One state, three shootings, four days: A shooting at a football watching party in Fresno left at least four people dead and six wounded on Sunday, the third mass shooting in California since Thursday, according to Vox. Last week, on his 16th birthday, a high school student in Santa Clarita, a Los Angeles suburb, killed two classmates and wounded three others before shooting himself. In San Diego on Saturday, a man shot his estranged partner and four children before turning the gun on himself; only one of the boys survived the attack, according to the Los Angeles Times. Summing it all up, Sam Levin writes in The Guardian: “Including the gunmen, 11 people died, and at least 10 others were injured…with countless additional students, families and communities terrorized and traumatized by the attacks.” As Vox noted, the Sunday rampage was the 370th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2019, defined as attacks in which four or more people, excluding the gunmen, have been shot but not necessarily killed. (As of this morning, there have been 372.) While the violence has sparked calls for stricter gun laws from some, it only takes a cursory search of Twitter to see there is a cynical backlash that says, essentially, California has the strictest gun laws in the country so why is gun violence there increasing? This line of argument isn’t new: here it is in Breitbart in 2018.
- Also: The New York Times’ Mike Baker looks at the limits of the red flag laws, adopted in 17 states, that enable authorities to temporarily seize an individual’s guns or prevent them from buying more based on online threats or other concerns. But if the individual claims the online comments were “just a joke” and therefore protected speech, judges often eventually rule in their favor.
“Flea market of fakes”: The Amazon marketplace is awash in fake luxury goods, but also counterfeit baby food and cosmetics, Jay Greene reports for The Washington Post. Former Amazon executives told the Post that the company has prioritized growth over authenticity. “Because they are allowing so much onto the site, they can’t handle the manual follow-up these things require,” said an anonymous former executive. “It tells me they just don’t want to find it. They want the selection.” A spokeswoman told the Post that the company goes “well beyond our legal obligations” to find fakes. But, Greene points out, “a $10.97 knockoff Louis Vuitton passport holder recently carried the “Amazon’s Choice” badge, a label the company uses to recommend products.”
- Also: New York Times reporter Andy Newman went undercover as a worker on Mechanical Turk, the Amazon job site in which employers, called ”requesters”, assign contract workers such tasks as transcribing invoices or labeling photographs. He earned just $7.83 in eight hours. Moreover, that experience is not off the mark: One study estimates the median hourly rate of a turker is $1.77; and that only 4 percent of turkers make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Amazon is profiting from this system, sometimes earning as much as the worker in payments from requesters: If a job only pays a penny, the requester pays one penny to the turker and another to Amazon.
Reverse, reverse: President Trump was on course to ban flavored e-cigarettes, until he wasn’t, according to reports by The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. In September, amid concerns about e-cigarette use by millions of teens and vaping-related deaths and lung injuries, administration officials said they would address the youth vaping epidemic by outlawing flavored e-cigarettes. But with industry lobbyists and advisers warning Trump of a voter backlash, he is said to have pulled back out of fears that it would hurt his reelection campaign. In a similar vein, Trump in August vowed to seek stronger background checks for gun purchases after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, but went silent on the issue after vocal conservative pushback.
Remedies ignored: The National Transportation Safety Board has taken the Coast Guard to task for ignoring nearly two decades of recommendations to improve the safety of amphibious tourist duck boats, Jim Salter writes for the Associated Press. The NTSB report on a July 2018 accident on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, that killed 17 people, pinpointed specific changes which the board said could have prevented the tragedy. Among them: making duck boats better able to remain afloat when flooded, and removing impediments, such as canopies, that can prevent passengers from escaping if a duck boat sinks. The board’s safety recommendations were first made after a duck boat accident in Arkansas killed 13 people in 1999, but some key recommendations weren’t implemented and there have been at least five deadly duck boat accidents since. “The duck boat and Coast Guard’s failure to act on the NTSB’s recommendations to remove death trap canopies and improve the buoyancy of these boats killed my family,” one survivor, who lost her husband and three children last year, said in a statement. “Lives could have been saved…had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. Three years after the deadly sinking in 1999, the Coast Guard claimed that “sufficient requirements and guidance are in place to provide to amphibious passenger vessels [like duck boats] a level of safety equivalent to other passenger vessels of similar size and capacity.”
Settling up: The owners of Via Marconi Pizza Pub, a bar and restaurant in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, failed to pay kitchen workers overtime or keep track of their hours, even though they sometimes worked up to 73 hours a week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The company will pay $362,988 in back wages and liquidated damages to 25 employees. In Wyoming, Sunil and Parul Patel, the owners of a Motel 6 and Super 8 motel in Riverton, were also found to have violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay the minimum wage and required overtime. They will pay $189,466 to three employees. George Rengepes and Jimmy Rengepes, the owner and operator of Central Laundry Inc. in Landsdowne, Pennsylvania, will pay $133,335 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to 32 employees for minimum wage and overtime violations, and for repeatedly bouncing payroll checks.
Daily dose: Writing for Environmental Health News, Lynne Peeples has produced an ambitious four-part series on bisphenol A, or BPA, and the possible health risks from exposure to low levels of the chemical from such sources as food can liners, paper receipts and plastic containers. Her stories question the objectivity of government scientists and officials for generally backing industry claims that BPA is pretty safe at the levels people are exposed to. The final installment looks for solutions that could get BPA and other chemicals out of consumer goods.
- Also: Rick Schmitt details for FairWarning a seemingly never-ending battle over aviation safety between ex-air marshal and whistleblower Robert MacLean and his former bosses at the Transportation Security Administration.
Heavy metals: The EPA has told the Helena, Montana, chamber of commerce that it can’t sell sandwich bags of mining waste called “Bag O’Slag,” Amy Beth Hanson reports for the Associated Press. “Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing the Superfund site cleanup of pollution from nearly a century of smelting operations in Anaconda came across the potentially toxic tchotchkes for sale by the city’s chamber of commerce,” Hanson writes. “The slag, a byproduct of smelting copper, contains small amounts of arsenic and lead.” The novelty item costs $2.
Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.