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cardinal george pell.jpg

 

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.

 

Cholera-outbreak-in-Yemen.-806x450-640x357.jpgThe United Nations says Yemen is now facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 200,000 people in Yemen are infected with cholera and that number is growing by 5,000 a day, they say.  “In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every (part) of this war-torn country,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 1,310 people have already died, a quarter of them children.  A UN report has said children account for half of the registered cases to date.  Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and can be fatal within hours.

Rarely seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, it primarily affects developing areas that lack adequate water treatment or sanitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Cholera is preventable and easily treatable but the collapsing infrastructure in Yemen has cut off an estimated 14.5 million people (about half the country’s population) from regular access to clean water, increasing the likelihood for the disease to spread. There are reportedly 7.3 million people on the brink of famine.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last two months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.  April’s cholera resurgence began ten days after Sana’a’s sewer system stopped working.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where many health workers have remained unpaid for months. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional. Hospitals are lacking medical equipment, rehydration solutions and medicine while still receiving patients from all over the country.  They are also dealing with a shortage of doctors and nurses so they have been working round the clock to deal with the crisis.

The number of health insurers participating in the ‘Affordable’ Care Act exchanges has declined by 24 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

In 2016, there were 287 insurers who offered insurance on the Obamacare exchanges and in 2017 that number dropped to 218. There were 34 states that saw the number of insurers decline, 15 states have the same amount of insurers from 2016 to 2017 and only one state added an insurer in 2017.

Five states, ALABAMA, ALASKA, OKLAHOMA, SOUTH CAROLINA, and WYOMING, have only one insurer operating on the exchanges, leaving consumers with little choice.    

In one-third of counties in the United States, about one in five enrollees, or 21 percent, have access to only one insurer operating on the exchanges. This is a significant increase from the 2 percent of enrollees in 7 percent of counties that had access to only one insurer last year.

“In 2017, insurance company losses led to a number of high profile exits from the market,” the study explains. “In 2017, 58% of enrollees (living in about 30% of counties) had a choice of three or more insurers, compared to 85% of enrollees (living in about 63% of counties) in 2016.”

As larger commercial insurers such as Aetna and United Healthcare have dropped out of Obamacare, many areas will only have regional insurers to choose from, said Ed Haislmaier, an expert in health care policy at the Heritage Foundation.

                           

“The reality is that the individual market even pre-Obamacare was a very small part of their business,” said Haislmaier. “So those companies have basically dropped out and what that leaves are a couple of companies with broader footprints but not more than about 10 or 12 states.”

“What you’re down to is basically in most cases your dominant Blue Cross plan and then depending on the size and location you may have regional players and by regional it could mean either across two or more states or just within a state,” he said.       

Haislmaier and the Heritage Foundation, who originally created the methodology for this type of study earlier this year, said that the ‘Affordable’ Care Act has left consumers with less competition and choice than ever before.

“One of the stated aims of the ‘Affordable’ Care Act was to increase competition among health insurance companies,” said Haislmaier.

“That goal has not been realized, and by several different measures the ACA’s exchanges offer less competition and choice in 2017 than ever before. Now in the fourth year of operation, the exchanges continue to be far less competitive than the individual health insurance market was before the ACA’s implementation.”

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said that Congress needs to repeal and reform Obamacare without delay. 

“The Obamacare death spiral is continuing,” she said. “As rates rise, healthy people drop out and the share of sick people rise, causing further increases in rates. Since these rates are capped then the insurance business becomes less profitable and companies leave the business.”   

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Mexican authorities have detained “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch and his mother Tonya Couch, near the popular Mexican Pacific beach resort town of Puerto Vallarta.   Couch and his mother went missing just days after a video surfaced of him drinking at a party which violates his parole.  Two years ago, Ethan Couch made national news when he was sentenced to probation for a drunken driving crash that killed four people.

Prosecutors had asked for 20 years behind bars, but in December 2013, a Tarrant County juvenile court judge sentenced Couch to 10 years’ probation. Couch was ordered into long-term mental health treatment away from his parents’ influence.  He had been living with his mother when they both went missing.  Couch is expected to be turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service, who have spent weeks searching for him.  He is expected to be charged with parole violation.  At the time of his conviction, prosecutors said Couch could be incarcerated up to 10 years for violating his probation terms.

The recent video appeared to show the teen playing a drinking game at a party.  District Attorney Sharen Wilson has said it “certainly looks like him” in the video, but added that without further investigation, the video alone did not prove he violated his probation.  But leaving the county and not meeting his probation officer are violations, she said.

At the time of their arrest, Ethan Couch had dyed his naturally blond hair a dark brown, in an attempt to avoid apprehension.  Ethan and his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, entered the country by land earlier this month, according to Mexican officials, though it was unclear where.  The pair fled south after officials in Tarrant County, Texas, began an investigation into whether Couch violated the probation deal that kept him out of prison.

Tonya Couch has since arrived back in the U.S., but Couch’s deportation case will go before a judge, who could potentially take a while to make a decision, according to a government official.  She was charged with hindering apprehension of a felon. She was being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Downtown Los Angeles, police said, as they wait for Texas authorities to take her home.

When Ethan Couch arrives back in the United States, he would appear at a detention hearing in the juvenile justice system.  If found guilty parole violation, which seems likely, the judge could keep him in a juvenile facility or send him to an adult jail.  He may only face a few months behind bars under the juvenile justice system but county prosecutors are looking at additional charges in the adult system.