Tag Archive: mark shuster legal shield


 

 

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Actor and comedian Kevin Hart has stepped down from plans to host the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, following public outcry over his past homophobic tweets and comedy routines. The Academy named Hart host of the Oscars and less than 24 hours later, Hart was discovered to be rapidly deleting his past anti-gay social media posts amid a growing uproar. Hart initially refused to apologize over the comments, before offering his resignation from the Oscars ceremony with an apology.

Soon after Hart announced he would be hosting the Academy Awards, the actor began to delete a series of old tweets after twitter users began retweeting his past homophobic comments.  One Twitter user wrote, alongside screenshots of Kevin’s past tweets, “I wonder when Kevin Hart is gonna start deleting all his old tweets.”   One of the controversial tweets from 2011 read: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay’.”  Hart made a similar comment about wanting his son to be heterosexual in a stand-up special in 2010.

Another Twitter sleuth went to the great lengths of searching every time Kevin used the words “Fag,” “homo” or “gay.”  They realized the comedian “seems to have basically stopped tweeting those words after 2011 — i.e. the year his first stand-up movie became a hit.”  While Hart has adamantly denied being homophobic, prior statements about his feelings seem conflicting to some. In a 2015 profile for Rolling Stone, he once said one of his “biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay.”  “Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic… Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will,” he previously explained.

After the initial backlash, Hart shared an Instagram video where he said, “Stop looking for reasons to be negative…stop searching for reasons to be angry…I swear I wish you guys could see/feel/understand the mental place that I am in. I am truly happy people… there is nothing that you can do to change that….NOTHING. I work hard on a daily basis to spread positivity to all…with that being said. If you want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I ‘m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man that I am becoming,” he continued. “You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE. I live to Love…. Please take your negative energy and put it into something constructive. Please…What’s understood should never have to be said. I LOVE EVERYBODY..ONCE AGAIN EVERYBODY. If you choose to not believe me then that’s on you…Have a beautiful day.”

The actor and comedian later announced that he’s dropping out of his scheduled hosting gig at the Oscars rather than issue a formal apology for the series of homophobic, years-old tweets.  “So I just got a call from the Academy, and that call basically said, ‘Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old, or we’re going to have to move on and find another host,’ talking about the tweets from 2009, 2010,” Hart said in a video he posted to Instagram on Thursday night, in which he appeared to be referencing tweets in which he used homophobic slurs. “I chose to pass. I passed on the apology. The reason I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times.”

After the Instagram confession, Hart eventually issued an apology on Twitter stating that he’s sorry for hurting anyone and that he’s “evolving.” He then said, “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.”

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An Arizona jury has found Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting and killing 16-year-old José Elena Rodríguez through the U.S.-Mexico border fence in 2012.  The jury hung on whether to bring a charge of voluntary manslaughter, leaving it unclear whether prosecutors would seek to try Swartz a third time. A previous jury acquitted Swartz on murder charges but deadlocked on lesser manslaughter charges.

Authorities claimed José Elena Rodríguez was throwing rocks at agents over the border fence before Swartz opened fire.  Medical examiners say José was shot 11 times with all but one of the bullets striking from behind, leading them to conclude the teen was shot in the back as he lay on the ground.  An autopsy revealed that gunshot wounds to the head, lungs, and arteries killed him.

The incident occurred around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday 10 October, 2012.  Nogales police received a call reporting “suspicious activity” on International Street, a road running directly along the border.  Officers on scene were investigating a report that two men carrying “bundles taped to their backs” had climbed the fence into the United States.  Identifying the bundles, on the basis of similar incidents in the past, as most probably containing marijuana, they called for back-up.  After several Border Patrol and Customs agents arrived, they saw the two men scaling the fence back into Mexico, empty-handed and with nothing on their backs. They commanded the two men to climb back down.  Officers reported seeing “rocks flying through the air” at the agents and also heard “gunfire,” although they were unable to identify its source.

After verbal commands from agents to cease throwing rocks were ignored, Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz then discharged his service weapon.  Swartz fired 16 rounds, hitting Rodríguez 11 times.  Rodríguez was unarmed, standing on the Mexican side of the border on a sidewalk on Calle International street, in front of a doctor’s office.  U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Ray Swartz was charged with second degree murder for the killing.  Border Patrol agents are rarely criminally charged for using force but the killing sparked outrage on both sides of the border and came as the agency was increasingly scrutinized for its use of force.

Prosecutors said Swartz was frustrated over repeated encounters with people on the Mexico side of the border fence who throw rocks at agents to distract them from smugglers. They say he lost his cool when he fatally shot Rodriguez. Prosecutors acknowledge that the teen was throwing rocks at the agents but that wasn’t justification for taking his life.  A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office said prosecutors haven’t decided whether to try Swartz again on the voluntary manslaughter charge.

Swartz still faces a civil rights lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the teen’s mother.  Attorneys for Rodriguez’s mother filed the suit in federal district court in Tucson, seeking civil damages against the agents involved in what their lawsuit terms the “senseless and unjustified” death.  The suit alleges that in shooting and killing the teenager, agents “used unreasonable and excessive force” in violation of Jose Antonio’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights and that their actions were not legally justifiable or necessary. The suit doesn’t specify an amount sought in damages.

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This year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed 116 cases of a rare polio-like disease, Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).  An additional 170 possible cases of AFM are still under investigation.  The condition, which mostly affects children, causes muscles and reflexes to weaken and in some cases become paralyzed.  Most of the children with confirmed cases experienced a viral illness with symptoms including fever and cough about three to 10 days before the onset of paralysis.  It is recommended to see a doctor right away if you or your child notice a sudden weakness or loss in muscle tone, especially in the arms or legs.  Symptoms may also include a drooping face or eyelids, trouble with eye movement or swallowing, slurred speech, and in severe cases trouble breathing requiring a ventilator.

The FDA has launched a task force to further investigate and combat the spread of the illness.  Since 2014, there have been 440 confirmed cases of AFM.  More than 95% of the patients with AFM this year have been children younger than age 18 with the average age of those infected being 5 years old.  The CDC released the information to help parents identify what symptoms to look out for.  While there is no known cure, children who are diagnosed earlier on have been able to gain at least some movement with intense physical therapy.  Officials say that parents can try to prevent the disease by making their kids regularly wash their hands, keep them up to date on their vaccinations and spray them with insect repellent when they go outdoors to prevent mosquito bites.

Medical experts still don’t know much about the rare disease, which strikes just one in 1 million Americans. It’s believed that viruses like polio, West Nile, and various enteroviruses (which cause the common cold) may be linked to AFM.  The children involved in this outbreak have tested negative for polio and West Nile.  Medical experts who have been treating patients with AFM in the latest outbreak say they believe a virus called EV-D68 may be responsible for the recent uptick in cases.

According to the CDC, the patients with confirmed AFM are in 31 states.  The two states with the most confirmed cases are Colorado with 15 cases and Texas with 14 confirmed cases.  Washington, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania each have 8 confirmed cases.  Illinois has 7 confirmed cases while New Jersey and Wisconsin each have 6 confirmed cases.  Alabama, Georgia, Maryland and Arkansas each reported 3 cases.  South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa, New York and Massachusetts each have 2 confirmed cases.  Rhode Island, Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and Montana each have 1 confirmed case.

Nineteen states have no confirmed cases.  The CDC has encouraged doctors to report cases although there is no requirement to do so.  It is not clear whether there is more of a risk of AFM in states that have a higher number of cases or if those states are just better at identifying and reporting patients.

 

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In Chicago, a gunman shot and killed three people at Mercy Hospital. The victims include a doctor, a police officer and a pharmacy technician. The gunman, identified as Juan Lopez, 32, was also killed at the scene by police gunfire.  Police say the shooting was a domestic violence incident and the shooter was in a previous relationship with the first victim.  The victims were identified as Dr. Tamara O’Neal, 38, an emergency room physician, pharmacy resident Dayna Less, 25, a recent graduate of Purdue University and Police Officer Samuel Jimenez.

Police say that at around 3:30 p.m. Monday, the gunman approached ex-fiancé Dr. Tamara O’Neal in the hospital parking lot.  As they started arguing, a friend of O’Neal attempted to intervene.  The gunman lifted his shirt and revealed a handgun, prompting the friend to flee.  O’Neal called 911 and reported the gun, bringing Chicago police to the scene. Police say two additional 911 calls in rapid succession reported an assault and then gunshots.  Lopez shot Dr. O’Neal in the parking lot and then he ran inside the hospital.  Lopez shot at two women getting off an elevator, killing pharmacy resident Dayna Less.

He then went back outside, fired at squad cars that were shielding Dr. O’Neal’s body.  Lopez then headed back inside and officers followed him inside.  Lopez exchanged gunfire with police and was struck twice in the shootout.  Officer Samuel Jimenez was also fatally wounded during that exchange.

Dr. O’Neal was rushed to the University Of Chicago Hospital where friends and colleagues were waiting on the shooting victims, unaware that she was one of them.  Friends said they were unaware of Juan Lopez’s troubled history when the two met a little over a year ago.   As recently as September, Lopez and O’Neal were engaged but O’Neal had broken it off just weeks before she was to exchange vows with Lopez, said her aunt, Vickie O’Neal.  O’Neal’s family members said it was unclear why the engagement was called off but they never could have imagined that the relationship would come to such a violent end.

Police say Lopez had a history of threatening domestic violence and in 2014, a judge granted a restraining order against him for his ex-wife.  Court records show Lopez’s ex-wife accused him of sleeping with a gun under his pillow, brandishing a weapon against a realtor and again against a neighbor.  She also said he began threatening to show up at her workplace and cause trouble. In the 2015 divorce filing, De Asa accused her husband of “constant infidelity and abuse.”  Lopez also had ongoing child support issues according to court records. Documents state that he had a difficult time keeping a job and refused to inform De Asa where he was working or living.  Lopez was currently enrolled as graduate student at DePaul University seeking a master’s degree in public service, after earning a bachelor’s degree in 2013.

The Chicago Fire Department released the personnel file of Juan Lopez.  The summary of the report says that four years ago he was terminated less than 2 months after being hired by the Chicago Firefighter Academy.  The general consensus was that Lopez was disliked.  Of the 11 female trainees interviewed by the CFD investigator, 10 had “negative remarks” about Lopez, and four “had some sort of incident” with him. All nine male trainees interviewed agreed Lopez “was a bad candidate with a bad attitude.”

 

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Prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are considering charges of fraud and racketeering against the billionaire Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma produces the prescription painkiller OxyContin.  Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Purdue executives knew OxyContin was highly addictive as early as 1996, the first year after the drug hit the market, but still promoted it as less addictive than other opioids.  Many feel that Purdue Pharma planted the seeds of the opioid epidemic through its aggressive marketing of OxyContin.  The pharmaceutical giant has long claimed it was unaware of the powerful opioid painkiller’s growing abuse until years after it went on the market.

A copy of a confidential Justice Department report uncovered that federal prosecutors investigating the company found that Purdue Pharma knew about “significant” abuse of OxyContin in the first years after the drug’s introduction in 1996 and concealed that information.  Company officials had received reports that the pills were being crushed and snorted; stolen from pharmacies; and that some doctors were being charged with selling prescriptions.  In 2006, 10 years after the drug was first put on the market- federal prosecutors wrote that the drug maker continued “in the face of this knowledge” to market OxyContin as less prone to abuse and addiction than other prescription opioids.

Prosecutors found that the company’s sales representatives used the words “street value,” “crush,” or “snort” in 117 internal notes recording their visits to doctors or other medical professionals from 1997 through 1999.  The investigation cited emails showing that Purdue Pharma’s owners, Richard Sackler and founders Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, were sent reports about abuse of OxyContin and another company opioid, MS Contin.  Purdue Pharma’s general counsel, Howard R. Udell, wrote in an email in early 1999 to another company official “We have in fact picked up references to abuse of our opioid products on the internet.”  That same year, company officials learned that OxyContin was being described as “the hottest thing on the street — forget Vicodin” according to emails.  Just a year after that email exchange, Udell and other company executives testified in Congress and elsewhere that the drug maker did not learn about OxyContin’s growing abuse until early 2000, when the United States attorney in Maine issued an alert. The company still maintains that position despite evidence to the contrary.  After a four-year investigation, the prosecutors recommended that three top Purdue Pharma executives be indicted on felony charges, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, which could have sent the men to prison if convicted.

Instead, top Justice Department officials in the George W. Bush administration did not support the move and the government settled the case in 2007.  Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to a felony charge of “misbranding” OxyContin while marketing the drug by misrepresenting, among other things, its risk of addiction and potential to be abused. Three executives; Michael Friedman, Dr. Paul D. Goldenheim and Howard Udell, each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor “misbranding” charge that solely held them liable as Purdue Pharma’s “responsible” executives and did not accuse them of wrongdoing. The company and the executives paid a combined $634.5 million in fines and the men were required to perform community service.

Over the past two decades, more than 200,000 people have died in the US from overdoses involving prescription opioids and the epidemic was declared a Public Health Emergency in 2017.  While the Justice Department may hail the settlement as a victory, many feel the decision not to bring more serious charges and air the evidence prosecutors had gathered meant that a critical chance to slow the trajectory of the opioid epidemic was lost.

 

 

 

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A 24-year-old woman is facing 3 counts of reckless homicide and one misdemeanor count of disregarding a stop sign and causing injury after the pickup truck she was driving struck and killed three siblings who were crossing the road to get to their school bus in rural Rochester, Indiana.  Six-year-old twin brothers Xzavier Ingle and Mason Ingle, and their 9-year-old sister, Alivia Stahl, died at the scene Tuesday morning.  The children’s classmate and neighbor, 11-year-old Maverik Lowe, was also hit.  He was airlifted to the hospital and remains hospitalized in critical condition.  The children were crossing State Route 25 to get to their school bus when they were hit at about 7:15 a.m. in front of the Meiser mobile home park where they lived.

The Tippecanoe Valley School Corp. bus had stopped on the two lane road, lowered its stop-arm and had the emergency lighting activated just before the northbound Toyota Tacoma pickup truck slammed into the children as they crossed the southbound lane.  Alyssa L. Shepherd, of Rochester, was arrested at her workplace, was charged and released on a $15,000 bond.  Shepard told an Indiana State Police detective that she saw flashing emergency lights on the rural highway but didn’t realize it was a school bus picking up the children until it was too late.  By the time she realized a bus was stopped, the children were already in front of her vehicle.  Their father rushed out of their home and identified them after police arrived to investigate, officials said.  State Police Detective Michelle Jumper testified at a probable cause hearing into charges against Alyssa Shepherd, the bus driver told investigators he saw the oncoming truck’s headlights. The bus driver stated that because the truck was far back and had plenty of time to slow, the driver waved to the children, telling them to cross.  The bus driver honked the horn when it was clear the truck wasn’t stopping.  Jumper testified that Shepherd told her she typically did not drive on the route where the crash occurred and that she had three children in the back seat of her truck when she allegedly struck and killed the three siblings.

A witness driving behind Shepherd said she and Shepherd were traveling 45 mph. The witness said the truck’s headlights illuminated the children as they were crossing the road and she said she started to freak out as she realized ‘I’m slowing down, but that truck in front of me is not slowing.”  Shepherd remained at the scene after the crash, cooperating with investigators. She was given a blood test as is standard in all fatal crashes, but police said they do not think alcohol or drugs were a factor.  Shepard who works as children’s director at Faith Outreach, a Foursquare Gospel Church in Rochester then went to work to pray.

Parents who live in the mobile home park had previously asked the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation to change the bus route so the children didn’t have to cross State Route 25 to catch the bus. Parents complained that it was dangerous for children to cross a highway where vehicles routinely travel at 50 to 60 mph.  Elgin Ingle, the uncle of the children who died said “There’s plenty of room for the school bus to pull into the mobile home park and pick up these kids.  This school has been warned that this is an issue.  My brother is torn apart, he didn’t lose one kid, he lost all his kids,” Ingle said. “How do you tell your little brother it’ll get better? You can’t. My brother, the most loving man in the world and the best father I’ve ever known, now is a father to no one.”  Blaine Conley, superintendent of the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation, released a statement that stating that the bus stop will be relocated from State Road 25 into the mobile home park where the children lived.

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Russian officials say the gunmen who killed 21 people and wounded 53 more before killing himself at a vocational school in Crimea was an 18 year old student of the school.  The shooter, identified as Vladislav Roslyakov, described as a shy loner, also set off an explosive device.  He committed suicide in the library after the assault at Kerch Polytechnic College.  Officials are still investigating a motive in the attack which is the deadliest instance of school violence in the region since the 2004 Beslan terror attack, which killed 333 people, most of them children.

At first, officials reported a gas explosion at the school but later said an explosive device had ripped through the cafeteria during lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack.  Eventually, the attack was classified as a mass murder attack at the school carried out by one person.  The Investigative Committee said the homemade explosive device rigged with shrapnel went off in the school lunchroom and a second explosive device was later found and destroyed.

Guns are tightly restricted in Russia. Civilians can own only hunting rifles and smooth-bore shotguns and must undergo significant background checks.  Local officials said Roslyakov had only recently received a permit to own a shotgun which he bought on September 8th.    Officials say Roslyakov bought 150 rounds of ammunition at a gun shop on October 13.  Just four days later on October 17th, he entered the school grounds at about 11:46 a.m. and began his attack.  Several witnesses described the gunman walking up and down the halls at Kerch Polytechnic College and firing randomly at classmates and teachers. He also fired at computer monitors, locked doors and fire extinguishers.  A survivor of the attack said the shooting lasted about 15 minutes.

Security footage at the school shows Roslyakov enter the technical college carrying a sports bag and bypassing security.  He then entered the school’s lunchroom with a rucksack and leaving without it.  The footage captures him going up to the school’s first floor empty-handed just before a fire ball and a massive explosion blows out windows and doors on the ground floor.  Roslyakov is then shown walking towards a female teacher in a corridor and gunning her down, before shooting an approaching student.  A security camera image carried by Russian media showed Roslyakov, calmly walking down the stairs of the school with the shotgun in his gloved hand while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Hate.”

A video taken by an unknown survivor of the attack shows a terrified group of students and staff running through a hallway as gunshots and screaming can be heard nearby.  The group talk in whispers as they search for safety, not knowing where the gunmen is.  The video shows them briefly in a classroom and then another hallway.  They approach a stairwell and see a body on the stairs below before turning back down the hall and down another stairwell.  Terrified, they cautiously look down the stairs before making a run through a doorway and to an outside exit.

If you’re thinking some details in this story sound very familiar you are correct.  His outfit resembled that of Eric Harris, one of the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.  The Columbine attackers also tried but ultimately failed to detonate an explosive device in the cafeteria.  Similar to Columbine, Roslyakov also retreated to the school library to commit suicide after the attack.  A friend of the shooter said he had an interest in the Columbine school shooting in the US.  Also leading to speculation that the massacre was a copycat crime is the fact that some Russian news outlets have reported that Roslyakov belonged to a fan club on social media for the columbine shooters.  Russian news outlets have dubbed the shooting the “Russian Columbine,” because of the similarities.

 

NY Limo Crash Leaves 20 Dead

 

 

 

 

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On October 6th, a deadly limo crash in upstate New York killed 20 people, making it the deadliest transportation accident in the U.S. since 2009.  The crash occurred just before 2pm on Saturday in the town of Schoharie, about 25 miles west of Albany.  All 18 people inside the limo, including the driver and 2 pedestrians were killed.

The limousine, a 2001 Ford Excursion, ran a stop sign and crossed the intersection of State Route 30 and State Route 30A, traveling at about 50 mph. The limo struck an unoccupied Toyota Highlander in a parking lot of a local country store, which then hit and killed the two pedestrians.  The limo then barreled through the parking lot before landing in a shallow ravine beyond the road.

The occupants, a group of 17 family and friends, had just set out to celebrate one of the victims, Amy Steenburg’s 30th birthday and were headed to a brewery in Cooperstown.  Among the dead were Amy Steenburg and her husband of four months Axel Steenburg, and her brother-in-law Rich Steenburg who is survived by a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old stepson.  Amy’s three sisters and two of their husbands were also killed in the limo crash.  Mary Dyson, 33, one of Amy’s sisters, along with her husband, Rob Dyson, 34.  Amy’s sister Abigail Jackson, 34, and her husband Adam Jackson, 34, left behind two daughters, Archer and Elle, ages 4 and 1.  Amy’s other sister Allison King, 31, was also killed.

Also in the group were newlyweds Erin McGowan, 34 and Shane McGowan, 30; Amanda Halse, 26, and her boyfriend Patrick Cushing, Amanda Rivenburg, Rachael Cavosie, Michael Ukaj, a marine who served in Iraq and Matthew Coons and girlfriend Savannah Bursese.  The limo driver, Scott Lisinicchia, 53 and two pedestrians; 46-year-old assistant professor Brian Hough and his 71 year old father-in-law James Schnurr were also killed.  Hough and Schnurr were standing in the store parking lot talking when they were killed.

The limo involved in the crash, which was owned by Prestige Limousine, had failed a Sept. 4 safety inspection in part due to an Anti-lock braking system (ABS) malfunction indicators for the hydraulic brake system.  The driver, Scott Lisincchia also did not have the appropriate driver’s license required to drive a vehicle that can hold more than 15 people.  Joseph Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said in a statement. “The assertion that the limousine was cleared to be on the road following the September inspection is categorically false.  The vehicle was subject to inspections and the owner was warned not to operate the vehicle; the vehicle was placed out of service.”

Just days after the deadly crash, the operator of the limo company, Nauman Hussain, 28, was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide.  Hussain’s car was packed with luggage when he was stopped Wednesday on a highway near Albany.  Police say he was charged because he put a defective vehicle back on the road and hired a driver whom he knew was not properly licensed to drive the vehicle.  Hussain pled not guilty was released after posting $150,000 bond that same day.

Hussain’s lawyer, Lee Kindlon, said his client only handled marketing duties and phone calls, while his father, Shahed Hussain, is the owner of Prestige Limousine, and the person responsible for the day-to-day operation of the limo company.  Shahed Hussain is currently in Pakistan.  Police say Nauman Hussain is the one who put the vehicle back on the road despite it failing inspections and hired the driver who did not have proper licensing to operate the vehicle.

Amazon Raises Wages To $15

 

 

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Online retail giant Amazon says it’s raising its company-wide minimum wage to $15 per hour for all of its U.S. employees.  The announcement comes amid mounting complaints over labor conditions at the company’s warehouses.  The new minimum wage will benefit more than 250,000 Amazon employees — including part-time and temporary employees — and 100,000 seasonal employees.  Some employees who already make $15 per hour will also see a pay increase.

Employees will lose a perk known as VCP, through which employees are eligible to earn up to 8 percent of their monthly take-home pay.  The average worker can earn between $1,800 and $3,000 a year through VCP, depending on the season, hours worked and the fulfillment center’s volume.  Warehouse workers will also experience a change in their stock options. As a key attractor for prospective Amazon employees, full-time hourly workers usually receive two to three shares a year after a two-year vesting period.  This program will no longer be offered.

Amazon said the effect of the higher pay will be reflected in its forward-looking quarterly guidance.  The company also said it would lobby in Washington for an increase in the federal minimum wage and urge other competitors to raise wages.  “We will be working to gain Congressional support for an increase in the federal minimum wage. The current rate of $7.25 was set nearly a decade ago,” said Jay Carney, senior vice president of Amazon global corporate affairs.  Other large retailers like Target Corp raised its minimum hourly wage last year to $11 and promised to raise it to $15 an hour by the end of 2020.  Walmart raised its minimum wage to $11 an hour earlier this year.

The company and CEO Jeff Bezos have been facing criticism for its pay disparity.  Amazon’s starting pay varies by location with some paying $10 an hour and others paying $13.50 an hour but the national average pay for an Amazon employee is $11 an hour.  For 2017, the average annual pay for an Amazon employee was just under $28,500, according to company filings, while Bezos earned $1.7 million.

Last month Amazon became the second company to cross $1 trillion market value.  The company is led by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man with a net worth of nearly $150 billion, according to Forbes.  Amazon’s pay increase will cost the company $1 billion or less annually and the recent $20 price increase for Prime memberships will generate enough to offset the wage hike.

What do you think of Amazon’s wage increase?  Hit the comments section and let us know!

 

 

 

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Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello raised the island’s official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975, making the September 2017 storm one of the deadliest in U.S. history.  The announcement came following the release of an independent study ordered by the Rossello administration that found the number of people who succumbed in the months after the storm had been severely undercounted.

The new estimate of nearly 3,000 dead in the six months after Maria devastated the island and knocked out the entire electrical grid was made by researchers with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.  While Puerto Rico is now putting the death toll at 2,975, other studies show the actual death toll from Hurricane Maria may be considerably higher. In May, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found the death toll to be at least 4,645—and perhaps as high as 5,740.

The George Washington researchers said the official count from the Sept. 20 hurricane was low in part because doctors were not trained in how to classify deaths after a disaster.  Researchers reported that physicians and others told them that Puerto Rico’s government did not notify them about federal guidelines on how to document deaths related to a major disaster.

The number of deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 was 22 percent higher than the same period in previous years.  Researchers said they counted deaths over the span of six months — a much longer period than usual — because so many people were without power during that time.  Their reasoning is that the loss of power for such an extended period of time and severe devastation forced people to exert themselves physically or were exposed to intense heat without fans or air conditioning.

There is no national standard for how to count disaster-related deaths. While the National Hurricane Center reports only direct deaths, such as those caused by flying debris or drowning, some local governments may include indirect deaths from such things as heart attacks and house fires.

Puerto Rico’s government released data in June showing increases in several illnesses in 2017 that could have been linked to the storm: Cases of sepsis, a serious bloodstream infection usually caused by bacteria, rose from 708 in 2016 to 835 last year. Deaths from diabetes went from 3,151 to 3,250, and deaths from heart illnesses increased from 5,417 to 5,586.

The study also found that government emergency plans in place when Maria hit were not designed for hurricanes greater than a Category 1. Maria was a Category 4 with 154 mph winds and the damage was estimated at more than $100 billion.  Researchers made several recommendations, including more emergency planning and government training for doctors on filling out death certificates.  They also said the public health system needs to be strengthened.  It remains to be seen whether Puerto Rico can adopt any of the recommendations since the island is trying to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt amid a 12-year recession.