Coronavirus Outbreak Spreads

 

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As the outbreak of the mysterious new coronavirus rapidly spreads, the Chinese authorities said that the official count of known cases jumped again overnight, with the death toll now exceeding 400.  According to the National Health Commission, the number of confirmed cases increased to over 20,000 but a shortage of test kits has led experts to warn that the real number may be higher.

 

Officials also announced that after repeated offers of assistance, Chinese authorities agreed to allow in teams of international experts, coordinated by the World Health Organization, to help with research and containment.  Government scientists as well as those working at Johnson & Johnson, Moderna Therapeutics and Inovio Pharmaceuticals are all working quickly to develop a vaccine. Hundreds of Americans have been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, but some of their family members without U.S. visas have been left behind. British Airways has suspended all flights in and out of China.

 

The U.S. government declared a public health emergency last week and barred foreign nationals from entering the country within two weeks of visiting China, unless they are immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The State Department has warned Americans against all travel to China, and is planning more evacuation flights to bring Americans home from the country this week. Those flights will land at four U.S. military bases, and similar to the evacuation flight that landed in California last week, passengers will be placed under federal quarantine for 2 weeks.  The planes will be loaded with medical supplies and humanitarian goods, which the U.S. hopes to deliver to Wuhan on the first leg of the journey.

 

The head of the World Health Organization Ghebreyesus said some nations are lagging in the global fight against the deadly new coronavirus outbreak. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accused some governments of wealthy countries of being “well behind” in sharing data on virus cases.  “While 99 percent of cases are in China, in the rest of the world we only have 176 cases,” Tedros said in a technical briefing to the WHO’s Executive Board in Geneva. “That doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse. But for sure we have a window of opportunity to act… Let’s not miss this window of opportunity.”

 

Wisconsin Teen Facing 1st Degree Murder

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A  Wisconsin teenager, Crystul Kizer, is facing life in prison after she confessed to killing 34-year-old Randall Volar at his home last year after she says he raped her, according to her attorneys.  The killing incident occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee, in June 2018. Kizer allegedly shot Volar twice in the head, set his home on fire and then stole his luxury vehicle.  Randy Volar began sexually abusing Chrystul Kizer when she was 16 years old, filmed the abuse and allegedly trafficked her for sex. 

Kizer says she connected with Volar through the now-defunct Backpage.com, which was shut down last year for its involvement in human trafficking. Kizer reportedly told Volar she was 19 at the time, but she was actually 16 when he allegedly began paying her for sex and eventually selling her to other men.  She admits to initially lying about her age but says Volar knew she was a minor because they had celebrated her 17th birthday together.

The teen said she eventually tried to distance herself from Volar, because she wanted to get more serious with her boyfriend, Delane Nelson, who is three years older than her. Volar allegedly threatened to kill Kizer when she told Volar about her decision. Kizer didn’t report the threats to police, as she was convinced they would not help her.  In June 2018, Kizer said she had reached out to Volar after getting into a fight with Nelson. The teen claims she was afraid her boyfriend would hurt her, so she asked Volar if she could come to his house until things cooled down. 

Months before his death, in February 2018, Volar was arrested on charges of child sexual assault.  He was taken into custody shortly after a 15-year-old girl called the police from his house, claiming Volar had given her drugs and was going to kill her.  In a search of his home, they confiscated computers and other electronics, along with women’s bikini bottoms and underwear.

Although police found evidence Volar was abusing dozens of underage girls, he was released without bail.  At the time of his death he was suspected of human trafficking and child pornography — and Chrystul Kizer was among the girls police had footage of him having sex with.  In June 2018, Chrystul killed him after she says he attacked her when she refused to have sex with him. At the time of his death he was suspected of human trafficking and child pornography —  and Chrystul Kizer was among the girls police had footage of him having sex with.

When confronted by police, Kizer, who was 17 at the time, allegedly confessed to killing him because she was tired of him sexually assaulting her. She also alleged that he sold her to other men for sex, which is why her attorneys say she should be protected under sex trafficking victim laws.  Kizer faces multiple felony charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, possession of a firearm and arson, court records show. She is currently being held on $1 million bail and faces life in prison if convicted.

District Attorney Michael Graveley built a first-degree homicide case against her and wrangled with the public defenders about whether they had the right to review the case against Volar and the accompanying video, photographic, and financial evidence.  Eventually Kizer’s lawyers were granted access to evidence that clearly showed Kizer had been trafficked. Federal law dictates that any child under the age of 18 who has been bought or sold for sex is a sex-trafficking victim, regardless of circumstance.  Prosecutors say the law that protects those who are sex trafficked doesn’t apply wholly in this case. They said they do not believe she was engaged in prostitution at the time of the crime and they don’t believe her life was in danger at the moment. Prosecutors also said they have evidence, including communications with Kizer’s boyfriend and others, indicating that she plotted and planned the murder ahead of time.

 

George Zimmerman Sues Trayvon Martin’s Parents

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Neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman has filed a $100 million lawsuit against the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed African American teenager that Zimmerman shot and killed in 2012 as the unarmed teen was returning from the neighborhood store with Skittles and a drink.  A month after the February 2012 shooting, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said Zimmerman was not charged because there were no grounds to disprove his version of the events. Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon in self-defense.  A jury acquitted him of all charges in July 2013.  His acquittal sparked nationwide protests against violence against African American teenagers at the hands of police and vigilantes.

Zimmerman’s suit is against Martin’s parents, their lawyer Ben Crump, various members of the prosecution and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  The lawsuit alleges that Zimmerman is “the victim” of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, civil conspiracy and defamation.  The chief allegation in the lawsuit is that civil rights attorney Ben Crump helped to swap out a reluctant witness, Brittany Diamond Eugene, for her half-sister, Rachel Jeantel, and helped prepare her to deliver a script intended to land Zimmerman in prison for the 17-year-old’s killing on February 26, 2012.

According to Zimmerman’s lawsuit, Jeantel posed as Trayvon’s girlfriend when it was Eugene who was dating Trayvon and on the phone with him during the encounter with Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch captain.  Jeantel then delivered bogus testimony on the stand at Zimmerman’s trial being two years older, 5 inches taller and about 120 pounds heavier than Eugene, the lawsuit says.  The suit accuses Trayvon’s parents, prosecutors and state authorities of either having known about or should have known about the witness fraud, obstructed justice, or lying repeatedly under oath in order to cover up their knowledge of the witness fraud.

Crump, along with Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, denied the allegations.  “I have every confidence that this unfounded and reckless lawsuit will be revealed for what it is — another failed attempt to defend the indefensible and a shameless attempt to profit off the lives and grief of others,” Crump said in a statement issued on his and Trayvon’s parents’ behalf.

“This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself, revictimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions. He would have us believe that he is the innocent victim of a deep conspiracy, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to support his outlandish claims,” the statement said.  “This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself, revictimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions,” Crump said in a statement issued on his and Travon’s parents’ behalf.

 

 

 

 

Clemency Granted To Troops Involved In 3 Controversial War Crimes Cases

 

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The administration has granted clemency to three controversial military figures embroiled in charges of war crimes, arguing the moves will give troops “the confidence to fight” without worrying about potential legal overreach.  Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted of 2nd degree murder in the death of two Afghans, was given a full pardon.  Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who faced murder charges for a similar crime, was also given a full pardon for those alleged offenses.  Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, who earlier this year was acquitted of a string of alleged war crimes, had his rank restored to Chief Petty Officer.

Critics have warned the pardons could send the message that troops need not worry about following rules of engagement when fighting enemies abroad.  Lorance’s case dates back to a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan, when he ordered his soldiers to fire on three unarmed men riding a motorcycle near their patrol.  Members of his platoon testified against him at a court-martial trial, describing him as over-zealous and the Afghans as posing no real threat.  He was sentenced to 19 years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Golsteyn’s case had not yet been decided, with a scheduled trial date in December on charges he murdered an alleged Taliban bomb maker, and burned his remains in a trash pit during a 2010 deployment with 3rd Special Forces Group.  Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret major, had pled not guilty to murder and related charges.  His pardon effectively puts an end to that legal case before any verdicts were rendered.

While Gallagher was acquitted of murder and obstruction of justice charges in July, a panel of his peers recommended he be reduced in grade for posing with the body of the teenaged detainee, a crime he never denied.  His rank was restored with the pardon but the Navy plans to remove Chief Gallagher from the elite SEAL team despite the pardon.  It’s been reported that several top military officials threatened to resign if Navy officials did not move forward with these plans despite the pardon.

Chief Gallagher was accused of multiple offenses during his final deployment to Iraq and during the Battle for Mosul. The most prominent and disturbing accusation was the murder of a prisoner of war, a war crime.  A captured young ISIS fighter was being treated by a medic.  According to two SEAL witnesses, Gallagher said over the radio “he’s mine” and walked up to the medic and prisoner.  Without saying a word to the medic or prisoner, Gallagher killed the prisoner by stabbing him repeatedly with his hunting knife.  Gallagher and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Jake Portier, then posed for photographs of them standing over the body with some other nearby SEALs.  Gallagher then text messaged a fellow SEAL a picture of the dead captive with the explanation “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”

Gallagher was also accused of being indiscriminate, reckless and bloodthirsty during his 2017 deployment.  Fellow snipers did not consider him to be a good sniper because he would allegedly take random shots into buildings and indiscriminately spray neighborhoods with rockets and machine gun fire with no known enemy force in the region.  Several snipers testified that they witnessed Gallagher taking at least two militarily pointless shots, shooting and killing an unarmed old man in a white robe as well as a young girl walking with other girls.  Gallagher was allegedly known for boasting about the large number of people he had killed, claiming he averaged three kills a day over 80 days, including four women.

UAW Striker Killed in Tennessee

 

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As the GM strike continues, picketers received some bad news from Tennessee.  A striking United Auto Worker union member was hit by a car and killed outside the General Motors plant in Spring Hill where workers were maintaining an active picket line. The UAW said in a statement that 55-year-old union member Roy McCombs “tragically lost his life today on a picket line standing up for a better life for himself and his coworkers.”

McCombs was hit on a bridge outside the GM plant as he was crossing the road to get to the picket line around 6 am.  McCombs was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead in the emergency room, said Lt. Jeremy Haywood of the Columbia police department in Columbia, Tennessee.  The driver who hit McCombs was cooperating with investigators.

Local 1853 Chairman Mike Herron said, “Sergeant Orlando Cox from the Columbia Police Dept. will be releasing a statement shortly that will describe this event as an innocent tragic accident. He has asked that everyone refrain from going to the South Gate for safety reasons. He requested that any vigils be held at our union hall and not in the vicinity of this accident — to ensure the safety of the participants.”

Herron said the UAW local sends thoughts and prayers to McCombs’ family as well as the driver, “who was on her way to drop off her kids at the day care center located at the south exit when this tragic accident occurred.”  All strike activity has ended at the South Gate of the plant and no pickets will be set up there in the future, Herron said. Also, the UAW crisis team has been called in and will meet personally with UAW members that were on the South Gate at the time of the accident as well as McCombs’ coworkers on the third shift.

UAW members at Spring Hill have taken part in picketing as part of the union’s nationwide strike against GM since Sept. 16 though it’s been contentious from the start.  Maury County sheriff’s deputies in Tennessee had arrested nine protesters on Sept. 18 when they refused to stop blocking the south entrance to the plant. A 10th arrest came when someone drove recklessly through plant’s entrance, sheriff’s officials said.

A court in Tennessee granted GM’s request to prevent UAW picketers from blocking the entrance to the factory.  The order was in effect until Oct. 8. It followed several arrests at the plant since GM’s 46,000 UAW workers went on strike.  “After dialogue failed to stop the incidents of harassment, violence and vandalism by a few people, we had to take necessary actions to protect everyone involved,” GM said at the time.  The order barred the UAW and its members from blocking entrances, detaining vehicles, creating obstructions on roadways or “assaulting, intimidating, falsely imprisoning, harassing or destroying the property of GM employees” and others at the plant.

 

 

 

Fort Worth Officer Charged With Murder

 

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Fort Worth, Texas Police Officer Aaron Dean, 34, has been arrested and charged with murder after he shot and killed a 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson inside her own home.  Aaron Dean was booked into the Tarrant County Corrections Center and later released on a $200,000 bond, according to jail officials.  The arrest came just hours after Dean’s resignation from the police force. Dean, who joined the department in April 2018, still faces possible civil rights violations, Kraus said.

Interim police Chief Ed Kraus said during a press conference earlier that he intended to end Officer Aaron Dean’s employment, but that Dean tendered his resignation first.  Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct.  Dean was initially placed on administrative leave after he shot Jefferson to death but he has not been cooperating with investigators in the case, Kraus said.

Officer Dean was responding to a non-emergency call from a neighbor for a wellness check after the neighbor saw Jefferson’s front door was open.  Jefferson was playing video games with her 8 year old nephew early Saturday morning just minutes before she was killed.  Body camera shows that when police arrived, Dean shined a flashlight through Jefferson’s window and yelled, “Put your hands up — show me your hands,” before firing a single shot at Jefferson seconds later.  He never identified himself as a police officer.

Police Chief Kraus said he doesn’t know what, exactly, led Dean to open fire.  “I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life.” The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.  The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn’t be considered unusual in Texas.  “We’re homeowners in Texas,” the police chief said. “Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting.” Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was “a bad thing to do.”

Jefferson was staying at her mother’s house in Fort Worth to help her recover from an injury when the shooting happened at about 2:25 a.m.   A lawyer for Jefferson’s family, Lee Merritt, said her relatives were “relieved” over the arrest.  Merritt said that on the night of the shooting she had been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew and lost track of time. Earlier that night, he said, the family had opened the front door to allow crisp fall air inside to cool down the house.  “We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing,” he tweeted. “The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”

In a separate news conference earlier Monday, Jefferson’s family demanded an outside investigation into her death.  “This man murdered someone,” Darius Carr, Jefferson’s brother, told reporters.  Jefferson was “simply going on along with her life, living a law-abiding citizen’s peaceful life, and she was killed by a reckless act of a Fort Worth police officer,” an older sister, Ashley Carr, said. “There is simply no justification for his actions.”  Police Chief Kraus brought the case to the Texas Rangers, who he said were not inclined to take it up at that point, and to the FBI, which did not immediately say whether it would review it.

 

 

GM and UAW Reach Tentative Deal

 

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As the GM strike entered its fifth week, the United Auto Workers union announced that picketing workers can expect an extra $25 a week from the union’s strike fund.  GM, on the other hand, can expect its dealers to face increased difficulty in sourcing certain replacement parts, while others worry about the prospect of subpar inventory.  The UAW’s bargaining team presented a new comprehensive offer to GM as talks continued.  In addition to the slightly boosted strike pay, the UAW also lifted the cap on cash earned at outside jobs. Starting Sunday, workers moonlighting at other jobs can keep the full strike payment, regardless of what they made in their alternate gig. Strike payments are typically clawed back on a dollar-for-dollar basis after the worker passes the $250 threshold.

In addition to a host of other issues, health care sits near the top of UAW concerns in this latest round of talks. With GM looking to downsize in an era of shrinking auto sales and economic uncertainty, offering generous health benefits represents a major cost to each company.  An agreement was reached between GM and the UAW that keeps the previous health care arrangement intact.  The agreement keeps the arrangement where workers cover just 3 percent of their health care costs — an agreement GM briefly abandoned earlier in the bargaining process.  The automakers would undoubtedly seek concessions in other areas but unions are not prone to accept concessions lightly.

In the tentative deal with General Motors, the union won on many of its goals, including a path to permanent employment for temporary autoworkers, a faster route to top pay for workers hired after 2007 and a flattened pay structure for permanent employees, who would reach $32.32 per hour by the end of the four-year deal.  The biggest obvious loss for the union is the continued closure of the Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio.

The Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio is to remain closed, as will transmission plants in Warren and Baltimore; and a parts distribution center in Fontana, California, will close during the term of the contract.  The union said it negotiated assistance packages for workers at Lordstown, Warren and Baltimore transmission plants, including $75,000 payments for eligible production workers and $85,000 for skilled workers who retire.  There are also buyout options for those not eligible to retire.

Some other features of the deal include UAW-represented GM workers will get a bonus of $11,000 upon ratification of the deal and temporary workers will get $4,500.  GM will invest $7.7 billion in U.S. facilities to create or retain 9,000 jobs.  There will be wage increases of 3% in the second and fourth year of the contract, with 4% lump sum payments in the first and third years.  Temporary workers, who have been paid $15-$19 an hour with inferior benefits to permanent autoworkers, get a path to a permanent role starting next year. Part-time workers get a path to regular status starting in 2021. These workers also get improved paid and unpaid time off.  By September 2023, all permanent manufacturing employees will be at $32.32 per hour.

The tentative deal is far from perfect and the UAW is trying to persuade union workers to accept the deal.  Experts said General Motors has lost more than $1 billion in profits, while line workers have lost nearly $750 million in income. With the state of Michigan are losing tax dollars, there’s a growing sentiment that something has to change soon and many hope this deal will finally end the strike.