lottery’s chief operations officer, Gary Gonder, said in a late Tuesday night email to The Associated Press that the discrepancy between rising sales and declining education funding is attributable partly to differing profit margins and prize payouts in Lottery games.

Scratch-off games comprise about two-thirds of the Lottery’s sales and typically have a higher percentage payout in prizes – and thus transfer a lower percentage to education – than other more profitable games such as Powerball.

Gonder said that despite the overall increase in Lottery sales, Powerball sales actually declined in 2014, accounting for about half of the reduced transfer amount to education. He noted that there were fewer large Powerball jackpots in 2014 than during the 2013 budget year.

“Fewer big jackpot runs tend to negatively impact sales of all lottery products,” Gonder said.

The Lottery had sales of nearly $1.16 billion during the 2014 budget year, marking its fifth straight year of growth and the fourth consecutive year that it set a new high for revenues. Yet the amount of Lottery proceeds transferred to education declined to $267 million this past year from a high of nearly $289 million in 2013.

A similar situation occurred in the 2007 and 2010 budget years, when Lottery sales increased but education transfers decreased. However, the gap between sales growth and diminished education funding was not as large in those years as it was in 2014.

A 1992 voter-approved amendment to the Missouri Constitution requires all Lottery proceeds not used for prizes or administration expenses to go to public schools and higher education.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s community colleges have a new tuition agreement with an online university.

The Missouri version of Western Governors University has agreed to provide a 5 percent tuition discount for community college graduates who take its online courses.

The Missouri Community College Association says the deal with WGU is the first such statewide agreement that the association has signed on behalf of its members. Community college graduates also will be eligible for special scholarships from the online school.

Gov. Jay Nixon has promoted Western Governors University as an alternative for working adults who have some college credits but have not completed their degrees.