Tag Archive: affordable health insurance WI


The state of Arkansas received heavy criticism and sparked new debates over the death penalty after they rushed to carry out an unprecedented series of 8 executions in 11 days during the month of April as its supply of the sedative midazolam was set to expire at the end of the month.  All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999 with some of the crimes described as particularly heinous.  The eight men scheduled for execution were Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson, Don Williamson Davis, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones, Jason McGehee and Marcel Williams.

Governor Hutchinson signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates.  In a statement he said that it was necessary to schedule the executions close together because of doubts about the future availability of one of three drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection procedure.

Arkansas uses a cocktail of three drugs in its lethal injection formula: Midazolam is used to sedate the prisoner, vecuronium bromide paralyzes prisoners and stops their breathing, and potassium chloride stops the heart.  Midazolam is the most controversial of the three since it has repeatedly failed to make prisoners unconscious in other executions, leading to painful deaths.  It is not approved by the FDA to be used as an anesthetic on its own, but doctors do use it combined with other drugs before surgical procedures. That is not the case in prisons.

The hurried schedule hit roadblocks from the moment it was announced as attorneys for the eight men attempted to block the executions- including using the argument that midazolam does not effectively prevent a painful death.  Separate rulings stayed the executions of two of the prisoners, Don Davis and Bruce Ward.  Arkansas appealed the decision in Davis’ case, but the US Supreme Court upheld it.  Then Federal Judge Kristine Baker put a stop to all eight executions on April 15, a decision that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed two days later.  By the end of April, four of the men received stays for various reasons.

Despite the drug shortage and the controversy over its use-  lethal injection remains the country’s primary method of execution.  The drug shortage has spurred some states to begin adapting new and untested combinations of drugs while other states look at other methods of executions.  Utah, Tennessee and Oklahoma added or broadened their abilities to use a firing squad, electric chair or nitrogen gas.

With the month over and the expiration date passing-the freshly stirred dust on the death penalty debate has not settled.  Capital punishment has long been a divisive issue in the United States with support of it declining to a 40 year low.  According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, Americans remain split, with 49 percent in favor and 42 percent against it (9% were undecided).

Nationwide, the number of executions has faced a decline as well.  Since 2007, seven states have abolished the death penalty and the governors of four others have issued moratoria on the practice.  Arkansas is currently one of 31 states with courts that still issue death sentences.

 

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United Airlines has reached a settlement with Kentucky physician, Dr. David Dao, who was dragged off a plane at O’Hare International Airport in early April.  The incident aboard Flight 3411 was captured on video by passengers on the plane and widely shared online around the world.   It quickly became an international embarrassment for both the carrier and the city’s aviation department.

Dao’s attorney Thomas Demetrio,  announced that a settlement had been reached, but terms were not disclosed.  The airline released a written statement in response to the announcement: “We are pleased to report that United and Dr. Dao have reached an amicable resolution of the unfortunate incident that occurred aboard flight 3411. We look forward to implementing the improvements we have announced, which will put our customers at the center of everything we do.”

The airline unveiled new policies earlier in the same day the settlement was reached.  Part of the new policies include a promise to not use law enforcement to remove overbooked customers from planes, additional training for front-line employees and setting up an automated system that will ask passengers at check-in if they would be willing to give up their seat.  United CEO Oscar Munoz also pledged to reduce the amount of overbooking and offer up to $10,000 for customers willing to volunteer to take a later flight.

Dao’s attorney praised Munoz for agreeing to the settlement.  “Mr. Munoz said he was going to do the right thing and he has. In addition, United has taken full responsibility for what happened on Flight 3411, without attempting to blame others, including the City of Chicago. For this acceptance of corporate accountability, United is to be applauded.”

Demetrio added “Dr. Dao has become the unintended champion for the adoption of changes which will certainly help improve the lives of literally millions of travelers.  I sincerely hope that all other airlines make similar changes and follow United’s lead in helping to improve the passenger flying experience with an emphasis on empathy, patience, respect and dignity.”

Dr. Dao, 69, of Elizabethtown, Ky., was one of four passengers picked to be bumped from an April 9th flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Ky., to make room for four airline employees who were added to the flight shortly before it departed.  When he refused to leave, multiple Chicago Department of Aviation security officers were called to remove him.

According to a report released by the Chicago Department of Aviation, Officer James Long boarded the plane to respond to a disturbance involving two passengers who were refusing to leave the aircraft.  When he approached Dao’s seat and asked him to leave, Long said Dao “folded his arms tightly” and refused to leave the aircraft.   The officer said he was able to “hold” the physician in order to remove him from his window seat.

A struggle ensued between Dao and the officer in the isle of the aircraft. Dao, who was hospitalized in Chicago, suffered a concussion, a broken nose and lost two teeth in the ordeal.  The viral video shows Dao being dragged by his arms down the aisle of the plane as other passengers watch in horror.

 

A federal grand jury has indicted nine high-ranking active and retired Navy members as part of an investigation into a bribery scandal known as “Fat Leonard.” The Justice Department says the nine have been charged with accepting luxurious dinners, trips, gifts and the service of sex workers as bribes in exchange for handing over classified military information to Singapore-based defense contractor Leonard Francis.

Twenty-seven people have been charged with crimes since the investigation became public in 2013, including the nine Navy officers indicted this month. Authorities say that the case is still unfolding and that more than 200 people — including 30 admirals — have come under scrutiny.

Known as “Fat Leonard” for his 6ft 3inch, 350-pound physique, Francis has pleaded guilty to bribing “scores” of Navy officials for over a decade with prostitutes, cash, hedonistic parties and other gifts. In exchange, according to federal prosecutors, the officials provided Francis with classified or inside information that enabled his firm, Glenn Marine Defense Asia, to gouge the Navy out of tens of millions of dollars.  Leonard also plead guilty to padding invoices for services not rendered so that some of his navy contacts could pocket the money for themselves.

In June 2016, Robert Gilbeau became the first active-duty Navy admiral in modern history to be convicted of a felony.  He is awaiting sentencing.  In January, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Gentry Debord was sentenced to 30 months in prison, ordered to pay a $15,000 fine and $37,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Debord, 41, plead guilty in October 2016 to accepting bribes in the form of cash, luxury hotels and prostitutes from Leonard Glenn Francis.  The fraud occurred from November 2007 to January 2013, while Debord was a supply officer aboard the U.S.S. Essex.

Others charged are current or former U.S. Navy officials, including Commander Bobby Pitts, Captain Daniel Dusek, Commander Michael Misiewicz, Lt. Commander Todd Malaki, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, former NCIS Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau II, Petty Officer First Class Daniel Layug and Paul Simpkins, a former DoD civilian employee who oversaw contracting in Singapore.

Dusek, Misiewicz, Malaki, Beliveau, Sanchez and Layug have also pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme.  On Jan. 21, Layug was sentenced to 27 months in prison and a $15,000 fine; on Jan. 29, Malaki was sentenced to 40 months in prison and to pay $15,000 in restitution to the Navy and a $15,000 fine; on March 25, Dusek was sentenced to 46 months in prison and to pay $30,000 in restitution to the Navy and a $70,000 fine; on April 29, Misiewicz was sentenced to 78 months in prison and to pay a fine of $100,000 and to pay $95,000 in restitution to the Navy; and on Oct. 14, 2015, Beliveau was sentenced to serve 144 months in prison and ordered to pay $20 million in restitution to the Navy.  Sanchez awaits sentencing.  Pitts was charged in May 2016 and his case remains pending.

Military personnel found guilty of serious misconduct are usually demoted and forced to retire – and because pension values are based on rank, losing a star or a stripe leads to a partial reduction in their pension. Seven Navy officers who have pleaded guilty in the corruption and bribery scandal are reportedly still eligible for generous taxpayer-funded retirement benefits.  Disgraced Navy admiral Robert Gilbeau has already begun collecting $10,000 a month.

New Travel Ban Issued

 

President Trump issued a newly revised ban on refugees and travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.  The ban is set to go into effect on March 16th and prohibits travel for 90 days for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, subject to categorical exceptions and case-by-case waivers.  It also bans all refugees from resettling in the U.S. for at least four months.

The ban will not apply to people from the six countries with green cards or who already have a visa.   The travel restrictions apply to any citizen of the six countries who is outside the United States as of March 6, did not have a valid visa as of 5 p.m. Jan. 27 and do not have a valid visa as of March 6.

The new executive order, which supersedes the order issued on Jan. 27, drops Iraq from the list of countries, drops a provision that would have made the process easier for Christian refugees and does not include the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.  Both versions have capped the number of refugees admitted into the US in 2017 at 50,000.  Despite the changes, immigration advocates say the new ban still discriminates against Muslims.

The delay of the ban going into effect was put in place to avoid the chaos that followed Trump’s first travel ban which was issued with little notice and saw travelers with valid visas detained in airports when they landed.

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said his Department will “work closely to implement the order humanely, respectively, and with professionalism but we will enforce the law.”

During the 90-day pause, the Department of Homeland Security will perform a “global, country-by-country review” of the information provided to the U.S. during screenings. Each country will have 50 days to comply with any requests from the U.S. government for better or more information. Officials will still have the ability to issue waivers to certain individuals who wish to enter the U.S. while the ban is in place.

A judge in Wisconsin has already circumvented the new travel ban by allowing the wife and child of a Syrian refugee who had already been granted asylum to enter the country.  The Syrian husband, who has been in the US since 2014, had applied for asylum for his family to join him but the process was halted by President Trump’s initial executive order.

District Judge William Conley, overruled Trump’s travel ban, explaining that the family would face “significant risk of irreparable harm” if they stayed in Syria.  The Judge Conley’s ruling only applies to the Syrian family in this particular case.   Many believe it will be the first of many legal challenges that will be presented to the courts before the executive order comes into force on March 16.

The Trump administration announced that it will enforce federal laws barring the use of marijuana, reversing an Obama administration policy that gave wide latitude to states to determine their own pot laws.  Eight states – Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Maine – and Washington, D.C. have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana. The Obama administration had opted not to enforce federal prohibitions in states that had passed legislation legalizing the drug.  It’s classified as a Schedule 1 drug — putting it in the same category as heroin — and the government can restrict cross-state shipment and financing as a result.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration would prioritize enforcement in states that have passed laws allowing for the recreational—rather than medical—use of the drug.  Just a day after the announcement, publicly traded shares of marijuana-related companies were tumbling and executives at recreational marijuana businesses were expressing their disappointment in the announcement.

The announcement was not a surprise to legalization advocates after Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general.  Many advocates feel that Mr. Sessions has been “the single biggest opponent to legalization in the US Senate.”

In August 2013, a four-page directive issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole essentially instructs that a hands-off approach be taken by the federal government in states that have voted on laws to legalize marijuana, regardless of the fact that marijuana is illegal at the federal level.  The directive has been dubbed the “Cole Memo”.

President Trump has issued differing stances on marijuana legalization. In the 1990s, Trump told the Miami Herald that the US needed to “legalize drugs to win” the war on drugs. In an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly a year ago, Trump said he was in favor of medical marijuana “a hundred percent” while also calling Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry “a real problem.”

The industry is still new and is estimated to be worth over $6 billion so the reversal will cost some states millions in revenue and a loss of jobs.  Recreational marijuana retailers in Oregon sell about $7 million worth of cannabis every week, or about $364 million a year.

In 2016, the marijuana industry in Colorado created more than 18,000 new full-time jobs and over $1 billion in retail sales.  The industry also generated over $1 billion in additional economic activity such as growers renting warehouse space and the purchases of sophisticating lighting and irrigation equipment.  Marijuana retailers also boost the economy when they rely on other companies, like contractors, lawyers and bookkeeping services, to conduct their own businesses.  If the Trump Administration’s promise of a crackdown does take effect- all of this new found revenue will be lost.

President Trump signed legislation to repeal a Dodd-Frank anti-corruption measure requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to governments.  The rule had required public oil, gas and mineral extraction companies to disclose annually its payments to both foreign governments and the U.S. government.

According to lawmakers, these disclosures help fight corruption in resource-rich countries. The requirement was the Cardin-Lugar Anti-Corruption Provision of 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act – signed by former President Barack Obama and named for former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. The regulation was widely support from Democrats, who argued the transparency requirement could reduce instances of corruption in resource-rich countries overseas.

The goal of the rule is to prevent foreign leaders from skimming off the payments that drillers and miners make to their countries. It was put in place to stop the corruption that enriches the politically connected but deprives regular people of their country’s mineral wealth.

The oil industry had fiercely lobbied against the measure. The resource extraction rule has been controversial since it was mandated in 2010, which is why it took six years for it to be finalized.  Exxon, Chevron (CXW) and the National Mining Association were among the dozens of entities to submit comments opposing the rule.

Longtime ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who is now secretary of state, personally lobbied against the rule, flying to Washington, D.C., to meet with then-Senator Richard Lugar in 2010 to try to get the measure removed from Dodd-Frank.  The American Petroleum Institute, the chief U.S. energy lobbying organization”s main argument against the rule was that it puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage, because their foreign competitors are not subject to the requirements.

However, many major European drillers like BP, Total and Royal Dutch Shell, Russian oil and gas giants Rosneft and Gazprom, as well as Canadian firms must report what they pay to foreign governments.  The U.S. rules would have forced some Chinese and Brazilian firms to do so as well.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that the provision in question “would have put American oil and natural gas companies at a disadvantage on the world stage, and actually could have threatened the safety of American workers abroad.”

Lawmakers used the Congressional Review Act, a seldom-used legislative route that essentially fast-tracks the regulatory repeal process. By accessing the provisions laid out, it allows lawmakers to expedite a resolution that requires little notice before introduction and is not subject to filibuster.  It also requires only a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate to pass.

President Trump’s travel ban has received two more legal blows. U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema in Virginia granted a preliminary injunction against the executive order being enforced against Virginia residents or anyone who either works or studies at Virginia public universities. In her ruling, she wrote, “Maximum power does not mean absolute power.”

On the same day, Seattle U.S. District Judge Robart, who was the federal judge who first ordered the nationwide suspension, ruled the lawsuit against the travel ban should proceed quickly in lower court.  The decision ruled against the Justice Department, which wanted the case to be put on hold.

Last week, a federal appeals court in San Francisco unanimously upheld the nationwide suspension of President Trump’s executive order, which sought to temporarily bar all refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.  Last month, the travel ban led to widespread chaos around the world, as foreigners with green cards and visas were detained at U.S. airports and barred from boarding U.S. flights.  Trump administration officials said they would not pursue an appeal of the 9th Circuit’s hold on the current ban.

With a string of legal defeats across the country, President Trump said he would likely abandoned efforts to uphold his controversial travel ban and would instead issue a new order next week crafted to withstand constitutional challenges.  “As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision,” Trump said of the appeals court ruling that blocked the first travel ban.  He added that the new executive order might include “extreme vetting” of immigrants.

President Trump did not specify what would be in the new executive order but legal analysts speculate that to avoid future court challenges, it would likely have to exclude those who have been living in the country with green cards and visas.  It would have to focus on those who have never been to the U.S. and might have some link to terrorism, experts said.

White House officials already have indicated that a new order would most likely be designed to have no impact on current holders of U.S. visas, meaning that people with green cards or student or work-related visas would be able to travel without additional restrictions.

The Jan. 27 order barred citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and Syrian citizens indefinitely. The revised order would not impose an indefinite ban on Syrians.  Trump said a temporary ban is necessary to give his agencies time to develop “extreme vetting” procedures from those terror-prone countries to ensure that terrorists don’t enter the country.

Experts say that if the new executive order’s focus is on foreigners who have never been in the U.S., it would make it difficult to challenge legally because the only people affected by the order would be outside the U.S., and the Supreme Court has said people outside the country don’t have constitutional rights.”

In line with President Trump’s Immigration orders to prioritize deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes – immigration officials have arrested more than 600 people across the U.S. last week in a series of raids. The arrests took place in at least 11 states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.

About 160 foreign nationals were recently arrested in six counties in the Los Angeles area, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. An additional 200 were arrested last week in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. And about 200 were arrested across Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin.

The actions are the first concerted effort by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Trump administration to arrest targeted undocumented immigrants for deportation proceedings.  “All these people are in violation of some sort of immigration law,” an official said, adding that some of their convictions included rape and aggravated assault.

While immigration officials maintain that only routine actions targeting criminals were underway, fear has spread among immigrants and their advocates. Officials said the raids targeted known criminals, but they also netted some immigrants without criminal records.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said they were part of “routine” immigration enforcement actions. Christensen said the raids, which began Monday and ended Friday at noon, found undocumented immigrants from a dozen Latin American countries. “We’re talking about people who are threats to public safety or a threat to the integrity of the immigration system,” she said, noting that the majority of those detained were serious criminals, including some who were convicted of murder and domestic violence.

Immigration activists said the crackdown went beyond the six states DHS identified, saying that they had also documented ICE raids of unusual intensity during the past two days in the states of Florida, Kansas, Texas and Northern Virginia.  Activists also said that undocumented immigrants with no criminal records were arrested and could potentially be deported.  This has sent a shock wave through immigrant communities nationwide amid concerns that the U.S. government could start going after law-abiding people.

Trump substantially broadened the scope of who the Department of Homeland Security can target to include those with minor offenses or no convictions at all.  He has pledged to deport as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records.  On Sunday, President Trump tweeted, “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!”

Trump’s Immigration Orders

Immediately after swearing in Sessions as attorney general, President Trump signed three new executive orders addressing crime and immigration.  One executive order seeks to increase penalties on those found guilty of assaulting police officers. A second order directs law enforcement agencies to increase intelligence sharing while going after drug cartels. A third order directs Attorney General Sessions to prioritize fighting “illegal immigration” alongside drug trafficking and violent crime.

President Trump also green-lighted construction of a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a proposal he repeatedly mentioned while campaigning.  The wall is just one component of sweeping action Trump took to clamp down on immigration to the U.S.  “Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it is a common-sense first step to securing our border. This will stem the flow of drugs, crime, and illegal immigration into the United States. And yes, one way or another, as the President has said, Mexico will pay for it,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Other actions recently taken by President Trump include:

  • Ending federal grant funding to sanctuary cities and states, which opt out of reporting undocumented immigrants.
  • Ordering the Department of Homeland Security to allocate funds or establish contracts for the construction or operation of detention facilities.
  • Ending the policy known as “catch and release,” under which some immigrants are released from detention while they await a hearing with an immigration judge.
  • Prioritizing the deportation of immigrants who have committed crimes.

 

 

During the White House press briefing on Wednesday, Spicer reiterated earlier statements that the President’s priority would be on criminals.  “His priorities, first and foremost, are the people in this country that seek to do us harm,” he said.

Reactions to the immigration actions were swift from eight immigration and refugee-rights groups who joined a conference call to denounce the new orders.  They argue that the orders make the U.S. less safe and tear apart families and communities across the country. Advocates said the executive orders are “anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-religious freedom”.  None of the advocacy organizations that were on the call had been briefed or received any guidance from the Trump Administration on the orders and future immigration plans.

Advocacy groups are preparing to take legal action and provide lawyers to protect people who are concerned about pending visa applications, hate crimes and continued confusion at the U.S. border.  Many mayors of U.S. cities who have adopted sanctuary policies have said they are ready and willing to push back on Trump’s funding plans.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has decided to drop a series of lawsuits to buy plots of lands in Hawaii after public backlash.  Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan purchased the 700-acre waterfront estate on Kauai for $100 million in 2014.  They filed a series of eight lawsuits to buy out several hundred people’s stake of 13 plots on eight acres partitioned during the 1850s.

Many of the plots of land involved in the suits are “kuleana lands” which were granted to native Hawaiian tenant farmers between 1850 and 1855 and hold special rights including access, agricultural uses, gathering, water and fishing rights.

The suit was met with heavy criticism by some Hawaiians including hundreds who planned to protest outside Zuckerberg’s estate.  The suits would have forced hundreds of residents, including Native families, off their land in order to make his Hawaiian beachfront property as private as possible.

He initially defended the move, saying the purpose of the quiet title action was to identify property owners who were unaware of their stake in the land.  “Quiet title actions are the standard and prescribed process to identify all potential co-owners, determine ownership, and ensure that, if there are other co-owners, each receives appropriate value for their ownership share,” Zuckerberg’s lawyer, Keoni Schultz, said earlier in January.

Zuckerberg published a letter in the local Hawaiian newspaper The Garden Island saying it was clear the decision to file the suits over his ownership of the beachfront property on the island of Kauai was a mistake.  Zuckerberg said he initially misunderstood the quiet title process and hoped to work with the community to find a better solution.

“To find a better path forward, we are dropping our quiet title actions and will work together with the community on a new approach,” he said. “We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult. We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach.”

“Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead. Now that I understand the issues better, it’s clear we made a mistake,” he said. “The right path is to sit down and discuss how to best move forward. We will continue to speak with community leaders that represent different groups, including native Hawaiians and environmentalists, to find the best path.”

In June 2016, Zuckerberg faced criticism for building a 6 foot stone wall enclosing his 700 acre property.  Many residents said it blocked breezes and obstructed ocean views.  Others argued that while it is his right to build on his property-it did not feel very neighborly.