Tag Archive: Mark J Shuster


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In just under seven minutes, 17 people were killed and 15 others wounded in Parkland, Florida in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County started as students anxiously waited for the end of the school day. The shooter, 19 year old Nicholas Cruz, was a former student at the school who had been kicked out of school several times for bringing weapons to school and finally expelled last year for fighting.
Cruz entered the school armed with an AR15 rifle and pulled the fire alarm at 2:21pm, confusing many students and faculty because they had already had a fire drill earlier that morning. Police said the 19-year-old also had multiple magazines, smoke grenades and a gas mask. As students began to leave the building because of the fire alarm, Cruz begins shooting into rooms 1215, 1216 and 1214. Hearing the gunshots, students and teachers run back into the classrooms. Some of them had enough time to lock the doors and hide in closets while others were not as lucky.
Many students and faculty were still in the hallways, confused as to where the shooter was while many brave staff ushered stragglers into classrooms or away from the shooter. Cruz returned to rooms 1216, 1215 and 1213, firing into them again. He then took the west stairwell to the second floor and shot a person in room 1234. Three minutes into the shooting, Cruz headed to the third floor of Building 12 and tried to bust out a window on the third floor to shoot at students as they fled the building. The windows in that part of the building are shatterproof so he was unsuccessful. A little after 2:27pm, Cruz discarded his rifle and ammunition and fled the school blending in with students fleeing the building. He was apprehended at 3:41pm after an officer spotted him walking down a street.
In those terrifying minutes, many lives were lost, families shattered and an entire school was traumatized. The victims killed in the horrific shooting have been identified as Scott Beigel 35; Peter Wang, 15; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Alex Schachter, 14; Helena Ramsay, 17; Meadow Pollack, 18; Alaina Petty, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Gina Montalto, 14; Cara Loughran, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Christopher Hixon, 49; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Aaron Feis, 37; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 and Alyssa Alhadeff, 14.
There were many heroes during those terrifying minutes that saved countless lives by helping get others out of the line of fire. Peter Wang, a student and active member of the ROTC program, was last seen alive holding the door open for students who were fleeing the shooter. Colton Haab, another ROTC member, ushered over 60 people into a room. He grabbed Kevlar sheets he and others used for the marksmanship program to shield the students from gunfire. Fifteen year old Anthony Borges helped 20 of his classmates scramble into a classroom as the shooter headed their way and was shot five times as he was locking the door. Borges, is currently in stable condition after hours of surgery with more surgeries to come and a long road to recovery.
Scott Beigel was a geography teacher who unlocked his classroom door to usher a group of students to safety only to be shot and killed while trying to relock the door. Aaron Feis, a popular football coach and school security guard was killed while shielding several students from the shooter’s gunfire.
An unidentified janitor redirected a mass of students who were unknowingly running toward the shooter to another hallway and into the culinary room. Ashley Kurth, a 34-year-old culinary teacher, spotted the mass of terrified children running as she went to lock her door. She ushered the students and two faculty members (including the janitor) into her classroom and locked the door, saving 65 people. Teacher Melissa Falkowski locked her door and hid 19 students in the classroom closet. Countless other faculty and students, remembering their training from drills for active shooter situations, bravely helped save lives yet they are devastated to have lost so many lives.

 

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed suit against chemical giant DuPont, charging the company with illegally dumping a toxic chemical from its Washington Works plant into the Ohio River for decades. The Ohio lawsuit comes as the Environmental Protection Agency ordered DuPont to test water near its Washington Works plant for another chemical, GenX—which was billed as a replacement for C8 but which is linked to many of the same health problems.
The suit charges DuPont released the chemical, which is used in Teflon coating, even though it knew of the dangers of PFOA, also known as C8, which has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and low birth weight in babies. Studies have found Tristate residents have a higher level of the chemical in their bodies, likely a result of industrial discharge into the Ohio River.
“Human Exposure to PFOA — even at very low levels — has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and low birth weight, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis,” the lawsuit says. PFOA is known to be toxic and carcinogenic in animals and is resistant to typical environmental degradation processes. The lawsuit alleges DuPont negligently caused environmental contamination and created a public nuisance by allowing PFOA to enter air, soil and water in Ohio. “DuPont’s conscious disregard for the right of Ohio and the safety of its citizens has caused and continues to cause substantial harm to Ohio, and the property and natural resources it holds in a trust for its citizens and will likely cause substantial harm in the future,” the lawsuit says.
DuPont has been hit with a number of lawsuits in recent years after many have said the company released toxins into the environment. The company now faces 3,500 lawsuits filed in federal court by Mid-Ohio Valley residents in a 185-square-mile area around Parkersburg, West Virginia. An Ohio man who developed cancer was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages against DuPont in 2016.
A New Jersey city filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against DuPont, alleging the company spun off the Chambers Works facility to avoid environmental cleanup costs. It alleges the Chambers Works site, where Teflon has been manufactured since 1938, is polluted because of a toxic chemical used in the product’s manufacturing. The lawsuit claimed DuPont dumped over 100 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the water and ground since the plant opened in 1892. Toxins from these products, which generated billions of dollars in sales for DuPont, impacted residents as far as two miles away from the plant. Hazardous substances including mercury, benzene and ethyl chloride were all used at the plant. DuPont settled that class action suit for $8.3 million.

 

 

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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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The Department of Defense has revealed a new strategy for American nuclear policy focused on building up smaller nuclear weapons that are easier to use. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is an effort to “look reality in the eye,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis, and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” The new strategy involves spending at least $1.2 trillion to upgrade the United States’ nuclear arsenal, including developing a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile. The policy update calls for the introduction of “low-yield nukes” on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and the resumption of the nuclear-submarine-launched cruise missile (SLC-M) whose production stopped during the George W. Bush era and which Obama removed from the nuclear arsenal.
The “low yield” bombs the NPR focuses on can do damage similar to that of the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The two bombings killed 140,000 people in the initial blast, most of whom were civilians. Thousands more died from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries in the two to four months following the bombings. The bombings remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare because of the devastating effects.
Russia, the only country whose nuclear arsenal rivals the United States’ stockpile, already has a large arsenal of weapons this size. U.S. and Russian strategies of nuclear development have differed, with the US favoring larger, longer-lasting weapons and Russia focusing on constantly updating a collection of smaller, more mobile bombs.
The new low-yield nukes are intended to answer any potential overseas attack by Russia. The Pentagon worries that Putin’s army could take control of a U.S. ally and detonate a small nuclear weapon to prevent U.S. troops from responding. Low-yield nukes would provide a proportionate method of response, forestalling a larger nuclear conflict or one with weaker weapons.
Anti-nuclear advocates have accused the Pentagon of lowering the bar for nuclear warfare. The new policy “calls for more usable nuclear weapons with low yields, and for their first use in response to cyber and conventional strikes on civilian infrastructure such as financial, transportation, energy and communications networks,” said Bruce Blair, co-founder of the anti-nuclear-weapons group Global Zero. “It makes nuclear war more likely, not less.” The new nuclear policy has alarmed arms control experts around the globe and been openly criticized by Iran, Russia and China.

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An appeals court has ruled that children who migrate to the United States with their parents without permission do not have the right to a government-appointed lawyer in U.S. immigration courts. The judges rejected a claim by the American Civil Liberties Union and immigrant groups that children have a constitutional due process right to a free attorney. In the ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said “A system already exists to give the children a fair hearing, and requiring the government to provide free attorneys would be an expense that would “strain an already overextended immigration system.”
The plaintiffs said many of the thousands of children the government seeks to deport each year appear before judges without a lawyer because they can’t afford one or find one to take their cases for free. The result is an unfair process that pits children with no ability to navigate complex legal issues against seasoned government attorneys, the groups say.
The 9th Circuit considered a case filed by a 13-year-old boy identified only as “C.J.” who fled Honduras with his mother after facing death threats, including a gun to his head, when he refused to join a gang. C.J. testified in immigration court that he rebuffed recruitment attempts from the Maras gang three times, and eventually they held a gun to his head and threatened to kill his mother, aunt and uncles.
They fled Honduras, arriving in the U.S. in 2014 and the boy was placed in deportation proceedings three months later. An immigration judge told the boy’s mother he had a right to an attorney, but she said she did not have money, according to the court ruling. The case went forward without an attorney, and the judge rejected the boy’s asylum application. The judge said C.J. failed to present evidence that he had been persecuted, or feared persecution if he returned to Honduras, a requirement to establish eligibility for asylum.
The boy was appealing the ruling and sought a free court-appointed attorney for himself and other immigrant children who face deportation hearings. The Ninth Circuit upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision finding C.J.’s due process rights were not violated when he wasn’t given free legal counsel and that the immigration judge had given him a fair hearing. The panel said the immigration judge had delayed the case for over a year so his mother could retain counsel for her son, and also noted that the Department of Homeland Security had given her a list of pro bono attorneys.
The ruling drew critical responses from immigrant rights advocates, who fear it could set off mass deportations against children in similar situations. In response to the ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said, “If permitted to stand, this ruling will result in the deportation of thousands of vulnerable children to some of the most violent places on earth.”
The ruling is another crushing blow for the estimated 1.1 million undocumented children currently living in the United States that fear deportation. Advocates argue that criminal defendants, citizens or not, have the right to government-funded legal representation, yet that right doesn’t extend to immigration cases-leaving helpless children vulnerable.

 

 

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A new study finds that roughly half of all U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t get the mental healthcare they need. According to the congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, while many veterans receive good mental health care through the VA, it’s inconsistent across the system. The report recommends changes to improve the care offered by the Veterans Affairs health system.
Roughly half of those veterans surveyed who showed a need for mental health care said they do not currently receive any such care, either through VA or private physicians. That group includes many veterans with prior diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or related challenges.
The assessment, which was ordered by Congress in 2013 found that veterans who seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and other mental health conditions are unable to find treatment because of the VA’s bureaucracy or staffing shortages at clinics and hospitals. The report shows that other factors such as lack of social support, distance and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all.
According to the report, the majority of those who could use these services don’t know whether they are eligible, don’t know how to get the services and don’t even know that the VA provides mental health care while others- frustrated with red tape or long waits-stop pursuing care. The study found that those who do get care encounter “tremendous mental health care expertise” and that the system can deliver care in a “truly integrated and strategic manner.” But the report added that chronic staffing challenges and confusing procedures and policies continue to be a challenge. Researchers said more work needs to be done to improve outreach to veterans in need and public awareness of resources available.
Veterans are often confused as to how to get benefits, unsure of eligibility or frustrated by the red tape and long waits. The VA has had consistent problems with providing care for the more than 4 million service members who have left active duty since the start of the 16 year war in Afghanistan. The report shows that many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan often did multiple tours, served longer deployments and had less time at home compared with earlier conflicts.
In 2014, the stresses of such deployments became hard to ignore when the suicide rate among veterans rose 22% higher than those who had not served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day. An estimated 265,000 service members transition out each year, adding to the pool of veterans who may need mental health care.
The report recommends that the VA develop a plan to deliver quality mental health care throughout its system in three to five years. On Jan. 9th, an executive order was signed, giving military and VA officials 60 days to develop a plan to give people leaving military service seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention in the year following their service. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has pledged to seek major reform of the VA.

 

 

 

 

opioid epidemic.jpgNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced the city is suing major pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors over their role in the opioid crisis.   The lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court seeks $500 million in damages for current and future costs from what the mayor described as “corporate drug pushers.”  Among the companies being sued are Purdue Pharma, which is the maker of OxyContin, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Johnson & Johnson, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

The lawsuit alleges opioid manufacturers used deceptive marketing to flood the city with prescription painkillers, creating “a substantial burden on the city through increased substance use treatment services, ambulatory services, emergency department services, inpatient hospital services, medical examiner costs, criminal justice costs and law enforcement costs.”

John Puskar, director of public affairs at Purdue, issued a statement saying the company “vigorously” denies the charges leveled by the city.  “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

The opioid crisis killed nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016 and provisional data for 2017 from the CDC show no signs of the epidemic abating, with an estimate of more than 66,000 overdose deaths for the year.   While overdose rates increased in all age groups, rises were most significant in those between the ages of 25 and 54.  Overdoses are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50.  “Based on what we’re seeing, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.

 

 

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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 #MeToo movement continues to expose Hollywood’s dirty secrets but one accusation that has been doubted for years is on topic again.  Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, gave an interview saying she’s hurt and angry that her claims of childhood sexual assault by Allen have been disbelieved for years. Farrow says Allen molested her in 1992, when she was just 7 years old. Allen, who began an affair and eventually married Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn- has strongly denied the claims for years saying Farrow had manipulated Dylan into the claims for vindictive and self-serving motives.

Dylan Farrow gave an emotional interview to Gayle King, host of CBS This Morning where she spoke of the abuse and her frustration of not being believed for so many years.  She said a few months after the affair was exposed, Allen had come to their house for visitation while her mother was out shopping.  “I was taken to a small attic crawl space in my mother’s country house in Connecticut by my father. He instructed me to lay down on my stomach and play with my brother’s toy train that was set up. And he sat behind me in the doorway, and as I played with the toy train, I was sexually assaulted… As a 7-year-old I would say, I would have said he touched my private parts.  Dylan also said that prior to the assault, he was always overly affectionate with her but not her other siblings and used to have her get in bed with him while both were in their underwear.

Woody Allen was never charged with a crime in this case. Both New York state child welfare investigators and a report by the Yale New Haven hospital found that the abuse did not happen. The Connecticut state prosecutor on the case, Frank Maco, said he found no evidence of coaching and questioned the report’s credibility saying there was probable cause to charge Allen but he thought Dylan was too fragile to face a celebrity trial.  Dylan said she wished they had gone to trial because all these years of being ignored, disbelieved and tossed aside have been painful.

Woody Allen released at statement after the interview aired stating “When this claim was first made more than 25 years ago, it was thoroughly investigated by both the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale-New Haven Hospital and New York State Child Welfare. They both did so for many months and independently concluded that no molestation had ever taken place. Instead, they found it likely a vulnerable child had been coached to tell the story by her angry mother during a contentious breakup.”

“Dylan’s older brother Moses has said that he witnessed their mother doing exactly that – relentlessly coaching Dylan, trying to drum into her that her father was a dangerous sexual predator. It seems to have worked – and, sadly, I’m sure Dylan truly believes what she says.”

“But even though the Farrow family is cynically using the opportunity afforded by the Time’s Up movement to repeat this discredited allegation, that doesn’t make it any more true today than it was in the past. I never molested my daughter – as all investigations concluded a quarter of a century ago.”

 

 

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A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been charged with operating a large-scale drug trafficking scheme.  Deputy Kenneth Collins and three other men were arrested by FBI agents in a sting operation when they arrived to what they thought was a drug deal, according to records unsealed after the arrest.

Court documents outlining the case show that Collins, 50, has been under investigation for months. He was recorded by agents discussing “his extensive drug trafficking network, past criminal conduct, and willingness to accept bribes to use his law enforcement status for criminal purposes,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

Last year, an undercover agent met with Collins while posing as the relative of a wealthy investor looking to finance an illegal marijuana grow house.  Collins offered to provide security and said he had three teams already working in the region, including one that was protecting an illegal marijuana grow house disguised as an auto repair shop, according to the complaint.

At a second meeting, Collins showed off his sheriff’s badge and lifted his shirt to show a gun in his waistband, the complaint said.  He later said that he could provide teams of security made up of cops who “travel … with guns”.  Collins sold about 2 pounds of marijuana to the agent for $6,000 as a “test run” to demonstrate his ability to arrange and carry out deals, federal authorities allege. The deputy said he had connections to marijuana operations in Northern California and could sell the agent $4 million of marijuana each month, according to the court records.

Undercover agents hired Collins to provide security while they drove several pounds of methamphetamine and other contraband from Pasadena to Las Vegas, the court records said.  On the drive to Las Vegas, one of the other men charged in the case, David Easter, drove a lookout car while another, Grant Valencia, rode with the undercover agent in the vehicle with the drugs, according to court records. Collins rode in a third car keeping watch from behind.

In the complaint, agents said that Collins, Easter and Valencia had agreed to provide security for a large drug transaction at an events venue in Pasadena in exchange for $250,000.  Collins and his team were p to help oversee the transport of a large cache of drugs and cash.  Collins said he had a team of six men, including three other law enforcement officers, who could ensure the cargo made it to its destination “untouched, unscathed,” the document says.

According to court documents, after a Dec. 11th meeting to plan the transport, Collins called another L.A. County sheriff’s deputy to discuss the deal, according to the complaint. Thom Mrozek, a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman, said that the investigation is continuing but that no other law enforcement officers had been implicated so far.