Disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner released from prison
Sunday, February 17
AYER, Mass. (AP) — Disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner has been released from federal prison after being convicted of having illicit online contact with a 15-year-old girl in 2017.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons website shows the 54-year-old New York Democrat is currently in the custody of its Residential Re-entry Management office in Brooklyn, New York.
It’s not immediately clear when Weiner was transferred and where he’s staying now, but Weiner will have to register as a sex-offender and spend three years on supervised release under the terms of his sentence.
The prison bureau and Weiner’s lawyer didn’t respond to emails seeking comment Sunday. Federal prosecutors in New York referred an inquiry to the prison bureau.
Weiner began serving a 21-month prison sentence at the Federal Medical Center Devens, located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Boston in Ayer, Massachusetts, in November 2017.
The bureau website shows Weiner is slated to complete his sentence May 14, a few months earlier than scheduled because of good conduct in prison.
A once-rising star in the Democratic Party who served nearly 12 years in Congress, Weiner had a dramatic and sordid fall from grace after he sent a lewd picture of himself to a college student over Twitter in 2011.
Weiner initially claimed his account had been hacked, then admitted he’d had inappropriate online interactions with at least six other women while married to top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Weiner resigned from Congress that year but mounted a campaign for New York City mayor in 2013.
But his personal behavior was again his undoing after it was disclosed he sent explicit photos under the alias “Carlos Danger” to at least one woman after resigning from Congress.
Weiner ultimately garnered less than 5 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
His final fall came in 2017 after prosecutors say he sent a series of sexually explicit messages to a North Carolina high school student. Weiner pleaded guilty to transferring obscene material to a minor.
At his sentencing, he said he’d been a “very sick man for a very long time” because of his sex addiction.
Weiner’s attorney said the ex-lawmaker likely exchanged thousands of messages with hundreds of women over the years and was communicating with up to 19 women when he encountered the teenager.
Abedin also filed for divorce from Weiner in 2017. But the two, who have a young son together, later agreed to discontinue the case in order to negotiate their separation privately.
How Lincoln’s embrace of embalming birthed the American funeral industry
October 30, 2017
Author: Brian Walsh, Assistant Professor of Communications, Elon University
Disclosure statement: Brian Walsh 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.
If you died 200 years ago in America, your family would wash and dress your body and place it in a bed surrounded by candles to dampen the smell of decomposition.
Your immediate family and friends would visit your house over the course of the next week, few needing to travel very far, paying their respects at your bedside. Before the body’s putrefaction advanced too far, the local carpenter would make a simple pine casket, and everyone would gather at the cemetery (or your own backyard, if you were a landowner) for a few words before returning you to the earth.
You would be interred without any preservative chemicals, without being cosmetized with touch-ups like skin dyes, mouth formers or eye caps. No headstone, flowers or any of the other items we relate to a modern funeral. In essence, your demise would be respectful but without pomp.
Things have changed pretty substantially since America’s early days as funeral rites have moved out of the house and into the funeral home. How did we get here and how do American traditions compare with typical practices in other countries?
In doing research for “Memory Picture,” an interactive website I’m building that explains the pros and cons of our interment options, I’ve discovered many intriguing details about how we memorialize death. One of the most fascinating is how the founding of the modern funeral industry can essentially be traced back to President Abraham Lincoln and his embrace of embalming.
The simple home funeral described above was the standard since the founding of the Republic, but the U.S. Civil War upended this tradition.
During the war, most bodies were left where they fell, decomposing in fields and trenches all over the South, or rolled into mass graves. Some wealthy northern families were willing to pay to have the bodies of deceased soldiers returned to them. But before the invention of refrigeration, this often became a mess, as the heat and humidity would cause the body to decompose in a matter of a couple of days.
Updating an ancient preservation technique to solve this problem led to a seismic change in how we mourn the dead in America. Ancient Egyptian embalmings removed all internal organs and blood, leaving the body cavity to be filled with natural materials.
In 1838, the Frenchman Jean Gannal published “Histoire des Embaumements,” describing a process that kept the body more or less intact but replaced the body’s blood with a preservative – a technique now known as “arterial embalming.” The book was translated into English in 1840 and quickly became popular in America.
Catching wind of these medical advances, opportunistic Americans began performing rudimentary embalmings on the corpses of northern soldiers to preserve them for the train ride home. The most common technique involved replacing the body’s blood with arsenic and mercury (embalming eventually evolved to using variants of formaldehyde, which is still considered a carcinogen).
Results improved, but not on a grand scale. These were “field embalmings,” performed by nonprofessionals in makeshift tents set up next to the battlefield. Results were unpredictable, with issues involving circulation, length of preservation and overall consistency. It is estimated that of the 600,000 that died in the war, 40,000 were embalmed.
Business was doing so well that the War Department was forced to issue General Order 39 to ensure only properly licensed embalmers could offer their services to mourners. But the technique was limited to the war – to make embalming part of a traditional American funeral would require Abraham Lincoln, who you might say was an early adopter.
Lincoln’s ‘lifelike’ death
Many prominent Civil War officers were embalmed, including the first casualty of the war, Colonel Elmer Elsworth, who was laid in state in the East Room of the White House at Lincoln’s request.
Upon the death of Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie in 1862, he had the boy’s body embalmed. When the president was assassinated three years later, the same doctor embalmed Lincoln in preparation for a “funeral train” that paraded his body back to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Nothing like this had happened for any president previously, or since, and the funeral procession left an indelible effect on those who attended it. Most visitors waited in line for hours to parade by Lincoln’s open casket, usually set up in a State House or rotunda after being unloaded from the train.
Lincoln’s appearance early in the trip was apparently so lifelike that mourners often reached out to touch his face, but the quality of the preservation faded over the length of the three-week journey. William Cullen Bryant, editor of The New York Evening Post, remarked that after a lengthy viewing in Manhattan, “the genial, kindly face of Abraham Lincoln” became “a ghastly shadow.”
This was the first time most Americans saw an embalmed body, and it quickly became a national sensation.
Death becomes professionalized
The public was painfully aware of death, with an average life expectancy of around 45 years (almost entirely due to an infant mortality rate higher than anywhere on Earth today). Seeing a corpse that exhibited lifelike color and less rigid features made a strong impression.
While we do not have statistics on the increase in embalmings during this time, there is ample evidence that the Civil War had a profound effect on how Americans treated death. Victorian mourning traditions gave way to funeral homes and hearses. Local carpenters and taxi services began offering funerary services, and undertakers earned “certificates of training” from embalming fluid salesmen. Eventually, every American could be embalmed, as most are today.
There was one potent caveat: Families could no longer bury their own. More was needed than the assistance of friends and family to inter a corpse. Death was becoming professionalized, its mechanisms increasingly out of the hands of typical Americans. And as a result, the cost of burying the dead soared. The median cost of a funeral and burial, including a vault to enclose the casket, reached US$8,508 in 2014, up from about $2,700 three decades ago.
Thus was born the American funeral industry, with embalming as its cornerstone, as families ceded control of their loved ones’ bodies to a funeral director.
Differences with other cultures
When people talk of a “traditional” American funeral today, they usually refer to a cosmetized, embalmed body, presented in a viewing before being interred in a cemetery.
This unique approach to interment is unlike death rites anywhere else in the world, and no other country in the world embalms their dead at a rate even approaching that of the U.S. Funeral tradition involves the intersection of culture, law and religion, a recipe that makes for very different outcomes across the globe.
In Japan, nearly everyone is cremated. The cultural traditions bound to the ceremony, which include family members passing cremated bone remains to each other using chopsticks, predate the Civil War.
In Germany, where cremations are also increasingly popular, the law requires that bodies be interred in the ground – even cremated remains –including the purchase of a coffin and a land plot. This has led to “corpse tourism,” in which cremation is outsourced to a neighboring country and the body shipped back to Germany.
Other European countries struggle to deal with limited land resources for burial, with countries such as Greece requiring that graves are “recycled” every three years.
In Tunisia, as with all majority Muslim countries, nearly everyone is interred in the ground within 24 hours, in a cloth shroud and without chemical embalming. This is in accordance with Islamic scripture. It also bears close resemblance to the original interment of Americans before the Civil War.
Time to make plans
While American funerals are typically more expensive than in other countries, U.S. citizens enjoy many more options – and can even choose a simple Muslim-style interment. The key thing is to plan ahead by thinking critically about how you want yourself or your loved ones interred.
If you were to die in 2017, chances are you would meet your demise at the hospital. Your family would be asked if they had an “advanced directive” regarding “disposition of remains.” In the absence of clear guidelines, your next of kin would most likely sign away the rights to your body to a local funeral parlor that will encourage them to have the body embalmed for a viewing and burial.
You would be interred with the blood and organs of your body replaced with carcinogenic preservative liquids, heavily cosmetized to hide the signs of the the embalming surgery that rendered you this way. Your embalmed body would be placed in an airtight casket, itself placed inside a concrete vault in the ground.
And you may wish for it to be that way. But if you prefer anything else, you must make your wishes known. To say “I don’t care, I’ll be dead” places an undue burden on your family, which is already mourning your loss.
How the Age of Billionaires Ends
Serious proposals are on the table to address the deepening divide between the uber-rich and the rest of us.
By Josh Hoxie | February 6, 2019
Every month or so there’s a stunning new headline statistic about just how stark our economic divide has become.
Understanding that this divide exists is a good start. Appreciating that a deeply unfair and unequal economy is problematic is even better. Actually doing something about it — that’s the best.
As 2020 presidential hopefuls start trying to prove their progressive bona fides, serious policies to take on economic inequality are at the forefront. These ideas don’t stand much of a shot of becoming law in the Trump era, of course. But if the balance of power shifts, so too does the potential for these paradigm-shifting new programs.
Let’s take a closer look at the problems they’ll have to address.
A new billionaire is minted every two days, according to a recent Oxfam study. As a result, the top 0.1 percent owns a greater share of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.
The richest dynastic families in the United States have seen their wealth expand at a dizzying pace. The three wealthiest families — the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Mars — increased their wealth by nearly 6,000 percent since 1983.
In other words, the rich in the United States have accumulated a metric crap ton of money. And what are they doing with this immense wealth and power?
Dan Snyder (#368 on the Forbes 400) just bought the world’s first mega-yacht, with an IMAX theater on it, for $100 million. Hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin (#45) just broke the record for the highest price ever paid for a house — $238 million — for an apartment in Manhattan’s “Billionaires’ Row.”
Add in a few private jets, a couple of absurd presidential runs, and those Trump tax cuts, and you get a pretty accurate depiction of the priorities of billionaire spending.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country isn’t shopping for yachts and jets. Most families are forced to work longer hours for lower wages.
Despite massive increases in growth and productivity, the median family saw their wealth go down over the past three decades, not up. The proportion of families with zero or negative wealth (meaning they owe more than they own) jumped from 1 in 6 to 1 in 5.
Relatedly, our roads and bridges our crumbling and our public schools are desperately underfunded.
It doesn’t take an economist to tell you this isn’t sustainable. So what about those policies to do something about it?
Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a robust addition to the federal estate tax. Billionaires under his plan would pay a top rate of 77 percent on whatever they bequeath to their heirs over $1 billion. (Far from a new idea, Sanders is merely proposing reinstating the top rate in place from 1941 to 1976.)
Senator Elizabeth Warren, not to be outdone, has proposed a direct tax on concentrated wealth targeting modern day wealth hoarders. Her plan would impose a progressive annual tax starting at 2 percent on assets over $50 million and rising to 3 percent on assets over $1 billion.
And at least one member of Congress who isn’t running for president, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has gotten in on the action. She’s proposed raising the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent (only on income over $10 million, contrary to what you might hear on Fox News).
Three bold ideas to stem our skyrocketing economic inequality, three ways to tax the ultra-rich, three policies unlikely to become law given the current administration.
Yet these ideas are more than mere platitudes. Poll after poll shows big majorities of Americans ready to see the rich pay their fair share — and worried about the economic power consolidating in the upper echelons.
When the political moment arrives, we won’t have to wonder what’s coming.
Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
White House indicates Trump to veto disapproval of emergency
By ZEKE MILLER
Monday, February 18
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump is prepared to issue the first veto of his term if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border, a top White House adviser said on Sunday.
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” Asked if that meant Trump was ready to veto a resolution of disapproval, Miller added, “He’s going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.”
The West Wing is digging in for fights on multiple fronts as the president’s effort to go around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall faces bipartisan criticism and multiple legal challenges. After lawmakers in both parties blocked his requests for billions of dollars to fulfill his signature campaign pledge, Trump’s declared national emergency Friday shifts billions of federal dollars earmarked for military construction to the border.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s “This Week” that his state would sue “imminently” to block the order, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen announced Friday they were taking legal action.
Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.
The White House’s Miller insisted that Congress granted the president wide berth under the National Emergencies Act to take action. But Trump’s declaration goes beyond previous emergencies in shifting money after Congress blocked his funding request for the wall, which will likely factor in legal challenges.
Trump aides acknowledge that Trump cannot meet his pledge to build the wall by the time voters decide whether to grant him another term next year, but insist his base will remain by his side as long as he is not perceived to have given up the fight on the barrier.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he believes Congress needs to act to “defend” its powers of the purse.
“I do think that we should not set the terrible precedent of letting a president declare a national emergency simply as a way of getting around the congressional appropriations process,” he said.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a critic of Trump’s border policies, said he would support legislation to review Trump’s emergency declaration, saying, “It sets a dangerous precedent.”
“My concern is our government wasn’t designed to operate by national emergency,” he told CBS.
Trump ally Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told ABC that he believes there are enough GOP votes to prevent the supermajorities required to override a veto.
“I think there are plenty of votes in the House to make sure that there’s no override of the president’s veto,” he said. “So it’s going to be settled in court, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Trump may seek more punishment of Cuba
February 18, 2019
Author: William M. LeoGrande, Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs
Disclosure statement: William M. LeoGrande 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: American University School of Public Affairs provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
President Donald Trump may soon do a huge favor for Cuba’s wealthy, upper-class exiles, many of whom are now U.S. citizens living in Miami.
Some of them still dream of recouping their lost fortunes in Cuba, and Trump may try to make that possible.
Much of that wealthy upper class went into exile in Miami in the 1960s, when the Cuban revolution turned to socialism and Fidel Castro’s government nationalized their businesses and confiscated their property.
More than 20 years ago, Congress passed a sanctions law that included a provision to help these Cuban exiles who are now U.S. citizens. The provision would allow them to sue in U.S. courts companies that operate using property that the exiles lost in the 1959 revolution.
The lawsuit provision, known as Title III, was put on hold because it triggered immense opposition from U.S. allies, whose companies operating in Cuba would become targets of litigation in U.S. courts.
If Trump activates the provision, it could reignite that opposition, complicating already rocky relations with Mexico, Canada, the European Union – and obviously Cuba – at a time when the U.S. needs their help to deal with the crisis in Venezuela.
As a scholar of U.S. relations with Latin America, especially Cuba, I’ve closely followed the Trump administration’s growing antagonism toward Havana. But activating Title III would represent a quantum leap in hostility.
Triggering new sanctions
The people who stand to benefit from activating this law are Cuba’s pre-revolutionary rich – what was once Cuba’s “One Percent.”
They arrived in the U.S. expecting Washington to quickly overthrow Fidel Castro and restore their power, property and privilege. Instead, the revolutionary government survived and by the 1990s was attracting foreign direct investment from Canada, Europe and Latin America.
In 1996, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., sponsored the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. It passed after anti-Cuba sentiment in the U.S. was galvanized when the Cuban Air Force shot down two civilian planes piloted by Cuban-Americans.
Title III of the law specifically targeted foreign investors in Cuba.
It gave naturalized Cuban Americans permission to sue in U.S. federal court anyone “trafficking” in (that is, using or profiting from) property the exiles lost in the 1959 revolution, when they were Cuban citizens.
Normally, U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over property owned by non-citizens that is nationalized by a foreign government. For U.S. courts to sit in judgment of another government’s actions towards its own citizens would be a challenge to that government’s sovereignty.
Since virtually all property in pre-revolutionary Cuba was privately held, the foreign companies operating there, including many that also do business in the U.S., fear being accused of profiting from confiscated property and getting caught up in Title III lawsuits.
Consequently, U.S. allies bitterly opposed the law as illegal U.S. interference in their commerce with Cuba.
The European Union filed a complaint against the U.S. with the World Trade Organization in 1996 and adopted a statute prohibiting EU members and their companies from complying with Title III. Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom passed similar legislation.
In response, President Bill Clinton suspended Title III of the act for six months, which the law allowed. The suspension has to be renewed every six months. Since then, every president, Democrat and Republican, has renewed the suspension. Donald Trump has already renewed it three times.
But recently, there have been indications that the longtime practice of suspending Title III’s provisions may end soon.
In November 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened to activate Title III, saying, “This time, we’ll give it a very serious review.” In January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a short 45-day suspension while the administration studied the issue.
The president has until the end of February to notify Congress if he decides to extend the suspension. Otherwise, Title III takes effect automatically.
Politics in command
According to The New Yorker magazine, Trump gave White House staff paltry guidance on Cuba policy at the beginning of his administration.
“Make Rubio happy,” he told them.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla, are the principal advocates for Title III. They are Cuban-Americans who represent the oldest, most conservative and wealthiest segment of the Miami Cuban community. From their mansions in Miami, that elite still wields disproportionate influence over U.S. policy through these legislators.
Most Cuban-Americans will gain nothing from Title III. It exempts private residences from compensation. So, if an exile’s main asset was their home, they are out of luck.
The provision also exempts businesses worth less than US$50,000 in 1959 – $433,000 today, adjusted for inflation. The exiled owners of thousands of small mom-and-pop shops nationalized in 1968 are out of luck, too.
Still, a 1996 State Department analysis estimated that Title III could flood U.S. federal courts with as many as 200,000 lawsuits, creating a legal morass that would take years to sort out.
In the meantime, most U.S. firms and some foreign ones would likely hesitate to enter into commercial relations with Cuba for fear of becoming litigation targets in the United States. That’s a major purpose of Title III – to stymie Cuba’s economic development.
Cuban American families have already voiced claims for the port of Havana and José Martí International Airport, putting cruise ship companies and airlines on notice that they could face potential legal jeopardy over their use of these properties.
If these companies pull out of the Cuban market, Americans would still have a right to travel to Cuba, but no way to get there.
If Title III reduces foreign investment in Cuba, it will damage Cuba’s already fragile economy, which in turn would hurt the standard of living of ordinary Cubans.
In retaliation, Havana might well stop buying agricultural goods from U.S. farmers. That’s a market of over $250 million annually that American farmers can ill afford to lose when exports are down due to Trump’s trade wars.
Trump believes he won Florida in 2016 because of the Cuban-American vote, and he thinks Rubio can deliver it again in 2020.
I think Trump is miscalculating.
The remnants of Cuba’s pre-revolutionary “One Percent” no longer represent the Cuban-American community as a whole. By decisive majorities, Cuban-Americans support free travel between the U.S. and Cuba, broader commercial ties and President Obama’s decision to normalize relations. Every year, they send $3 billion to family on the island, and hundreds of thousands of them travel there to visit.
Those Cuban-American voters may not want to inflict more economic pain on ordinary Cubans, including their friends and family. Come 2020, they may punish a president who does.