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House Democrats pass police reform package involving changes to policing and public safety

On Thursday, House Democrats passed a package of new police reform bills that would fund recruitment and training for police departments across the country, including new language for police accountability. Early in the day a procedural vote on the bills narrowly passed 216-215 when a group of progressive Democrats objected to providing more funding to police departments. It now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said: “The Invest to Protect Act will ensure that local police departments across our country have what they need to recruit and retain the finest officers, to provide necessary training, and to invest in providing mental health resources for our officers.” 

California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter sponsored one f the bills, which would create a grant program for departments to hire and dispatch mental professionals instead of law enforcement officers when incidents involve behavioral health needs. Another bill provides funding to police departments with fewer than 200 officers and also allows the funding to be used for data collection about police and community safety.

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Boeing to pay $200 million to settle SEC charges over 737 Max

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday that it charged the aircraft maker Boeing and former CEO Dennis Muilenburg with making significant misleading public statements about the plane and an automated flight-control system that was implicated in the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Boeing Co. will pay $200 million to settle charges that the company and its former CEO misled investors about the safety of its 737 Max after two of the airliners crashed, killing 346 people. While neither Boeing nor Muilenburg admitted wrongdoing, they offered to settle and pay penalties, including $1 million to be paid by Muilenburg, who was ousted in December 2019, nine months after the second crash.

The SEC said Boeing and Muilenburg knew that the flight system, known as MCAS, posed a safety issue but promised the public that the plane was safe. The SEC said they also falsely claimed that there had been no gaps in the process of certifying the plane in the first place.

Boeing said it has made “broad and deep changes across our company in response to those accidents” to improve safety and quality: “Today’s settlement is part of the company’s broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 Max accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees and other stakeholders.”

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New York Attorney General Letitia James files $250M lawsuit against Donald Trump and three of his children

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, alleging an illegal scheme that amassed $250 million by fraudulently overvaluing assets. The civil lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, seeks to recover $250 million that James said was received through deceptive practices. James is also seeking to bar Trump and his children – Eric, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. – from serving as officers or directors in any New York company, and Trump himself would also be barred from entering any commercial real estate transactions or applying for loans for five years.

James said during a news conference“I want to be clear, white-collar financial crime is not a victimless crime. When the well-connected break the law to take in more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources to working people, to regular people, to small businesses and all taxpayers. Everyday people cannot lie to a bank about how much money they have in order to get a favorable loan to buy a home or to send their kid to college. And if they did, the government would throw the book at them. Why should this be any different?”

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump Organization deceived lenders, insurers and tax authorities in a fraudulent scheme that touched all aspects of Trump’s business, properties and golf courses. The lawsuit also names former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and longtime company executive Jeff McConney and includes 23 properties in the Trump Organization portfolio.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba called the allegations politically motivated and meritless, saying in a statement: “Today’s filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law — rather, it is solely focused on advancing the attorney general’s political agenda. We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the attorney general’s meritless claims.”

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President Biden condemns Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in a speech to the United Nations

President Biden condemned Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine during his keynote address at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. During his remarks at U.N. headquarters in New York City as part of the General Debate, Biden said President Vladimir Putin is acting aggressively and irresponsibly by threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Biden said Russia has violated the tenets of the United Nations by going to war with Ukraine in February, and  called the military aggression “outrageous”. He pushed the United Nations to support Ukraine: “The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are. Putin claimed he had to act because Russia was threatened. No one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought conflict. In fact, we warned he was coming.” Biden pointed to Russian attacks that have targeted civilian centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals, rail stations, and said evidence of war crimes is everywhere: “This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple. That should make your blood run cold.”

Biden noted that 141 countries have condemned Russia for the war and dozens have given billions in emergency aid.  He said Putin must pay, or else it will only motivate other autocratic regimes to act in a similar fashion in the future:  “If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this institution stands for. This past year, the world was tested as well. We did not hesitate. We chose liberty. We chose sovereignty. We stood with Ukraine. Like you, the United States wants this war to end, on just terms. On terms, we all signed up for. You cannot seize a nation’s territory by force. The only country that is standing in the way of that is Russia.”

Putin, in a rare national address on Wednesday, threatened to use nuclear weapons in the conflict and said he was partially mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists in Russia to bolster the military in Ukraine. It’s believed to be the first troop mobilization in Russia since World War II.  Putin said: “I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries. And at the threat to the territorial integrity of our country, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It’s not a bluff.”

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Residents of Jackson, Mississippi file class action lawsuit over water crisis

Residents of Jackson, Mississippi, have filed a class action lawsuit against the city, its current and former mayors, city officials and engineering companies, alleging that years of neglect culminated in a recent water crisis for more than 150,000 people.  Last week, the city finally had clean water restored following a boil water advisory from July when tests showed water quality was “cloudy.”

The residents asked the court in the lawsuit to force the city to repair the water system and to cancel any bills or debts held by residents for unsafe water or water that was not delivered, and also asked for community health centers to care for people who may have been injured by contaminated water and for an unspecified amount of money for damages.

Flooding of the Pearl River exacerbated the water crisis by causing water pressure issues in the city’s already-damaged system. The plaintiffs also allege that they were poisoned by lead and other contaminants released in Jackson’s drinking water before the water supply failed in August. The lawsuit reads: “These residents lack more than just drinking water, or water for making powdered baby formula, cooking, showering, or laundry. During the long period where the city pipes had no water pressure — and were unable to facilitate the flow of water — residents of Jackson could not flush their toilets for days at a time. This public health crisis, decades in the making, was wholly foreseeable by Defendants’ actions and has left Jackson residents in an untenable position — without access to clean, safe water in 2022 in a major United States city.”

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Federal prosecutors press charges against 47 people in Covid scheme for stealing cash meant to help feed needy kids

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced charges were filed against 47 people accused of carrying out the biggest Covid fraud scheme to date, stealing $250 million in a plot that exploited a federal program designed to feed needy children in Minnesota. U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger said in a statement: “This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions. The defendants worked extremely fast, stealing money at a breakneck pace,” he added at a news conference announcing the charges.”More than 125 million fake meals are at issue in this case.”

Prosecutors say the fraud was overseen by Aimee Bock, who ran a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future. She has denied wrongdoing and argued that if fraud occurred, it was without her knowledge.  Prosecutors say charities, restaurants and individuals were involved in the fraud by claiming they were providing meals for thousands of underserved children — but in fact, the money was going to commercial real estate, luxury cars, and fancy homes. Nonprofits such as Feeding Our Future were supposed to sponsor and oversee the restaurants, community centers and other places where the meals were to be provided.

The indictments say Feeding Our Future opened more than 250 meal distribution sites throughout Minnesota and fraudulently obtained and disbursed more than $240 million in funds from the Federal Child Nutrition Program, run by the Agriculture Department. Many of the defendants are charged not only with fraud but with bribery because the government alleges the charities took kickbacks from the food sites in exchange for steering them federal grants.

The FBI said in court records that in the summer of 2020, state officials became suspicious of the large number of meals being claimed at sites sponsored by Feeding Our Future and sought to deny payments at many of them. State officials ultimately contacted the FBI, which began investigating, and conducted a series of raids in January that closed down the funding streams. The Justice Department has seized property, vehicles and bank accounts worth $50 million so far.

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Judge orders the release of Adnan Syed after overturning his murder conviction

On Monday a judge ordered the release of Adnan Syed, the Baltimore man serving a life sentence for a 1999 murder he says he did not commit, after overturning his conviction. Syed’s case was chronicled in the popular podcast “Serial.” The 42-year-old Syed was released to home confinement after serving more than 20 years in prison.  Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn said she overturned his conviction “in the interest of justice.”  Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek a new trial or drop the charges against him. Phinn gave the state 30 days to decide which course to pursue.

Syed had been convicted in the killing of his former high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in a Baltimore park. Prosecutors cited a lack of confidence “in the integrity of the conviction” after completing a yearlong investigation with Syed’s attorneys. Lee’s brother, Young, attended the hearing remotely from California. Though he told the court he trusted the system, he also said he felt “betrayed” having believed the right person had been brought to justice.

Phinn’s decision to overturn his conviction follows a request from prosecutors last week, who said they weren’t asserting that Syed is innocent, but that they have uncovered new evidence that potentially links two previously known suspects to Lee’s murder. Evidence about those unidentified individuals had been withheld from Syed’s defense attorneys during his trial.

Syed’s criminal case captured the attention of millions in 2014 when he became the focus of the hit podcast ‘Serial’ that raised doubts about the evidence presented against him, including cellphone tower data. “Serial” podcast host Sarah Koenig was in the courtroom at the time of Syed’s ordered release, and the podcast announced on Twitter that a new episode of the program will be released Tuesday morning.

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Britain lays Queen Elizabeth II to rest in State funeral after 10 days of public mourning

10 days of official public mourning culminated in the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch. The coffin bearing Queen Elizabeth II’s body was then lowered into the royal vault Monday after a ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

The public funeral at Westminster Abbey earlier in the day was attended by world leaders, family members and many more; while the final service for Elizabeth in the chapel was said to be a more private end to the ceremonies that began after she died Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Tens of thousands lined the Mall in London to watch the procession that followed the funeral. The Queen’s coffin was carried on a Royal Navy gun carriage from the funeral service to the Wellington Arch near Hyde Park. where it was then transferred to a state hearse for the journey to Windsor.

Elizabeth’s son, King Charles III, and other members of the royal family were to witness the actual burial in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, which is a small alcove on the side of the main building. The queen will eventually be joined there by her husband, Prince Philip, after his body is moved from the royal vault where he was interred after his death last year. Buckingham Palace said it would not be releasing any other details about the “deeply personal family occasion.”

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All of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Fiona makes landfall

The entire island of Puerto Rico is without power after Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Sunday afternoon. Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced on Facebook Sunday afternoon that more than 1.5 million customers are without electricity after the Category 1 storm, with sustained winds at 85 mph and torrential rain hit the island.  Emergency response teams for the utility companies will deploy once the conditions allow, Pierluisi said. It will likely take days to fully restore power, utility company LUMA Energy said in a statement.

The National Hurricane Center said Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. ET, with widespread torrential rain hitting much of the island  Flash flood effects are in place across the eastern half of the island, with the worst of the wind slamming the western half of the island. Gov. Pierluisi believes Puerto Rico is prepared as it can be, with enough resources and manpower in place to respond, saying that the island learned its lessons from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. “We’re much in a much better position than we were five years ago,” he said.

After passing through the Caribbean, the storm system will head northward, passing just east of Turks and Caicos before tracking near Bermuda. The storm system is expected to gradually strengthen in the coming days as it moves northwest and eventually northward, heading up across the western Atlantic Ocean this week. The torrential rain, however, will continue across much of Puerto Rico throughout Monday.

President Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, which allows federal agencies to coordinate all relief efforts.  The White House said in a statement that Biden’s decision has the “purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 78 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”

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Yeshiva University suspends student clubs after Supreme Court’s LGBTQ ruling

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this week that ordered Yeshiva University to recognize an LGBTQ student group, the school has suspended all student club activity. In an email to students on Friday, university officials said that it “hold off on all undergraduate club activities while it immediately takes steps to follow the roadmap provided by the U.S. Supreme Court to protect YU’s religious freedom.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the undergraduate LGBTQ group, ‘YU Pride Alliance’, to gain official recognition from the Jewish university in New York.  By a 5-4 vote Wednesday, the justices lifted a temporary hold on a court order that requires Yeshiva University to recognize the group. The YU Pride Alliance describes itself as “a supportive space for all students, of all sexual orientations and gender identities, to feel respected, visible, and represented.”

Following the ruling, the president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Ari Berman, said that faith-based universities have the right to establish clubs within its understanding of the Torah.  He said:“Yeshiva University simply seeks that same right of self-determination. “The Supreme Court has laid out the roadmap for us to find expedited relief and we will follow their instructions.” Berman also said ” the university’s commitment and love for our LGBTQ students are unshakeable.”

The university, an Orthodox Jewish institution in New York, argued that granting recognition to the Pride Alliance would violate its sincere religious beliefs.  However, the club argued that Yeshiva’s plea to the Supreme Court was premature, also noting the university already has recognized a gay pride club at its law school. A New York state court sided with the student group and ordered the university to recognize the club immediately.

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