Manhattan Judge Tosses Uber Lawsuit

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A Manhattan judge has dismissed Uber Technologies Inc’s lawsuit challenging a New York City law limiting the number of licenses for ride-hailing services, the first such cap by a major American city.  New York State Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank rejected Uber’s argument that the city wrongly gave its Taxi and Limousine Commission power to enforce the cap.

Frank was also unconvinced that the cap, part of Local Law 147, would impede state efforts to reduce traffic congestion through “congestion pricing” on vehicles entering high-traffic areas of Manhattan.  The August 2018 law was meant to give New York City greater oversight of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft Inc.  It includes a one-year freeze on new licenses to for-hire vehicles, which was later extended through August 2020.

The law, which the City Council passed, required the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to conduct a one-year study on the possibility of regulating the number of for-hire vehicle licenses and to stop issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses for that year. The study, which was released in June, found that reductions on FHV-related traffic could “meaningfully impact overall traffic conditions.” The one-year cap was then extended this past summer.

Uber’s lawsuit argued, among other things, that the city exceeded its authority in enacting the law because the state allows the city to cap taxis but not app-based or other for-hire vehicles. But Judge Lyle E. Frank said in his decision to toss the lawsuit that the City Council acted within its rights when it allowed TLC to adjust the number of for-hire vehicle licenses.

Bill Heinzen, acting TLC commissioner, said in a statement “We are grateful the court has again recognized the TLC’s power to address the problems that companies like Uber have created by flooding the streets of NYC.  Drivers are bringing home an additional $750 a month on average because we fought back against their tactics, and the Mayor and TLC will continue to fight for less congestion and better pay for drivers.”

The legislation also allows New York City to set a minimum wage for drivers with Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services.  The case is separate from Uber’s Sept. 20 challenge to a New York City “cruising cap” rule limiting how much time its drivers could spend without passengers in Manhattan south of 96th Street.

Uber has drawn criticism from many cities that its vehicles increase congestion, and commandeer business from taxis.  The value of medallions, which are permits needed to operate yellow taxis in New York City and are distinct from ride-hailing licenses, has plunged as Uber and Lyft gained popularity.  Taxi workers have long supported measures like the cap on for-hire vehicles to reduce the amount of vehicles driving around the city, as they face crippling amounts of debt due to a dramatic decrease in the value of medallions.

 

Boeing CEO Testifies Before Congressional Committees

 

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Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg testified before a pair of congressional committees for the first time since two deadly crashes of 737 MAX airliners, which killed a combined 346 people. His testimony follows a report in the Washington Post that top Boeing executives failed to intervene after two top pilots at the company identified problems with automated flight control software that would lead to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The Justice Department is also conducting criminal investigation against Boeing.  Muilenburg admitted Boeing failed to provide pilots with additional key safety system information.

During the hearing, Muilenburg acknowledged for the first time that he had been briefed, prior to the second crash, of messages from a test pilot who had raised safety concerns about the 737 Max. Boeing said it gave those messages to the Department of Justice in early 2019, but only alerted the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to the existence of those messages in the past few weeks.

The House Transportation Committee released a redacted copy of a 2015 email in which a Boeing expert questioned making the flight system called MCAS depend on just one sensor to measure the plane’s pitch — its “angle of attack,” or AOA.  Boeing went ahead with the single-sensor design, with no backup to prevent MCAS from pushing the plane into a dive. Investigators believe faulty readings from a single sensor triggered nose-down commands before both crashes.  Muilenburg explained changes Boeing is making to the Max and other steps it is taking to improve safety. He conceded that the company “made some mistakes” in designing MCAS and telling regulators and pilots about the system.

Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure also focused on why Boeing decided to only have one sensor on the outside of the plane, with no back-up, to alert pilots when the angle of the aircraft was off. They also asked why the plane’s safety system only gave pilots four seconds to react to take back control of the plane if a malfunction occurred.   While acknowledging that Boeing planned to make fixes to the craft, some lawmakers also questioned why the company took so long to come to that conclusion.  “We would do it differently if we knew what we know today,” Muilenburg said.

Several committee members pressed the CEO to make more changes in the aftermath of the crash, including giving up some of the $15 million in pay and bonus he received last year, out of $23 million in total compensation for 2018.  Boeing successfully lobbied regulators to keep any explanation of the system, called MCAS, from pilot manuals and training. After the crashes, the company tried to blame the pilots, said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut.  “Those pilots never had a chance,” Blumenthal said. Passengers “never had a chance. They were in flying coffins as a result of Boeing deciding that it was going to conceal MCAS from the pilots.”

Representative Albio Sires also read a worker email sent to the head of Boeing’s 737 production team in mid-2018 that claimed high production goals were straining workers and increased the potential for mistakes. “For the first time in my history with Boeing I would be hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing airplane,” wrote the veteran Boeing employee.  Muilenburg said he only became aware of the worker’s concerns after the Lion Air 737 Max crash October 29. He said the 737 production line was working at a “high rate” at the time and the issues raised by the now-retired employee had been investigated and addressed.  Boeing, in fact, never cut back the production of the planes, despite the concerns.

September 11th Victims Compensation Fund Blocked By Senate

 

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US Senator Rand Paul has blocked passage of a bill to fund healthcare for first responders to the 9/11 attacks. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which serves those who became sick as a result of their work following the 2001 terror attack, is set to run out of funding next year without congressional intervention. Senator Paul’s move came less than a week after the House approved a bill reauthorizing the fund on a vote of 402 to 12.  Senator Mike Lee of Utah also placed a procedural hold on the legislation, further preventing it from passing in the Senate.

The block comes more than a month after an emotional congressional hearing,  where John Stewart, who has been a longtime advocate for the fund, blasted lawmakers for their inaction ahead of a vote on renewing healthcare funding for 9/11 responders.  During his testimony, Stewart became upset several times as he appealed to Congress. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

After that hearing, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.  Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 and the act was reauthorized in 2015 for 90 years. But a portion of the law — the Victim Compensation Fund — was only funded for five years, through the end of 2020.  The fund aimed to provide necessary financial support for the thousands who suffered serious medical issues, including a spate of cancer diagnoses, after the 2001 attacks.  Several more 9/11 first responders have passed away of 9/11 related illnesses since the hearing and hundreds more are still fighting for their lives.

New York City health officials say the number of people who have been diagnosed with 9/11-linked cancers has tripled.  Thousands of first responders rushed to the scene of the attacks and in doing so, exposed themselves to toxic debris in the air, including asbestos, lead, and pulverized concrete, which causes silicosis.  Nearly 5,500 first responders and local residents have now been diagnosed with cancers linked to the toxic smoke and dust of 9/11.  As of September 2018, 2,000 deaths were attributed to 9/11 related illnesses. By the end of last year, many estimate that more people will have died from toxic exposures than were actually killed in the attack.

Mike Barasch, a partner of Barasch McGarry, a law firm that represents roughly 15,000 first responders and survivors of the 2001 attacks including many who testified before Congress, said that he met with Paul and Lee’s staff before the vote and were “assured” that while the two Senators wouldn’t vote for the bill, they also wouldn’t block the bill from passage.  “This is so hypocritical for them to be now saying we are worried about the deficit when both voted in favor for the tax cut,” said Barasch. “This is a moral obligation, Congress must pass this bill.”

The block came just hours before yet another first responder, Kevin Nolan, died from cancer that was diagnosed in the wake of the attacks on September 11th.  Nolan was a retired firefighter and member of Engine Company 79.  He was among the thousands of first responders working at Ground Zero immediately after the terror attacks.

 

Man Charged In Murder of Civil Rights Activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph

 

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Police in Louisiana are releasing new details about the man accused of killing popular Baton Rouge civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph.  Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was arrested on one charge of first degree murder.  According to police, Bell was her tenant and owed her about $1,200 in rent.  Both circumstantial and physical evidence led to his arrest after her body was found in the trunk of her car outside a vacant home about 3 miles away from her home last week. According to the arrest report, Bell admitted to being in the area where her car was abandoned, surveillance cameras place him in the area and his DNA was found on her body.

The death of Roberts-Joseph shocked and saddened the community and sparked a swift and coordinated investigation.  Baton Rouge police credited both the community and detectives in helping find Roberts-Joseph’s accused killer. Police say Bell suffocated the 75-year-old on Friday and then placed her body in the trunk of her own car. According to the East Baton Rouge district attorney, Bell was previously arrested after being accused of raping an 8-year-old girl in 2004. He pleaded guilty to sexual battery and served seven years in prison. He was not on probation or parole but was under indefinite supervision as a sex offender.  Officials say they do not believe Roberts-Joseph knew of Bell’s sex offender status.

Bell was already in jail when he was identified as a suspect in Roberts-Joseph’s murder, for violating sex offender registration requirements.  Bell was booked into jail Monday for not paying the $60 annual registration fee required of all sex offenders. He was then rebooked on Tuesday on the murder charges.  Bell told investigators that the activist had allowed him to stay in the home he was renting as long as he paid her something.  However, in the affidavit, investigators noted that Roberts-Joseph’s own notes suggested that she ” intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder … in regards to the back payments.”

Roberts-Joseph was considered a local icon in Baton Rouge, where she founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum and hosted the annual celebration of Juneteenth, which she fought to have recognized as a state and national holiday.  She also started the Community Against Drugs and Violence (CADAV), a nonprofit to empower people to combat drugs and street violence in order to create a safer environment for children.

Hundreds gathered in the Louisiana heat at the African American history museum Sadie Roberts-Joseph founded nearly two decades ago to mourn the loss.  Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said “Having known her for decades, she was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge. She was a part of the fabric of Baton Rouge and we will make her legacy a priority in Baton Rouge because of what she gave to so many here.”

Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said that although this experience has been heartbreaking and “heinous,” there has been solace in seeing the community unite to solve her mother’s killing and honor who she was as a person.  “All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” she said. “It’s ironic that this happened in death. What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death. We will see to it that her legacy continues.”

 

Navy Seal Acquitted of Murder Charges

 

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A seven-member military jury panel has acquitted Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, 40, on charges of murder, witness intimidation, and assault. The charges stemmed from a 2017 deployment in Iraq during which fellow SEALs said Gallagher stabbed a captive teenage ISIS fighter in the neck. The ISIS fighter, whom Gallagher was treating for air-strike injuries, later died. Three SEALs also said they saw Gallagher shoot two civilians. The jurors found Gallagher guilty of one count related to pictures he took next to the corpse of the Iraqi fighter.

After the verdict was read, Gallagher, his wife and his defense team stood up and began hugging. Gallagher told reporters after the verdict was read: “I’m happy and I’m thankful. I thank God, and my legal team and my wife.”  He still faces the impending sentencing for wrongful posing for photos with a human casualty but his according to his defense attorney Tim Parlatore “We have a sentencing to do, but the maximum sentence on what they’re about to sentence him on is much less than the time that they’ve already had him in the brig, so he is going home.”  The same jury that tried Gallagher sentenced him on July 3, 2019, for posing with the corpse.  The jury gave Gallagher, who served the maximum prison time for this charge, a demotion from Chief Petty Officer (E-7) to Petty Officer First Class (E-6);  a lighter sentence than other potential punishments, such as an other than honorable discharge (OTH).

The jury of five Marines and two sailors — one of whom is a SEAL — had to decide if the boy was stabbed to death, or died from wounds sustained during an airstrike with Gallagher being falsely accused by disgruntled subordinates.  Seven SEALs testified that Gallagher abruptly stabbed the teen prisoner on May 3, 2017, just after he and other medics treated the boy.  Two of them said they witnessed Gallagher, a 19-year-veteran, stab the teen. But one of them, in an admission that stunned the courtroom, Special Operator Corey Scott, who is also a medic, said he was the person who killed the boy when he plugged his breathing tube with his thumb in an act of mercy.

An Iraqi general testified that Gallagher did not stab the boy, and Marine Staff Sgt. Giorgio Kirylo said that he didn’t see any stab wounds on the young ISIS fighter when he moved the corpse to take a “cool guy trophy” photo with it.  Navy Cmdr. Jeff Pietrzyk told the jury that while the detained Islamic fighter was not a sympathetic figure, he was under the control of the U.S. military, which meant he was no longer a lawful target.  Pietrzyk also said that text messages sent by Gallagher prove his guilt. One message said: “I’ve got a cool story for you when I get back. I’ve got my knife skills on.” Another text stated: “Good story behind this. Got him with my hunting knife.”  Pietrzyk then showed a photo of Gallagher holding up the dead prisoner’s head by the hair.  Gallagher’s lawyers said the text was just an example of dark combat humor.

SEAL sniper Dalton Tolbert testified that he does not remember who started a group chat called “The Sewing Circle,” but the purpose of it was to connect with others who were disturbed by what they saw while deployed with Gallagher, and decide how to handle it.  “I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that,” Tolbert wrote in one of the texts.  One of the members of Gallagher’s unit — Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 testified that Gallagher confessed that he killed four women and two other SEAL petty officers told investigators Gallagher bragged about slaying “10-20 people a day or 150-200 people on deployment,” court documents state.

Court records state that one of the SEALS saw Gallagher fire into a crowd of what appeared to be noncombatants multiple times and another states that Gallagher claimed “he averaged three kills a day over 80 days.”  Many of the SEALs that testified said that Gallagher attempted to cover up these alleged crimes by threatening to murder witnesses and embarking on a campaign to identify other whistleblowers, get them blacklisted in the special warfare community and ruin their careers.  But with no body or autopsy evidence, the panel only had testimony of witnesses to review before deciding the fate of a man with a 19 year military career.  Gallagher’s lawyers ultimately tried to prove that some SEALs wanted to derail Gallagher’s advancement to senior chief.  Others were angry that he had been recommended for a post-tour combat valor award — the Silver Star — an honor they thought he didn’t deserve.

 

Phoenix Police Issue Apology After Video of Heated Confrontation With Family Surfaces

 

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Phoenix’s mayor and police chief have both apologized after a video was released showing officers pointing guns and yelling at a family outside a Family Dollar store, after they say a 4-year-old girl took a doll from the store. The video, recorded by a witness, caused widespread outrage and showed the officers screaming orders at the father, pregnant mother carrying their baby and the young girl.  The police department became aware of the video on June 11th and the officers involved have been assigned to desk duty while their actions are being investigated.  The parents say the police officers violated their civil rights, and are filing a $10 million lawsuit.

On May 29, Dravon Ames and his fiancee, Iesha Harper, said they went on a family outing with their two children, London, 1, and Island, 4. Without their knowledge, Island took a doll from a Family Dollar Store.  A police patrol unit who was responding to the shoplifting report followed the couple’s car. The family entered their babysitter’s apartment complex and were still in the car as an officer approached the vehicle with his gun drawn and yanked open the front door.

“I’m going to put a cap in your a–,” one officer said to Ames as a second policeman, whose weapon was also drawn and pointed at Ames, walked up to the car, the video shows. “I’m going to shoot you in your f—ing face.”  The woman can be heard saying she is unable to hold her hands up because she is holding a child, and that she is pregnant.

The first officer — who has not yet been named by the department — pulled Ames, 22, from the car, pushed his head to the pavement, handcuffed him and yelled that Ames better follow orders, according to the claim. The officer threw Ames against the car, ordered him to spread his legs and “kicked him in the right leg so hard that the father collapsed.” Then, the officer dragged him upright and punched him in the back, the claim said.

Once Ames was handcuffed and inside the patrol car, the officers focused their attention on Harper and the children, according to the claim.  The two officers pointed their weapons at the visibly pregnant 24-year-old Harper and her children, the video shows.  “The first officer grabbed the mother and the baby around both of their necks, and tried to take the baby out of the mother’s hand,” the claim alleged. “He told her to put the baby on the ground, which she was unwilling to do because the baby could not walk, and the ground consisted of hot pavement.”

The officer tried to rip Harper’s youngest child from her arms, the claim stated. After Harper handed the children to a bystander, the officer threw Harper into the police car face first and then handcuffed her.  “I could have shot you in front of your f—ing kids,” he said, according to the claim.  The store manager declined to press charges so neither Ames nor Harper were arrested or ticketed, though they were detained by the police.  The notice of claim alleged that the police officers “committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress, and violation of civil rights under the fifth and 14th amendments of the United States Constitution.”

 

 

 

Investigation Reveals 20 Years of Sexual Abuse in Southern Baptist Church

 

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An investigation led by Robert Downen, a Houston Chronicle reporter, reveals 20 years of sexual abuse allegations within the Southern Baptist Church (SBC).  The joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News- includes over 700 victims, including many children—some as young as 3 years old.  With about 15 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country and the shocking report has prompted calls for investigations into the church and their role in covering up and enabling the abuse.

Three hundred eighty Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been accused of rape, abuse and various forms of sexual misconduct.  Around 220 of those have been convicted of sex crimes or were given plea deals.  Of those 220, 90 remain in prison and 100 are registered sex offenders.  The report also found that members of the church pressured some women to get abortions after becoming pregnant as a result of assault, or threatened to shun them from the church.

The investigation comes as other religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, face accusations of widespread sexual abuse of its members, especially children, over decades.  The investigation of the SBC began because of Debbie Vasquez, who was 14 years old when she was first molested by the pastor of her church and at 18 she became pregnant with the pastor’s child.   In 2008, she and others started asking SBC leadership to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers but the church’s leaders resisted such reforms.  As a result, Lise Olsen, deputy investigations editor at the Chronicle, says the newspaper created its own database of abusers.

Olsen says it was easier for the abuse to stay a secret because of the church’s culture which does not allow women in leadership positions or condone same-sex relationships.  She says many of the victims are either young women who are told it’s a sin to have sex before marriage, even if you’re forced to by your pastor or they’re young men who are being forced into homosexual acts with pastors and other leaders, and then are stigmatized.  These “purity teachings” leave victims feeling un-empowered to come forward, with some victims losing their faith and even becoming suicidal.

Abusers in religious organizations often don’t just groom victims, they groom communities, preparing them to rise up and protect them.  Those who speak out about sexual abuse in authoritarian religious communities are often shamed in an attempt to quiet them with accusations seeking attention or of trying to bring down a godly man.  They may be told they’re selfish — indulging in their own pain when they should be paying attention to the pain they are causing others, including the people who will turn away from the church and spend an eternity in hell because of the poor light they’ve portrayed the church in.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, who was elected last June, responded to the newspapers’ investigation with a series of tweets:  “The abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil.”

“There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable. The safety of the victims matters more than the reputation of Southern Baptists.  As a denomination, now is a time to mourn and repent. Changes are coming. They must. We cannot just promise to ‘do better’ and expect that to be enough. “It’s time for pervasive change, God demands it. Survivors deserve it. We must change how we prepare before abuse (prevention), respond during disclosure (full cooperation with legal authorities), and act after instances of abuse (holistic care).”