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5 days ago · by · Comments Off on CA Utility Company Pleads Guilty To 84 Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter in 2018 Wild Fire

CA Utility Company Pleads Guilty To 84 Counts of Involuntary Manslaughter in 2018 Wild Fire

 

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Pacific Gas & Electric announced it has pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 Camp fire in the Northern California town of Paradise Pacific.  The federal filing documents its role in causing California’s deadliest wildfire.  PG&E, in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it reached the settlement with the Butte County district attorney’s office on March 17.

The utility company will be sentenced to pay the maximum total fine and penalty of approximately $3.5 million. The Agreement provides that no other or additional sentence will be imposed in the criminal action in connection with the 2018 Camp fire,” PG&E said in its filing. “They also agreed to pay $500,000 to the Butte County District Attorney Environmental and Consumer Protection Fund to reimburse costs spent on the investigation of the 2018 Camp fire.”

Under the deal, PG&E said prosecutors won’t pursue further criminal charges.  As part of the plea agreement, PG&E also pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully causing a fire in violation of the state penal code.  Last year, Pacific Gas & Electric admitted in federal court that its equipment probably caused several wildfires in Northern and Central California, even while it undertook the controversial step of conducting preventative power shutdowns during high-wind events in high-risk fire areas.

The Camp fire, which raced through Paradise in 2018, killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes. Both the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that poorly maintained PG&E equipment sparked that blaze.  The commission also noted that for years, PG&E failed to do climbing inspections of a century-old tower that malfunctioned, causing sparks where the fire originated. Investigators said there was “visible wear” on the arms of a tower linked to the blaze, but that PG&E crews had not climbed the tower since at least 2001.  Investigators said the climbing inspection could have identified problems with a small metal hook that was supposed to hold up a transmission line and insulator on the tower, and “its timely replacement could have prevented the ignition of the Camp fire.”

“We cannot change the devastation or ever forget the loss of life that occurred. All of us at PG&E deeply regret this tragedy and the company’s part in it,” PG&E Chief Executive Bill Johnson said in a statement. “We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident.”

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6 days ago · by · Comments Off on Covid-19 Spread Causes More Travel Restrictions

Covid-19 Spread Causes More Travel Restrictions

 

 

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union”, offered his prognosis as the federal government weighs rolling back guidelines on social distancing in areas that have not been as hard-hit by the outbreak at the conclusion of the nationwide 15-day effort to slow the spread of the virus.  The U.S. government’s foremost infection disease expert says the United States could experience more than 100,000 deaths and millions of infections from the coronavirus pandemic.

The US has become the epicenter with about 125,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and over 2,100 dead as of March 29, 2020.  Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems. Hospitals in the most afflicted areas are straining to handle patients and some are short of critical supplies.

The US president has suggested that a target date for reopening the U.S economy, which has been battered by the coronavirus outbreak, is April 12, Easter. But public health officials warn that lifting restrictions too soon could lead to more deaths and further damage the economy.  To limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued social distancing guidelines and called for gatherings of more than 10 people to be canceled, while governors have ordered residents in their states to remain in their homes and ordered nonessential businesses to close.

The CDC has issued a domestic travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  “Due to extensive community transmission of COVID -19 in the area, CDC urges residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days effective immediately,” the CDC said in a statement. “This Domestic Travel Advisory does not apply to employees of critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food supply.”  The CDC also noted that the governors of the three states would “have full discretion to implement this Domestic Travel Advisory.”

With more than 124,000 cases and 2,046 deaths nationwide, the three states make up more than half of the cases and nearly half of the deaths.  New York State has over 55,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths.  New Jersey has over 11,000 confirmed cases and 140 deaths.  Connecticut has over 1,200 confirmed cases and 33 deaths.  Most of the Connecticut cases are in Fairfield County where many residents commute into New York City for work.

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7 days ago · by · Comments Off on What You Need To Know About The Stimulus Payment

What You Need To Know About The Stimulus Payment

 

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The $2 trillion stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was passed by the House.  The plan includes a one-time direct payment to Americans, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said should arrive within three weeks. Individuals will receive up to $1,200, married couples will get up to $2,400 and $500 will be added for every child.  You don’t need to apply for the checks. The money will automatically be transferred directly to the bank account you included in your most recent tax return. If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, you’ll get a check in the mail.  People receiving nontaxable income would still get checks and those receiving Social Security benefits.  Anyone behind on child support payments will not receive any payments.

There are income restrictions: If you earn more than $75,000 as an individual or $150,000 as a couple, the total amount you’re eligible to receive starts to decrease. If you earn $99,000 or more as an individual or $198,000 as a couple, you aren’t eligible to receive a stimulus check.  The more you earn, the less money you’ll get. If you earn $75,000 or less as an individual, you’ll get the full $1,200. If you earn more than that, $5 will be subtracted for every additional $100 of income. (The checks phase out completely if you earn $99,000 or more.) The same sliding scale applies for couples earning between $150,000 and $198,000.

The IRS extended the federal income tax filing due date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020 but this deadline did not extend to state income taxes.  For those who have already filed 2018 and 2019 taxes and whose information is up to date and accurate, there’s no need to do anything at all.  If you have not filed your 2019 taxes, they will use the 2018 return.  The IRS is urging people to not wait to file their taxes and to file electronically.  Filing now will give them the most up to date information to get stimulus payments out.  They encourage anyone with a tax filing obligation who hasn’t filed a tax return for 2018 or a previous year to act now.  This step is especially important for low-income Americans who don’t typically file taxes. In that case, they would still need to file a form.

Taxpayers can defer federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed. This deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as those who pay self-employment tax.

 

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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Internet Provider Covid 19 Responses

Internet Provider Covid 19 Responses

 

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As homebound Americans are online for work and to keep in touch with friends and family, some internet providers have lifted data caps without significant interruptions to service from the increased bandwidth. The crisis has renewed calls for the FCC to regulate the internet as a utility and for a reversal of a repeal of net neutrality protections.  Many are also adhering to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge (PDF), which asks the signees not to terminate a customer’s service for non-payment. Below are the providers and what they have pledged.

AT&T – All AT&T home Internet Wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet customers, can use unlimited data. AT&T will continue to offer $10/mo Access from AT&T service for qualifying customers. They will also not terminate the service of any customer who can’t pay their bill, and will waive the fees associated with late payments within the next 60 days.  All their public Wi-Fi hotspots will be open to everyone. 

CenturyLink- CenturyLink said it has committed to waive late fees and to not terminate a residential or small business customer’s service due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19 for the next 60 days. They are also suspending data usage limits for customers during this time period and hav committed to the FCC’s Keeping Americans Connected Pledge.

Comcast- Comcast has paused enforcement of its data caps for 60 days, giving all of its customers unlimited data for that period. (Comcast normally gives its Xfinity customers two “grace” months for every 12, allowing them to exceed their data cap without penalty.) New subscribers to Comcast’s $9.95/month Internet Essentials plan will receive two months free, and speeds were increased to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up.  Comcast is also making its Xfinity WiFi service free for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a Comcast subscriber or not. 

Cox- Cox is eliminating data usage overages for the next 60 days. Customers with a 500GB or existing Unlimited plan will receive credits. They also will not terminate service for any residential or small business customers, and would open its Cox WiFi hotspot network to keep the public connected. 

Cox is offering free support calls and the first month free to its low-cost Internet service, Connect2Compete. Customers on its Essential plan will see their speeds increased from 30Mbps to 50Mbps.

Charter (Spectrum)-Charter Communications’ Spectrum services does not have data caps. They will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days if that household has K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Charter said it will open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use.

Mediacom Communications- Mediacom has paused monthly data allowances through May 15 across all broadband service tiers.  New customers who sign up for Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 broadband service can do so for $19.99/mo for 12 months, rather than $29.99/mo. It has also made its Wi-Fi hotspot network publicly accessible, for free, for 60 days. They also will not disconnect service or assess late fees for the next 60 days to any customer who calls and informs the company that they cannot pay their bill.

Sprint- Sprint has extended its network to include T-Mobile’s network as well for the next 60 days. Sprint has also signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and will waive fees and not terminate services if customers are unable to pay because of the coronavirus for the next 60 days. Customers with metered data plans will now receive unlimited data for 60 days. They will also receive an additional 20GB of hotspot data for the same period. 

Starry- Wireless broadband ISP Starry has made Starry Connect, a broadband program for public and affordable housing owners, free through May. Normally, the program, which provides 30Mbps symmetrical speeds, is $15/mo. Starry has also agreed to suspend cancellation of service due to nonpayment due to the coronavirus. It already does not charge additional fees or late fees. Starry’s service does not include data caps, either.

Verizon- Verizon will waive late fees and keep residential and small business customers connected if negatively impacted by the global crisis.  It is also upgrading the data plan on its Verizon Innovative Learning program for Title 1 middle schools from 10GB/month to 30GB/month for the next two months and removed data caps on Verizon home Internet subscribers.  They will also waive overage charges in addition to pledging to not terminate service and waive late fees. 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Non Essential Businesses Shut Down Across US

Non Essential Businesses Shut Down Across US

 

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At least 24 states have enacted policies to close nonessential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19 in the United States.    While guidance varies from state to state, recreational spaces like museums, movie theaters, gyms, day cares, music venues and malls, as well as personal care retailers like spas, nail and hair salons, tend to fall in the nonessential businesses category.

The states with nonessential business shut-downs are Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.  Other states like Missouri and Kansas have shut down orders in certain counties.

Shuttering nonessential businesses resulted in tens of thousands of American workers losing their jobs in recent weeks. In New York and New Jersey, so many people filed for unemployment insurance over the past week that both states’ online systems crashed.  While guidance varies from state to state, recreational spaces like museums, movie theaters, gyms, day cares, music venues and malls, as well as personal care retailers like spas, nail and hair salons, tend to fall in the nonessential businesses category.

In New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday warned that the “rate of new infections is doubling about every three days,” essential businesses that remain open include health care facilities, infrastructure and manufacturing entities and essential services like trash collection, law enforcement and homeless shelters. Bars and restaurants can only offer take-out or delivery.

 

 

 

 

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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Kenny Rogers Passes Away

Kenny Rogers Passes Away

 

 

 

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Kenny Rogers, whose legendary music career spanned six decades, has died at the age of 81.  The artist’s family announced his passing, saying he died from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by family.  “Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music. His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world,” read a statement posted by his publicist Keith Hagan.  Rogers’ family planned a small, private service out of concern for the coronavirus pandemic, “but look forward to celebrating the life of Kenny Rogers publicly with his friends and fans at a later date,” his publicist’s statement said.  Tributes to the country singer poured in from fans and musical artists.

 

Rogers was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, for what organization officials called a “distinctive, husky voice.”  He had 24 No. 1 hits and through his career more than 50 million albums sold in the US alone. He wasalso a six-time Country Music Awards winner and three-time Grammy Award winner.

Some of his hits included “Lady,” “Lucille,” “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Through the Years.”  His 1978 song “The Gambler” inspired multiple TV movies, with Rogers as the main character.  In 1985, he participated in the original recording of “We Are the World” along with more than three dozen artists. A year later, according to his website, he co-chaired “Hands Across America,” a campaign which sought to raise awareness about the homeless and hungry in the US.

He announced his retirement in 2015.  “I’ve been so lucky to have enjoyed such a long career and to have such amazing support from my fans and all who have helped me along the way, but there comes a time when I need to focus on spending time with my family,” he had said.  “My life is about my wife and my 11-year-old twin boys right now. There are a lot of things I want to do together with them to create some special memories. I don’t have a bucket list of my own … I have a bucket list of things I want to do with them.”

 

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2 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Harvey Weinstein Sentenced To 23 Years

Harvey Weinstein Sentenced To 23 Years

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A Manhattan judge sentenced former Hollywood producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein to 23 years in prison.  His 20-year sentence for a criminal sexual act, the more serious of the two counts he was convicted of last month, is on the higher end of New York state’s guidelines. For the other count, rape in the third degree, Weinstein was sentenced to three years in prison.

After his sentencing, Weinstein was taken under armed guard and bussed from the Manhattan courthouse to the Rikers Island jail. He was later transferred to Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital after complaining of chest pains. 

Weinstein was found guilty last month of raping then-aspiring actress Jessica Mann in a hotel room in 2013 and of sexually assaulting production assistant Mimi Haley at his apartment in 2006.  Meanwhile, prosecutors in Los Angeles are working to extradite Weinstein to face further charges of rape and sexual assault in California.

In a rambling statement during his sentencing hearing, Weinstein expressed remorse, defended his relationships with the women who testified against him, said he was “confused,” bragged about the charity money he raised after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, lamented that his children won’t speak to him and fretted about the future of the American legal system.

His statement was unexpected and, perhaps, unwise. In general, defendants like Weinstein, who plans to appeal his guilty verdict and faces other rape and sexual assault charges in Los Angeles, are advised not to speak because what they say can be used against them, according to Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney who has worked in criminal defense.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement “We thank the survivors for their remarkable statements today and indescribable courage over the last two years.  Harvey Weinstein deployed nothing less than an army of spies to keep them silent,” he added. “But they refused to be silent, and they were heard. Their words took down a predator and put him behind bars and gave hope to survivors of sexual violence all across the world.”

 

 

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3 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Chelsea Manning Released

Chelsea Manning Released

 

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A US judge ordered Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning released from jail after one year behind bars on contempt charges for refusing to cooperate in a federal grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks. The order for her immediate release came one day after Manning was hospitalized in Virginia after she reportedly attempted suicide at a federal prison in Alexandria. 

Judge Anthony J. Trenga wrote, “The court finds Ms. Manning’s appearance before the grand jury is no longer needed, in light of which her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose.” Judge Trenga, however, rejected a request to cancel the fines imposed against Manning for refusing to testify. Manning will now have to pay $256,000. 

Manning and her legal team showed that her imprisonment was nothing but punitive, and thus unjustifiable under the legal statutes governing federal grand juries. Yet for nearly a year, Manning has been caged and fined $1,000 per day. Ever since she was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, which is investigating WikiLeaks, Manning has also insisted that there was never any justifiable purpose to asking her to testify.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking documents and video to WikiLeaks showing evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama granted her clemency in 2017.  WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia for violating the Espionage Act, and is accused of helping Manning try to access the Department of Defense computers. Assange is fighting extradition from London.

 

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3 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on COVID-19 Continues to Spread

COVID-19 Continues to Spread

 

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As concerns about the coronavirus rippled across the globe, the US president declared the Covid-19 outbreak a national emergency as public life in America continues to grind to a halt.   Schools have closed to millions of students, creating anxiety for working parents across the country. Travel bans have been widened and some cities across America have issued curfews or “shelter in place” orders to slow the spread of the virus.  More “shelter in place” orders are expected as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise and has now been found in all 50 states.  

 

Shelter in place orders will come from local government rather than federal.  A growing number of countries have also imposed lockdowns that effectively shut down public life, but the details of such lockdowns vary dramatically.  Italy banned all public gatherings and set a 6 p.m. curfew but allowed travel for work or health reasons, while in China, millions of residents are restricted from even going to shop for groceries.  

 

The “shelter-in-place” order that San Francisco adopted has fairly large exemptions for health, work, food and even exercise.  City officials ordered residents to remain in place at their homes except for essential activities, essential business, and essential government functions, including tasks essential to maintain health and safety, such as obtaining medicine or seeing a doctor or getting necessary services or supplies for themselves or their family or household members, such as getting food and supplies, pet food and supplies necessary for staying at home.

 

The order also includes:

  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running provided that they maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing.
  • Caring for a family member in another household.
  • Caring for elderly, minors, dependents, people with disabilities or other vulnerable persons.

 

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlined a variety of potential proposals to Senate Republicans as part of a legislative package to help Americans and industries that are reeling from the coronavirus.  The administration proposed an initial $250 billion could be sent to Americans as early as the end of April if it can muster congressional approval.  

Sen. John Thune noted that getting cash assistance to Americans is something that has historically taken some time, but “I think there are ways now electronically that you can process things more quickly.” The proposal has fairly widespread support from Senate Republicans, who say it will offer immediate assistance to Americans impacted by the virus. Some lawmakers have varying ideas about how the proposal should work, including who should receive the payments and how much each American should get. 

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4 weeks ago · by · Comments Off on Chris Matthews Resigns Amid Sexual Harrassment Allegations

Chris Matthews Resigns Amid Sexual Harrassment Allegations

 

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Longtime MSNBC host Chris Matthews has resigned after a string of recent controversies and accusations of sexual harassment. Chris Matthews’s show, “Hardball,” has been on the air since 1997. Matthews’ departure was “mutually agreed” upon by both Matthews and MSNBC, a network spokesperson said.  A series of interim hosts are expected to fill his role until MSNBC finds a replacement.

 

Journalist Laura Bassett published a piece recounting Matthews’s inappropriate comments to her when she was a guest on his show in 2016.   As she was having her television studio makeup applied, Matthews purportedly asked her: “Why haven’t I fallen in love with you yet?” Bassett claims that when she laughed nervously, and said nothing, Matthews followed up to the makeup artist with: “Keep putting makeup on her, I’ll fall in love with her.” 

 

Another time, he stood between me and the mirror and complimented the red dress I was wearing for the segment. ‘You going out tonight?’ he asked. I said I didn’t know, and he said—again to the makeup artist—’Make sure you wipe this off her face after the show. We don’t make her up so some guy at a bar can look at her like this,'” Bassett also wrote.  “I’m pretty sure that behavior doesn’t rise to the level of illegal sexual harassment,” she added. “But it undermined my ability to do my job well. And after I published a story about it, even though I didn’t name him, dozens of people reached out to say they knew exactly who it was.”

 

In December, 2017, details surfaced of a 1999 settlement Matthews’ employer, CNBC, reached with a female producer of Matthews’ program who alleged Matthews made inappropriate comments about her in front of colleagues in the workplace.  More recently, Matthews compared Bernie Sanders’s primary win in Nevada to the Nazi invasion of France and received backlash for being condescending during an interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren, in which he repeatedly questioned her over claims that fellow presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg and his company have a history of mistreating women. 

 

When announcing his departure, Matthews said “Let me start with my headline tonight: I’m retiring,” the Northeast Philly native said at the start of his show. “This is the last ‘Hardball’ on MSNBC and obviously this isn’t for lack of interest in politics. As you can tell I’ve loved every minute of my 20 years as host of ‘Hardball.  “The younger generations are improving the workplace,” he said. “We’re talking here about better standards than we grew up with — fair standards. A lot of it has to do with how we talk to each other, compliments on a woman’s appearance that some men — including me — might have once incorrectly thought were okay were never okay. Not then and certainly not today. And for making such comments in the past, I’m sorry.”

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