Tag Archive: Alexander Shuster


 

 

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On February 11, 2018, a Russian commercial plane crashed near Moscow, killing all 71 people on board. Among the victims of the crash were 65 passengers including 3 children and 6 crew members. The cause of the crash is unknown. The Saratov Airlines flight 703, crashed shortly after take-off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. The plane was headed to the city of Orsk on the Kazakhstan border and officials have said most of the passengers were from the eastern part of the Orenburg region which is on the southern end of the Ural Mountains.
Officials say the aircraft’s speed and altitude started to fluctuate soon after take-off. A preliminary analysis of the on-board flight recorder indicated the plane had problems two-and-a-half minutes after it took off, at an altitude of around 4,265ft. Moments before the crash, Flight 703 had gained an altitude of 5,900 feet. The 7 year old passenger jet then went into a steep decent until it disappeared from the radar at an altitude of around 3,000 feet.
The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee is investigating the crash. They said that faulty instruments could have given the pilots wrong speed data. The instruments began displaying different speed readings, probably because of iced speed sensors while their heating systems were shut off, the committee said. When the crew detected the issue, they switched off the plane’s autopilot. They eventually took the plane into a dive at 30-35 degrees.
Witnesses say the plane, an Antonov An-148 aircraft, was in flames as it fell from the sky. The crash was caught by a surveillance camera in a nearby house. The footage showed that the aircraft slammed into the ground and immediately burst into flames. The plane crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 50 miles south-east of Moscow. Wreckage and body parts are strewn over a large area of about 74 acres. More than 1,400 body parts and hundreds of plane fragments have been recovered from the crash site.

 
Rescue workers reached the site 2.5 hours after the crash. More than 700 people are involved in the search operation, struggling through deep snow. The emergencies ministry is collecting DNA samples from victims’ relatives as part of the identification process of the 65 passengers and 6 crew members. The wreckage of Flight 703 was scattered over a half mile wide area.
News outlets have reported that the pilot had declined to have the aircraft de-iced before the departure even though the weather at the time of departure included snow showers and −5°C temperature at Domodedovo Airport. The procedure is optional and the crew’s decision is based mainly on the weather conditions.

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Disturbing details have come to light in the scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been accused by 265 women and girls of sexual abuse dating as far back as 1992. When the FBI began its investigation of Nassar in July 2015, no effort was made by USA Gymnastics officials to warn other potential victims of Nassar. At least 40 of the victims were abused after the FBI began its investigation. Many of his victims were sexually abused under the pretense of providing medical treatment but he has also been accused of molesting children of family friends.
Nassar was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. For 15 years, he worked at the Karolyi Ranch, a gymnastics camp facility and the main training center for the United States women’s national gymnastics team. USA Gymnastics said that its executives first learned of “athlete concerns” regarding Nassar in June 2015. Following a five week investigation, he was fired and reported to the FBI in July 2015. They quietly cut ties with Nassar in July 2015, leaving him to continue to work at Michigan State-treating athletes and children at a university clinic until August 2016. Reports have revealed that USA Gymnastics (USAG) board members were aware of accusations against Nassar well before their initial claim in 2015.
Michigan State had first received a complaint against Nassar in 2014 but an investigation into the complaint found no violation of policy. Under an agreement, Nassar was allowed to continue treating patients under certain agreed upon restrictions but no monitoring was instituted. Michigan State fired him for violation of that agreement on September 20 2016 after another woman filed a complaint of sexual abuse.
In November 2016, Nassar was indicted on state charges of sexual assault of a child from 1998 to 2005. He was charged with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with minors. Nassar was finally arrested by the FBI in December 2016 after agents found more than 37,000 images of child pornography and a video of Nassar molesting underage girls. On December 7, 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. On January 24th 2017, in Ingham County Circuit Court, he was sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of minors. On February 5, 2018 Eaton County Circuit Judge Janice Cunningham sentenced Nassar to 40 to 125 years in prison for the three counts of criminal sexual assault.
Since the scandal broke, all 18 members of the USAG Board of Directors has resigned amid accusations of negligence. In response to the scandal, USAG adopted reforms based on a June 2017 report by an investigator hired to review the organization’s policies and practices. One of the changes is a requirement that all USAG members report any suspected sexual misconduct to appropriate authorities and the US Center for SafeSport.

 

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Alaskans were left panicked after they were jolted awake overnight Tuesday by a powerful earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska – then by sirens that warned of a possible tsunami.  A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 a.m. off the Alaska coast. The quake itself was far enough away not to cause major damage but occurred in an area that triggered a potential tsunami.

Evacuation sirens blared “Attention, a tsunami warning has been issued for this area,” officials warned over loudspeakers.  “The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center has advised that widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible.”  That warning covered not only most of coastal Alaska, but also the entire coast of British Columbia. Tsunami watches were posted from Washington state to California — and even Hawaii and as far away as American Samoa.

Within minutes, the roads in the seaside town of Kodiak, Alaska, were filled cars heading to higher ground.  Residents of Kodiak were asked by police to move at least 100 feet above ground as a precaution.  For two hours, many braced for the worst but by 4 a.m. — less than four hours after the quake hit — all warnings were lifted. The only tsunami was an 8-inch wave in Kodiak.

Around 4 a.m. local time, officials canceled tsunami warnings for coastal areas of South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. Warnings were also called off for Hawaii and the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and California coasts.  Tsunami warnings were later canceled in other parts of South Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, specifically the coastal areas from Hinchinbrook Island, about 90 miles east of Seward, to Chignik, Alaska.

The US Geological Survey (USGA) said the earthquake was located in an area south of where the Pacific tectonic plate converges with the North America plate and at a depth of about 12 miles.  Research geophysicist for USGA Will Yeck said the quake occurred on a fault within the Pacific plate that had not been previously charted and the area that ruptured is approximately 140-by-30 miles.  Yeck said there have been at least 30 aftershocks from the initial quake, the largest being a magnitude 5.3.

From Indonesia, to Japan, to Hawaii and Alaska, the entire region sits in what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – an extremely volatile chain of active volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquake zones. Most of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region.  That’s the same spot which saw the second largest earthquake ever recorded: A 9.2 magnitude in March 1964 that caused widespread destruction and death in Alaska.  That earthquake occurred over an area measuring 155 miles wide by 500 miles long. The epicenter was about 12 miles north of Prince William Sound, and 75 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

 

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The Pentagon is quietly preparing for a potential war with North Korea, with The U.S. military is launching a series of war games and exercises across the US and a planned deployment of additional special operations troops to the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. The ongoing tensions between the US and North Korea have spurred precautionary planning for a potential nuclear war.

News outlets have reported that there are also plans to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The new Defense Department nuclear strategy review says the proposed new nuclear weapons would be to counter Russia and China. Widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to U.S. infrastructure has also been proposed.

The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to the president for approval.  Current US policy requires a lawful order by the President to use nuclear weapons.  A lawful order is generally understood by the US military to mean any counterattack would have to be proportional to the threat in terms of damage and casualties of that attack against the US.

US Defense officials have said that the final draft is expected to be unveiled just after Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.  They said it will likely focus on deterrence and reflect the greater threat from North Korea, which has stepped up its testing of missiles and nuclear devices over the last year.

The review is looking at current needs and capabilities across the US nuclear enterprise, including nuclear laboratories, stockpiles and manufacturing facilities. It is also studying future needs for modernizing aging nuclear weapons, including missiles, submarines and bomber aircraft.  The review will require increased spending or the government will be unable to produce and maintain a stockpile for land, sea, and air-launched nuclear weapons. Operations, interim upgrades and full modernization could cost $1.2 trillion, according the Congressional Budget Office report.

Defense officials have said the president is not expected to call for increases or modernization of the nuclear arsenal that would take the US beyond current arms control agreements.  Many worry that if the review recommends deployment of small nuclear bombs abroad closer to anticipated conflict or the development of lower-yield nuclear weapons-that could lead to it being easier for the president to use nuclear weapons.

 

 

 

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has scheduled a briefing for January 16th, 2018 , to outline how the U.S. public should prepare for the event of a nuclear war. The scheduled briefing comes as tensions between the United States and North Korea continue to rise.  A notice on the CDC’s website states “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps.  Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness. For instance, most people don’t realize that sheltering in place for at least 24 hours is crucial to saving lives and reducing exposure to radiation. While federal, state, and local agencies will lead the immediate response efforts, public health will play a key role in responding.”

The session will include information on what public health programs are doing at the federal, state, and local level to prepare for a nuclear detonation, according to the announcement. Additional information will cover how planning for a nuclear detonation is similar to and different from other emergency responses.  The website already has information on What to Do During a Radiation Emergency which lists a nuclear power plant accident, a nuclear explosion or a dirty bomb are examples of radiation emergencies.

While officials stress an attack remains unlikely, Hawaii’s emergency management authorities have released guidelines on what to do, while a monthly statewide siren test was resurrected on Dec. 1, 2017.  Over the weekend, Hawaii residents were panicked for a short time from an emergency alert notification sent out on Saturday claiming a ballistic missile threat was inbound to Hawaii.  The alert turned out to be a false alarm according to state leaders and emergency officials, who blamed it on an employee who “pushed the wrong button.”

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the emergency alert read.  The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency quickly updated the alert to: “THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE STATE OF HAWAII. REPEAT. FALSE ALARM, “ but many residents didn’t get the update for 15 to 30 minutes as many factors such as cell tower and a person’s location came in to play.

Many are hopeful for a thawing of relations Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s Day address that he wanted his country to compete in the Olympics. His statement was seen as an olive branch after a tense year of aggression.  Recently, officials from North Korea and South Korea met in the Demilitarized Zone for the first high-level talks in more than two years.  During the meeting, North Korea said it would send a delegation of athletes, officials and cheerleaders to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February. The two countries will also reinstate a military hotline that was suspended for nearly two years.

 

 

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Baltimore parents, teachers and students are protesting frigid conditions at public schools, with schoolchildren left shivering in classrooms and temperatures barely rising above freezing. Photos shared widely on social media show children bundled in winter parkas seated on a classroom floor; a high school classroom and a gymnasium left badly damaged after they were flooded by burst pipes; and a thermometer measuring one classroom’s temperature at 42 degrees.

In a letter sent to families, students and staff members on January 2nd, they were told that workers had visited the buildings over the winter break to try to ensure they were ready and that principals are combining classes if one room is colder than another.  School uniform rules had been lifted so students could choose warmer outfits.

On January 3rd, the Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English sent a letter to Sonja Brookins Santelises, the chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools.  The letter was also published in The Baltimore Sun.  The letter condemned the conditions as “unfair” and “inhumane” and called on officials to close schools for the rest of the week.  According to the letter, students and teachers have endured dangerously low temperatures in buildings that are struggling to operate with bursting boilers and drafty windows.  Ms. English wrote “I implore that you close schools in the District until your facilities crew has had time to properly assess and fix the heating issues within the affected schools in Baltimore City.
That day, as temperatures dipped in the low 20’s, four schools were closed and three released their students early because of the heating issues in their buildings. As blizzard conditions raged along the East Coast on January 4th, the closings extended to all Baltimore city schools, as well as those in other major cities including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

After receiving the letter, Santelises published a Facebook Live presentation where she said that as some schools are fixed, others might encounter problems elsewhere in the district, making a request to shut down all the schools an “overly simplistic” measure.  “I don’t knee-jerk close anything down just because I have one perspective,” she said.  She said that other factors went into the decision to keep schools open despite frigid classroom temps such as considering the impact on students’ access to hot school meals and adult supervision while parents work.  Dr. Santelises added “About 60 schools have been affected over the winter break and this week by heating problems, representing about one-third of the schools in the system.  Maintenance workers have been sent to schools as the district gets complaints about them and as some fixes are made at some schools, problems arise at others as workers try to keep ahead of the problems.  “It is a juggle, and I don’t think we get it perfect every time,” she added.

State Senator Bill Ferguson—a former Baltimore public school teacher—said the city’s schools requested funds for heating and air conditioning but were denied due to “fiscal constraints.” Ferguson blasted Republican Governor Bill Hogan on twitter- writing, “Governor Hogan suggests enough money has gone to Baltimore City, additional resources not needed.”

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North Korea has called the most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions “an act of war” and warns that the US and other nations which supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price.  The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted US-drafted sanctions against North Korea in response to their last intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test which experts have said are the most advanced yet.  The new sanctions will strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling.  Then, just days after the new sanctions were imposed; the United States imposed two additional sanctions on two North Korean officials.  The new U.S. Treasury sanctions will freeze all U.S. assets of two North Korean officials accused of being behind the missile program.

North Korea’s foreign ministry lashed out against the latest sanctions, saying the US is intimidated by the nation’s nuclear power.  “The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country,” the statement said.  North Korea warned that if the United States “wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy” toward North Korea.  “We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” the statement said.

Korea foreign ministry described the new resolution as a “complete economic blockade” and threatened nations that helped pass it. “Those countries that raised their hands in favor of this ‘sanctions resolution’ shall be held completely responsible for all the consequences to be caused by the ‘resolution’ and we will make sure for ever and ever that they pay heavy price for what they have done,” the statement said.

The sanctions cut exports of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products by a total of 89%. It also bans the export of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to North Korea, and requires countries currently hosting North Korean migrant workers to repatriate them within 24 months.  According to the UN, around 100,000 North Koreans work overseas and most of their wages are sent back home, bringing an estimated $500 million each year for Kim Jong Un’s regime.  The new UN resolution also prohibits countries from smuggling North Korean coal and other prohibited commodities by sea and authorizes member states to inspect, seize and impound any vessels in their territorial waters found to be transporting prohibited items.  This month, Washington asked the UN to ban 10 ships from entering ports across the world over alleged dealings with North Korea.

Three months ago, the UN passed a US-drafted resolution that at the time was described by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as “by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea.”  The previous measures, adopted in September, had been designed to accomplish six major goals: cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities.

 

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Officials say three people are confirmed dead and 70 injured in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that plummeted off an overpass in Washington state.  Part of the train was left dangling over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont at the height of the Monday morning commute.   The high-speed passenger train was on a trip from Seattle to Portland when it derailed.  Federal investigators say the Amtrak train was traveling at 80 miles per hour when it barreled off the tracks in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. The accident sent some of the train’s cars tumbling onto the highway below.

The train, identified by Amtrak as the high-speed Train 501 from Seattle to Portland, was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed just after 7:30 a.m. local time.   All but one of its cars and engines jumped the tracks and at least one fell to the roadway below.  Multiple vehicles on the roadway below were struck by train cars that left the train tracks.   Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency to aid the response to the crash, which also clogged one of the state’s busiest roadways, used by some 60,000 people every day.

Amtrak Cascades trains began using a faster, more direct route that day, making this its inaugural trip.  Previously, it used to snake along the edge of Puget Sound, which was a slower route but began running on tracks known as the Point Defiance Bypass, which are owned by the Sound Transit agency. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the Federal Railroad Administration funded and reviewed recent upgrades to the tracks. All told, the project’s budget was nearly $181 million.

The change in route was met with criticism from some residents in the area after it was announced. Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted a deadly accident.   “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens” Anderson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s too early to tell what caused the derailment and that its investigators would spend a week or more scouring the wreckage for clues. Ahead of the crash, the mayor of the city of Lakewood raised safety concerns about the new rail line, predicting earlier this month it could lead to multiple deaths. The train was not utilizing positive train control—a technology mandated by Congress, but rarely operating in Amtrak trains—which could have prevented the crash.

 

 

 

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Facing mounting evidence that Puerto Rico has vastly under-counted the number of people who died because of Hurricane Maria, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered that every death on the island since the devastating storm be reviewed.  Officials will look review all deaths attributed to natural causes after the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 20 and knocked out power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans and to their hospitals and clinics.

Roselló made the order to the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, which is the island’s vital statistics bureau, and to the Department of Public Safety following the investigative media reports on the death toll and after residents claiming deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria.  The governor also said he’d create an expert panel to review the island’s death certification process.

The Puerto Rican government has put the official death toll at 64 but several investigations have revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died.   The prolonged blackout hampered critical medical treatment for some of the island’s most vulnerable patients, including many who were bedridden or dependent on dialysis or respirators. But if they died as a result, the storm’s role in their deaths may have gone officially unrecorded.

Several news organizations, including The New York Times, conducted independent analyses and found that the number of deaths traceable to the storm was far higher than the official count.  The Times’s review, based on daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau, found that 1,052 more people than usual had died across the island in the 42 days after Maria struck. The analysis compared daily figures for 2017 with an average of figures for the corresponding days in 2015 and 2016.

The leading causes of death on the island in September were diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Puerto Rican government data show.  There was a sharp 50 percent spike in the number of recorded deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection that can be tied to delayed medical care or poor living conditions.    Reports emerged of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to refrigerate insulin, evacuated from hospitals that lost emergency power and other problems.

Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, a heart attack might have been brought on by stress from the hurricane, or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets in time to help.

The governor’s announcement comes as the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico reported that nearly three months since the storm, 45 people are still listed as missing and efforts by Puerto Rico’s police to locate them have been minimal or almost nonexistent.    Parts of the island are still without power leaving many to celebrate Christmas in the dark.   The power grid is only operating at 70 percent of capacity and officials say power won’t be fully restored until the end of May.

 

 

 

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Disney is set to buy a major part of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion.  Both sides have  said it will likely take 12 to 18 months to complete.  They will still have to sell the deal to government regulators, who must review the merger to determine its effects on competitors and consumers.   That task will likely fall to the Justice Department, which weeks ago took the rare step of suing companies in a different blockbuster deal: AT&T’s bid for Time Warner.

Members of Congress have already stated that they want to hold hearings on Disney’s billion dollar bid to buy 21st Century Fox.  Key voices on competition and consumer protection fear the deal will only solidify Disney’s dominance in entertainment — granting it too many major box-office franchises and too much power over regional sports networks and streaming video services.  Lawmakers don’t actually have a say in major mergers but they tend to scrutinize them anyways since the Department of Justice investigations happen outside of public view.  Hearings-sometimes featuring testimony from major chief executives — can ultimately shape public opinion about the companies’ plans.

If the deal goes through, Disney will own the rights to everything from the Avatar movies to FX’s The Americans.  They will also own the film rights to the Marvel comics characters associated with the X-Men and Fantastic Four, which Marvel sold off to Fox long before either was a Disney subsidiary.  Federal Communications Commission regulations state that no one company can own more than one broadcast network and since Disney already owns ABC, Fox broadcast network was off the table.

Fox, will maintain the rights to Fox News, Fox Sports 1, the Fox broadcast network and the Fox studio lot in Los Angeles.  Fox broadcast network is home to everything from The Simpsons to New Girl to The X-Files. The network launched in 1986 and by the mid-’90s, it was a mainstay in most American homes, competing with ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The massive deal would consolidate two of the biggest players in Hollywood and would reshape the media and entertainment industries.  Disney will also get Fox’s 30 percent share of ownership of Hulu in this deal.  Disney already owns a 30 percent share so Fox’s share will now make Disney the majority shareholder in Hulu.  NBC still owns a 30 percent stake and Warner Bros. owns the remaining 10 percent.

Disney already announced plans for its own streaming business in 2019, which will feature films from Disney and Pixar, content that specifically won’t be available on Netflix.  Hulu already has 12 million subscribers so it remains to be seen whether Disney will piggyback their own streaming business with Hulu or just convert Hulu into Disney’s streaming service.  Disney’s Marvel and Lucas film franchise will still appear on Netflix as part of a multiyear agreement, but that runs out in a few years and will almost certainly be exclusive to their own streaming service.