Tag Archive: affordable health insurance


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Student protests for changes in gun control laws occurred around the country in the days following the Florida school shooting. Many of the protests were ignited by the impassioned pleas of young Parkland survivors in the hours and days after the shooting. Facebook and Twitter have amplified attendance; Snapchat and Instagram have documented the marches, signs and chants.
Under the rallying cry #NeverAgain, students and staff who survived the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been on a quest for new gun control measures. After attending funerals of the victims, they set aside their grief and boarded three buses to demand better gun control measures and school safety from state lawmakers more than 400 miles away. While they traveled on the buses, Florida lawmakers voted down a motion to even consider a ban during a session that opened with a prayer for the 17 people killed in the shooting. The vote was 36-71.
Disappointed but undeterred, many have given countless interviews pleading with lawmakers on both sides to meet in the middle so that the school shootings stop. Relatives of the Stoneman Douglas victims kept up the pressure in Florida’s capital with emotional testimony during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would, among other things, raise the age limit to buy long guns from 18 to 21. The bill also would create a program that allows teachers who receive law-enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, if also approved by the school district. The school’s superintendent has spoken out firmly against that measure. The House Appropriations Committee’s 23-6 vote in favor of the bill followed more than four hours of emotional discussion with the parents of some of the 17 killed, and nearly two weeks of activism by students on social media and in televised debates.
During a listening session held by President Trump a week after the shooting, Andrew Pollack, a parent whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, brought up a valid point as he was also overwhelmed with emotion and anger as he stood next to his sons to address the president. “We need to come together as a country and work on what’s important, and that’s protecting our children in the schools. That’s the only thing that matters right now,” he said. “We protect airports, we protect concerts, stadiums, embassies, the Department of Education that I walked in today, that has a security guard in the elevator. How do you think that makes me feel?” “I’m very angry that this happened because it keeps happening. 9/11 happened once and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here with this administration and me. I’m not going to sleep until it’s fixed. And Mr. President, we’re going to fix it.” “It’s enough! Let’s get together, work with the president and fix the schools. That’s it. No other discussions. Security, whatever we have to do.”
From South Florida to Bellingham, Wash., local walkouts were proliferating. A national event has been planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, when students and teachers plan to leave class for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim. On March 24, students will protest in Washington at an event organized by March for Our Lives, the group formed by Parkland survivors, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from celebrities. Another mass walkout is scheduled for April 20, when students will commemorate the 19th year since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.

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In the latest of accusations of inappropriate behavior, longtime NBC “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer has been fired after he was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.  Several women have stepped forward to accuse Matt Lauer of sexual harassment or sexual assault.  NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said, “While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over twenty years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”

Various news sources have reported that Lauer once gave a sex toy to a colleague along with a note about how he wanted to use it on her.   Lauer is also accused of exposing himself to a colleague and reprimanding her when she rejected his advances.  The New York Times reported that one former NBC employee was summoned by Lauer to his office in 2001 where he allegedly locked the door and sexually assaulted her.

Lauer, 59, who co-anchored the Today Show for more than 20 years, offered an apology,  “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions.  Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.  Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort.  It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”

It has been reported that there are as many as eight accusers, though they have asked to remain anonymous.  Several accusers have said they complained to executives at the network about Lauer’s behavior, which fell on deaf ears.  NBC has denied this telling NBC News “current NBC News management was never made aware.”

An NBC spokesperson confirmed Lauer will not receive a payout for the rest of his contract.  Lauer, who had just signed a contract last year that would keep him in the anchor chair through 2018, had a contract worth a reported $20 million.  After firing Lauer, NBC News’ human resources department said they’re now sifting through Lauer’s emails in an effort to bring more justice to any colleagues who may have suffered in silence.  NBC News president Noah Oppenheim promised swift action against anyone who may have known about sexually inappropriate behavior and didn’t report it.

Lauer’s first wife, Nancy Alspaugh, whom he was married to from 1981 to 1989, said she was shocked by the longtime “Today” host’s firing amid sexual misconduct claims, and she said called him one week ago to let him know she had been approached by a reporter working on an exposé about him.  Alspaugh said the accusations against Lauer are shocking and out of character.  “I think, for the people that really know him and really love him and they want to get the good stuff out. I want to get out the fact that he made a contribution to my nonprofit, that he helped me when my husband died.  The selfless, giving part of him, which people tend to forget whenever this kind of a situation comes up. He would give you the shirt off his back if you really needed it. He did that for everybody. From the lowest person on set to, you know, the highest powers. “

 

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A combat pilot shortage has prompted the invoking of the National Emergencies Act as an executive order was signed that allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty.  The order could help ease the combat pilot shortage in the force and improve military readiness as the administration steps up its new Afghanistan war strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists. The new strategy includes additional U.S. troops going to Afghanistan as well as increased U.S. air support for the Afghan military.

According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short by about 1,500 pilots.  Before the order was signed, the Air Force was allowed to rehire up to 25 retired officers under what’s known as the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program and bring them back to active duty in critical aviation-related staff positions.   The executive order now allows the Air Force to temporarily exceed the limit of 25 rehires.  Other branches of the U.S. military also need more pilots, including the Navy, and the executive order could be used later to help address those challenges.

A release issued by the Air Force said they are now looking to have retired pilots return to the service for up to 12 months in positions that require qualified pilots.  The service is looking for retired fliers of any pilot specialty code — which includes bomber, fighter, helicopter, tanker, and remotely operated aircraft pilots — to fill “critical-rated staff positions” and allow active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

The Air Force is combatting the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.  A program launching later this year includes a 100 percent promotion opportunity and an aviator retention pay bonus worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term that is already in effect.  Pay for officers and enlisted personnel will increase for the first time since 1999.  Incentive pay, also called flight pay, will increase for all officers, with those who have over 12 years of service potentially seeing the biggest boost, up to a maximum of $1,000 a month. Incentive pay will also increase for enlisted aircrew members — up to a maximum of $600 for those with over 14 years of service.

An Air Force official indicated they had no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order.  “The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”

 

 

 

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.

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A senior cardinal and top adviser to Pope Francis will return to Australia to face charges of sexual assault. Cardinal George Pell is the third-highest-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church.  Pell was charged in his native Australia with multiple counts of sexual assault from years ago.

The charges against Pell were announced in Melbourne by Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.  Pell was ordered to appear in court July 26 to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses”.  Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but he gave no other details.

It is unclear what the criminal charges against Pell involve, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

In 2014, the Vatican admitted nearly 850 priests have been dismissed and more than 2,500 have been disciplined in a sprawling sexual abuse scandal dating back decades.  Cardinal Pell said Pope Francis granted him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.  The 76-year-old Pell — the highest-ranking Vatican official ever implicated in the scandal and has forcefully denied the accusations.

In a statement read to the press, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.  He noted Pell’s cooperation with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation of sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. The Royal Commission revealed that 7 percent of priests were accused of sexually abusing children in the past several decades.

Last year, Pell testified to the commission that the church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. He vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat.

It was unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.

U.S. intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, pleaded not guilty to charges that she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept. Winner was charged for allegedly leaking a top-secret document claiming Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software company just days before last November’s election.

Winner, a National Security Agency contractor and Air Force veteran, was arrested at her Georgia home on June 3 and charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to the news outlet The Intercept.  According to the Department of Justice, the 25-year-old printed and improperly removed the classified information on May 9.

The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, shortly after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the document that they claim was submitted anonymously.  The document was a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency.  The report described two cyberattacks by Russia’s military intelligence unit, the G.R.U. — one in August against a company that sells voter registration-related software and another, a few days before the election, against 122 local election officials.

The F.B.I. affidavit said reporters for the news outlet, had approached the N.S.A. with questions for their story and, in the course of that dialogue, provided a copy of the document in their possession. An analysis of the file showed it was a scan of a copy that had been creased or folded, the affidavit said, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”

The N.S.A.’s auditing system showed that six people had printed out the report, including Ms. Winner. Investigators examined the computers of those six people and found that Ms. Winner had been in email contact with the news outlet, but the other five had not.

She appeared in court on June 8 in Augusta, Georgia where prosecutors told a judge Winner had plans to reveal more classified files. A federal judge denied bail to Winner pending her trial on charges she violated the Espionage Act. Espionage Act charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, although conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.

The F.B.I. said that at the time of her arrest, that she had confessed to an agent that she had printed out a May 5 intelligence file and mailed it to an online news outlet.  She may face additional charges as an investigation into whether she leaked other documents continues. That investigation was sparked after a conversation between Winner and her mother was overheard by a government official, where Winner said she was arrested for numerous documents.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office over charges of bribery and corruption. The unanimous ruling strips Park of immunity from prosecution, meaning she could face criminal charges. Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote.

Eight justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to unseat Ms. Park for committing “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” throughout her time in office, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a ruling that was nationally broadcast that Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution.”

Ms. Park, 65, now faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from companies like Samsung.

Samsung Group scion Lee Jae-yong was arrested on bribery charges in February.  He is accused of paying $36 million in bribes to President Park Geun-hye’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, in return for political favors. Those are alleged to include government support for a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that helped Mr. Lee, 48, inherit corporate control from his incapacitated father, Lee Kun-hee, the chairman.

Park’s removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest the sprawling corruption scandal and demands for her arrest.  Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn: “In order to stop internal conflicts from intensifying, we should manage the social order and keep a stable government, so that national anxiety and the international society’s concern can be settled.”

Park Geun-hye was the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee.  She had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

After December’s impeachment vote, she continued to live in the presidential Blue House while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home since the age of 9.  She left nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate incidents.

Park is now South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.  Her removal comes amid rising tension with North Korea and China.  A new election will be held in 60 days.

The upheaval comes days after North Korea test-fired several ballistic missiles and as the Trump administration began deploying a missile defense system to South Korea. Chinese officials warn the U.S. is escalating a regional arms race.  Park’s conservative party losing power could mean South Korea’s next leader will take a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea.

President Trump has imposed a controversial 90-day ban on travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  On January 27th, Trump signed the order banning travel from the seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days.  Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized.

The result was widespread confusion across the country on Saturday as airports struggled to adjust to the new directives.  Stories of families separated or detained for hours starting circulating news outlets.The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas and avoided the traditional inter-agency process that allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance.

DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, referred to as green card holders.  The White House overruled that guidance overnight and decided that on a case by case basis, DHS could allow green card holders to enter the US.  The Department of Homeland Security decided that green card holders would be allowed to board international flights but would be considered on a case-by-case basis after passing a secondary screening.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates announced the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees, as well as all citizens, from the seven Muslim-majority nations. Just hours after her announcement, President Trump fired her.  Yates had served in the Justice Department for 27 years and Trump had asked her to serve as acting attorney general until the Senate confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Yates is not the only one to publicly disagree with the executive order.  More than 200 State Department officials and diplomats have signed on to drafts of a dissent memo that condemns Trump’s executive order.  Executives at a growing number of corporations have spoken out against Trump’s immigration ban, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Tesla, Airbnb, Ford and Goldman Sachs.  World-wide protests has erupted across the globe as well.

Then, Federal Judge James Robart, who presides in Seattle, halted the enforcement of Trump’s order Friday night, effective nationwide.  Ruling in a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Washington state and Minnesota who sought to stop the order, he said the states “have met their burden of demonstrating that they face immediate and irreparable injury as a result of the signing and implementation of the Executive Order. ”  He said the order adversely affects residents in areas of education, employment, education and freedom to travel.

The Department of Homeland Security announced it has suspended all actions to implement the immigration order and will resume standard inspections of travelers as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban. They said the Justice Department — which is expected to file an emergency motion to stop the order — needed to challenge the ruling “at the earliest possible time.”

 

Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly has announced she’s leaving Fox network to host her own daytime news show on NBC. At the close of Tuesday’s “Kelly File,” Kelly said she felt a “human connection” to her viewers. “I have grown up here and been given every chance a young reporter could ever ask for,” she said, praising Rupert Murdoch’s family for its kindness toward her.

Kelly’s closing remarks came less than 12 hours after the surprise announcement that she will be giving up her prime-time role at Fox for a multi-year deal that includes several roles at NBC. She will launch a daytime program as well as a Sunday evening news magazine show, and be part of the network’s coverage of major political and breaking-news events.

Kelly told viewers she deeply admires the journalists at NBC, but also said she is “very grateful” to Fox for her 12-year career at the news channel.  Kelly’s contract at Fox was not due to expire for another six months.

Fox News fought hard during talks to keep Kelly, who became a breakout star and whose 9 p.m. show was the second-highest rated in cable news.   Trump’s attacks on Kelly during the campaign helped turn her into an international celebrity as well.   She also just published a best-selling memoir, “Settle for More.”

Fox News had offered Megyn Kelly $25 million a year to stay at the network but money did not appear to be the major factor in her decision.   Kelly stood to make an eight-figure salary wherever she went. As she talked about her decision, it became clear that a top priority was a schedule that would allow her to spend more time with her three young children rather than returning home after their bedtime.

Murdoch, executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, said in a statement: “We thank Megyn Kelly for her 12 years of contributions to FOX News. We hope she enjoys tremendous success in her career and wish her and her family all the best.”

Her departure, coming after that of Greta Van Susteren, also means that Fox faces the prospect of having no female host in prime time. That is a potentially troubling development for the network as its seeks to move past last summer‘s sexual harassment scandal involving its co-founder and former chairman, Roger Ailes, in which many women described experiencing harassment or intimidation.

Company executives said the Murdochs knew Ms. Kelly was a flight risk; their offer included keeping her in prime time but she had made it clear she was seeking a job that would give her more time for her family.  Kelly had spoken with top executives at ABC News, CNN and in the syndication industry, as well as NBC News.  NBC’s offer of a  daytime show would give her a schedule that would allow her to see her children off to school and to have dinner with them and her husband, Douglas Brunt, a novelist.  Those briefed on Kelly’s recent negotiations said once that offer was put on the table, it made the decision to leave Fox after 12 years easy.

The largest police union in the U.S. demanded that Amazon.com stop selling T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with the phrases “Bulletproof: Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” from a third-party vendor that supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Chuck Canterbury wrote in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to support the union in “increasing the bonds of trust between the men and women of law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

“Commercializing our differences and perpetuating the myths which harm the relationships between the protectors and their communities is wrong at any time of year, but it is especially egregious now,” Canterbury wrote. “I understand that these are third-party sales, but Amazon does have the ability to prohibit the sale of products which are offensive to the public and which may damage your company’s good name amongst FOP members and other active and retired law enforcement officers.”

Walmart removed the “Bulletproof: Black Lives Matter” shirt from its store after the union called it “offensive.” The shirts were being sold through Walmart’s website by Connecticut based retailer Old Glory Merchandise.  Amazon has yet to follow Walmart and remove the shirt.

The FOP, which represents 330,000 members nationwide, said it was opposed to the word “bulletproof,” which it found offensive, and not because the shirt was promoting Black Lives Matter.  Canterbury said he wasn’t surprised that Amazon wouldn’t remove the listing and called the website a “pretty liberal marketer.”  He added that the issue was still important because of the “amount of violence demonstrated at Black Lives Matter marches and the fact that eight police officers had been assassinated while protecting Black Lives Matter protests,” – referring to the police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge over the summer.

Canterbury said that the union would continue to pressure retailers who sell the Black Lives Matter merchandise until the group makes it clear that don’t approve of anti-police violence.  Amazon has not released any statements regarding the matter other than to say that the seller of the shirt removed the item from its website.  The shirt was still on the Amazon.com website but listed as “no longer available”.

Many have shown skepticism over Amazon’s claim that the seller removed the shirt, saying Amazon bowed to the union’s pressure.  While this particular shirt is no longer available, there is still hundreds of other Black Lives Matter merchandise available for sale through the online retailer.