Critical Insights From the 2017 AMERIND Risk Institute in Albuquerque — And a Breathtaking Hot Air Balloon Flight!

Published October 20, 2017  ALBUQUERQUE – The 2017 AMERIND Risk Institute turned the spotlight on critical topics—such as smart actions to improve survival rates in the event of an active shooter, understanding the claims process, and Tribal Workers’ Compensation. Hosted October 10-11 at Sandia Resort & Casino in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Institute delivered engaging training […]

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Police: 3 men made Nazi salutes, shot at protesters after Spencer event

Police in Florida arrested three men who allegedly made Nazi salutes, repeated Hitler chants and then shot at a group of protesters after white supremacist leader Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida on Thursday.

The gunshot narrowly missed the group of six to eight protesters, striking a business behind them, police said.

Tyler Tenbrink, 28, William Fears, 30, and Colt Fears, 28, had driven from Texas to Gainesville, Florida, for Spencer’s speech at the Phillips Center.

The Fears, who are brothers, spoke to CNN on Thursday prior to the incident about their support for Spencer, the white supremacist leader of the “alt-right.” In one interview, William Fears said protesters did not need to be afraid of them.

“They don’t have to fear us. It’s always the left that brings the violence,” he said.

Colt Fears said he agreed with about 75% of what Spencer says. And in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, Tenbrink said he came to Gainesville to support Spencer.

Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias said Friday that he thought it was “reasonable to believe they came here to bring some hatred.”

Spencer, who advocates for a white-ethno state, arrived in Gainesville on Thursday to deliver a speech on his views at the university. The controversial event brought out a large number of students and community members protesting against the speech, as well as a much smaller number of Spencer supporters.

The three men were all charged with attempted homicide, and Tenbrink was also charged with possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.

Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Kill them’

The incident began shortly before 5:30 p.m. Thursday, about an hour after Spencer’s speech ended, when the three men allegedly drove up to a nearby bus stop in a silver Jeep, according to police. They began threatening and yelling what the police report described as “Hail Hitler,” and other chants at a group of protesters..

An argument ensued, and one person in the group of protesters used a baton to hit the rear window of the vehicle. At that point, Tenbrink left the vehicle and pulled out a handgun, the police report said. Both Colt Fears and Williams Fears yelled at the victims “I’m going to f***ing kill you” and were also yelling “kill them” and “shoot them,” according to the police report.

Tenbrink allegedly fired at the group of protesters, police said. The three men then got back in the vehicle and fled the scene, police said.

One victim called police and “amazingly” recited to them the license plate number, police said. An off-duty deputy with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office who was heading home after the event located the suspects’ vehicle shortly before 9 p.m. about 20 miles north of Gainesville, according to authorities. Units from two police departments and the Florida Highway Patrol conducted what was described in a police press release as “a high-risk Felony stop” on the suspects’ vehicle.

Police recovered “at least two” handguns from the vehicle, according to Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias.

Tenbrink admitted that he was in the vehicle at the time and was the shooter, according to a police report.

The community had taken considerable steps to prevent violence at the Spencer event.

On Monday, Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency to provide resources to law enforcement, and an extensive police presence was on campus for the event. University of Florida Pesident W. Kent Fuchs estimated that security costs were upward of $600,000.

“Yesterday, people from outside of our community came to create violence and disruption,” police spokesman Tobias said Friday. “They came to bring hate to our city, yet the people of Gainesville showed them exactly what our town is all about.”

The Fears brothers were in Alachua County jail Friday under $1 million bond each, and Tenbrink is in jail under a $3 million bond, police said.

Spencer previously helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which heavily armed white nationalists fought with counterprotesters in a bloody day of violence.

There, a man described as a Nazi sympathizer drove a vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman, according to police.

Somalia car bombings: Death toll climbs to 358

The death toll in a double car bombing in Somalia has climbed to 358 people, Security Minister Mohamed Abukar and Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman said Friday.

The bombings occurred October 14, in Mogadishu, the capital city. The initial vehicle bomb destroyed dozens of stalls and the popular Safari Hotel in the heart of the city. Minutes later, a second vehicle bomb went off nearby.

Abukar and Osman said 56 people are still missing and 228 are injured, with 122 of the most seriously injured flown to Turkey, Sudan and Kenya for treatment.

Rescue workers have combed through rubble in searching for victims. Two Americans were killed in the blast, the US State Department said.

There has been no claim of responsibility in the bombings.

Mogadishu, a large city on the east African nation’s coast, has endured high levels of violence for years. Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked terror group, has carried out several deadly car bomb attacks.

Last August, the US State Department warned Americans to avoid traveling to Somalia because of widespread terrorist and criminal activity. The warning said al-Shabaab and ISIS “operate with relative impunity throughout large parts of the country, including Mogadishu, and attack civilian, military, and government targets.”

The White House issued a statement condemning the attack, calling terrorist organizations “the enemies of all civilized people.”

“The United States stands with the people and government of Somalia in their commitment to defeating these groups, ensuring the security of their people, and rebuilding their country,” the statement said.

Man uses ‘sophisticated’ system to store stolen gas, detectives say

Detectives accused Alex Perez of using fraudulent cards and a “sophisticated” pump system to steal more than 178 gallons of diesel gasoline, the Hollywood Police Department announced Friday on Facebook.

The 35-year-old truck driver purchased about $480 of fuel at Racetrac, 5800 Hollywood Blvd. When a gas station employee grew suspicious of the modus operandi, he called police. 

“The Hollywood Police Department has investigated several cases similar to this, where suspects utilize fraudulent cards and pump diesel gas into the gas truck,” the city spokesperson wrote on Facebook. “They activate a suction pump which pushes the fuel into the hidden containers.”

Detectives reported finding the truck was equipped with a suction pump to feed three hidden containers. They arrested Perez Oct. 2. He faces charges of unlawful conveyance of fuel, obtaining fuel fraudulently and grand theft.

 

Scott orders flags flown at half-staff to honor Sgt. La David Johnson

Gov. Rick Scott directed the flags to fly at half-staff in Tallahassee’s State Capitol building, and the City Hall buildings in Miami-Dade and Miami Gardens Saturday in honor of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s sacrifice. 

Scott said he joined the Floridians who were honoring Johnson of Miami Gardens, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black of Washington, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of Ohio and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright of Georgia.

“We will never forget their heroic actions and our hearts break for their families and loved ones,” Scott said. “We will continue to pray for the safety of all our brave military members across our country and abroad.”

The four service members were assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group and died after Islamic militants ambushed them in southwest Niger Oct. 4. Johnson was left behind during the evacuation and his body was recovered Oct. 6. 

Johnson’s awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Bade, the Driver and Mechanic Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge. He also participated in operations with the Canadian Armed Forces and received Canadian Parachutist Wings. 

Johnson’s closed-casket viewing was from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, and the funeral service was set from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, at the Christ The Rock Church, 11000 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. The interment will be a the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, 3001 N. 72 St.

 

Toxic tensions in the heart of ‘Cancer Alley’

Geraldine Watkins sits at the kitchen table in her ranch home, rattling off the names of friends and relatives in her small Louisiana town who’ve died of cancer over the last 40 years.

Her grandchildren suffer an array of ailments, from skin conditions to breathing problems. Her 7-year-old great-grandson’s breathing is so labored, she says, “you can feel his heart trying to jump out of his chest.”

Watkins lives in the shadow of a plant that spews chloroprene — a chemical so toxic the Environmental Protection Agency says nearby residents face the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins.

“You gotta live here to try to breathe the air, drink the water, see the children so sick and watch people die,” Watkins says. “Industry is wonderful to have, but if it’s killing the people in the area that they live in, what good is industry?”

Watkins is a worthy advocate, a 76-year-old great-grandmother challenging those in power. Her words are often punctuated by folksy aphorisms: “Nothing beats a failure but a try,” she says.

And try she will.

A town wants answers

The town of LaPlace, Louisiana, lies along the Mississippi River, a stone’s throw from Lake Pontchartrain and the Maurepas Swamp. It sits in the heart of an area that’s become known by locals as “Cancer Alley,” a vast industrial stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where dozens of petrochemical plants dot the landscape.

One sign posted by a local advocacy group warns the town’s 29,000 residents that they are “more likely to get cancer due to chloroprene air emissions.” The warning refers to the Denka Performance Elastomer plant at the edge of town, where a vast network of pipes and valves stand testament to industry.

The facility looms over Fifth Ward Elementary School, where children run around the playground oblivious to the toxic emissions in the air.

The plant, formerly operated by DuPont, employs more than 200 workers and has been in this spot for nearly 50 years. The facility plays a vital manufacturing role as the nation’s only producer of neoprene, a synthetic rubber that’s found in everything from gaskets and hoses to fishing waders and wetsuits. But it also emits 99% of the nation’s chloroprene pollution, according to the EPA. Chloroprene is the main chemical used in the production of neoprene.

In 2010, the EPA determined that chloroprene is “likely carcinogenic to humans,” meaning studies showed it likely causes cancer in people. The EPA has not set a legal limit for chloroprene emissions. But according to a May 2016 memo, federal regulators said the “upper limit of acceptability” for cancer risk was an annual average of 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter. Anything more than that would increase the risk of developing cancer, the EPA determined.

Residents say they were largely unaware of the 2010 EPA finding. But in December 2015, the EPA updated its National Air Toxics Assessment map, which showed an elevated risk of cancer around the plant — prompting Denka to enter into an agreement with the state of Louisiana to voluntarily reduce chloroprene emissions by 85%.

Tensions in the community mounted after Denka representatives and state environmental officials briefed the public on the agreement.

The town hall meetings may have been intended to reassure residents, but they only seemed to create more questions: Residents wondered why they weren’t warned years before and said their complaints have been ignored.

While Denka agreed to the voluntary 85% reduction, it disputes the EPA’s 0.2 recommendation and insists its own research shows no connection between chloroprene and cancer. Denka is a Japanese chemical company that bought the plant from DuPont in 2015.

Denka officials say the EPA based its cancer estimate on faulty science and have demanded that the EPA issue a correction. The company commissioned and submitted a study that argued chloroprene’s classification should be changed from “likely carcinogenic to humans” to “possibly carcinogenic” — and that the 0.2 guideline should be changed to 31.2, more than 150 times the EPA’s recommendation.

An EPA spokesman told CNN the agency is reviewing the company’s complaint but indicated the science behind the agency’s findings was solid.

In the spring of 2016, the EPA installed six canisters near the plant — including at the hospital, levee and two local schools — to collect air samples. Every three days, the air quality is tested. The daily readings have been jarring — 10 times, 50 times and 100 times the EPA’s “upper limit of acceptability” for cancer risk. On one occasion last November, the reading spiked at the levee and tested 700 times the recommended cancer risk, according the EPA data.

At the elementary school, the average concentration from May 2016 to August 2017 was more than 34 times the EPA’s recommendation.

“Our primary concern is with exposures over a lifetime,” the EPA’s spokesman wrote CNN in an email. “If the concentrations were to persist at current levels for a lifetime, there is potential for adverse health effects. This is why EPA and the state are working with Denka to reduce emissions.”

Residents aren’t satisfied with the 85% solution. They’ve rallied together to form the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish. Many wear T-shirts that read: “Only 0.2 will do.”

In June, 13 residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the plant, aimed at forcing the company to reduce emissions to meet the 0.2 EPA risk recommendation.

Pollution from the facility, the suit alleges, is “sufficient to cause physical discomfort and annoyance to plaintiffs, who must often confine themselves indoors to escape the excess concentration of chloroprene emission.”

“In addition, the excess concentrations of chloroprene emissions lead to a reasonable and justified fear of cancer,” the suit says.

Plant manager: There is no cancer risk

Sitting inside the facility, Denka plant manager Jorge Lavastida said the company is sensitive to the concerns of residents about air quality. “We want to be a part of this community. We want to be admired by this community. We want to have employees from this community,” he told CNN.

But he disputed the EPA on almost every point, citing the plant’s own study and emphasizing the company voluntarily committed to the 85% emissions reduction plan at a cost of nearly $18 million.

“It’s our No. 1 priority,” he said.

The company has already finished two of the four projects included in the reduction plan. He said the company hopes to complete the other two by year’s end, although the work is months behind due to unexpected complications. “We are fully committed and fully resourced to the projects,” he said.

Citing the company’s own study, Lavastida added this about the safety of the chloroprene being emitted: “There is no relationship between chloroprene and cancer.”

Asked if that means the company believes chloroprene does not cause cancer, he said simply, “That is correct.”

He added he is “optimistic” the EPA will revise its 0.2 guideline soon.

Lavastida said one of the projects already completed has reduced chloroprene emissions by 62%. “We know they’re working,” he said. The company maintains six air quality monitors of its own in and around the plant, separate from the EPA’s.

However, EPA data provided by the state to CNN showed something completely different: The air quality has worsened, not improved, at five of the six government testing sites over the last year.

Asked about those readings, Lavistida said, “I don’t know if I can explain that.”

Short-term health effects of being exposed to high doses of chloroprene range from headaches and hair loss to irritability and a rapid heartbeat, according to the EPA. It may also affect the liver, lungs, kidneys and the immune system.

Long-term exposure can lead to respiratory problems, skin issues, chest pains and neurological problems, in addition to an increased likelihood of cancer, the EPA says.

Statewide cancer rates are not specific enough to capture whether the incidence is higher in the areas around the plant. That’s because cancer rates are calculated for entire parishes, not at a more local level.

The current data for the parish doesn’t show a higher rate of cancer among the parish’s 44,000 residents; in fact, it has one of the lowest rates in the state — a figure that company and state officials use to defend their efforts.

But more precise data may soon be available. A new state law requires the Louisiana Tumor Registry to track cancer cases by ZIP codes and census tracts to help determine whether certain areas within parishes are more prone to cancer.

‘Filling us up with poison’

Robert Taylor III grew up near the plant and was in and out of the hospital with kidney problems throughout his youth. He moved away after high school and had no problems for more than 20 years.

But six months after moving back, Taylor says, his kidneys failed.

Sitting at his kitchen table, he points across the street: “Husband and wife died from cancer.” Then, he waves his hand toward another home: “Husband died of cancer. Both of his sons got cancer.”

“These people are filling us up with this poison,” he says of the plant.

Taylor is part of the class-action lawsuit against Denka. He joined on behalf of himself and his daughter, Nayve Love, who suffers breathing problems and needs to use an oxygen machine several times a week.

His father, who founded the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, is also a plaintiff.

“We’re not just going to sit around and let them push us around,” Taylor said. “They don’t have any compassion for human life. My little girl is 10 years old. She’s innocent.”

Wilma Subra is a chemist and long-time environmental activist in Louisiana. She’s been keeping close tabs on the Denka plant and has helped advise the citizens’ group.

She said she’s appalled at how state officials have seemingly turned a blind eye to the pollution.

“They have dismissed the issues and concerns of their citizens here in St. John the Baptist Parish,” she said. “Meanwhile, the citizens are continuing to breathe the air with chloroprene every single day.”

“If we do not continue to push the company to put on (additional) control technologies to reduce the chloroprene levels,” she said, “the people will continue to be exposed.”

State environmental boss: Ignore EPA figure

Chuck Carr Brown, the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality, says he tries to straddle the line between industry and the people he’s committed to serving. His agency’s mission, according to its website, is “to promote and protect health, safety and welfare while considering sound policies regarding employment and economic development.”

At a heated public meeting last December, he told residents that much of the cancer concerns were overblown and the situation wasn’t anything comparable to the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

“It’s not like there’s a smoking gun somewhere in St. John Parish,” he said.

Brown praised the plant’s commitment to reducing emissions by 85% with what he called the “best available control technology.”

“We’re going to monitor for at least another year, and we should start seeing these numbers start trending downward,” he said.

During the meeting, he dismissed the EPA’s 0.2 cancer guideline on chloroprene emissions. “That’s not a standard,” he said. “That’s just a guidance.”

Adding to the tensions between residents and his agency, Brown called vocal residents around the plant “fear-mongers.” In an interview with CNN, he said, “I don’t want to repeat that.”

“I’m not going to say I regret using the term. I just felt like I could’ve used a different term,” Brown said.

He also expressed frustration that “everybody seems to ignore” data put out by his agency. “At this point, there is no reason to believe that there is any undue risk or exposure to the folks in St. John Parish,” Brown said. “If that changes, then we’ll be the first ones to take immediate action.”

He again dismissed the EPA’s 0.2 guideline. “It never was an enforceable standard,” he said, “and it’s still not an enforceable standard.”

He said his agency hopes to use the new technology being installed at the plant to set a standard for chloroprene emissions — and not be hamstrung by the 0.2 EPA guideline. As head of the state’s environmental organization, he said, “I wanted to enter a working relationship with the company in order to install what we call the best available control technology.”

“That’s why I’ve tried to tell everyone: Detach yourself from that number and let’s work toward a solution that involves the best available control technology.”

“But if that’s the guidance,” CNN asked Brown, “why not be guided by it?”

Brown stood his ground, saying the new technology would be used to set the standard, not the EPA’s 0.2 figure. “To artificially target a number that you can’t legally enforce,” he said, “it actually makes no sense.”

He rejected suggestions he was following the company’s lead. “That’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s not like you just turn a valve or are working with LEGO pieces. We’re talking about large piping, large tubing, rerouting and engineering.”

CNN asked Brown why tests of the air quality have shown more toxins this year, rather than dropping as he pledged back at the December meeting. “We’ll show you some data that refutes that,” he said. “You’ll get a spike. But when you start looking at the average over a month, it’s really trending downward.”

His detractors, he said, should look at the data provided by his agency to “see the real facts.” He paused and spelled out the word, “F-A-C-T,” adding that “everything else is just somebody’s theory.”

CNN did look at the facts provided by Brown’s office after the interview, and it confirmed what we already knew: That the toxicity in the air recorded by the EPA was worse in June 2017 at five of the six testing sites than it was in June 2016 despite the improvements at the plant.

In her humble ranch home a little over a mile from the plant, Geraldine Watkins bites her tongue when told of Brown’s comments. She says some words aren’t meant to be repeated.

“My tongue gets blue, but I can control it,” she says.

She was at the December meeting when Brown addressed the crowd. His comments back then filled her with rage: “If eyes could kill, I would have cut him to death that night.”

She mulls over Brown’s latest remarks, thinking about her great-grandchildren’s unexplained conditions.

“This is horrible,” says Watkins, who is not part of the class-action suit. “If you don’t live in the area, you can say anything and everybody is supposed to believe that.”

She wants clean air to breathe, for everyone in town — and for herself.

“Let me live,” she says. “Whatever time I have left, let it be decent.”

New York City is hiring a futurist to forecast innovation

New York City is getting serious about prepping its five boroughs for a high-tech future.

The city announced on Thursday a program called NYCx to help the city better prepare for and shape the future.

NYCx will focus on coming innovations such as 5G connectivity, self-driving cars or artificial intelligence, and how they can make the city equitable and sustainable. NYCx will do this through moonshot challenges, which encourage entrepreneurs to tackle the city’s biggest problems. Anyone can apply.

In an unlikely move for a city, New York is also hiring a senior futurist to gather insights on possible cultural, economic and environmental changes ahead. Futurists say that good forecasting can save cities billion of dollars by making prescient policies and decisions that can have an impact for 40 or 50 years.

Some of the world’s best businesspeople, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are considered futurists. They use a forward-looking philosophy to chart their companies’ strategies.

New York’s latest efforts are designed to be proactive, rather than reactive.

“The most talented engineers and designers can build things that are trivial but make a lot of money, or they can build things that benefit people’s lives,” Miguel Gamiño, New York City’s chief technology officer, told CNN Tech. “Moonshots are not just us trying to peak around the corner [to see the future], but actually design around the corner.”

Gamiño, a former entrepreneur in the voice-over-IP space, has a background in municipal tech roles in El Paso, Texas, San Francisco and now, New York. He said he’s familiar with how governments often find themselves trying to catch up to new technologies.

“The phrase ‘the only thing that’s constant is change’ needs to be adjusted to ‘the only thing constant is the increasing pace of change,'” Gamiño said.

The first moonshot challenge is to transform Governors Island’s 172 acres into a hub for testing broadband connectivity.

The island currently has spotty cell service and Wi-Fi connectivity, according to Michael Samuelian, president of the Trust for Governors Island. Three finalists will be awarded $25,000.

Samuelian would like the island to serve as a testing ground for energy and waste innovations.

NYCx will also have a leadership council, which will include Rush Communications CEO Russell Simmons, Oath CEO Tim Armstrong and General Electric vice chair Beth Comstock.

“This is like fire insurance,” said Paul Saffo, who chairs the Future Studies program at Singularity University. “It helps the agency make the most of their resources and push things toward desired long-term futures, and protects them against getting caught by surprise.”

Man found unconscious in roadway after hit-and-run reported in Pompano Beach

Broward Sheriff’s Office Traffic Homicide Investigation detectives are investigating a fatal hit-and-run crash that was reported early Thursday in Pompano Beach. 

The hit-and-run was reported just before 12:45 a.m. at North Federal Highway and Northeast 10th Street.

Deputies said they found the victim lying in the roadway, unconscious with visible injuries to his head.

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue transported the victim to Broward Health North, where he died.

The victim’s identity has not been released as authorities work to notify his relatives.

Anyone with information or who witnessed the hit-and-run is asked to call Detective Donnard Huneke at 954-321-4842 or Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS.