California inmate firefighter killed in line of duty

California inmate firefighter killed in line of duty

May 26, 2017

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – One of thousands of prison inmate volunteers trained to fight wildfires in California was killed by a falling tree in the far northwestern corner of the state, marking the fourth such fatality in 60 years, state corrections officials said on Thursday.

Matthew Beck, 26, who had been serving a six-year sentence for burglary and was due to be paroled in October, was leading a crew in clearing brush to contain a fire in the Hoopa Valley area of Del Norte County on Wednesday. He was struck by a tall, uprooted tree and suffered fatal head, neck and back injuries, officials said.

He died before he could be evacuated from the remote area, the state corrections department said.

Beck was one of roughly 3,900 specially trained prison inmates, all volunteers and all non-violent offenders, who form the backbone of California’s wildfire protection force.

Housed in 43 minimum-security “conservation camps” run by the corrections department up and down the state, the firefighting inmates also clear brush, maintain parks and work on flood control projects.

The corrections department said Beck was the fourth inmate firefighter killed in the line of duty since the unique and little-known prison labor program began in the 1940s.

A female inmate firefighter was struck and killed by a loose boulder last year in Malibu, and another inmate suffered a fatal heart attack in 2007, according to corrections spokesman Bill Sessa.

Twelve inmate firefighters nearly died in 2014 when they were forced to outrun a wall of advancing flames in the Sierras.

Many inmates earn two days off of their sentences for each day in camp. They also earn $1.45 a day in camp, plus $1 an hour for time on the fire line.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg urges Harvard grads to contemplate risk

Facebook’s Zuckerberg urges Harvard grads to contemplate risk

May 25, 2017

By Valerie Vande Panne

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) – Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg returned on Thursday to Harvard University, the school he dropped out of to start the pioneering social network, to urge its graduating class to help create a new social safety net to allow creative risk-taking.

The 33-year-old tech founder of the world’s largest social networking company said he would never have been able to risk leaving the elite Ivy League school if he had not known that his family would have been able to support him if he failed.

“There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in ten years when millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business,” Zuckerberg told the crowd on a cold, drizzly day when graduates’ dark academic robes stood in contrast to the brightly colored plastic rain ponchos scattered through the audience.

“When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise we all lose,” said Zuckerberg, who was also named an honorary doctor of laws.

He offered no specific solutions to the problems he highlighted, but urged graduates to contemplate them.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has inspired a host of competitors, including Twitter Inc and Snapchat .

Today some 1.9 billion people use Facebook each month. Its broad reach has made the company a lightning rod for controversy, most recently for the ways that producers of fake news stories used it to influence public opinion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and for a pair of incidents last month in which users posted videos of two murders, one of them live.

The Menlo Park, California-based company has vowed to tackle both problems and this month said it would hire 3,000 new workers to speed up the removal of videos depicting murder, suicide and other violent acts.

Earlier in the day the website of the school’s student newspaper, The Crimson, was briefly filled with satirical headlines about Zuckerberg. The newspaper on Twitter apologized to its readers for the incident.

Zuckerberg’s speech was not the first time a successful dropout returned to the campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to address graduates.

Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates spoke to graduates in 2007, shortly after saying that he would step away from his day-to-day role with the world’s largest software company to focus his time on philanthropy.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Chris Reese)

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Some Uber and Lyft riders are giving up their own cars: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Some Uber and Lyft riders are giving up their own cars: Reuters/Ipsos poll

May 25, 2017

By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Wally Nowinski got his first car when he turned 16 in Michigan, the home of the U.S. auto industry. But after two years of living in New York City, he sold his wheels, using ride services, carsharing and bike sharing to get around.

“My mom didn’t think I could do it. She thought I would buy a new car in six months,” he said. But that was more than a year ago, and his car budget of $820 per month fell to $250 for carsharing and ride services last year. “I take Uber like pretty frivolously,” he said.

Nowinski, 32, is not alone.

Nearly a quarter of American adults sold or traded in a vehicle in the last 12 months, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll published on Thursday, with most getting another car. But 9 percent of that group turned to ride services like Lyft Inc and Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] as their main way to get around.

About the same percentages said they planned to dispose of cars and turn to ride services in the upcoming 12 months.

Though a small percentage, the figure of people switching to ride services could be early evidence that more consumers believe that ride sharing can replace vehicle ownership.

Automakers could see a new market in ride services drivers and believe the fast adoption of ride service technology bodes well for self-driving car technology, a big area of investment for many companies, said auto analyst Alan Baum.

It is not clear whether ride service drivers, who rack up vehicle miles and are likely to buy new cars relatively frequently, will make up for any long term drop in personal car ownership.

But Lyft Director of Transportation Policy Emily Castor called the survey ‘early evidence’ that its vision of a world where personal car ownership was unnecessary was beginning to take hold.

“What we’ve seen anecdotally aligns with what you’ve found,” said Uber Head of Transportation Policy and Research Andrew Salzberg.

The survey was the first on the subject by Reuters/Ipsos, so it was not possible to tell whether the move to ride services from car ownership is accelerating, and respondents were not asked whether they gave up a car because of ride services.

The survey showed that 39 percent of Americans had used rides services and that 27 percent of that group did so at least several times per week.

University of California, Berkeley researcher Susan Shaheen said the results on the move to ride services was in line with her 2016 study of a one-way carsharing service, which found a small portion of customers sold a vehicle due to carsharing. She noted, however, that the Reuters/Ipsos survey did not address carsharing or whether people who did not own cars would avoid buying one because of ride services.

Transportation consultant Bruce Schaller said that most of the move to ride sharing probably was explained by factors such as moving in and out of cities and employment changes. Still, he said, “It’s not the predominant trend, but there are a significant number of people who have changed their lifestyle, if you will, and are now relying much more on ride services than their own car.” That was especially true of people who used many sharing services, such as ride share, car share and bike share.

Auto companies say they are getting ready for changes in technology, including expanded demand for ride services and, eventually, self-driving vehicles. “Those are the factors that are driving our move into being both an auto and a mobility company,” said Ford spokesman Alan Hall.

The Reuters/Ipsos U.S. poll was conducted online in English April 5-11. It gathered responses from 584 people who said they disposed of their personal vehicle within the last 12 months and 566 people who said they planned to get rid of their personal vehicles in the next 12 months.

The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 5 percentage points for the people who recently got rid of their vehicle or planned to do so in the future.

For a graphic on ditching personal cars for ride sharing, click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/AUTOS-RIDESERVICES/0100419J2RP/index.html

(Reporting By Peter Henderson; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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Five charged with insider trading involving U.S. health agency

Five charged with insider trading involving U.S. health agency

May 25, 2017

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Five men, including a Washington political consultant and a federal employee, were criminally charged on Wednesday with engaging in an insider trading scheme based on leaks from within a federal healthcare agency.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced the arrests of political consultant David Blaszczak, founder of Precipio Health Strategies; U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) employee Christopher Worrall; and Rob Olan and Ted Huber, employees of the healthcare hedge fund Deerfield Management.

Olan’s lawyer, Eugene Ingoglia, said in an email that Olan was “an innocent man.” Huber’s lawyer, Barry Berke, said that Huber “did absolutely nothing wrong.”

Jordan Fogel, a former employee at New York-based Deerfield, who was also charged, pleaded guilty on Friday.

“Jordan looks forward to resolving this and moving on,” said Marc Mukasey, Fogel’s lawyer.

A spokeswoman for Dentons, a law firm representing Worrall, had no immediate comment. A lawyer for Blaszczak could not immediately be reached.

Prosecutors said that from 2012 to 2014, Olan, Huber and Fogel schemed to get confidential information about CMS’s internal decision-making from Blaszczak, who previously worked there. Blaszczak in turn got the information from his former colleague and “close friend” Worrall, prosecutors said.

CMS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, oversees government health insurance programs. The confidential information included advance notice about rules cutting reimbursement rates for radiation cancer treatment and dialysis, allowing Deerfield to short healthcare companies affected by the cuts.

The companies included radiation oncology companies Accuray Inc and Varian Medical Systems, and dialysis companies DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc and Fresenius Medical Care, a unit of Fresenius Medical Care, AG of Germany, among others, according to the indictment.

According to a related complaint by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the scheme yielded $3.9 million in profits and at least $193,000 in consulting fees for Blaszczak’s companies.

Worrall and Blaszczak’s relationship went back years, prosecutors said. In 2011, Blaszczak arranged a job interview at a private consulting firm for Worrall, and in 2014 he asked Worrall to become a co-owner of a new firm.

The defendants are charged with securities fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and conversion of property of the United States.

The new arrests are the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation that previously led to charges against three ex-employees of Jacob Gottlieb’s Visium Asset Management hedge fund, prompting the $8 billion firm’s wind-down.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and James Dalgleish)

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Eight guards, seven inmates injured in California prison melee

Eight guards, seven inmates injured in California prison melee

May 24, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Corrections officers at a maximum-security prison in Northern California opened fire with live ammunition on inmates to quell a melee on Wednesday that ended with eight guards and seven inmates sent to hospitals, prison officials said.

Five of the prisoners were wounded by gunfire.

The disturbance at maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison began about 10:30 a.m. PDT when prison staff responded to a fistfight between two inmates, according to a statement from the California corrections department.

After failing to break up the altercation using chemical agents and batons, the two officers were overwhelmed as large groups of inmates from elsewhere in the prison yard started attacking them, the department said.

At that point, the agency said, “Officers from three armed posts used lethal force,” firing numerous rounds of live rifle ammunition.

Eight injured staff members were taken to an outside hospital, where six were treated and released. Two others remained hospitalized and were expected to survive, corrections officials said.

Of the seven inmates taken to outside hospitals, five were treated for gunshot wounds, according to the department.

The uproar led corrections officials to transfer 97 inmates into a special segregation unit and to restrict prisoner movements throughout the facility while the incident is investigated, the department said.

Two inmate-made weapons were recovered but they were not believed to have been used in the fray.

Pelican Bay, located in the far Northern California coastal community of Crescent Bay, opened in 1989 and houses some 2,000 inmates.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Trott)

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Eight guards, seven inmates injured in California prison melee

Eight guards, seven inmates injured in California prison melee

May 24, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Corrections officers at a maximum-security prison in Northern California opened fire with live ammunition on inmates to quell a melee on Wednesday that ended with eight guards and seven inmates sent to hospitals, prison officials said.

Five of the prisoners were wounded by gunfire.

The disturbance at maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison began about 10:30 a.m. PDT when prison staff responded to a fistfight between two inmates, according to a statement from the California corrections department.

After failing to break up the altercation using chemical agents and batons, the two officers were overwhelmed as large groups of inmates from elsewhere in the prison yard started attacking them, the department said.

At that point, the agency said, “Officers from three armed posts used lethal force,” firing numerous rounds of live rifle ammunition.

Eight injured staff members were taken to an outside hospital, where six were treated and released. Two others remained hospitalized and were expected to survive, corrections officials said.

Of the seven inmates taken to outside hospitals, five were treated for gunshot wounds, according to the department.

The uproar led corrections officials to transfer 97 inmates into a special segregation unit and to restrict prisoner movements throughout the facility while the incident is investigated, the department said.

Two inmate-made weapons were recovered but they were not believed to have been used in the fray.

Pelican Bay, located in the far Northern California coastal community of Crescent Bay, opened in 1989 and houses some 2,000 inmates.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Trott)

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California highway to be closed for months after Big Sur landslide

California highway to be closed for months after Big Sur landslide

May 24, 2017

By Tom James

(Reuters) – A section of highway winding along California’s breathtaking Big Sur coastline will probably remain closed for months by damage from a massive landslide unleashed by a rain-soaked hillside over the Pacific, state transportation officials said on Wednesday.

After the wettest winter on record in the state, the collapse marked the third major closure in Big Sur, a roughly 76-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway that hugs California’s rugged Central Coast between Cambria and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

The Big Sur portion of State Route 1 is designated as a National Scenic Byway for its spectacular coastal vistas and is famed as one of the longest stretches of largely undeveloped shoreline in the continental United States.

Saturday’s slide, one of the region’s largest in decades, deposited a mound of rocks and other debris some 35 feet deep along a quarter-mile section of the highway, about 100 miles south of San Jose, California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) spokesman Colin Jones said.

An estimated 1.5 million tons of material was dumped onto the road and the shoreline below at Mud Creek in an area adjacent to a smaller slide that had already closed that section of the highway.

“I think it’s safe to say it will be several months before it reopens,” Jones said by phone. “We haven’t even been able to get in and assess the damage and come up with a plan.”

Jones added that it may be necessary to reroute the highway entirely around the damaged section.

The affected area is not the busiest portion of the highway. Still, during summer tourist season, as many as 6,000 vehicles a day typically pass through the stretch of road blocked by the landslide.

The Mud Creek blockage is the southernmost of three major road closures in effect along a 36-mile stretch of the Big Sur coast, forcing lengthy detours for motorists.

Severe erosion led highway officials to shut down a bridge in Pfeiffer Canyon in February, and a March landslide closed a stretch of the road near Lime Kiln State Park. The bridge is not expected to reopen until late September, Jones said.

“Typically when it rains for a few days, you can expect small slides that our maintenance crews can clean up in a few hours,” Jim Shivers, a CalTrans spokesman, said by phone on Wednesday. “These are way beyond the scope of what we’re used to responding to.”

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle. Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Patrick Enright and Richard Chang)

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Jury selected for Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial

Jury selected for Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial

May 24, 2017

By Kim Palmer

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – Seven men and five women, including two black jurors, will determine comedian Bill Cosby’s fate at his upcoming sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania, after claims from his lawyers that race played a factor in their selection.

Judge Steven O’Neill seated the 12th and final juror on Wednesday, along with six alternates, after three days of jury selection in Pittsburgh ahead of what will be the biggest celebrity trial in years.

Cosby’s lawyers on Tuesday accused prosecutors of deliberately excluding black jurors, a charge that O’Neill rejected absent further evidence. Both sides were permitted to strike a certain number of jurors without explanation.

Prosecutors said they removed a black woman on Tuesday because she was a former police detective once accused of falsifying records, not because of her race.

Last week, Cosby suggested in a radio interview that he has been treated worse during the scandal due to racism.

Cosby, 79, is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former basketball coach at his Temple University alma mater, at his home in 2004.

Dozens of women have leveled similar accusations against him, though the Constand case is the only criminal prosecution.

Cosby, whose family-friendly reputation is in tatters, has denied any wrongdoing.

After the hearing, Cosby spoke briefly to reporters, thanking law enforcement as well as “all of the people who have come to see my shows whenever I appeared at Heinz Hall,” a nearby venue where he has done standup shows. His scheduled performance there in 2015 was canceled amid a cascade of sexual assault allegations.

The trial is set to begin on June 5 in Norristown, a Philadelphia suburb. The jurors were drawn from the Pittsburgh area, about 300 miles (480 km) away, at the defense’s request due to extensive pretrial media coverage. They will be transported to the Norristown area and sequestered for what is expected to be a two- or three-week trial.

At times using a cane, Cosby watched jury selection closely this week, conferring often with his defense team.

There were occasional moments of levity. One prospective juror said he would suffer away from his wife’s cooking due to his colitis before joking that his 45-year marriage was longer than some murderers served in prison, prompting laughs from the courtroom, including Cosby.

“You might be the second-funniest guy in the room,” Cosby’s lead lawyer, Brian McMonagle, told his client.

Much of O’Neill’s questioning focused on what potential jurors had heard about the scandal. Under the law, jurors can have prior knowledge of the case as long as they base their verdict solely on the evidence at trial.

Most admitted they were familiar with the case, though the jurors selected all said they could be fair.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Tom Brown)

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Forget Trump White House, Belgium shows Melania the surreal

Forget Trump White House, Belgium shows Melania the surreal

May 24, 2017

By Camille Bottin

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – As her reality TV star husband meets many of his Western allies for the first time as U.S. president on Thursday, Melania Trump will be offered a different take on the surreal by her hosts in Brussels.

The first lady, a Slovenian-born former model, will tour a museum dedicated to Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte in the company of wives of other national leaders who will be attending a summit of the NATO military alliance across town.

Famed for works like the 1964 “self-portrait” of a bowler-hatted man whose face is hidden by an apple or the image of a pipe subtitled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a Pipe), Magritte has much to teach the world about questioning outward appearances, and about self-effacement, Belgian organisers said.

“You never know,” museum director Michel Draguet said ahead of the first lady’s visit. “Maybe Donald Trump will move from one kind of surrealism to another, thanks to Magritte’s ideas.”

The outspoken 70-year-old wealthy businessman and TV celebrity stunned many U.S. allies by entering the White House in January. He has broken a mould among world leaders with a style that offers little evidence of self-doubt and ideas that run counter to received wisdom among Western diplomats.

His 47-year-old third wife will be joined by other NATO spouses including the devoutly Muslim wife of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan; Brigitte Trogneux, who met Emmanuel Macron when she taught the new French president in school; and Gauthier Destenay, who is married to Luxembourg’s gay prime minister.

Trump’s first foreign tour, which has so far taken him to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome and will end this weekend at a G7 summit in Sicily, has been presented by aides as reassuring allies that Washington remains a reliable partner under a head of state who faces a series of ethics questions back home.

For Charles Michel, the 41-year-old Belgian premier whose partner will show the first ladies around Brussels, an itinerary that also takes in a storied maker of leather handbags and tea at the palace with the queen is also a chance to show those close to power a host country keen to punch above its weight.

(Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Forget Trump White House, Belgium shows Melania the surreal

Forget Trump White House, Belgium shows Melania the surreal

May 24, 2017

By Camille Bottin

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – As her reality TV star husband meets many of his Western allies for the first time as U.S. president on Thursday, Melania Trump will be offered a different take on the surreal by her hosts in Brussels.

The first lady, a Slovenian-born former model, will tour a museum dedicated to Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte in the company of wives of other national leaders who will be attending a summit of the NATO military alliance across town.

Famed for works like the 1964 “self-portrait” of a bowler-hatted man whose face is hidden by an apple or the image of a pipe subtitled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a Pipe), Magritte has much to teach the world about questioning outward appearances, and about self-effacement, Belgian organisers said.

“You never know,” museum director Michel Draguet said ahead of the first lady’s visit. “Maybe Donald Trump will move from one kind of surrealism to another, thanks to Magritte’s ideas.”

The outspoken 70-year-old wealthy businessman and TV celebrity stunned many U.S. allies by entering the White House in January. He has broken a mould among world leaders with a style that offers little evidence of self-doubt and ideas that run counter to received wisdom among Western diplomats.

His 47-year-old third wife will be joined by other NATO spouses including the devoutly Muslim wife of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan; Brigitte Trogneux, who met Emmanuel Macron when she taught the new French president in school; and Gauthier Destenay, who is married to Luxembourg’s gay prime minister.

Trump’s first foreign tour, which has so far taken him to Riyadh, Jerusalem and Rome and will end this weekend at a G7 summit in Sicily, has been presented by aides as reassuring allies that Washington remains a reliable partner under a head of state who faces a series of ethics questions back home.

For Charles Michel, the 41-year-old Belgian premier whose partner will show the first ladies around Brussels, an itinerary that also takes in a storied maker of leather handbags and tea at the palace with the queen is also a chance to show those close to power a host country keen to punch above its weight.

(Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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