Baltimore parents, teachers and students are protesting frigid conditions at public schools, with schoolchildren left shivering in classrooms and temperatures barely rising above freezing. Photos shared widely on social media show children bundled in winter parkas seated on a classroom floor; a high school classroom and a gymnasium left badly damaged after they were flooded by burst pipes; and a thermometer measuring one classroom’s temperature at 42 degrees.
In a letter sent to families, students and staff members on January 2nd, they were told that workers had visited the buildings over the winter break to try to ensure they were ready and that principals are combining classes if one room is colder than another. School uniform rules had been lifted so students could choose warmer outfits.
On January 3rd, the Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English sent a letter to Sonja Brookins Santelises, the chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools. The letter was also published in The Baltimore Sun. The letter condemned the conditions as “unfair” and “inhumane” and called on officials to close schools for the rest of the week. According to the letter, students and teachers have endured dangerously low temperatures in buildings that are struggling to operate with bursting boilers and drafty windows. Ms. English wrote “I implore that you close schools in the District until your facilities crew has had time to properly assess and fix the heating issues within the affected schools in Baltimore City.
That day, as temperatures dipped in the low 20’s, four schools were closed and three released their students early because of the heating issues in their buildings. As blizzard conditions raged along the East Coast on January 4th, the closings extended to all Baltimore city schools, as well as those in other major cities including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
After receiving the letter, Santelises published a Facebook Live presentation where she said that as some schools are fixed, others might encounter problems elsewhere in the district, making a request to shut down all the schools an “overly simplistic” measure. “I don’t knee-jerk close anything down just because I have one perspective,” she said. She said that other factors went into the decision to keep schools open despite frigid classroom temps such as considering the impact on students’ access to hot school meals and adult supervision while parents work. Dr. Santelises added “About 60 schools have been affected over the winter break and this week by heating problems, representing about one-third of the schools in the system. Maintenance workers have been sent to schools as the district gets complaints about them and as some fixes are made at some schools, problems arise at others as workers try to keep ahead of the problems. “It is a juggle, and I don’t think we get it perfect every time,” she added.
State Senator Bill Ferguson—a former Baltimore public school teacher—said the city’s schools requested funds for heating and air conditioning but were denied due to “fiscal constraints.” Ferguson blasted Republican Governor Bill Hogan on twitter- writing, “Governor Hogan suggests enough money has gone to Baltimore City, additional resources not needed.”
North Korea has called the most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions “an act of war” and warns that the US and other nations which supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price. The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted US-drafted sanctions against North Korea in response to their last intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test which experts have said are the most advanced yet. The new sanctions will strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling. Then, just days after the new sanctions were imposed; the United States imposed two additional sanctions on two North Korean officials. The new U.S. Treasury sanctions will freeze all U.S. assets of two North Korean officials accused of being behind the missile program.
North Korea’s foreign ministry lashed out against the latest sanctions, saying the US is intimidated by the nation’s nuclear power. “The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country,” the statement said. North Korea warned that if the United States “wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy” toward North Korea. “We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” the statement said.
Korea foreign ministry described the new resolution as a “complete economic blockade” and threatened nations that helped pass it. “Those countries that raised their hands in favor of this ‘sanctions resolution’ shall be held completely responsible for all the consequences to be caused by the ‘resolution’ and we will make sure for ever and ever that they pay heavy price for what they have done,” the statement said.
The sanctions cut exports of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products by a total of 89%. It also bans the export of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to North Korea, and requires countries currently hosting North Korean migrant workers to repatriate them within 24 months. According to the UN, around 100,000 North Koreans work overseas and most of their wages are sent back home, bringing an estimated $500 million each year for Kim Jong Un’s regime. The new UN resolution also prohibits countries from smuggling North Korean coal and other prohibited commodities by sea and authorizes member states to inspect, seize and impound any vessels in their territorial waters found to be transporting prohibited items. This month, Washington asked the UN to ban 10 ships from entering ports across the world over alleged dealings with North Korea.
Three months ago, the UN passed a US-drafted resolution that at the time was described by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as “by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea.” The previous measures, adopted in September, had been designed to accomplish six major goals: cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities.
Twelve people were killed and four critically injured, after a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City. Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover. The fast moving fire sent residents running into the freezing temperatures for safety just before 7pm on Thursday.
The fire was started by a three year old boy who had been playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment. The boy’s screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted. The mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, leaving the apartment door open. That fatal mistake allowed the fire to spread quickly through the 5 story building-trapping families on the floors above.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the apartment’s stairway acted “like a chimney” as the fire burst from the apartment, feeding the flames and allowing them to spread throughout the building. The smoke from the fire filled the stairway and halls, quickly cutting off visibility to those trapped inside. The 26-unit apartment building was required to have self-closing doors, which swing shut on their own to keep fires from spreading, city Housing Preservation and Development Department spokesman Matthew Creegan said. Investigators will look at whether the door to the apartment was defective or if an obstruction prevented it from closing, he said.
Killed in the blaze were Maria Batiz, 58; her 8 -month-old grand-daughter Amora Batiz; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor; Hannah Donkor, 17; Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7 and Emmanuel Mensah, 28. Mensah, has been hailed a hero for heading back into the fire to save others. Private Mensah, had been home from Army duty for the holiday after finishing basic training in Georgia. His father said he had been awarded a medal for marksmanship and was planning to join the military police. He was scheduled to head to Virginia and from there to battlefields unknown. His sister wept as she said he always put others before himself.
Mensah, lived in Apartment 11, on the 3rd floor with a friend of his father’s who was at home with his wife and four children when the fire broke out. After Mensah got that family to safety, he returned and pulled out four more people. He was last seen heading back into the fire to help others. When he couldn’t be found, family members said they were hoping he was among those injured in the fire. His remains were found in Apartment 15 on the 4th floor.
One family, the Stewarts, lost four family members during the deadly blaze. Karen Stewart-Francis, Kylie Francis, Charmela Francis, and their cousin Shawntay Young were killed. In all, 13 family members — cousins, uncles, aunts – all lived in the building after emigrating from Jamaica between 1980-2004 and deciding to stay close. Another family member, Holt Francis, emerged alive from the deadly mix of smoke and flames, but was put into a medically induced coma with a dire prognosis. Family members say he’s a fighter and the family wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. His wife Karen was killed in the blaze.
Two men have been arrested in the grisly murders of a same-sex couple and two children in Troy, New York. James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24 have been charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder. The victims were 36-year-old Shanta Myers, her partner 22-year-old Brandi Mell and Myers’ two children, Jeremiah, 11, and Shanise, five. Myers’ oldest son, 15-year-old Isaiah, was not home at the time of the murders.
Their bodies were discovered in their basement apartment around noon on Dec. 26th by the property manager while doing a well-being check. According to family members, the Myers family moved in with Brandi Mells following an eviction earlier this year but because of apartment’s small size, Isaiah stayed with a relative.
Mells’ cousin, Sharonda Bennett said she last spoke to Brandi on Dec. 19 to discussed holiday plans The couple were deciding between celebrating in Troy or in Paterson, New Jersey, where the Mells family lives, she said. She said that the couple became unreachable around 11 p.m. on Dec. 21st, after Mell’s mother couldn’t reach her by phone and no one answered at the apartment. Bennett said her calls to Brandi went straight to voicemail and she assumed maybe they had decided to spend Christmas in New Jersey.
Two days later, Isaiah stopped by to deliver Christmas presents to his siblings but no one answered the door, which was locked. He left for a basketball tournament, thinking they’d stepped out for a bit. After still not being able to reach them the day after Christmas, Mells’ mom called the property manager and asked the manager to see if her daughter was home. The manager found the bodies and immediately called cops.
The motives of these murders have not been revealed but Troy Police Chief James Tedesco said these victims were targeted and confirmed that the victims were killed late in the evening of Dec 21st. He called the slayings the worst “savagery” he’d ever seen in his 42-year career. Police did not detail how they caught the suspects, and a family member of one of the victims said that she had never heard of the men and knew no reason why the women and children would be targeted.
Police have said Justin Mann was “acquainted” with Brandi Mells. He said that both suspects have a criminal history and that Justin Mann was on parole. Department of Corrections records show Mann was released on parole in June 2017 after serving time for a first-degree robbery conviction in 2014. Both men, from nearby Schenectady, were apprehended without incident Friday night and arraigned Saturday. Both are being held without bail in the Rensselaer County Jail with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 4th.
Disney is set to buy a major part of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. Both sides have said it will likely take 12 to 18 months to complete. They will still have to sell the deal to government regulators, who must review the merger to determine its effects on competitors and consumers. That task will likely fall to the Justice Department, which weeks ago took the rare step of suing companies in a different blockbuster deal: AT&T’s bid for Time Warner.
Members of Congress have already stated that they want to hold hearings on Disney’s billion dollar bid to buy 21st Century Fox. Key voices on competition and consumer protection fear the deal will only solidify Disney’s dominance in entertainment — granting it too many major box-office franchises and too much power over regional sports networks and streaming video services. Lawmakers don’t actually have a say in major mergers but they tend to scrutinize them anyways since the Department of Justice investigations happen outside of public view. Hearings-sometimes featuring testimony from major chief executives — can ultimately shape public opinion about the companies’ plans.
If the deal goes through, Disney will own the rights to everything from the Avatar movies to FX’s The Americans. They will also own the film rights to the Marvel comics characters associated with the X-Men and Fantastic Four, which Marvel sold off to Fox long before either was a Disney subsidiary. Federal Communications Commission regulations state that no one company can own more than one broadcast network and since Disney already owns ABC, Fox broadcast network was off the table.
Fox, will maintain the rights to Fox News, Fox Sports 1, the Fox broadcast network and the Fox studio lot in Los Angeles. Fox broadcast network is home to everything from The Simpsons to New Girl to The X-Files. The network launched in 1986 and by the mid-’90s, it was a mainstay in most American homes, competing with ABC, CBS, and NBC.
The massive deal would consolidate two of the biggest players in Hollywood and would reshape the media and entertainment industries. Disney will also get Fox’s 30 percent share of ownership of Hulu in this deal. Disney already owns a 30 percent share so Fox’s share will now make Disney the majority shareholder in Hulu. NBC still owns a 30 percent stake and Warner Bros. owns the remaining 10 percent.
Disney already announced plans for its own streaming business in 2019, which will feature films from Disney and Pixar, content that specifically won’t be available on Netflix. Hulu already has 12 million subscribers so it remains to be seen whether Disney will piggyback their own streaming business with Hulu or just convert Hulu into Disney’s streaming service. Disney’s Marvel and Lucas film franchise will still appear on Netflix as part of a multiyear agreement, but that runs out in a few years and will almost certainly be exclusive to their own streaming service.
Around 1,500 people including, bereaved family and survivors of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire gathered at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for a memorial service, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the royal family. The fire killed 71 people when it swept through a poorly built public housing tower and was the worst fire in Britain since World War II. The memorial ceremony lasted just over an hour and at the end of the service, a Grenfell banner was carried out of the cathedral, followed by mourners, who held white roses and photographs of their loved ones.
Of the 293 people believed to be in the 27 story building, 222 escaped; 65 of those survivors were rescued by firefighters. Some residents appear to have moved up the building to escape the flames, only to become trapped in the apartments of friends and neighbours on the upper floors. Twenty one people died on the top floor of the tower block and the fire to raged for 60 hours before finally being contained.
Two days after the disaster, the Prime Minister promised families would be rehoused within three weeks. Six months after the fire, according to a report published by the government, of the 395 households displaced by the fire, 300 were living in hotels, 75 were in apartments, nine were living with friends and family on a temporary basis and only 11 had found new permanent accommodation by the end of September.
Maxine Holdsworth, the official responsible for rehousing the people who lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower fire says Theresa May made and unachievable commitment in the aftermath of the fire. The current promise is that everyone will be rehoused within a year. The number of staff working on rehousing Grenfell tenants has increased since the summer from five to 20. They have been given a budget of $235 million to replace the homes lost in the tower. They are currently in the process of buying 300 new homes, at a rate of two a day, and hope to have done that by Christmas.
A review of building regulations ordered after the Grenfell Tower fire found the system is “not fit for purpose” and open to abuse by those trying to save money. The report into building safety called for an overhaul of the construction industry to put safety above cutting costs. The report called for an end to cost-cutting on materials. It is suspected that an attempt to drive down the price of refurbishing the tower in west London led to cheaper, flammable material being installed on its exterior.
The tower was built in 1974 but was remodeled in 2016. Fire safety experts have pointed to cladding on the building as a possible reason the blaze spread so quickly. New cladding was fitted as part of the refurbishment of the tower in May of last year. Footage has shown the fire travelling up one side of the building, before engulfing the entire block.
Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, 36, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the deadly shooting of unarmed motorist Walter Scott-who was pulled over for a broken tail-light. U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled that Slager committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, when he shot and killed 50-year-old Scott on April 4, 2015. The second-degree murder ruling came with a recommended 19 to 24 year sentence. Slager has 14 days to appeal.
Slager initially claimed self-defense, but witness cellphone video that surfaced shortly after the encounter showed the officer fatally shooting Walter Scott five times in the back as he ran away. He was fired from the force after the shooting. Slager was charged in South Carolina with murder and pleaded not guilty. During the state murder trial, Slager’s attorney said his client shot Walter Scott because he was in fear for his life.
Federal prosecutors sought a life sentence, arguing Slater, had committed second-degree murder and also should be punished for obstructing justice by providing the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with false statements. In 2016, the case ended in a mistrial. The state retrial and federal trial were expected to take place this year, but in May, Michael Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights in federal court, ending the federal case against him and also resolving the state charges that were pending after the mistrial.
Before the sentence was announced, Scott’s family addressed the court and gave the judge their victim impact statements. Judy Scott broke down in tears as she recalled the memory of her son. Speaking to Slager, Scott also said she forgave the former officer, a sentiment echoed by Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott. Scott’s family has repeatedly expressed forgiveness to Slager, saying they needed to in order to let go of the pain of losing Walter.
Before hearing his sentence in federal court, Michael Slager called each family member out by name and apologized, thanking them for forgiving him. “I wish this never would have happened,” he said. “I wish I could go back to the day and change the events, but I can’t.” For the past 31 months, he said, he had thought about the moment he opened fire. “Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I’m responsible for that,” Slager said, adding the Scott family would be forever changed without Walter.
The Scott family said at the subsequent press conference that Slager had sought to make amends with them. “He apologized to the family,” said Rodney Scott, one of Walter’s brothers. “He called each and every last one of our names in court today and apologized. So who are we not to forgive?”
He said his family is “thankful for the justice system that worked on our behalf,” but added that “a lot of work” still needs to be done in the justice system. Another one of Walter Scott’s brothers, Anthony Scott, thanked Feiden Santana, the witness who filmed the shooting, for being “brave” enough to film what he saw that day.
The Pentagon says the U.S. military plans to accept openly transgender recruits on January 1, 2018—despite President Trump’s announcement earlier this year of a ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. In October, a Washington, D.C., district judge blocked Trump’s order from taking effect. The Justice Department is now trying to delay the acceptance of transgender recruits. The Pentagon’s announcement came just days after the Trump administration asked a federal judge to temporarily put on hold a portion of the October U.S. District Court ruling that required the military to begin accepting transgender troops on Jan. 1.
The Pentagon announced that it would enforce the Jan. 1 court-imposed deadline for processing transgender military applicants as the Department of Justice appeals the ruling. Potential transgender recruits will have to overcome a lengthy and strict set of physical, medical and mental conditions that make it possible, though difficult, for them to join the armed services.
Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon can disqualify potential military recruits who have a history of gender dysphoria or of medical treatments associated with gender transition, as well as those who underwent reconstruction surgery. Those recruits can be allowed to serve if a licensed medical provider certifies they have been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months and are free of “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” Transgender individuals receiving hormone therapy also must be stable on their medication for 18 months.
The administration has filed an appeal to the decision, which blocked Trump’s policy and set the January enlistment date, to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. In a recent motion, officials argued that the federal government would be “seriously and irreparably harmed if forced” to implement the requirement to accept transgender recruits by next month. A Washington state federal court ruled against the president’s proposed ban, marking the third to do so.
The Department of Defense has stated that current transgender service members would be treated with respect as the Pentagon worked through the policy shift — which came one month after U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis gave military chiefs another six months to review whether allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the military would affect the force’s “readiness or lethality.”
Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban on transgender service members, allowing them to serve openly in the military. He said that within 12 months — or by July 2017 — transgender people also would be able to enlist. Lat July, President Trump tweeted that the federal government “will not accept or allow” transgender people to serve “in any capacity in the U.S. military.” In August, the president reversed the Obama directive to allow transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces, directing the Pentagon to renew the ban. He gave the department six months to determine what to do about those currently serving.
That decision was quickly challenged in court, and two U.S. district court judges ruled against the ban. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote in her decision that transgender members of the military who had sued over the change were likely to win their lawsuit, and she barred the Trump administration from reversing course. Part of one ruling required the government to allow transgender individuals to enlist beginning Jan. 1.
In the latest of accusations of inappropriate behavior, longtime NBC “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer has been fired after he was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. Several women have stepped forward to accuse Matt Lauer of sexual harassment or sexual assault. NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said, “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Various news sources have reported that Lauer once gave a sex toy to a colleague along with a note about how he wanted to use it on her. Lauer is also accused of exposing himself to a colleague and reprimanding her when she rejected his advances. The New York Times reported that one former NBC employee was summoned by Lauer to his office in 2001 where he allegedly locked the door and sexually assaulted her.
Lauer, 59, who co-anchored the Today Show for more than 20 years, offered an apology, “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”
It has been reported that there are as many as eight accusers, though they have asked to remain anonymous. Several accusers have said they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears. NBC has denied this telling NBC News “current NBC News management was never made aware.”
An NBC spokesperson confirmed Lauer will not receive a payout for the rest of his contract. Lauer, who had just signed a contract last year that would keep him in the anchor chair through 2018, had a contract worth a reported $20 million. After firing Lauer, NBC News’ human resources department said they’re now sifting through Lauer’s emails in an effort to bring more justice to any colleagues who may have suffered in silence. NBC News president Noah Oppenheim promised swift action against anyone who may have known about sexually inappropriate behavior and didn’t report it.
Lauer’s first wife, Nancy Alspaugh, whom he was married to from 1981 to 1989, said she was shocked by the longtime “Today” host’s firing amid sexual misconduct claims, and she said called him one week ago to let him know she had been approached by a reporter working on an exposé about him. Alspaugh said the accusations against Lauer are shocking and out of character. “I think, for the people that really know him and really love him and they want to get the good stuff out. I want to get out the fact that he made a contribution to my nonprofit, that he helped me when my husband died. The selfless, giving part of him, which people tend to forget whenever this kind of a situation comes up. He would give you the shirt off his back if you really needed it. He did that for everybody. From the lowest person on set to, you know, the highest powers. “
The three UCLA basketball players who were accused of shoplifting at three high-end stores in China publicly apologized before coach Steve Alford announced they were being suspended indefinitely. Freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley won’t be allowed to suit up, practice or travel with the team while the university continues to sort out the circumstances of the incident in Hangzhou, China. Alford didn’t specify what the indefinite suspensions mean, saying only that the three players would have to earn their way back onto the team and at some point the trio may be permitted to join team workouts, meetings and practices, but that timeline has yet to be decided.
The players were in China as part of the Pac-12′s global initiative that seeks to popularize the league’s athletic programs and universities overseas. UCLA was scheduled to play Georgia Tech on November 11th. The incident occurred when the team was given 90 minutes of free time on Nov. 6th in Hangzhou. The trio visited several stores, took items from three stores and returned to the hotel. The next day, police arrived at the hotel shared by UCLA and Georgia Tech and interviewed both teams in an attempt to identify the culprits. Police searched the players’ personal belongings and the team bus before identifying Ball, Hill and Riley. The three players were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store.
The players were arrested and taken to a police station for questioning. They were later released on $2,220 bail on Nov. 8th. They had to give up their passports and agree to travel restrictions. Upon their release, they remained in a hotel at UCLA’s insistence. After their teammates beat Georgia Tech, the team moved on for the next game while the three accused players remained in Hangzhou to face their charges. Chinese law is often criticized for being harsh and the nation boasts a 99% conviction rate. Crimes like shoplifting can carry a sentence of 3 to 10 years in prison.
UCLA had been cooperating with the authorities in China following the arrested. White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, had been working with Chinese officials, UCLA coach Steve Alford, and the families of the players to help find a resolution. President Trump was in China last week as part of his 12-day tour through Asia. He said he had a long conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping about the status of the freshmen players and asked that the matter be resolved quickly.
The Chinese authorities reduced the charges and the three players were told they could return home. They arrived back in Los Angeles after a 12 hour flight home on November 14th. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “We want to thank the president, the White House and the U.S. State Department for their efforts towards resolution.”