Hi, I’m Dane Wilcox and I apologize for my AMA title being very clickbaity. I have been a business owner my entire life and I am tired of the way our government works. There is rampant corruption and people doing whatever they can to keep their jobs instead of doing the right thing. Corporations are running the show and writing our laws for their benefit while ignoring the people struggling every day. I believe that in 2020 we will have a chance to swing the pendulum back the other direction and have a chance to make meaningful change that will alter our country’s future, as well as the worlds. I want nothing more than to be part of that and I hope my ideas will spark some change.
I have spent several years planning my Fight to Unite Initiative which changes the way our military works. It increases the defense budget, but also reallocates money away from murdering people in other countries or buying tanks to sit and rot into providing education and trade skills. A large portion will be allocated into green energy fields and research as well. I chose to put it under the defense budget as the DoD classifies climate change as our number one threat, and Republicans I talk to seem less against giving people housing, medical care, and training when it is part of the military.
Having worked with taxes for many years, I also want to reorganize the way businesses get deductions to incentivize things like worker pay over increasing stock prices. I have ideas to help solve the wealth inequality gap and fight corporate greed.
While my current representative (Earl Blumenauer) is generally well liked, I don’t think he does enough. I want to be a voice for all Americans who struggle every day instead of hitching myself to new and popular progressives.
I will be here to answer questions for as long as I can, I have blocked off my entire day to do this AMA. Hopefully I can help explain some policies and we can change the world. If you want to read more before asking questions head over to wilcox2020.com.
SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook said on Tuesday it would give $1 billion in a package of grants, loans and land toward easing California’s severe housing crunch by building an estimated 20,000 new housing units for middle- and lower-income households.
The move is the latest in a series of efforts by technology companies to put their vast financial resources toward addressing a crisis that has afflicted tech centers including the Bay Area and Seattle. In June Google pledged $1 billion in a similar effort in the Bay Area, while Microsoft pledged $500 million toward affordable housing in Seattle in January.
Facebook said in a statement that the money would be used over the next decade. The package includes these elements: a $250 million partnership with the State of California for mixed-income housing on state land, $150 million for subsidized and supportive housing for homeless people in the Bay Area, $250 million worth of land near its headquarters in Menlo Park, and $25 million for teacher housing in the Silicon Valley, along with $350 million that the company said would be spent based on the effectiveness of the programs.
“Our investment will go toward creating up to 20,000 new housing units to help essential workers such as teachers, nurses and first responders live closer to the communities that rely on them,” the statement said.
The steep cost of housing in California, which politicians colloquially refer to as “the housing crisis,” has come to cloud nearly all aspects of life across the state. Despite having some of the highest wages in the nation, the state has an escalating homeless problem and the highest poverty rate — with about one in five households living below the federal poverty line — once the cost of housing is figured in. Three-hour commutes are expanding and there are stories of police officers sleeping in their cars. Homelessness has made the sight of sidewalk tents commonplace and led to vast and multiplying camps in abandoned lots and under freeways.
Still, the thing that California needs to do most — build lots of housing, in particular, affordable housing accessible to middle- and lower-income households in the service economy — has proved the most difficult. A bill to vastly expand housing production stalled in the State Senate this year over the protests of suburban communities that argued that a vast new building plan would lead to more traffic and ruin their quality of life. At the same time, construction prices have risen so high that building even no-frills subsidized units routinely costs $500,000, and often more in big cities.
Those kinds of numbers can make a mockery of any effort to solve the problem with money. Public officials and economists are blunt that Facebook’s package will take a decade or longer to have any material impact on a housing crunch that has been a generation in the making and heavily exacerbated by the local technology boom. In the latest annual counts of the homeless population, Los Angeles and several Bay Area cities saw their homeless populations increase significantly; Oakland’s grew close to 50 percent in just two years.
Exactly how much tech companies are responsible, and how much money they could or should put toward housing, is a matter of continuous debate. Last year, a contentious ballot initiative to fund homeless services in San Francisco split the local tech community. Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, became the measure’s biggest backer, leading to a public feud with Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter and the payments company Square, who was against it.
It is an oft-repeated talking point, in both San Francisco proper and the smaller cities like Palo Alto and Menlo Park that make up Silicon Valley, that tech companies should help build housing for their swelling ranks of employees. The governor, Gavin Newsom, has called on technology companies to contribute more and asked big corporations to use their substantial cash hoards to aid state housing efforts through instruments like low-interest loans.
Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday was made jointly with Mr. Newsom, who in the news release said: “State government cannot solve housing affordability alone, we need others to join Facebook in stepping up — progress requires partnership with the private sector and philanthropy to change the status quo and address the cost crisis our state is facing.”
This is a developing story. Please check for updates.
BUDAPEST — The annual Independence Day celebration at the United States Embassy in Budapest is usually a modest garden party, a chance for the ambassador to celebrate American freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
This year, the ambassador, David B. Cornstein, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a blowout gala for 800 guests. He flew in the singer Paul Anka from California. The guest of honor was Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has curtailed the very freedoms the event was meant to highlight.
Standing at a lectern, Mr. Cornstein declared Mr. Orban “the perfect partner” and “a very, very strong and good leader.” Mr. Anka serenaded the Hungarian leader with a personalized rendition of “My Way.”
For many in the room, it was a bewildering spectacle: an American ambassador lavishing praise on a far-right leader whose party has methodically eroded Hungarian democracy and pushed anti-Semitic tropes. But it was just another demonstration of Mr. Cornstein’s pattern of emboldening Mr. Orban.
Since becoming ambassador in June 2018, Mr. Cornstein has assiduously courted Mr. Orban, giving the Hungarian leader unexpected influence in the Trump administration. Mr. Cornstein used his decades-long friendship with President Trump to help broker a coveted Oval Office meeting for Mr. Orban last May — a meeting now under scrutiny by impeachment investigators in Washington.
As yet, Mr. Cornstein’s role in that meeting does not appear to be part of the impeachment inquiry. But his freewheeling diplomacy and courtship of Mr. Orban have alarmed career civil servants and contributed to broader criticism, even among Republicans, that some members of the president’s foreign policy team are dangerously unprepared for the job.
During the past year, Mr. Cornstein, an 81-year-old jewelry magnate, has developed unusually close relationships with Mr. Orban and his advisers, according to several American and Western officials. He exchanges text messages with them, occasionally from personal devices, and boasts about his contacts — even as American security officials warn that Mr. Orban is trying to manipulate him.
He has undermined efforts by career diplomats to deliver messages to Washington about corruption and democratic backsliding in Hungary. And he has privately acted as a broker for Mr. Orban’s point of view, taking positions contrary to United States policy, according to interviews with roughly two dozen current and former American and foreign officials as well as others who have worked with Mr. Cornstein.
He has also adopted some of Mr. Orban’s talking points on Ukraine, contradicting the policy of the United States and its NATO allies.
Some embassy officials were so taken aback that, according to two American officials, they confided to a recent congressional delegation that Washington’s top man in Hungary acted more like Mr. Orban’s top man in the Trump administration.
In two interviews, Mr. Cornstein played down concerns about Hungarian corruption, anti-Semitism and the erosion of democracy. He defended his approach as good for the United States, and said that his outreach to Mr. Orban was exactly what Mr. Trump wanted.
“Hopefully there are one or two people who think I’m doing a good job,” he said.
Mr. Trump seems pleased. Although the Obama administration sought to isolate Mr. Orban as punishment for his authoritarian tendencies, the Trump administration has engaged him uncritically, a strategy intended to keep the Hungarian leader from drifting toward China and Russia.
But Thomas Carothers, who studies democracies for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Mr. Cornstein’s public praise for Mr. Orban had gone too far. “The ambassador has crossed the line, both in openly endorsing bad things and mocking serious issues,” he said.
Privately, Mr. Cornstein has gone even farther.
In April, a group of congressional staff members visited Budapest on a trip sponsored by the Hungarian government. Realizing that Hungarian officials would present a rosy picture, American diplomats squeezed in a 45-minute briefing about corruption and the erosion of democracy.
Mr. Cornstein arrived unannounced and commandeered the meeting, saying he saw no evidence of corruption, according to several people in attendance.
“Before I could start, Cornstein interrupted,” said Miklos Ligeti, a former official at the Hungarian Ministry of Justice who was asked to discuss corruption on behalf of Transparency International. “He came in and hijacked the meeting.”
Mr. Cornstein also spoke glowingly of Mr. Orban’s unchecked power.
“He’s got the executive. He’s got the legislature. And he’s got the judges,” Marta Pardavi, a lawyer with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, recalled the ambassador as saying. “He actually said it. And he said it so we would hear it.”
Mr. Ligeti said he was never able to deliver his corruption briefing.
“Cornstein is the worst, most detrimental of diplomats — not just of the United States, but of all the countries,” Mr. Ligeti said. “He is actively working against the voices of anticorruption.”
In interviews, Mr. Cornstein said he did not recall the meeting but played down corruption concerns.
“Is there corruption in Hungary? I’m sure there is,” Mr. Cornstein said. “Is there corruption in New York City and Chicago? I’m sure there is.” He said he had seen no evidence of an effect on American businesses.
A Dispute with Ukraine
It may not seem obvious how, or why, a Hungarian prime minister would influence the views of an American president toward Ukraine, an American ally.
But Mr. Orban has been locked in a dispute with Ukrainian officials over a language law that he says is discriminatory to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine. The dispute has become a key security issue for the United States because Mr. Orban has blocked Ukrainian engagement with NATO. The United States is adamant that such disagreements should have no bearing on NATO security matters.
The White House meeting gave Mr. Orban the opportunity to press his case directly to Mr. Trump. Asked on Tuesday what Mr. Orban told the president about Ukraine, Mr. Cornstein replied, “It was between two men, and neither person discussed the subject with me.”
But Mr. Cornstein’s statements on the topic have recently drifted toward Mr. Orban’s point of view. Asked about Ukraine in an interview, he raised the language law unprompted.
“The language law that was passed, which was not favorable to the 175,000 Ukrainian, former Hungarian people that are living in that part of the country, was something that I didn’t agree with,” Mr. Cornstein said.
Mr. Cornstein also took Mr. Orban’s side over the fate of Central European University, an accredited institution that Mr. Orban forced from the country. The Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros founded the school after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in part to educate a new generation on the principles of human rights and the rule of law. As he eroded democratic norms, Mr. Orban attacked Mr. Soros, portraying him as part of a global conspiracy against the prime minister.
Publicly, Mr. Cornstein declared that saving the school was a top priority. But privately, he helped broker the university’s exit, according to the school’s president, Michael Ignatieff.
Mr. Ignatieff said that Mr. Cornstein had proposed that the school move its American degree program to Vienna and keep a smaller, Hungarian-only program in Budapest.
“What do you care where your degrees are issued?” Mr. Ignatieff recalled Mr. Cornstein as saying.
“David, that’s not a compromise,” Mr. Ignatieff replied. “You’re kicking a U.S. institution out of Hungary.”
“I don’t see it that way at all,” Mr. Cornstein said.
The university soon lost its authority to issue American degrees and moved to Vienna — the very outcome Mr. Cornstein had mentioned. The United States Embassy said in a statement that the government was “disappointed.”
Mr. Cornstein, who is Jewish, often says that Hungary’s biggest problem is public relations and that Jews in Hungary have little to worry about.
“They’re content. They’re happy and they’re safe,” he said. “I can’t say that about New York City.”
Other American presidents have been accused of supporting strongmen. But Mr. Trump has broken with a half-century of bipartisan consensus that supporting freedom was a moral imperative and a security goal, said Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, a conservative research group.
“Orban has quietly and skillfully, with velvet gloves, strangled the life out of democracy,” Mr. Diamond said. “To embrace and normalize and look away from these transgressions in a country that is in the heart of the liberal democratic project of the world is not only disturbing. It’s alarming.”
Friends say that Mr. Cornstein, an affable grandfather, is a Rockefeller Republican, not an ideologue. He has donated not only to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain, but also to Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker.
He did not give money to Mr. Trump’s campaign, but the friendship between the two men goes back decades. Mr. Cornstein attended Mr. Trump’s wedding and ran New York City’s off-track-gambling operation in the mayoral administration of Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is now Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.
Some American officials and Western diplomats say that Mr. Cornstein is falling for a Hungarian campaign to undermine veteran foreign policy officials. At the White House, for example, Mr. Orban told Mr. Trump that the embassy in Budapest — staffed by career civil servants — was full of Obama administration holdovers, according to Mr. Cornstein and other American officials.
Mr. Trump responded by asking why Mr. Cornstein had not fired them. (In an interview, Mr. Cornstein said he had confidence in his staff.)
Mr. Cornstein is open about his closeness to Mr. Orban. He tells how, on the flight back to Budapest after the White House meeting, the two men — exhausted from a long day — stripped to their underwear and napped and chatted on couches in the back of Mr. Orban’s plane.
When Mr. Cornstein learned recently that Radio Free Europe, the pro-democracy American news outlet, was preparing to return to Hungary, he sought assurances that it would not criticize Mr. Orban’s government. In an interview, he said he simply wanted to ensure that the government viewpoint would be included.
It is hardly unusual for diplomats to seek ties with foreign leaders, but Mr. Cornstein has eschewed both the rigorous prep sessions that normally precede high-level contacts and the detailed briefings that follow. State Department officials say they often do not know what messages are exchanged.
Mr. Cornstein acknowledged that he rarely speaks to officials in Washington. He conceded that he has used personal devices to contact Mr. Orban and his advisers, but said he had done so a half-dozen times at most, and only to set up meetings.
“I was told this before I got to the post: ‘This is your show. You run it,’” he said. “I know what the president’s philosophy is and what his foreign policy is.”
Mr. Cornstein has delivered mixed results, at best. He regards as an achievement negotiations that are underway, but not finalized, for Hungary to buy more than $1 billion in American weaponry.
Mr. Cornstein said that building bridges was a process, one that will help the United States. He denied honoring Mr. Orban at the Independence Day gala.
“My motivation was to really show what a great party can be,” he said, “and have people walk out and say, ‘Man, America really did that terrific.’”
He said the party cost about $320,000, financed mostly by American businesses. An additional $7,000 came from an embassy account used to establish local contacts.
During the interview, Mr. Cornstein appeared to nudge American policy in another new direction. He said he had vehemently opposed the Russian bank’s relocation but that Mr. Orban had made private promises that have allayed his concerns.
“I am comfortable with where we are now,” Mr. Cornstein said. Pressed on whether that was the official view of the United States government, he replied: “You’ve got to ask Washington. I’m comfortable.”
The embassy quickly clarified his remarks, saying the ambassador considered the bank a threat as long as it remained in Hungary.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson clashed Tuesday with Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., as a hearing on the Trump administration’s housing plans turned to the subject of disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico.
The dispute centered on HUD missing a deadline to give Puerto Rico instructions on how to apply for $8.3 billion in aid to prevent damage from future natural disasters. A bill signed by President Trump in June gave HUD a 90-day deadline to provide those rules, Newsweek reported. Ten jurisdictions included in the bill got the directions they needed, with Puerto Rico being the only one left out.
Carson was grilled by the congresswoman on the apparent decision to withhold funding over concerns about the government’s management.
“Last week, your chief financial officer and your principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development admitted before Congress that HUD intentionally missed a legally required deadline that would have made congressionally appropriated funds available to Puerto Rico,” Velazquez told Carson. “Let me ask you, where specifically in federal law is HUD empowered to unilaterally withhold … funds that have been appropriated by Congress?”
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks during a news conference during a trip to Baltimore, Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
“Congress has specifically mandated that the Secretary of HUD make sure that funds that are allocated or provided for certain jurisdictions have the resources and the capacity to manage them,” Carson responded.
Velazquez then cut off Carson and told him he was not answering her question before asking it again. Carson attempted to speak but Velazquez interrupted him another time.
“Reclaiming my time,” she said, “since you are not going to answer my question.”
“Seemed like an answer to me,” Carson shot back. “Are you looking for an answer or a soundbite?”
Velazquez, after explaining that the HUD inspector general had not recommended that the funds be withheld, insinuated that the Trump administration withheld the money from Puerto Rico out of spite.
“I wonder if this was politically motivated,” she said. “Did anyone at the White House, including the president or the chief of staff, ask you to withhold money that was supposed to go to Puerto Rico?”
Carson responded: “Interestingly, a lot of what we do is dictated by common sense. … If you have a jurisdiction in which there are three changes of government within a month and which has historically had difficulty with financial management, to put an unprecedented amount of money in there without the appropriate controls is irresponsible.”
Velazquez then accused Carson and the Trump administration more generally of having contempt toward the U.S. territory that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Trump has long clashed with Puerto Rican leaders and had called former governor Ricardo Rosselló a “terrible governor” before he resigned in August. Trump said in July that Puerto Rico has “grossly incompetent leadership.”
Velazquez said Tuesday that the disaster relief issue “speaks to this administration’s disregard for Puerto Rico,” asking HUD to send to Congress “every communication related to Puerto Rico.”
“And you know what sir, we’re going to find out what motivated for you to withhold this money for the people of Puerto Rico. If this was about corruption, as you claimed in the press, so deal with your own corruption when you have FEMA officials who were arrested in Puerto Rico.”
Carson responded: “We have nothing to hide so I’d be glad for you to get that information.”
“One way or another we’re going to know the truth,” Velazquez said before finishing her questioning.
The exchange prompted ranking member Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., to admonish Velazquez for her treatment of Carson — before the congresswoman responded that alleged corruption in Puerto Rico is not a good enough reason for withholding funds when many other locations around the country received disaster relief funds without issue.
The exchange forced Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., to use her gavel to get Velazquez and McHenry to allow the hearing to continue.
Cabello joined the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for the Radio 1 Teen Heroes of 2019 event, which recognizes some of the “UK’s most inspirational teens.” Two BBC Radio 1 DJs, Clara Amfo and Greg James, were also there.
“This is the fourth consecutive year that Radio 1’s Teen Heroes have been honoured with an invitation to the Palace,” read a post on the Kensington Palace account. “The ten finalists were greeted by The Duke and Duchess, who praised them for their inspirational work and their dedication to helping others.”
Kensington Palace/Instagram The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge mingle at the Radio 1 Teen Heroes event.
For the occasion, William wore his usual go-to ― a navy suit with a blue tie ― while Kate opted for a $509 coral-print midi dress by one of her favorites, L.K. Bennett, and a picture-perfect blowout.
Cabello looked sunny in a long-sleeved, yellow dress with neutral heels. She spoke about the event in an interview with the Press Association.
“I was so honoured to be invited to Kensington Palace to meet and celebrate this year’s Teen Hero finalists with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” the “Havana” singer told the outlet.
“Hearing the incredible things these Teen Heroes have done is so inspirational. Their passion and dedication to help others is amazing and they really blew me away,” Cabello added.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently returned from a five-day trip to Pakistan, where they met with many young Pakistanis and studied the effects of climate change on that country. Though the trip garnered a lot of press coverage, William was in the spotlight for a different reason on Sunday after a candid interview given by his brother, Harry, addressed their rumored rocky relationship.
Over the past few months, there has been much speculation about a rift between the two brothers. During an interview for the ITV documentary “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey,” the younger prince acknowledged to journalist Tom Bradby that “inevitably stuff happens.”
“We are brothers. We will always be brothers,” Harry said. “We are certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him as I know he will always be there for me.”
“We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we are so busy, but I love him dearly,” Harry said. Then he added, “The majority of the stuff is created out of nothing, but as brothers, you know, you have good days, you have bad days.”
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While talking to reporters outside the White House, Gidley said that Trump wasn’t “comparing what’s happened to him with one of our darkest moments in American history.” Thousands of Black Americans were killed by lynch mobs in the Jim Crow-era South.
“I understand that there are many people in the media who don’t agree with his language,” said Gidley. “He has used many words to describe the way he’s been relentlessly attacked.”
The spokesman went on to say that Trump has done “many things” to help African-American communities.
#NEW: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley on Pres. Trump’s tweet calling the House impeachment inquiry a ‘lynching’:
“The president’s not comparing what’s happened to him with one of our darkest moments in American history.”pic.twitter.com/gCwr1mBD0o
While Gidley argued that Trump did not mean to compare his impeachment inquiry to one of America’s “darkest moments,” the president used that exact language in his Tuesday tweet: “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”
So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!
Gidley’s attempt to tell reporters about Trump’s contributions to African-American communities echoed his appearance on Fox News earlier Tuesday.
“HBCU funding is at historic levels,” explained Gidley in the segment, who added factoids about “opportunity zones in inner cities,” criminal justice reform and more.
White House deputy spokesman Hogan Gidley defends Trump’s “lynching” comment: “Let’s talk about what the president has done for the African-American community.” Then he goes on to cite purported help to HBCUs and enterprise zones. pic.twitter.com/ABvA6zvdlu
Gidley also provided a similar defense of Trump’s language.
“The president wasn’t trying to compare himself to the horrific history in this country at all,” said Gidley.
WH spokesman Hogan Gidley claims Trump was not comparing his treatment to that of the thousands of blacks who were lynched when he used the exact words, “lynching,” that was used to describe those attacks. pic.twitter.com/jOWoaAtzNF
In a plot straight out of an acclaimed TV drama — but with an ending too sobering for the small screen — an Ohio mother-of-five who said she sold crystal meth to send her child to college was sentenced to 11 years in prison Monday.
Janet Gartner, 41, and her boyfriend, Nicholas Bair, 40, were running a drug operation that allowed them to sell meth throughout Licking County, officials said. But her attorney argued the mother never did the drugs herself — only sold them — and she did it for her child.
“She only wanted to sell enough to buy a farm and put one of her children through college,” attorney Nicole Churchill said. “I don’t believe anyone wakes up and goes, ‘You know, I want to sell meth.'”
Gartner and Bair were running the operation in Licking County when the couple caught the eye of the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force, the Zanesville Times Recorder reported. Investigators engaged in two controlled buys from the couple, and the pair were taken into custody on April 15.
Janet Gartner, 41, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday for selling crystal meth to make enough money to send her child to college. (Handout)
The task force later searched their farmhouse in Kimbolton, roughly 90 miles east of Columbus, and “seized more than $160,000 in cash, at least five pounds of methamphetamine, 50 pounds of marijuana, hundreds of THC vape pens, several ounces of cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, two vehicles, four ATV’s and three firearms.”
Gartner’s attorney described her as a good, hard-working mother who wanted to be able to provide for her children, Y-City News reported. She has five children and worked as a housekeeper.
“I would consider Janet a friend, more than a client,” Churchill said in court. “I’ve visited with her more than I probably have any other client in my seven-year career. She was in a severe domestic violence relationship that she finally got herself out of a few years ago. She met someone who was outstanding to her and her family.”
A witness who was in a vehicle near the 950-ton pedestrian bridge that collapsed in Miami Thursday said it sounded “like the world was ending.” Six people are confirmed dead, and officials expect the death toll to rise. (March 16) AP
A doomed design was the “probable cause” of the horrific collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Miami last year that killed six people and injured 10 others, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday.
The 174-foot-bridge section, designed to connect Florida International University with the city of Sweetwater, was still under construction on March 15, 2018, when it crashed to the road below. Eight vehicles were crushed, seven of which were occupied.
“The NTSB determines that the probable cause of of the FIU pedestrian bridge collapse was the load and capacity errors,” the NTSB said.
A peer review that failed to detect the calculation errors by designer FIGG Bridge Engineers and a FIGG engineer’s failure to recognize the importance of cracking prior to the collapse contributed to the tragedy, the board said.
“The FIGG design made significant errors in the determination of loads,” NTSB staffer Dan Walsh said Tuesday.
Walsh said the construction was “high risk” due to the complex design of the bridge. But he added that the school was overseeing the project, and the state Transportation Department was not required to have an inspector on site.
“Our recommendations address this issue, that FDOT should have more authority on this type of project,” Walsh said.
A summary of the NTSB findings was to be published later Tuesday, and a full report in about three weeks. Tuesday findings were in line with an investigative update issued by the NTSB a year ago saying FIGG overestimated how much stress the structure could take. Cracking observed in the bridge before the collapse was consistent with those design errors, the NTSB said at the time.
A blistering report released in June by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said at least one worker had alerted engineers of extensive cracking before the bridge fell. That should have prompted an order to close the street below and reinforcement of the structure, OSHA said.
FIGG said the cracks had shown no signs of expanding and had not appeared to present a safety concern. FIGG dismissed OSHA’s findings as inaccurate and incomplete and said it failed to consider the construction process.
Two days before the collapse, a FIGG engineer left a voicemail with state transportation officials warning of cracks in the structure. A transcript of a voice mail from W. Denney Pate included Pate saying “some cracking” had been observed on the north end of the span.
“We’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective,” Pate said. “Although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that.”
The $14.2 million bridge, when completed would have been 289 feet long and 109 feet tall. The bridge was being built under “accelerated bridge construction” methods championed at FIU. The methods allow larger pieces to be fabricated away from traffic, rather than assembling lots of smaller pieces above a busy road.
Walsh said Tuesday the collapse did not appear to related to the accelerate method.
FIU President Mark Rosenberg lauded the project when the section was dropped into place days before tragedy.
“FIU is about building bridges and student safety,” Rosenberg said. “This project accomplishes our mission beautifully.”
In the lead-up to Halloween, the right-leaning Heartland Institute is releasing a series of videos in order to challenge what it says are the “biggest phony climate scares meant to spook kids and adults, alike.”
“Everyone likes a good scare at Halloween, and when it comes to the climate, environmental activists have tried their best to frighten the world into taking radical, economy-killing action to prevent catastrophe,” the group said in a press release on Tuesday.
“Turns out, however, that all those scares were about as true as a spooky story told by a campfire at night. From the supposed polar bear population crisis, to children never experiencing snow, to coastal cities being uninhabitable, one scare after another has proven false.”
The group will release one video per day until Halloween on a failed climate-change prediction, incorporating picks from other free-market groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).
The first video takes on Al Gore, creator of “An Inconvenient Truth” and one of the leading advocates on the issue. Against the backdrop of scary music and Halloween paraphernalia, the video disputes his suggestion that Arctic ice could disappear by 2013.
“Gore wanted to scare the world into radical climate policies while enriching himself at the same time,” it reads. After pointing out that Arctic Sea ice is, in fact, still present, the video reads: “Chalk the phantom disappearance of Arctic Sea ice up as another nonexistent climate scare.”
The group seemed to pull that quote from Gore’s 2008 appearance at the United Nations, where he cited models claiming the north polar ice cap could lose all of its ice “within the next seven years.”
The dire predictions, often repeated in the media, warned of a variety of impending disasters – famine, drought, an ice age, and even disappearing nations – if the world failed to act on climate change.
Heartland’s video series came as prominent Democrats advanced expensive plans to prevent the allegedly dire consequences of climate change. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who made the “Green New Deal” popular among presidential candidates, appeared to warn of another disappearance — this time, the entire city of Miami. In September, she appeared to predict Miami may not exist in a few years because of climate change.
In a video from August, Ocasio-Cortez said the alternative to large-scale solutions was large amounts of people dying from climate change’s impacts.
“We need to start getting comfortable with how extreme the problem is because only until we accept … how bad climate change is and how bad it can be for our children’s lives, are we going to be comfortable pursuing really big solutions,” she said.
Not all opioid lawsuit settlement funds go to intervention, treatment and long-term recovery programs. USA TODAY
Angela Mallette never saw opioid addiction coming.
The civil engineer from Mississippi was 27 and in her eighth month of pregnancy when she suffered a miscarriage. Doctors performed a cesarean section to remove the deceased baby. She went home with a prescription for OxyContin, a strong opioid for pain management.
“I had no clue how to cope with the situation,” Mallette said, referring to the grief and depression that followed the loss of her child. “I thought, I’m just going to go back to work, pretend this didn’t happen, and move on with my life. The pills helped me do that, and that’s where my addiction began and flourished.”
Today, as the director of a law enforcement diversion program for opioid users who have been arrested, Mallette has a new worry: Will the states and municipalities that are negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements with drug makers, distributors and other companies use the money to do the most to end the epidemic?
“A huge concern is making sure that this money goes to help the people that have been affected by this crisis and continue to be affected by this crisis,” Mallette said.
The latest settlement was announced Monday: A $260 million deal that avoided a federal trial pitting two Ohio counties against three pharmaceutical distribution companies – McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen – and the Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
Mallette and others who have struggled with addiction, along with health-care providers and addiction experts, say money from these settlements should go to:
Harm-reduction efforts such as clean syringe services and wider distribution of Naloxone, an emergency drug used to treat overdoses.
Drug-abuse prevention programs, including counseling by people who have struggled with addiction themselves and outreach to children at risk for drug abuse.
Programs to help patients reduce or quit their use of opioids, such as those that use buprenorphine.
Long-term recovery support services to help people find housing and jobs, reconnect with their families and communities, navigate the criminal justice system – and avoid relapsing.
“We need to invest in things that show we’re treating addiction like a public health crisis. And we’re just not doing that right now,” said Marcia Lee Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Center on Addiction, which joined with other groups to issue recommendations last year on how settlement funds should be spent.
Settlements to fund addiction research, prison scanners
Directing funds to these sorts of efforts might seem obvious. However, plans for some settlements have prompted questions.
A $270 million opioid settlement that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced in March with drugmaker Purdue Pharma will channel $200 million not to treatment, but to addiction research by Oklahoma State University.
Oklahoma lawmakers were dismayed they had no role in the spending decisions. In May, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law requiring funds from state lawsuits settled by the attorney general’s office to go into the state treasury.
“Research is important,” he said, referring to the Oklahoma settlement. But “we may not see outcomes for the next five to 10 years, when people are dying on the street corners in Oklahoma right now.”
During a phone interview in September, Hampton questioned early discussions about spending from Purdue Pharma’s September agreement in principle to settle a lawsuit with 24 states and more than 1,000 counties, municipalities, Native American tribes and individuals. The tentative deal represents “more than $10 billion of value,” the company said.
Rather than analyzing gaps in drug treatment, prevention, and support programs, government representatives appear to be compiling lists of potential funding recipients, Hampton said.
“I’ve probably received a dozen calls in the last two weeks from state attorney general offices and public health offices in states, saying, ‘Send us a list with your recommendations on where to spend this money,'” Hampton said. “That is not the right way to go about this.”
Will states repeat the mistakes of the tobacco settlement?
The landmark tobacco settlement reached in 1998 is a cautionary tale about ensuring that money from opioid lawsuit settlements goes to early intervention, treatment and long-term recovery programs.
The agreement between the nation’s five largest cigarette manufacturers and 46 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories requires the tobacco industry to pay states billions of dollars annually for expected spending on smoking prevention and cessation programs.
During fiscal year 2019, states will receive a total of $27.3 billion from the settlement, not including tobacco taxes, the group said in its most recent report. Just 2.4 percent of that money will fund programs to prevent children from smoking and helping smokers quit.
“It obviously would have been great if states had put into the settlement a legal requirement that they needed to spend a certain portion of the tobacco funds on tobacco prevention and cessation programs,” said John Schachter, a spokesman for the advocacy group. “If you don’t mandate it, there’s going to be a time when legislators will do what they want” with the funding.
That experience is playing into calls for government officials to spend opioid settlements carefully. They’re coming from advocates like Mallette and Hampton, whose expertise comes from personal experience, as well as addiction treatment programs and health care experts.
In the report advising how to spend the money, the Center for Addiction and other organizations recommended bolstering education about addiction prevention, starting early intervention programs, and expanding access to treatment.
“I think there needs to be an outcry from people who have been impacted by this disease that state legislators have to ensure that the money that comes from any settlements be put toward fixing the addiction problem,” said Marcia Lee Taylor, the spokeswoman for the Center for Addiction.
“These dollars have to be used to change the system so that this type of crisis never happens again,” she said.
Transforming jails into support centers
That outcry has been amplified from a place that might seem unusual – a jail.
Soon after he became the sheriff of Virginia’s Chesterfield County in 2014, Karl Leonard started seeing 10 to 12 heroin addicts sent to the county jail every day. In March 2016, the county recorded its 10th heroin overdose death of the opioid epidemic.
“There was something about the number 10 that just struck me as being ridiculous,” Leonard said. “We define insanity as doing the same things over and over and over in jails and having the same results and nothing changes. It became very frustrating.”
Jails are great places for drug addicts to become sober, he said. But if they relapse after they’re released, they can overdose because their bodies can’t cope with the sudden return to highly potent opioids.
Leonard announced that “we’re going to release recovered addicts back into the community” with tools to to deal addiction “so they don’t need to go back to drugs.”
The program, based on the 12-step recovery program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, is called Helping Addicts Recover Progressively, or HARP. It “really breaks all the standards that we have become used to in running jails,” Leonard said.
The first step, he said, is making sure prisoners struggling with addiction “know that we believe in them, and that they have value in our community.” They receive counseling to identify psychological trauma and deal with things that trigger that pain and send them back to drugs.
After release, prisoners who have completed the program can come back to the jail anytime day or night “and be with others in recovery” if they think they’re in danger of relapsing, Leonard said.
The program also provides medical care, addiction recovery, peer-to-peer recovery specialists from the community, and classes in parenting, high-school education and job skills such as driving forklifts and food preparation.
“This money has got to make it to those who are struggling with the disease of addiction,” he said. “It has to make it to recovery programs. It has to make it to treatment centers. It has to make it down to the individuals who are really struggling with this.”
From designing bridges to rebuilding lives
Mallette offered a similar prescription based on her own experience.
After succumbing to opioid addiction, she went from taking pain pills to injecting them. Ultimately, she turned to heroin. She committed crimes to get drugs and careened in and out of jail, eventually losing her job and home.
In 2013, Mallette was ordered into a treatment program that began her recovery. Afterward, she landed a job at another engineering firm in Jackson, Mississippi. She fell in love, and in 2015 she gave birth to her daughter, Stella.
She relapsed when her daughter was about six months old. It started with OxyContin pills. A week later, she was back to injecting a highly addictive opioid called Dilaudid.
“At that point, I’d been sober for about 18 months,” said Mallette. “I thought I was OK and didn’t realize I could relapse that quickly and that hard.”
She returned to a treatment program, where she decided to devote her life to raising her daughter. She said she “desperately needed somebody to teach” her how to rebuild and maintain her family and work lives.
Mallette no longer designs bridges and highways. With the help of grants from a local church and from a philanthropic organization, she’s launched Mississippi LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) in one Mississippi community. She hopes to expand to a second community in 2020.
The program, based on one pioneered in Seattle, enables police officers to send low-level arrestees who struggle with addiction to local treatment and recovery programs, not jails.
The program is meant to address a misconception that people simply need treatment to beat addiction. Mallette said they also need locally based, affordable services to help them find housing, navigate the criminal justice system and more.
Rebuilding these parts of one’s life is hard, Mallette said. “I hope that those in charge of allocating funds from opioid settlements realize this as they make their decisions,” she said.
“As a country, I hope we don’t miss this opportunity to establish a sustainable, long-term recovery support system that can help people for decades.”
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