Category Archives: Crime

Southern California Fire Grows ti Over 10k Acres

By: Ruben Vines and Alene Tchekmedyian of LA Times

Firefighters on Friday continued to battle an 18,000-acre wildfire in the Cleveland National Forest after it spread into Riverside County overnight and forced thousands to evacuate.

The Holy fire has destroyed at least 12 structures, but the U.S. Forest Service said that no additional homes had been lost as the fire spread. The fire remains only 5% contained.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Orange and Riverside counties. A suspected arsonist has been arrested in connection with the fire, which began Monday afternoon.

About 1,000 firefighters are on the scene, and more crews and aircraft continue to pour into the area. Officials are expecting another hot day Friday, with temperatures in the 90s.

“These conditions will increase the likelihood of extreme fire behavior as well as heat illness issues for the firefighters and the public,” fire officials said in a statement Friday.

As flames flickered behind Ana Tran’s McVicker Canyon home, she and her friend rushed to their car and sped past firefighters who were heading toward the blaze. Thick black smoke billowed above homes and cars were blanketed in pinkish fire retardant.

The residents, like many others, made a frantic escape Thursday after winds picked up in Lake Elsinore and pushed the raging Holy fire within feet of homes. More than 20,000 residents were urged to leave their homes.

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Texas High Schools Violate Law By Not Allowing Seniors To Register To Vote

By: Ruben Paquian of Texas Observer

About two-thirds of Texas high schools are not following a state law that mandates giving all eligible students the opportunity to register to vote, according to a new report. That means hundreds of thousands of potential voters have been left off the rolls.

For three decades, public and private high school principals in Texas have been required to distribute voter registration applications to all students who will be 18 years old that school year. The law stipulates that students be offered the applications at least twice per year. But without an enforcement mechanism or sufficient outreach by the state, compliance has been “abysmal,” according to the Texas Civil Rights Project’s report.

Since the 2016 presidential election, only a third of public high schools with more than 20 seniors requested a single voter registration form from the secretary of state’s office, the report’s authors found. In other words, two-thirds of public high schools in Texas didn’t even take the first step in complying with the law, leaving out at least 183,000 students in the last two years alone.

A map included in the report shows that the problem is scattered across the state, from major metros to rural areas. Most students in the Rio Grande Valley, a majority-minority region, aren’t getting voter registration forms at school; neither are those in large swaths of the Panhandle and West Texas.

Beyond school principals, blame also lies with Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, said James Slattery, one of the report’s authors. The law does not include a strict enforcement mechanism and leaves implementation largely up to the secretary of state’s office.

“Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents and students, the secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common-sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law,” said Slattery, a Texas Civil Rights Project attorney.

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Global Amazon Strike

By: Adam Clark Estes of Gizmodo

I know what you’re thinking: Amazon’s got some hot deals for its made-up holiday, and even though you don’t exactly need an AmazonBasics portable air compressor, you would be foolish not to save $14 by buying it on Amazon Prime Day. Resist these thoughts, fellow consumer. Amazon Prime Day is bullshit.

The first Amazon Prime Day happened in 2015, the year of Amazon’s 20th birthday, when the company boldly said “Step Aside Black Friday.” Prime Day deals were going to be so good, the world might run out of money before all the good could be bought. Yes, to celebrate two decades of selling discount books and weird sex toys, Amazon invited its most loyal customers to spend even more money and to do so in a limited amount of time. It was such a fun celebration that Amazon decided to do it every year. Now, Prime Day is even longer than a day. It’s 36 hours of unbelievable deals. And if you’re not an Amazon Prime member, Amazon will let you sign up for a free 30-day trial that you will definitely forget to cancel.

The only problem is that Amazon Prime isn’t necessarily the incredible deal that it used to be. I recently downloaded all of my Amazon data, only to learn that all my Amazon Prime membership seemed to do for me was to make me buy more stuff on Amazon. The fact that there’s now a fake holiday that encourages even more spending seems slightly insulting. Than again, nobody is forcing me to be a Prime member and to buy stuff on Amazon. And I’m certainly not compelled to buy stuff on Prime Day. That’s not what bothers me about this 36-hour bargain bonanza.

I’m actually starting to think that Amazon is a bad company. There must be a reason why Amazon workers in Europe are marking this year’s Prime Day by going on strike. A one-day strike at six Amazon facilities in Germany is currently in effect, while a three-day strike is happening in Spain. Workers in Poland are staging a work-to-rule action, meaning they’ll only do the bare minimum required by their contracts. The workers are universally demanding healthy working conditions, which seems like a reasonable thing for any employee to want. Amazon, however, has developed an infamous reputation as a terrible and dangerous place to work. Pay is so low that many warehouse workers are reportedly on food stamps. Third-party contractors often work long hours with no benefits. People even die in Amazon fulfillment centers from time-to-time.

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Black Farmers in Memphis Intentionally Sold Fake Seeds

By: WMCaction News

Mid-South farmers filed a lawsuit against a company that they said sold them fake soybean seeds at a convention.

A group of African-American farmers from Louisiana and the Mid-South, say that Stine Seed Company purposefully switched seeds in order to sell black farmers a subpar product at the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show in March 2017.

Despite above average rainfall, experienced black farmers saw limited soybean yield from the Stine seeds during the 2017 harvest.

“Mother nature doesn’t discriminate,” President of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association Thomas Burrell said. “It doesn’t rain on white farms but not black farms. Insects don’t [only] attack black farmers’ land…why is it then that white farmers are buying Stine seed and their yield is 60, 70, 80, and 100 bushels of soybeans and black farmers who are using the exact same equipment with the exact same land, all of a sudden, your seeds are coming up 5, 6, and 7 bushels?”

After losing millions of dollars, the farmers took the seeds to experts at Mississippi State University to have them tested. They say the tests show the seeds sold to the black farmers were not certified Stine seeds.

The black farmers said the distributor working for Stine Seed Company used labeled certified seed backs–tampering with factory sewn seals, in order to remove the certified seeds. The distributor would then sell the fake certified seeds to black farmers at a high price.

The farmers bought more than $100,000 in soybean seeds from the distributor, plus an additional $100,000 purchase in chemicals.

As for a motive, Burrell said farming is a very competitive industry and unscrupulous people see black farmers as easy prey. He said by hurting those farmers’ bottom line, someone else would be able to swoop in and buy up the land that belongs to black farmers.

“All we have to do is look at here: 80 years ago you had a million black farmers, today you have less than 5,000. These individuals didn’t buy 16 million acres of land, just to let is lay idle. The sons and daughters, the heirs of black farmers want to farm, just like the sons and daughters of white farmers. So we have to acknowledge that racism is the motivation here.”

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California Law Prevents Companies From Keeping Duping Clients Trying To Cancel Subscriptions

By: Shan Wang of Niemanlab

Here’s a script you’re surely familiar with if you’ve ever tried to cancel a subscription to, well, anything:

A version of this exchange happened when I tried to cancel my ClassPass account. A similar version happened when I tried to cancel my Boston Globe a few years ago when it kept being delivered to the wrong address.

We all have our own subscription auto-renewal and cancellation grievances.

effect July 1 aims to stop companies from blockading customers looking to cancel their services — along with the practice of sneakily sliding them into another month’s subscription without much clarity on the real, full cost of the service. Among the changes: It bans companies from forcing you to, say, call a hard-to-find telephone number to cancel a subscription that you purchased online.

California’s Senate Bill No. 313, which adds further protections for consumers to an existing law, would (according to its official legislative summary):

…commencing on July 1, 2018, require a business that makes an automatic renewal offer or continuous service offer that includes a free gift or trial, to include in the offer a clear and conspicuous explanation of the price that will be charged after the trial ends or the manner in which the subscription or purchasing agreement pricing will change upon conclusion of the trial.

The bill would prohibit a business from charging a consumer’s credit or debit card, or the consumer’s account with a 3rd party, for an automatic renewal or continuous service that is made at a promotional or discounted price for a limited period of time without first obtaining the consumer’s consent to the agreement.

The bill would also specify that if the automatic service offer or continuous service offer includes a free gift or trial, the business is required to disclose how to cancel, and allow the consumer to cancel, the automatic renewal or continuous service before the consumer pays for the goods or services.

And while it’s just a California law, it also applies to any company (or publisher) with paying customers in the state — so, pretty much everybody, GDPR-style. (Credit/blame State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the bill’s sponsor, for the new rules.)

Ryan Nakashima, an AP technology writer who’s been conducting some adblocking and subscriptions research at the Bay Area News Group in California, mentioned to me that in an exit survey of people who were canceling their subscriptions, some cancelers had also called out the cancellation process itself.

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Five Dead After Capital Gazette Newspaper Shooting

By: Kevin Rector of The Baltimore Sun

At least five people were killed and several others were “gravely injured” in a shooting Thursday afternoon at the Capital Gazette in Anne Arundel County, authorities said.

A shooter is in custody, police said. Police would not name the suspect or say what type of weapon was used.

Anne Arundel County Police initially confirmed about 3:15 p.m. that they were responding to an “active shooter” at 888 Bestgate Road, where the newspaper’s offices are located. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also responded to the scene.

The Capital Gazette is owned by The Baltimore Sun.

Police said a “long gun” was used in the incident. They said officers did not exchange gunfire with the suspect, who was now being interrogated. They said officers had recovered what appeared to be an “explosive device,” and had “tactically secured” the building. About 170 people were inside at the time of the shooting, police said.

Phil Davis, a Capital Gazette crime reporter who was in the building at the time of the shooting, said multiple people were shot, as others — himself included — hid under their desks. He said there was a lone male gunman.

“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees. Can’t say much more and don’t want to declare anyone dead, but it’s bad,” Davis wrote on Twitter as he waited to be interviewed by police.

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”

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Trump Signs Executive Order To Halt Family Separations

By: Andrew Restuccia, Lorraine Woellert of politico

President Donald Trump signed an executive action Wednesday that ends the administration’s policy of separating migrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, abandoning the president’s previous stance that only Congress can fix the problem.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence. “I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

Yet Trump said that he wanted to continue enforcing a strong policy at the border, an issue he campaigned on: “We are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”

The action came after Trump and his team faced harsh criticism from lawmakers, activists, religious leaders and former first ladies over the separation of children from their parents in custody, which was panned almost universally as cruel and damaging to the kids’ well-being.

It was a remarkable shift from a president who is typically reluctant to bow to outside pressure. He often doubles down on his existing stance when confronted with criticism.

With cable news flashing images of migrant children held in cages and lawmakers’ offices facing a flood of angry phone calls, the president was under increased pressure to come up with a speedy solution. White House aides came to the conclusion on Wednesday that Congress was unlikely to act quickly to resolve the crisis, even though they sent signals that Trump would be willing to sign a narrow, stand-alone fix without other immigration-related provisions.

The decision to end the separation policy via executive action appeared to have happened quickly, and some in the White House were left in the dark. Key members of the White House legislative affairs team, which had been working with Hill lawmakers in a bid to find a legislative fix, were left out of the loop and hadn’t seen text of the executive action as of early Wednesday afternoon, according to two people familiar with the issue.

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Aaron Persky, Judge Who Gave Lenient Sentence On Turner Rape Case, is Recalled From Office

By: Christal Hayes of USA Today

The controversial judge who sparked outrage after offering a lenient sentence to Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault, was recalled from office Wednesday — becoming the first California jurist recalled from the bench in 86 years.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, 56, became the target of a recall after sentencing Turner, who could have faced 14 years in prison, to only six months behind bars.

While the now-famous 2016 sentencing hearing happened before the #MeToo movement took hold over the country, ballots cast Tuesday were made in the backdrop of the movement, which has emboldened sexual assault survivors and forced criminal investigations and oustings of powerful men, most notably with Harvey Weinstein.

Persky’s supporters contend Turner’s sentence was lawful — and the recommended sentence from probation officials. But those calling for the recall say this is just one of many sentences handed down from Persky that were far too light.

Two women are running on the ballot to succeed Persky: civil attorney Angela Storey and prosecutor Cindy Hendrickson.

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States Take Net Neutrality Into Their Own Hands

By: Harper Neidig of The Hill

States are pushing their own net neutrality laws and rules in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal, heightening the possibility that supporters will be waging another legal battle over the popular Obama-era regulations.

Washington and Oregon have already passed their own laws to fill the void left by the FCC’s repeal, and California appears to be close behind after the state Senate passed a net neutrality bill on Wednesday.

A total of 29 states have proposed their own open internet legislation, according to Gigi Sohn, a fellow at Georgetown Law who’s been tracking the initiatives.

And five Democratic governors have gone with another tactic: issuing executive orders that prohibit the state from doing business with any broadband company that violates the principles of net neutrality.

The FCC’s repeal order included a provision preempting states from creating their own net neutrality rules, and this movement could lay the groundwork for a court battle over states’ rights to implement their own consumer protections.

A potential industry lawsuit against the states that have passed net neutrality laws could hold some promise for net neutrality supporters, says Marc Martin, a communications and technology lawyer at Perkins Coie.

“It’s not a slam dunk” despite the preemption clause, Martin said. “It’ll be interesting, I think that is one of the more vulnerable parts of the repeal overall.”

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Manafort Tried Tampering With Witnesses On His Case

By: Reuters

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has been indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, attempted to tamper with potential witnesses, Mueller said in a court filing on Monday.

Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, asked the judge overseeing the case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to revoke or revise an order releasing Manafort ahead of his trial.

Manafort was released to home confinement after his arraignment in October.

Mueller has indicted Manafort in federal courts in Virginia and Washington, D.C., with an array of allegations from money-laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, to bank and tax fraud. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

FBI Special Agent Brock Domin, in a declaration filed with Mueller’s motion, said Manafort had attempted to call, text and send encrypted messages in February to two people from “The Hapsburg Group,” a firm he worked with to promote the interests of Ukraine.

The FBI has documents and statements from the two people, as well as telephone records and documents recovered through a search of Manafort’s iCloud account showing that Trump’s former campaign manager attempted communication while he was out on bail, according to Domin.

The communications were “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence,” Domin wrote. “The investigation into this matter is ongoing.”

Manafort is the most senior member of Trump’s campaign to be indicted, though the charges do not relate to campaign activities.

Mueller urged Judge Amy Berman Jackson to “promptly” schedule a hearing on the whether to change Manafort’s conditions of release, which could result in Manafort going to jail.

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