Vodka toasts for gun rights group: Several prominent Russians, including people said to be in Putin’s inner circle or powerful within the Russian Orthodox Church, met with officials of the National Rifle Association in Moscow and elsewhere during the 2016 presidential campaign, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy report. “Now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships between the Russian leaders and the nation’s largest gun rights group went beyond vodka toasts and gun factory tours, evolving into another facet of the Kremlin’s broad election-interference operation,” they write.
- Also: Two years after the deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, survivors rallied for stricter gun control. –– The website WeCan.Vote lets kids too young to cast a vote register where they stand on the issue of gun control, a warning to politicians of what’s to come at the polls. –– Public health experts are working with firearm instructors to design a campaign for preventing suicide by guns, Claire Schaeffer-Duffy writes for the National Catholic Reporter. Suicide rates in the United States have risen dramatically in the past two decades, and firearms remain the most common means.
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Lead in the bottle: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is suing two manufacturers of infant formula, saying their products caused daily exposures to lead that exceeded federal standards and are between 13 and 15 times what’s allowed by state law. The companies stopped selling the products, Peaceful Planet Toddler Supreme and Sammy’s Milk Free-Range Goat Milk Toddler Formula, after receiving cease-and-desist letters from the state, KQED reported. The suit alleges that the companies violated Proposition 65, which requires business to alert consumers when they are exposed to toxic chemicals, including lead. It also alleges false advertising, because the companies marketed their formula as “clean” and “pure,” according to a blog post by Dan Herling, a product liability attorney at Mintz Levin.
- Also: Capital & Main asks why Disneyland would try to block a bill requiring state health officials to alert the Division of Occupational Health and Safety when they find people who are seriously lead poisoned, so that investigators can inspect their workplaces. — Have you ever watched “Fixer Upper” and wondered why cheery Chip Gaines and crew never seem to test for lead paint before busting down walls in an older home? Yeah, so has the EPA. The show’s parent company reached a settlement with the federal agency, agreeing to pay a $40,000 fine and spend $160,000 on lead cleanup in Waco, Texas.
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Do you want waffle fries with that?: I’m not sure even the writers of “The Office” could top this. In the latest (but surely not the last) controversy surrounding Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, an aide told lawmakers that he regularly tasked her with conducting his private business – a no-no under federal ethics standards – including trying to buy a used hotel mattress and securing a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife. (Chick-fil-A and Pruitt actually have a lot in common, Rebecca Leber of Mother Jones notes.) Josh Siegel of the Washington Examiner reports that Republican lawmakers are losing patience with Pruitt, but they are reluctant to buck Trump and they realize that replacing Pruitt would be a challenge.
- Also: It may seem like inside baseball, but an effort to rewrite the way cost-benefit analysis is applied to environmental regulations could have a big impact, John H. Cushman Jr. of InsideClimate News writes.
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Exploited in the kitchen: The California Labor Commissioner has been busy going after restaurants that investigators say cheated hundreds of workers by failing to pay the minimum wage and overtime. The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, along with two janitorial contractors, were cited in a $4.57 million wage theft case involving 559 workers at eight locations. The restaurants’ janitorial firms failed to pay overtime and minimum wage, and had other labor violations. At Kome Japanese Seafood & Buffet in Daly City, owners were ordered to pay $4.4 million to 133 workers, and more in civil penalties, after investigators found that dozens of kitchen workers regularly worked 55 hours but were paid a fixed salary that didn’t cover overtime. And the owners of the Rangoon Ruby Burmese restaurants in Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Carlos, Burlingame and Belmont were ordered to pay $4.4 million to 298 workers for similar violations, plus civil penalties. The workers from Rangoon Ruby were assisted by the Asian Law Caucus. “The employees who came to us are all back-of-house workers who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because they have no visibility to the public, are limited-English proficient, don’t know their legal rights, and rely on their employer not just for work but for housing as well,” staff attorney Palyn Hung Mitchell said in a press release.
Whole lot of dismantling going on: The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cancelled meetings of its own consumer advisory board and then told members of the committee that their terms had ended. “It’s quite clear that we’ve been fired,” board member and Suffolk University law professor Kathleen Engel told NPR. The board is meant to act as a liaison between consumer groups and the bureau, working to identify bad behavior by financial firms. Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has never been a fan of the agency he now runs. As a congressman, he sponsored legislation to abolish it. Disbanding the advisory board seems to be the latest step in a path of “destruction from within,” according to the National Consumer Law Center. Engel and fellow former board member Judith Fox write, for CNN, that Mulvaney is ignoring the voice of consumers while secretly meeting with executives of the financial firms his office is meant to keep in check.
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For these children, the hospital became a prison: Children who are in state custody in Illinois and who require serious mental health care routinely are kept in psychiatric hospitals longer than necessary – sometimes months longer – because the state does not have enough beds at residential facilities or a placement with a foster family. That’s according to an exhaustive and alarming report by Duaa Eldeib of ProPublica Illinois. She analyzed records for nearly 6,000 psychiatric hospitalizations of children in state care between 2015 and 2017 and found that nearly 30 percent were kept in the hospital beyond what was medically necessary, for a total of more than 27,000 days – at a significant cost to taxpayers and a serious detriment to the children. “It’s a waste of those kids’ lives,” one adolescent psychiatrist told her.
- Also: Reveal looks at the long-term health consequences for children and families who live in fear of immigration raids.
Among tobacco users in high school, e-cigarettes reign: The number of U.S. teen tobacco users dropped significantly between 2011 and 2017, to about 20 percent of high school students. But the numbers might have been better if it weren’t for the popularity of e-cigarettes. Since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among middle and high school students, wrote the authors of a report on the latest National Youth Tobacco Surveys. “Our greatest fear is that this may be a warning sign of a reversal, and in the coming years we may see a disturbing rise in the number of middle and high school students who smoke e-cigarettes,” Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, said in a press release. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, called the numbers of youth e-cigarette use “disturbingly high.” His agency has been cracking down on stores that sell e-cigarettes to minors and manufacturers that market to them, though anti-tobacco advocates say it could do more by enacting long-delayed regulations on the products.
- Also: Angus Chen, writing for FairWarning, tells how teens and young adults have flocked to the sleek new breed of nicotine delivery device, including products from JUUL and Suorin. One 15-year old user in San Jose said that unlike his addicted friends, he only uses it “A couple times every hour maybe. But my friends use it every five minutes.”
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Bad melon: Sixty people in five states – from an infant to a 97-year-old – have been sickened by a Salmonella infection from pre-cut melon produced at Caito Foods in Indianapolis. The company has recalled its cut watermelon, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe products, plus fruit salads containing them. No deaths have been reported but at least 31 people have been hospitalized. The Caito products were sold in various stores in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio.
- Also: Decades after the disaster at Chernobyl, cows as far as 140 miles away from the nuclear plant still produce milk with radiation levels many times what’s considered safe for children and adults, The New York Times reports.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.