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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is taking an indefinite leave of absence amid a scandal over sexual harassment.  Billionaire David Bonderman also resigned from Uber’s board, after making disparaging comments about women at a board meeting intended to address sexual harassment in the workplace.  Uber has fired more than 20 employees as part of its own internal probe into what multiple sources have described as a culture of sexism.

The fallout continues four months after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler came forward with allegations that Uber’s human-resources team systematically ignored her reports of sexual harassment during the year she worked for the company.  Fowler detailed her year working for Uber in a February 2017 blog post which went viral and kicked off an internal investigation into her claims of sexual harassment.

Fowler claimed that just days after completing her training, she was clearly propositioned for sex by her new manager over a string of messages over company chat.  She immediately took screenshots of the messages and sent them to Human Resources.  She was told by the HR Team that the manager in question would receive only a verbal reprimand since it was his first offense.  She was then given the option of leaving the team which would give her no contact with the manager in question or stay on the team knowing that he could give her a poor performance review.  She was told a negative review would not be considered retaliation because she had the option to leave.

Fowler left the team and while working with other female engineers within the company, learned that the manager had been reported for inappropriate behavior by multiple women prior to her interaction with him.  She claims that despite having a perfect performance score, a request for transfer was blocked and the reasoning was “undocumented performance problems”.  Her blog post also revealed instances of blatant sexism, the dwindling number of female engineers still with the company and chaotic political games within upper management as well.

CEO Travis Kalanick sent a company-wide email the day after the blog post which addressed the allegations published the day before.   The company launched two internal investigations, hiring the law firm Perkins Coie to investigate Fowler’s claims – which resulted in the firing of 20 people after investigating 215 reported claims of discrimination and harassment, among other issues.  The company then brought on former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, both partners at law firm Covington & Burling, to conduct a separate investigation into Uber’s overall culture.

At the end of May, Uber received Eric Holder’s recommendations for change.  The board met for more than six hours Holder presented the findings of his firm’s report. A representative for Uber’s board said it voted unanimously in favor of adopting all of Holder’s recommendations.

 

Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

3 Dead In UPS Shooting

 

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The gunman who killed three men at a UPS facility in San Francisco and then killed himself has been identified as 38-year-old Jimmy Lam.  The victims were Wayne Chan, 56, and Benson Louie, 50, both of San Francisco; and 46-year-old Michael Lefiti of Hercules, California.  Two others were shot but survived the Wednesday morning shooting at the UPS San Francisco Customer Center.

Officers responded to a report of an active shooter about 8:55 a.m. local time at the UPS package sorting and delivery facility.  When officers entered the building, they found the suspect armed with an assault pistol.  The suspect immediately killed himself and no officers fired their weapons during the incident.

Lam, had worked as a driver for the Potrero Hill facility which employs 350 people.  He was wearing his uniform during the shooting spree and opened fire on coworkers during a morning meeting for UPS drivers.  Joseph Cilia, with a local Teamsters union that represents UPS workers in San Francisco has stated that Lam filed an internal grievance in March saying he was working excessive overtime.  Cilia told the Associated Press that Lam did not seem angry when he filed the grievance.

A police official said it appears that Lam felt disrespected by co-workers, but it’s not clear if that was the motivation for the bloodshed.  Lam appears to have targeted the three drivers he fatally shot.  Shaun Vu, a senior UPS driver, has said Lam also struggled with personal issues and was depressed a few years ago. Vu said that Lam had shown improvement but seemed troubled a few weeks ago-which was around the time he filed the grievance.

Another UPS driver Leopold Parker, who witnessed the shooting, said that he was standing a few feet behind Benson Louie during the morning meeting when Lam walked up and shot Louie in the head.  Lam then glanced at Parker but walked the other way so Parker jumped into the cab of his truck and later ran to the roof of the building.

Parker said drivers at the warehouse generally got along and didn’t mind working there. If they did have a problem with colleagues, they would talk to them or ignore them. He also stressed that drivers spent much of their time alone in their trucks, so they had limited interaction with their colleagues.  He recalls that Lam sometimes complained about the workload but he never suspected that he would turn violent.

Other witnesses said that Mike “Big Mike” Lefiti was fleeing from the building as Lam followed him into the street and shot him.  Mike McDonald, an area resident was walking home from work when he found Lefiti face down, bleeding profusely from the back.  McDonald stayed with him and tried to comfort him until help arrived.  McDonald said that in his final moments, Lefiti spoke lovingly about his three children.  “He said he loves his family, he loves his children and that he didn’t do anything to this man.”

cosby trial.jpgBill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

The number of health insurers participating in the ‘Affordable’ Care Act exchanges has declined by 24 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

In 2016, there were 287 insurers who offered insurance on the Obamacare exchanges and in 2017 that number dropped to 218. There were 34 states that saw the number of insurers decline, 15 states have the same amount of insurers from 2016 to 2017 and only one state added an insurer in 2017.

Five states, ALABAMA, ALASKA, OKLAHOMA, SOUTH CAROLINA, and WYOMING, have only one insurer operating on the exchanges, leaving consumers with little choice.    

In one-third of counties in the United States, about one in five enrollees, or 21 percent, have access to only one insurer operating on the exchanges. This is a significant increase from the 2 percent of enrollees in 7 percent of counties that had access to only one insurer last year.

“In 2017, insurance company losses led to a number of high profile exits from the market,” the study explains. “In 2017, 58% of enrollees (living in about 30% of counties) had a choice of three or more insurers, compared to 85% of enrollees (living in about 63% of counties) in 2016.”

As larger commercial insurers such as Aetna and United Healthcare have dropped out of Obamacare, many areas will only have regional insurers to choose from, said Ed Haislmaier, an expert in health care policy at the Heritage Foundation.

                           

“The reality is that the individual market even pre-Obamacare was a very small part of their business,” said Haislmaier. “So those companies have basically dropped out and what that leaves are a couple of companies with broader footprints but not more than about 10 or 12 states.”

“What you’re down to is basically in most cases your dominant Blue Cross plan and then depending on the size and location you may have regional players and by regional it could mean either across two or more states or just within a state,” he said.       

Haislmaier and the Heritage Foundation, who originally created the methodology for this type of study earlier this year, said that the ‘Affordable’ Care Act has left consumers with less competition and choice than ever before.

“One of the stated aims of the ‘Affordable’ Care Act was to increase competition among health insurance companies,” said Haislmaier.

“That goal has not been realized, and by several different measures the ACA’s exchanges offer less competition and choice in 2017 than ever before. Now in the fourth year of operation, the exchanges continue to be far less competitive than the individual health insurance market was before the ACA’s implementation.”

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said that Congress needs to repeal and reform Obamacare without delay. 

“The Obamacare death spiral is continuing,” she said. “As rates rise, healthy people drop out and the share of sick people rise, causing further increases in rates. Since these rates are capped then the insurance business becomes less profitable and companies leave the business.”   

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According to state and county data, drug overdose deaths surged in 2016, killing nearly 60,000 Americans last year.  It is an alarming 19% increase over the 52,404 recorded in 2015 and the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.  All evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.  The epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse means that for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

The New York Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners.  The initial data points to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maine. The Times analysis suggests that the exponential growth in overdose deaths in 2016 didn’t extend to all parts of the country. In some states in the western half of the United States, overdose deaths may have leveled off or even declined.

The Times data showed that heroin and fentanyl-related deaths are still increasing across the United States – particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.  The death rate from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, surged 72% in 2015, and heroin death rates increased nearly 21 percent.

In Ohio, overdose deaths increased more than 25% in 2016, largely driven by Cook County, where 1,091 of the state’s 3,310 overdose deaths were reported.  Last week, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry, accusing drug manufacturers of aggressively advertising opioids and lying to both doctors and patients about the dangers of addiction.

The Drug Enforcement Agency wrote in a 2016 report detailing what the organization calls a global threat “The United States is in the midst of a fentanyl crisis, with law enforcement reporting and public health data indicating higher availability of fentanyls, increased seizures of fentanyls, and more known overdose deaths from fentanyls than at any other time since the drugs were first created in 1959.”

California had the largest total number of overdose deaths at 4,659 in 2015, followed by OH with 3,310, which like West Virginia has been hard hit by the epidemic.  The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimated that misuse or abuse of narcotic pain relievers were responsible for more than 420,000 emergency department visits in 2011, the most recent year for which we have data.

Experts warn a key factor of the surge in deaths is fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin.  Fentanyl has been popping up in drug seizures across the country.  It is usually sold on the street as heroin or drug traffickers use it to make cheap counterfeit prescription opioids. Fentanyls are showing up in cocaine as well, contributing to an increase in cocaine-related overdoses.

Research suggests that since heroin and opioid painkillers, (including prescription ones) act similarly in the brain.  Opioid painkillers are often referred to by some doctors as “heroin lite” and taking one (even “as directed”) can increase one’s susceptibility to becoming hooked on the other.

U.S. intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, pleaded not guilty to charges that she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept. Winner was charged for allegedly leaking a top-secret document claiming Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software company just days before last November’s election.

Winner, a National Security Agency contractor and Air Force veteran, was arrested at her Georgia home on June 3 and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to the news outlet The Intercept.  According to the Department of Justice, the 25-year-old printed and improperly removed the classified information on May 9.

The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, shortly after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the document that they claim was submitted anonymously.  The document was a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency.  The report described two cyberattacks by Russia’s military intelligence unit, the G.R.U. — one in August against a company that sells voter registration-related software and another, a few days before the election, against 122 local election officials.

The F.B.I. affidavit said reporters for the news outlet, had approached the N.S.A. with questions for their story and, in the course of that dialogue, provided a copy of the document in their possession. An analysis of the file showed it was a scan of a copy that had been creased or folded, the affidavit said, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”

The N.S.A.’s auditing system showed that six people had printed out the report, including Ms. Winner. Investigators examined the computers of those six people and found that Ms. Winner had been in email contact with the news outlet, but the other five had not.

She appeared in court on June 8 in Augusta, Georgia where prosecutors told a judge Winner had plans to reveal more classified files. A federal judge denied bail to Winner pending her trial on charges she violated the Espionage Act. Espionage Act charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, although conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.

The F.B.I. said that at the time of her arrest, that she had confessed to an agent that she had printed out a May 5 intelligence file and mailed it to an online news outlet.  She may face additional charges as an investigation into whether she leaked other documents continues. That investigation was sparked after a conversation between Winner and her mother was overheard by a government official, where Winner said she was arrested for numerous documents.

To the surprise of other world leaders, President Trump announced that the US will pull out of the Paris global climate pact.  Abandoning the pact would isolate the US from international allies that spent years negotiating the 2015 agreement to fight global warming and pollution by reducing carbon emissions in nearly 200 nations.

The decision means the US will join only Nicaragua and Syria as UN-member countries that aren’t aboard.  The US emits more carbon into the atmosphere than any country except China.  Abandoning the pact was one of Trump’s principal campaign pledges and the decision reverses one of the Obama administration’s signature achievements.  Still, America’s allies have expressed alarm about the likely consequences.

“The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction in terms that are fair to the United States and its workers. So we’re getting out. We’ll see if we can make a deal. If we can’t, that’s fine,” Trump said to cheers during a ceremony in the Rose Garden.

A White House spokesperson said “The accord was negotiated poorly by the Obama Administration and signed out of desperation. The US is already leading the world in energy production and doesn’t need a bad deal that will harm American workers.”

The Paris climate agreement sets a goal for its signatories to keep warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), compared with preindustrial times, by 2100, with a goal of keeping global warming to a mere 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  Each country sets its own voluntary goals for emissions cuts, pledging to become stricter as time goes by and there are no binding rules about how the countries should meet those goals.

When the agreement was signed, the US agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to between 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025. The agreement does not officially go into effect until 2020, but meeting those goals would require all countries to take steps preemptive steps before 2020- like setting standards for vehicle emissions, appliances and power plants.

Critics of the decision to abandon the Paris agreement believe the likelihood of international cooperation on carbon-cutting goals past 2025 is on far shakier ground, and that the US will be forfeiting a seat at the table to shape the climate future.

They also feel it does enormous damage to our international credibility as withdrawal from international negotiations is becoming a pattern.  The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal under Trump’s first executive order.  Trump is also hostile to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in which members pledge military cooperation with one another.  Many feel it will be harder to negotiate other international issues without trust from other nations.

As part of the “extreme vetting” promised on the campaign trail, the Trump administration has issued a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.  The administration calls the questions “voluntary” but the new form says applicants who don’t provide the information might see their visas delayed or denied.

Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years’ worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.  Officials will request the additional information if they determine that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.

The questionnaire also asks those who have traveled outside their country of residence to provide details for each trip, including locations visited, date visited, source of funds and length of stay.  It also asks for the names and birth dates of any living or deceased siblings, children or spouses (current & previous).

The State Department has stated that the tighter vetting would apply to visa applicants “who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities.”

The new questions were approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups.  Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States.

Immigration lawyers and advocates say the request for 15 years of detailed biographical information, as well as the expectation that applicants remember all their social media handles, is likely to catch applicants who make innocent mistakes or do not remember all the information requested.  The Office of Management and Budget granted emergency approval for the new questions for six months, rather than the usual three years.

A proposal to request “social media identifiers” for travelers using the visa waiver program was put forward by US Customs and Border Protection last year and went into effect for for some visa waiver travelers in December 2016.  The new questionnaire applies specifically to visa applicants not using the visa waiver program.

 

 

 

 

Portland Train Stabbing

Two men died and a third is recovering after being stabbed on an Oregon train while defending two teenage girls from harassment.    Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, first-degree assault, three counts of unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of intimidation.

According to witness accounts and the arrest affidavit, Christian boarded a MAX light rail train on Friday, May 26, at 4:19 p.m. at the Rose Quarter stop.  He then went on an anti-Islam tirade directed at two African-American teenagers on board — one who was wearing a traditional Muslim hijab. Christian shouted for the teens to get out of his country and to go home.

After making several threatening comments about “decapitating heads,” several men stepped in to diffuse the situation.  Frightened, the two teens moved to the back of the train while other passengers told him he couldn’t treat people that way.

Videos from the train camera and a passenger’s phone showed Christian “making a sudden move” toward one of the victims, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, of Portland. Namkai-Meche responded by standing up as Christian shouted into his face “Do something!”  Another passenger, 21-year-old Portland State University student, Micah Fletcher stood up as well and Christian shouted “Do something!” as he shoved Fletcher in the chest.

This is when Christian appears to pull a folded knife from his pocket that he concealed in his hand, the affidavit said.  Fletcher shoved Christian so hard the suspect lost his balance. Fletcher told Christian to get off the train and Christian shouted “hit me again”.

Video shows Christian swinging his arm and stabbing Fletcher in the neck.  He then  stabbed Namkai-Meche twice in the neck.  Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley moved forward to intervene and was stabbed in the neck.  Namkai-Meche had sat down to try to stop the bleeding from his wound when  Christian pushed Best into him and stabbed both men again.

When the train came to a stop Fletcher who was clutching his neck, exited the train as passengers on the platform tried to help him.  He was treated for his injuries and released by the hospital. Fletcher said in an interview that his injuries missed being fatal by one millimeter.

Ricky Best fell to the floor and two men rushed over to start CPR but the veteran and father of four, died at the scene.  Namkai-Meche lay on the floor as passengers-including one of the teens he defended-reassured him and tried to stop the bleeding.  He later died at the hospital.

The train video showed Christian grabbing his belongings and a bag dropped by the Muslim teenager and leaving the train while waving his knife as he got off the train.  He threatened several people on the platform with his knife and tossed the teen’s bag onto the freeway as he exited.  Several witnesses followed Christian and directed responding police officers to his whereabouts.

After his arrest, Christian admitted to drinking Sangria before and while on the train.  He has what appears to be an extremist ideology with an affinity for Nazis and political violence, according to his social media postings.