Jury selection begins for El Chapo’s US trial
By TOM HAYS
Monday, November 5
NEW YORK (AP) — Jury selection began Monday for the U.S. trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman with potential jurors, including a self-described professional Michael Jackson impersonator, quizzed about how much they knew about Guzman’s reputation as a ruthless drug lord in Mexico.
They were also questioned in Brooklyn’s federal court about their views on the legalization of marijuana, their fluency in Spanish and their feelings toward both law enforcement and cooperating witnesses. Guzman sat at the defense table listening through an interpreter and wearing street clothes — a dark suit and a white shirt with an open collar — instead of a jail uniform for the first time since he was extradited to the United States early last year.
Guzman has pleaded not guilty to charges that his Sinaloa cartel smuggled tons of cocaine and other drugs, laundered billions of dollars and oversaw a ruthless campaign of murders and kidnappings. He faces life in prison if convicted. Opening statements in the trial are expected Nov. 13.
Potential jurors arrived at the courthouse Monday to find it under tight security that included heavily armed officers, some doing sweeps with bomb-sniffing dogs. Prosecutors have also sought to hide the identity of cooperating witnesses out of concerns the cartel could seek retribution, while a judge is keeping the jury anonymous to protect them from intimidation.
Most of the would-be jurors questioned at the outset said Guzman’s name “sounded familiar” to them. Some mentioned they were aware he had escaped from prison in Mexico. Others recalled how he did an interview with actor Sean Penn while he was on the run.
One potential juror was excused after she indicated the case made her feel unsafe. Another was sent home after she said she couldn’t be impartial, saying, “I feel very bad about drugs.”
One man mentioned that a local deli near where he works has on a menu featuring a bagel sandwich with a name that was a reminder of Guzman.
“I don’t know why it’s called the ‘El Chapo,’” he said. “But it’s delicious.”
And as for the Michael Jackson impersonator, prosecutors expressed some concern his identity couldn’t be kept secret because there are so few people in his profession.
Both he and the sandwich-lover were kept in the jury pool for the time being.
There’s more to health care access than pre-existing conditions
November 6, 2018
Professor of Health Finance, Weatherhead School of Management & School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University
J.B. Silvers is a board member of MetroHealth System.
Case Western Reserve University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Health care has been a universal topic of discussion this political season. Candidates from both parties say they are in favor of it, although definitions of “it” vary widely. But what all agree is that it has to do with access. Can I get the care I need when it is needed, or are there barriers such as pre-existing conditions? These are questions that vex patients and insurers including me in my former role as CEO of a health plan.
Politicians have been talking mostly about pre-existing conditions as the way to ensure access to health care. But as a former health care insurance company CEO who now studies health care finance, I see this view as too simple. There are multiple levels of access relevant here – availability of insurance, affordable premiums, limited cost-sharing, sufficient number of providers and freedom of choice.
Is access just having any insurance policy?
Republicans generally define access in terms of insurance coverage, at low premiums. And this election cycle, many of them have professed their support for coverage of pre-existing conditions. But they haven’t said how insurers would do this. However, many believe that the full coverage plans required by the Affordable Care Act overshoot the mark, as they drive premiums up.
Stripped-down plans recently allowed by the Trump administration, under their definition, provide sufficient access and will cost less since they cover less. Unfortunately, someone with a prior history of cancer will be able to purchase one of these, but the actual treatment for a recurrence may well be excluded to make the plans financially viable. Although we have not seen much detail, it is clear that they will offer significantly lower coverage leaving consumers on the hook for many expensive treatments.
Those other than invulnerable millennials would not consider this sufficient access. Even worse, many purchasers of these stripped-down plans may not understand this until it is too late (even though disclosure is required in large print).
To the extent that these low-priced policies attract a healthier population, they also will indirectly drive up premiums for everyone else. People bet against the insurers when they can, choosing more coverage when they are likely to need it and less when they think they will be healthy. This natural incentive, while largely based on self-delusion, leads to policies that financially penalize those who need coverage the most. This was the impetus behind the ACA individual mandate that everyone must buy a policy that meets minimum coverage requirements. Having healthy people in the pool spreads around the costs of covering sick people – including those with pre-existing conditions.
Of course, conservatives have sought to eliminate the mandate and pushed policies that give as many options as possible to consumer. But this fracturing of the insurance market is exactly what created the original dysfunctional situation limiting access to many people with the most need. A narrow definition of “access,” coupled with ideological commitment to completely unfettered markets, even if they fail many potential customers, leads to this dilemma.
But can I afford the cost even with insurance?
The next layers of access are also fraught with problems. One way employers and the government have dealt with higher health care costs is to drive up the amount the insured must bear through high-deductible policies. Such “cost-sharing” effectively forces individuals and families to become underfunded insurance companies. Picking up the initial costs assumes they will engage in healthy lifestyle choices and be more careful in seeking care. In reality, lower-income people tend to postpone needed care or become a bad debt to providers when they can’t pay.
In reaction to this access problem to reduce otherwise prohibitive financial obligations, the ACA forced insurers to offer plans that subsidized cost-sharing on a sliding scale based on the insured’s income. This worked well until the rules were changed.
Now insurers are still required to offer these reductions, but the government reneged on their promise to help finance them. As a result, insurers increased premiums dramatically. This preserved access to the working poor who qualify but decreased access to middle- and higher-income people who now have much higher premiums. It was a trade-off determined by political objectives, not any rational policy or economic reasoning.
But can I keep my doctor or hospital?
As part of this jerry-rigged system, insurers and employers have moved to narrow networks that limit the providers patients can access. This allows payers to both bargain for lower payment and, to a lesser extent, assure high-quality patient care.
As a result, now it is increasingly rare to have completely open access to all providers as employers and plans shrink the number of providers under contract. If one changes health plans or the network excludes a hospital, physician or other provider, a patient must go elsewhere or pay a ridiculous price.
The resulting out-of-network care is a troublesome area of ignorance for individuals and abuse by greedy providers seeking much higher rates than otherwise possible.
So what comes next?
The outcome of the elections is unlikely to change much in the near term, unless Democrats are elected governor in states that failed to expand Medicaid. But even then, legislatures may not agree.
So, to the extent that the ability to obtain care from the best provider is limited in any way, many continue to see a serious access issue requiring a complete revision of the system – thus the popularity of “single-payer” or “Medicare for All.”
Unfortunately, the reasons these access issues exist are not trivial. They include the desire to moderate demand, allow choice, negotiate provider payment, encourage responsiveness, reward appropriate care, and favor preventive services. It may well be that our current system’s confusing nature and failure to provide sufficient access will drive wholesale change. However, within each solution lies the need to deal with these many dimensions of access.
Renée Bagslint, logged in via Google: “Unfortunately, someone with a prior history of cancer will be able to purchase one of these, but the actual treatment for a recurrence may well be excluded to make the plans financially viable.”
So the plan will be financially viable but not actually cover the treatment needed by the holder to save their life. But I suppose that’s OK, because the plan was viable, even if the patient wasn’t.
Sharon McCann, Lecturer in Sociology, In reply to Renée Bagslint:
The father of Capitalism – Adam Smith understood and spoke about how some things belonged in the public sphere and not as part of the capital market. The tragedy of the commons talked about resource depletion, but curtailing and rationing out access is making access to healthcare a “resource” held by some and doled out in return for large amounts of capital. When my daughter broke her arm I was expected to “shop around” for the best clinic to get her X-ray, the best to set her arm, the best to cast her arm and the best for follow up therapy that all were within my healthcare plan.
Medical care is NOT any other commodity. Creating a personal market essentially says that we all, as individuals, will have bettter luck negotiating better prices with insurers than multimillion dollar corporations, with phalanxes of attorneys well versed in healthcare law, can manage. The entire construct is absurd.
There are three things which should not be put in the hands of the capital market: health care, education and prisons.
In each case, capital cannot find profit within creating, what is anticipated to be, a social good, with no monetary value. It creates perverse incentives in its attempt to monetize the social good.
Allowing people to die, allowing people to be ignorant, putting innocent people in jail in order to keep the cells full all end up being far mroe costly than their alternatives. It simply requires us to think beyond the quarterly earnings report to the overall health of our nation and economy. Can we consider stopping these industries from preying on us all to maximize the profits of a few?
EU approves Disney’s deal to buy Fox entertainment assets
Tuesday, November 6
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union authorities say they have cleared Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets, provided Disney sells off some TV channels it controls in Europe to maintain competition.
The EU’s executive Commission said Tuesday it gave its approval to the deal.
Disney’s $71.3 billion deal to buy the 21st Century Fox assets, which include Marvel’s X-Men and Avengers franchises, is part of its plan to compete with tech companies such as Netflix and Amazon as the entertainment industry moves into the digital streaming era.
Disney shareholders and U.S. regulators had already approved the Fox bid.
The European Commission said Disney agreed to sell off all factual TV channels it controls in Europe to address concerns the combined company would have eliminated competition between two big wholesale suppliers.
Colonizing Mars means contaminating Mars – and never knowing for sure if it had its own native life
November 6, 2018
Author: David Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University
Disclosure statement: David Weintraub does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The closest place in the universe where extraterrestrial life might exist is Mars, and human beings are poised to attempt to colonize this planetary neighbor within the next decade. Before that happens, we need to recognize that a very real possibility exists that the first human steps on the Martian surface will lead to a collision between terrestrial life and biota native to Mars.
If the red planet is sterile, a human presence there would create no moral or ethical dilemmas on this front. But if life does exist on Mars, human explorers could easily lead to the extinction of Martian life. As an astronomer who explores these questions in my book “Life on Mars: What to Know Before We Go,” I contend that we Earthlings need to understand this scenario and debate the possible outcomes of colonizing our neighboring planet in advance. Maybe missions that would carry humans to Mars need a timeout.
Where life could be
Life, scientists suggest, has some basic requirements. It could exist anywhere in the universe that has liquid water, a source of heat and energy, and copious amounts of a few essential elements, such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and potassium.
Mars qualifies, as do at least two other places in our solar system. Both Europa, one of Jupiter’s large moons, and Enceladus, one of Saturn’s large moons, appear to possess these prerequisites for hosting native biology.
I suggest that how scientists planned the exploratory missions to these two moons provides valuable background when considering how to explore Mars without risk of contamination.
Below their thick layers of surface ice, both Europa and Enceladus have global oceans in which 4.5 billion years of churning of the primordial soup may have enabled life to develop and take root. NASA spacecraft have even imaged spectacular geysers ejecting plumes of water out into space from these subsurface oceans.
To find out if either moon has life, planetary scientists are actively developing the Europa Clipper mission for a 2020s launch. They also hope to plan future missions that will target Enceladus.
Taking care to not contaminate
Since the start of the space age, scientists have taken the threat of biological contamination of other worlds seriously. As early as 1959, NASA held meetings to debate the necessity of sterilizing spacecraft that might be sent to other worlds. Since then, all planetary exploration missions have adhered to sterilization standards that balance their scientific goals with limitations of not damaging sensitive equipment, which could potentially lead to mission failures. Today, NASA protocols exist for the protection of all solar system bodies, including Mars.
Since avoiding the biological contamination of Europa and Enceladus is an extremely well-understood, high-priority requirement of all missions to the Jovian and Saturnian environments, their moons remain uncontaminated.
NASA’s Galileo mission explored Jupiter and its moons from 1995 until 2003. Given Galileo’s orbit, the possibility existed that the spacecraft, once out of rocket propellant and subject to the whims of gravitational tugs from Jupiter and its many moons, could someday crash into and thereby contaminate Europa.
Such a collision might not occur until many millions of years from now. Nevertheless, though the risk was small, it was also real. NASA paid close attention to guidance from the National Academies’ Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration, which noted serious national and international objections to the possible accidental disposal of the Galileo spacecraft on Europa.
To completely eliminate any such risk, on Sept. 21, 2003, NASA used the last bit of fuel on the spacecraft to send it plunging into Jupiter’s atmosphere. At a speed of 30 miles per second, Galileo vaporized within seconds.
Cassini’s ‘Grand Finale’ ended with the spacecraft burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Fourteen years later, NASA repeated this protect-the-moon scenario. The Cassini mission orbited and studied Saturn and its moons from 2004 until 2017. On Sept. 15, 2017, when fuel had run low, on instructions from NASA Cassini’s operators deliberately plunged the spacecraft into Saturn’s atmosphere, where it disintegrated.
But what about Mars?
Mars is the target of seven active missions, including two rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity. In addition, on Nov. 26 NASA’s InSight mission is scheduled to land on Mars, where it will make measurements of Mars’ interior structure. Next, with planned 2020 launches, both ESA’s ExoMars rover and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover are designed to search for evidence of life on Mars.
The good news is that robotic rovers pose little risk of contamination to Mars, since all spacecraft designed to land on Mars are subject to strict sterilization procedures before launch. This has been the case since NASA imposed “rigorous sterilization procedures” for the Viking Lander Capsules in the 1970s, since they would directly contact the Martian surface. These rovers likely have an extremely low number of microbial stowaways.
Any terrestrial biota that do manage to hitch rides on the outside of those rovers would have a very hard time surviving the half-year journey from Earth to Mars. The vacuum of space combined with exposure to harsh X-rays, ultraviolet light and cosmic rays would almost certainly sterilize the outsides of any spacecraft sent to Mars.
Any bacteria that sneaked rides inside one of the rovers might arrive at Mars alive. But if any escaped, the thin Martian atmosphere would offer virtually no protection from high energy, sterilizing radiation from space. Those bacteria would likely be killed immediately. Because of this harsh environment, life on Mars, if it currently exists, almost certainly must be hiding beneath the planet’s surface. Since no rovers have explored caves or dug deep holes, we have not yet had the opportunity to come face-to-drill-bit with any possible Martian microbes.
Given that the exploration of Mars has so far been limited to unmanned vehicles, the planet likely remains free from terrestrial contamination.
But when Earth sends astronauts to Mars, they’ll travel with life support and energy supply systems, habitats, 3D printers, food and tools. None of these materials can be sterilized in the same ways systems associated with robotic spacecraft can. Human colonists will produce waste, try to grow food and use machines to extract water from the ground and atmosphere. Simply by living on Mars, human colonists will contaminate Mars.
Can’t turn back the clock after contamination
Space researchers have developed a careful approach to robotic exploration of Mars and a hands-off attitude toward Europa and Enceladus. Why, then, are we collectively willing to overlook the risk to Martian life of human exploration and colonization of the red planet?
Contaminating Mars isn’t an unforeseen consequence. A quarter century ago, a National Research Council report entitled “Biological Contamination of Mars: Issues and Recommendations” asserted that missions carrying humans to Mars will inevitably contaminate the planet.
I believe it’s critical that every attempt be made to obtain evidence of any past or present life on Mars well in advance of future missions to Mars that include humans. What we discover could influence our collective decision whether to send colonists there at all.
Even if we ignore or don’t care about the risks a human presence would pose to Martian life, the issue of bringing Martian life back to Earth has serious societal, legal and international implications that deserve discussion before it’s too late. What risks might Martian life pose to our environment or our health? And does any one country or group have the right to risk back contamination if those Martian lifeforms could attack the DNA molecule and thereby put all of life on Earth at risk?
But players both public – NASA, United Arab Emirates’ Mars 2117 project – and private – SpaceX, Mars One, Blue Origin – already plan to transport colonists to build cities on Mars. And these missions will contaminate Mars.
Some scientists believe they have already uncovered strong evidence for life on Mars, both past and present. If life already exists on Mars, then Mars, for now at least, belongs to the Martians. Mars is their planet, and Martian life would be threatened by a human presence there.
Does humanity have an inalienable right to colonize Mars simply because we will soon be able to do so? We have the technology to use robots to determine whether Mars is inhabited. Do ethics demand that we use those tools to answer definitively whether Mars is inhabited or sterile before we put human footprints on the Martian surface?
Jon Richfield, logged in via Facebook:
My personal views on our “right” to colonise or otherwise contaminate Mars are a lot less starry-eyed than those expressed in the article. Even if we are the first to drop live Earth microbes that survive on Mars, there should be little difficulty in establishing their Terrestrial origin by examining their nucleic acid sequences.
How well they would survive on Mars would be another question. It might well prove that the Martian incumbents relish them, rather than the other way around.
But in any case, it is very plausible that in the last billion years or so Mars and Earth have shared DNA repeatedly by courtesy of asteroid or comet impact. In that case the very question of Martian or Earth origin would become fraught with ambiguity.
Personally I would favour Earth origin, because our planet offers far better prospects for abiogenesis, though OTOH, Mars with its low gravity and thin atmosphere would be able to launch surface material into escape trajectories far more plentifully.
But more urgently, the idea of launching humans into horrendously expensively suicidal missions to such a useless planet as Mars is criminal. It could cripple the rest of our really vital space initiatives for centuries.
Which is far more important than the fate of a few microbes that very likely hitched their own rides millions of years before our ancestors stopped laying eggs.