Feature

The week at a glance...United States

United States

Sacramento Pay increase: California will soon adopt the highest minimum wage in the country, after the state legislature approved a bill that would raise it to $10 an hour within the next three years. The bill, the state’s first minimum-wage hike in six years, was backed by Democrats who said it would help workers pull through the recession and stimulate the economy by encouraging them to spend more. Republican lawmakers had attacked the 25 percent increase, saying it would hurt investors and cut jobs. In the end, the bill passed easily in both the state Senate and Assembly, and was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown to sign. “It’s a start,” said fast-food worker Shonda Roberts. “But I’m still going to fight for $15.” The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, but 19 states have set wage levels above that.

Boulder Historic floods: Rescuers continued to evacuate residents from flood-battered neighborhoods across northeastern Colorado this week, after a torrential rainstorm created a mammoth disaster area stretching 4,500 square miles—the size of Connecticut. At least eight people were killed in the flash flooding, which turned streets into rivers and rivers into torrents that destroyed roads and bridges. Nearly 18,000 homes were damaged, and hundreds of people were still unaccounted for as rescuers tried to reach isolated homes. “Some areas of Larimer County experienced a 100-year flood, some a 1,000-year flood,” said Jennifer Hillman, a spokeswoman for the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department. In Boulder, an average year’s rain fell within days, causing $100 million to $150 million worth of damage. “When you’re talking about rivers cresting 10 feet over their banks, no one can be prepared for that,” said Hillman.

Charlotte, N.C. Shooting tragedy: A police officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter this week after he shot an unarmed car accident victim 10 times. Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former football player at Florida A&M University, was apparently seeking emergency help after crashing his car when he was shot and killed by Officer Randall Kerrick. The police were responding to the 911 call of a woman whose door Ferrell had “viciously” banged in seeking help, said officers. When they arrived at the property, police said, Ferrell ran at them, prompting Kerrick to shoot him repeatedly. Police officials said Kerrick had no “lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.” Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut suggested that race may have played a role in the shooting. “The officer is white, Mr. Ferrell is black,” he said. “This might be more of a reflection of where we are as a country.”

Washington, D.C. Living wage veto: D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray this week defended his decision to veto a bill that would have forced large retailers like Walmart to pay workers in the city a “living wage.” Calling the legislation a “job killer,” Gray said that the bill—which would have required stores such as Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot to pay their employees at least $12.50 an hour—would benefit only “a very small fraction” of the city’s workers and would “drive away retailers.” Critics in Gray’s own Democratic Party say that he acted under pressure from Walmart, which threatened to reconsider its plans to open six stores in the area if the law was approved. To soften the blow, the mayor said he would seek an increase in the $8.25-an-hour minimum wage for all employers in the city.

Seaside Park, N.J. Boardwalk fire: Investigators have determined that a fire that devastated parts of the boardwalk of Seaside Park last week was caused by a malfunction in electrical components compromised by Hurricane Sandy. The wind-whipped fire, which damaged or destroyed 68 businesses along four blocks of the boardwalk, began in electrical wiring under a building housing Kohr’s Frozen Custard and Biscayne Candies, said officials. The wiring had been damaged by sand and salt water during last October’s superstorm, prompting investigators to advise other boardwalk property owners to inspect their electrical work. “We don’t want to start a panic mode,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato this week. “We just want to be reasonable.” To contain last week’s fire, firefighters had to rip out a 25-foot swath of the boardwalk, which officials had spent $8 million rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, and which will cost another $600,000 to rebuild again.

Worcester, Mass. Cannibal plot: A British man living in the Boston area was sentenced to 27 years in prison this week for plotting to kidnap, rape, kill, and eat a child. Geoffrey Portway, 40, had spent months discussing the murder online, and had assembled everything he needed to carry out his plans, which police discovered when searching his house as part of an international child porn investigation. In addition to tens of thousands of child porn images and videos on his computer—including photographs of children purportedly being cooked—officers found a soundproof basement furnished with a metal cage, bondage equipment, and a child-size coffin. Portway pleaded guilty in May to distribution and possession of child pornography, but his lawyer argued that the basement was merely a “theater” for “fantasies” that he had no intention of carrying out in real life.

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