Tag Archive: affordable health insurance Texas


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Mark Zuckerberg spent two days on Capitol Hill seeking to placate angry lawmakers by saying he would be open to some sort of regulation to protect the privacy of users on his global social-media platform.  The hearings are the result of revelations last month that a company called Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of 50 million Facebook profiles.  This information was allegedly used to map out voter behavior in 2016 for both the Brexit campaign and the US presidential election.

Cambridge Analytica is a British company that helps businesses “change audience behavior”.  Back in 2015, a Cambridge psychology professor called Aleksandr Kogan built an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” and Kogan’s company Global Science Research had a deal to share info from the app with Cambridge Analytica.  The app was a personality quiz that asked Facebook users for information about themselves and an estimated 270,000 Facebook users signed up and took personality tests.  The app collected the information of each user’s Facebook friends, who had not provided consent.

The company used the data to build psychological profiles of 87 million Facebook users in order to tailor ads that could sway their political views.  Since the breach was revealed Facebook has stated that Kogan’s app picked up information in “a legitimate way” but that their rules were violated when the data was sold on to Cambridge Analytica.  Around the same time the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, news that Facebook has been collecting and storing call records and SMS data from Android devices for years.

Facebook has been requesting access to contacts, SMS data, and call history on Android devices to improve its friend recommendation algorithm and distinguish between business contacts and  personal friendships. Facebook appears to be gathering this data through its Messenger application, which often prompts Android users to take over as the default SMS client. Facebook has, at least recently, been offering an opt-in prompt that prods users with a big blue button to “continuously upload” contact data, including call and text history. It’s not clear when this prompt started appearing in relation to the historical data gathering,

The hearings were held to determine whether Washington will create regulations that address increasingly widespread concerns about digital privacy.  During Mr. Zuckerberg’s two days of testimony, he repeatedly said that he had learned the lesson of the recent data-breach scandals, saying he thought it was inevitable that there will need to be some regulation but warned that poor regulations could leads to unintended consequences.

Following Wednesday’s hearing, House Commerce Chairman Greg Walden described it as “a wake-up call for Silicon Valley and the tech community that if you let these things get out of hand, having grown up in a very lightly regulated environment, you could end up with a lot more regulation than you seek.”  “I don’t want to rush into regulation minutes after having the first hearing of this magnitude. But certainly if they can’t clean up their act, we’ll clean it up for them.” ​He said lawmakers would consider calling other tech CEOs.

 

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President Xi Jinping of China is set to rule the country indefinitely after Chinese lawmakers passed changes to the country’s constitution abolishing presidential term limits. The National People’s Congress voted 2,958 in favor of the amendment, two opposed and three abstained. Xi assumed leadership of China’s Communist Party in 2012 and has consolidated power to levels not seen since the era of Mao Zedong. The change in presidency now aligns with other posts Xi holds, as head of the Communist Party and head of the military, neither of which have term limits.
After becoming president in 2013, Mr. Xi fought corruption, punishing more than a million party members. Critics say he has used the anti-corruption purge to sideline political rivals. At the same time, China has clamped down on many emerging freedoms, increasing its state surveillance and censorship programs which critics attain was a move to silence opposition.
The constitutional change officially allows him to remain in office after the end of his second term in 2023. Many believe that now that the constitution has been altered- that Xi Jinping intends to rule for the rest of his life unchallenged. There has been no national debate as to whether a leader should be allowed to stay on for as long as they choose.
The two-consecutive-term limit to China’s presidency was put in place by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 in order to avoid the kind of chaos and tumult that can sometimes happen when you have a single authoritarian leader, as China had with Mao Zedong. Among many campaigns launched by Zedong were “The Great Leap Forward” in 1957 that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. This campaign led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of more than 45 million Chinese people between 1958 and 1962.
Zedong also initiated the Cultural Revolution in 1966, a program to remove “counter-revolutionary” elements of Chinese society that lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle and widespread destruction of cultural artifacts. It has officially been regarded as a “severe setback” for the Peoples Republic of China.
The National People’s Congress is also likely to confirm China’s new government line-up for the next five years, kicking off Xi Jinping’s second term as president, ratify a law to set up a new powerful anti-corruption agency and ratify the inclusion of the president’s political philosophy in the constitution. His philosophy is officially called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”. Schoolchildren, college students and staff at state factories will have to study the political ideology, which the Communist Party is trying to portray as a new chapter for modern China.

 

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Missouri’s Governor Eric Greitens was arrested after a grand jury indicted him on charges of felony invasion of privacy stemming from an extramarital affair in 2015. The indictment accuses Greitens of blindfolding and tying up a woman with whom he was having a consensual affair, and then taking her picture without her consent—and threatening to release the naked photograph if she ever spoke publicly about the affair. Greitens was arraigned and later released on his own recognizance. He has acknowledged the affair but denies any criminal behavior including allegations of abusing or threatening the woman. Greitens remained defiant amid calls for resignation and impeachment less than 24 hours after a St. Louis grand jury indicted him for felony invasion of privacy.
Greitens is a former U.S. Navy SEAL who was elected in 2016 after he ran on a pro-gun, anti-Obama platform. After news of the affair broke in early January 2017, Greitens and his wife, Sheena, released a joint statement after a number of inquiries from the news media about the relationship. The couple revealed that there “was a time when he was unfaithful in our marriage.” “This was a deeply personal mistake,” the Greitens, who have two young children, said in the statement. “Eric took responsibility and we dealt with this together honestly and privately.”
The accusations were relayed by the woman’s ex-husband, but she has not commented. The identified but still unnamed woman is a St. Louis area hairstylist. She told her ex-husband that she’d had an affair in 2015 with Eric Greitens — then philanthropist, now governor — and that he had tied her to home exercise equipment, taken a photo of her naked and threatened to publicly release it if she ever told anyone about him. She said Greitens later apologized and said he’d deleted the photo. She also told her ex-husband that Greitens had slapped her against her will, after she told Greitens she had had sex with her husband. The conversation was part of a therapeutic exercise but was recorded without her knowledge. The man filed for divorce in 2015, a few months after the affair.)
Behind the scenes, many state political figures and journalists had been aware of rumors about Greitens’ affair since September 2016. Journalists had held back from publication because the woman had not recorded the conversation herself or released it to the media, and she repeatedly declined to be interviewed on the record.
When Greitens was running for governor against Chris Koster, Roy Temple, an advisor to the Koster campaign, heard a rumor about the affair and contacted a mutual friend to him and the ex-husband. Temple said he met with the ex-husband to see whether he’d be interested in publicly telling his story, but the man, a prominent St. Louis entertainer, declined to proceed because he didn’t want his two children learning about the affair. The man only came forward in 2017 after a national reporter at another outlet called his 15-year-old about the allegations.

 

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Haiti has suspended the British charity Oxfam as it investigates reports that it tried to cover up sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. An internal Oxfam review concluded in 2011 that senior aid workers hired prostitutes at Oxfam properties in Haiti and then tried to cover it up. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti, but Oxfam refused to report the activity of its aid workers to Haitian police. Oxfam’s internal report also includes claims that three Oxfam staff members physically threatened a witness during the internal investigation.
The report confirms that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country director in the Caribbean nation for Oxfam’s Great Britain arm, admitted to hiring prostitutes to his official residence. A news report revealed there had been at least one “Caligula orgy” with women dressed in Oxfam T-shirts. No public disclosures were made of the alleged abuse at the time, though the 2011 report shows that the director and six others were dismissed or resigned for misconduct, including three who did so because of “use of prostitutes.” All of the names in the document were redacted besides van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam said in a statement that the full un-redacted reports will be given to the Haitian government. The Charity Commission has said it was not told the full story when Oxfam first looked into the allegations in 2011.
The scandal around van Hauwermeiren, who also faced allegations about work in Chad in 2006 where he presided over an office with employees accused of hiring prostitutes. The history of alleged abuse, and the fact that he was allowed to go on to work for another charity in Bangladesh, prompted Oxfam to call for an independent review of itself by women’s rights groups.
An internal investigation by the charity into sexual exploitation, the downloading of pornography, bullying and intimidation is claimed to have found children may have been exploited by employees. The report also clarifies that the charity was aware of concerns about the conduct of two of men at the center of the Haiti allegations when they previously worked in Chad.
Oxfam has been hit with dozens more misconduct allegations involving a slew of countries, in the days since The Times of London revealed Oxfam tried to cover up the sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti. The charity now faces worries about funding from the British government and its ability to fundraise while multiple prominent ambassadors for the group have resigned.

 

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Alaskans were left panicked after they were jolted awake overnight Tuesday by a powerful earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska – then by sirens that warned of a possible tsunami.  A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 a.m. off the Alaska coast. The quake itself was far enough away not to cause major damage but occurred in an area that triggered a potential tsunami.

Evacuation sirens blared “Attention, a tsunami warning has been issued for this area,” officials warned over loudspeakers.  “The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center has advised that widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible.”  That warning covered not only most of coastal Alaska, but also the entire coast of British Columbia. Tsunami watches were posted from Washington state to California — and even Hawaii and as far away as American Samoa.

Within minutes, the roads in the seaside town of Kodiak, Alaska, were filled cars heading to higher ground.  Residents of Kodiak were asked by police to move at least 100 feet above ground as a precaution.  For two hours, many braced for the worst but by 4 a.m. — less than four hours after the quake hit — all warnings were lifted. The only tsunami was an 8-inch wave in Kodiak.

Around 4 a.m. local time, officials canceled tsunami warnings for coastal areas of South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. Warnings were also called off for Hawaii and the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and California coasts.  Tsunami warnings were later canceled in other parts of South Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, specifically the coastal areas from Hinchinbrook Island, about 90 miles east of Seward, to Chignik, Alaska.

The US Geological Survey (USGA) said the earthquake was located in an area south of where the Pacific tectonic plate converges with the North America plate and at a depth of about 12 miles.  Research geophysicist for USGA Will Yeck said the quake occurred on a fault within the Pacific plate that had not been previously charted and the area that ruptured is approximately 140-by-30 miles.  Yeck said there have been at least 30 aftershocks from the initial quake, the largest being a magnitude 5.3.

From Indonesia, to Japan, to Hawaii and Alaska, the entire region sits in what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – an extremely volatile chain of active volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquake zones. Most of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region.  That’s the same spot which saw the second largest earthquake ever recorded: A 9.2 magnitude in March 1964 that caused widespread destruction and death in Alaska.  That earthquake occurred over an area measuring 155 miles wide by 500 miles long. The epicenter was about 12 miles north of Prince William Sound, and 75 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

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A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been charged with operating a large-scale drug trafficking scheme.  Deputy Kenneth Collins and three other men were arrested by FBI agents in a sting operation when they arrived to what they thought was a drug deal, according to records unsealed after the arrest.

Court documents outlining the case show that Collins, 50, has been under investigation for months. He was recorded by agents discussing “his extensive drug trafficking network, past criminal conduct, and willingness to accept bribes to use his law enforcement status for criminal purposes,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

Last year, an undercover agent met with Collins while posing as the relative of a wealthy investor looking to finance an illegal marijuana grow house.  Collins offered to provide security and said he had three teams already working in the region, including one that was protecting an illegal marijuana grow house disguised as an auto repair shop, according to the complaint.

At a second meeting, Collins showed off his sheriff’s badge and lifted his shirt to show a gun in his waistband, the complaint said.  He later said that he could provide teams of security made up of cops who “travel … with guns”.  Collins sold about 2 pounds of marijuana to the agent for $6,000 as a “test run” to demonstrate his ability to arrange and carry out deals, federal authorities allege. The deputy said he had connections to marijuana operations in Northern California and could sell the agent $4 million of marijuana each month, according to the court records.

Undercover agents hired Collins to provide security while they drove several pounds of methamphetamine and other contraband from Pasadena to Las Vegas, the court records said.  On the drive to Las Vegas, one of the other men charged in the case, David Easter, drove a lookout car while another, Grant Valencia, rode with the undercover agent in the vehicle with the drugs, according to court records. Collins rode in a third car keeping watch from behind.

In the complaint, agents said that Collins, Easter and Valencia had agreed to provide security for a large drug transaction at an events venue in Pasadena in exchange for $250,000.  Collins and his team were p to help oversee the transport of a large cache of drugs and cash.  Collins said he had a team of six men, including three other law enforcement officers, who could ensure the cargo made it to its destination “untouched, unscathed,” the document says.

According to court documents, after a Dec. 11th meeting to plan the transport, Collins called another L.A. County sheriff’s deputy to discuss the deal, according to the complaint. Thom Mrozek, a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman, said that the investigation is continuing but that no other law enforcement officers had been implicated so far.

 

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President Trump has declared the opioid crisis- which killed 64,000 Americans last year- a public health emergency.  The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days until the President believes it is no longer needed.  President Donald Trump said “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”

The administration will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency fund and to increase federal funding in year-end budget deals currently being negotiated in Congress.  Trump has directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.  The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see the devastation that drugs cause on people and their lives.

The administration’s opioid plan will allow expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.  It also speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.  The designation gives the administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is nearly empty.

In August, Trump said that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency but later said the White House had determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency.  Many have criticized the decision to declare a public health emergency rather than a national emergency as not enough.  A commission created by the administration and headed by Gov. Chris Christie called on the president to declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act. Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Congress is currently spending $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year. The administration says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to find new money to fund addiction treatment programs. A group of senators introduced a bill that would provide more than $45 billion for opioid abuse prevention, surveillance and treatment.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioids are consumed in the US.  A report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico.  A large portion of the country’s fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.

 

 

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As the flood waters left behind from Hurricane Harvey recede, the search continues for victims not yet counted in the death toll.  The number of confirmed deaths attributed to Harvey has reached 63 and that number is expected to rise as Houston emergency officials continue to search flooded homes.  Emergency officials have said the number of calls for service and rescue has been steadily diminishing.

Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, Texas on August 25th and continued to batter cities and towns along the Gulf of Mexico with rain.  Some areas got as much as 50 inches of rain.  Some climatologists are calling Harvey the worst rainfall event in the country’s history.  Officials have estimated the damage to be as much as $108 billion but it’s too early to know the full scope of the Texas disaster.

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force trying to help those in need.  With hundreds of miles of heavily flooded area to cover and days of rain- no government response could have been enough.

As first responders were overwhelmed with calls for rescue, emergency lines were jammed and people were posting desperate pleas for help on social media.  Many had been stranded for days with no electricity, food or water.  Civilians with boats, high water vehicles and small watercrafts, took to the murky waters to help save lives.  Texans hours away-loaded up fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs and headed to areas inundated with flood water and over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

Others without boats stepped up to help as well.  Stories of people who were out of harms way using social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Nextdoor and Snapchat along with google maps to connect civilian rescue boats with people who posted pleas for help from their smartphones.    Boaters used Zello, a free “walkie-talkie” app to help each other navigate through rescues.

Three friends created the website “Houston Harvey Rescue,” in under 3 hours, in a leaky office, with intermittent power.  The site allowed users to drop a pin on a Google map to alert rescuers to people in trouble. The color of the pin could be changed to indicate the degree of urgency, and the pin could be removed when the rescue was completed, giving rescuers a real-time view of needs across the city.

While it’s too soon to know how many of the more than 37,000 heavily damaged homes in Texas are salvageable.  Officials say some will be submerged in water for up to a month and the longer a house is under water, the greater the damage.  Thousands have already been destroyed in the state and evacuees are slowly returning to their homes to try to assess the damage and gather any salvageable belongings.

At least 33,000 people in Texas have fled to more than 230 shelters, with 11,000 people inside Houston’s largest sports stadium. Churches and many businesses have opened their doors to evacuees as well.  Hundreds of thousands could seek some kind of disaster assistance, officials said.  It will likely take years for some areas of Texas to rebuild while other areas will never be the same.  The power of social media and people compelled to help others saved hundreds of lives during this disaster.  The heroes that emerged to help those in need remind us all that our country is not as divided as it sometimes seems.

A federal appeals court has thrown out the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead and 20 injured when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space.   The appeals court ruled three of the contractors could be resentenced, meaning their 30-year prison sentences could be dramatically shortened. A fourth contractor’s murder conviction was thrown out entirely, so he’ll now face a new trial.

The Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul stated that the killings were unprovoked.  The Iraqi government claimed that as the convoy drew close to Nisour Square, a Kia sedan carrying a woman and her adult son was approaching the square from a distance, driving slowly on the wrong side of the road, ignoring a police officer’s whistle to clear a path for the convoy. The security team fired warning shots and then lethal fire at the Kia. They then set off stun grenades to clear the scene. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers, mistaking the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades, opened fire at the Blackwater men, to which they returned fire.

The Blackwater guards contend that the Kia continued to approach even when fired upon and after an Iraqi policeman went over to the car, it looked as if the policeman was pushing it.  They feared they were under attack by a car bomb so they fired at the car, killing both occupants as well as the Iraqi policeman.  Iraqi police officers began to fire at the Blackwater men. The guards felt they could not be sure they were dealing with actual police since insurgents often disguise themselves by wearing police uniforms.

A military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.  Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked.  An FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.

In 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation.  On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity.

In 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball after closed-door testimony. A fifth guard had his charges dismissed, and a sixth guard -Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

On October 22, 2014, a Federal District Court jury convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.  Three other guards Paul A.Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L.Heard were found guilty of all three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent crime.  They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed Slatten’s murder conviction and ordered the other defendants to be re-sentenced. A new trial was also recommended for Slatten, on the grounds that it was unjustifiable to try him with his co-defendants, and that he should have been tried separately.

Former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver has been indicted by a grand jury on murder charges for killing 15-year-old African-American student Jordan Edwards.  Police body cam video shows Oliver fired his assault rifle into the moving car that Edwards, his brother and two friends were in as they were driving away from a party on April 29.

Jordan Edwards was shot in the head as he sat in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.  One of the car’s passengers says the officer never even ordered the boys to stop driving before opening fire.

Originally Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said the officer fired his gun after the car drove “aggressively” toward both officers but he later said he misspoke after reviewing the body cam footage.  Oliver was fired for violating several department policies and procedures in the shooting and charged with murder.  He posted his $300,000 bail that evening.  If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison.

Jordan’s parents filed a lawsuit shortly after the shooting against the city of Balch Springs, the Balch Springs Police department, and Roy Oliver, the police officer who shot and killed him.  They claim Oliver used excessive force and lacked proper training to be on duty, also alleging Oliver used a racial slur while detaining Jordan’s stepbrother, Vidal Allen, who was driving the car the night of the shooting.

Shortly after the indictment, the Edwards’ family lawyer, Lee Merritt tweeted  “A murder indictment for Roy Oliver is appropriate but the fact is it’s been +40 years since a cop was convicted in TX.” Merritt also made a statement referring to how he felt the officers and the Balch Springs Police Department handled the events following the shooting improperly. Not only did a cop fire a weapon in a car full of unarmed teenagers unnecessarily, he also suggested that the boys were mistreated instead of being offered proper medical attention – as is protocol.  “They were immediately treated as common criminals by other officers; manhandled, intimidated and arrested while their brother lay dying in the front seat,” Merritt added.

Roy Oliver, who had been with the department for six years, is an Army veteran who served in the Middle East.  He was also indicted last month on two charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after allegations that he pulled a gun on a woman and her sister after a road-rage incident two weeks before Jordan’s death. No trial dates have been set.