DHS Transferred $10M From FEMA to ICE Ahead of Hurricane Florence

DHS Transferred $10M From FEMA to ICE Ahead of Hurricane Florence - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

In a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenario, the U.S. government transferred $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement – and the move has prompted FEMA to cut back on training, IT security and infrastructure investments.

Part of the reason is that the Department of Homeland Security, which runs both FEMA and ICE, told Congress it needed at least $200 million more than what they were currently budgeted for in order to cover the costs of detaining and deporting more people. In a statement, DHS wrote that FEMA “will curtail training, travel, public engagement sessions, IT security support and infrastructure maintenance” and that without the transfer, “ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations.”

The document showing the transfer was released by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. in mid-September. Merkley appeared on MSNBC to discuss the transfer.

However, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton said that the funds did not come from disaster relief funding.

Ray Zaccaro, Merkley’s communications director, wrote, “This comment from FEMA’s spokesperson is as factual as the president’s assertion that Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was ‘incredibly successful’ and ‘one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”

And Moira Whelan, a former DHS official, said that Houlton is simply “parsing words.” FEMA’s money, outside its Disaster Relief Fund, is still used to prepare for disasters and improve responses.

Republican subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., issued a report that described Congress’s “persistent and growing concerns about ICE’s lack of fiscal discipline.” Her report also stated, “The Committee strongly discourages transfer or reprogramming requests to cover ICE’s excesses” and that future requests should provide evidence that the agency needs money because of circumstances beyond its control.

What Do You Think?

Do you think it’s okay to transfer money between agencies without congressional approval? Do you agree with DHS’s decision to take money from FEMA and feed it into ICE? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

 

 

 

2020 Census Set to Include Citizenship Question

2020 Census Set to Include Citizenship Question - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

The 2020 census might have a new question: “Is this person a U.S. citizen?”

While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency is in charge of the Census Bureau, is eager to add the question, many other officials – and members of the public – say it’s a horrible idea.

So far, the decision to add the question to the census has caused several states and cities to file lawsuits, and even the Census Bureau’s own chief scientist advised against it, citing research that suggests asking about citizenship status could “discourage noncitizens from taking part in the census given increased concerns about immigration enforcement under the Trump administration.”

Ross testified to Congress that the Justice Department wanted the question added so it could enforce the Voting Rights Act’s provisions against racial discrimination.

However, several emails and memos that came out as part of the lawsuits directly contradict that testimony.

In an email chain between Ross and another official, Earl Comstock, Ross asked Comstock, “Where is the DOJ in their analysis? If they still have not come to a conclusion please let me know your contact person and I will call the AG.”

A memo signed by Ross says, “My staff and I thought reinstating a citizenship question could be warranted, and we had various discussions with other governmental officials about reinstating a citizenship question to the Census. As part of that deliberative process, my staff and I consulted with Federal governmental components and inquired whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) would support, and if so would request, inclusion of a citizenship question as consistent with and useful for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.”

It’s clear that Ross’s testimony was false, but the issue is still on the table. In fact, it’s likely to end up before the Supreme Court. Federal trials for lawsuits in New York will likely start in October, and lawsuits in California and Maryland, are going to begin in January.

An accurate census is incredibly important, because population counts determine how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are distributed. Further, these counts determine how approximately $800 billion each year in federal funding is divided between states.

What Do You Think?

The government hasn’t asked households about citizenship in a census since the 1950s. Do you believe we need that question on the census, or do you think, as some critics claim, that it’ll discourage people from answering the census at all and prevent the government from getting an accurate count of residents? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

Baby Boomers Use More Pot Now Than Ever Before

Baby Boomers Use More Pot Now Than Ever Before - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Baby boomers are smoking pot in record numbers, according to NPR, and they’re using a lot of it. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2016 found that about 9 percent of American adults between ages 50 and 64 had used marijuana, while about 3 percent of those over 65 did the same.

But the data is self-reported, and experts believe the numbers are significantly higher.

Most of the boomers using marijuana are new to it, too; approximately 45 percent of the people over 65 who use it now never used it before the age of 21.

Why People Are Turning to Pot

Recreational use is becoming legal in more states, and so is medical use – and both are reasons people are using more marijuana now than before. Doctors are now more likely to suggest it as a treatment for a variety of ailments, including pain and chronic medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, fibromyalgia and cancer.

“We prescribe substances that are far more dangerous than cannabinoids,” says Dr. Joshua Briscoe, a palliative care physician at Duke University School of Medicine. Briscoe studies medical marijuana use in the elderly.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, so even though states can legalize it for recreational and medicinal use, users can still be busted by the feds.

And some churches are issuing statements about its use. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for example, said that recreational use of marijuana goes against the organization’s Word of Wisdom Health Code (but that if it’s been prescribed by a doctor, it’s okay).

What Do You Think?

On November 6, 2018, Wisconsin voters in 15 counties and two cities get to vote on marijuana legalization (Milwaukee and Waukesha are both on the list).

In Milwaukee, your question on the ballot will read, “Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?”

In Waukesha, your question on the ballot will read, “Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes, and regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs?”

The questions are intended to give lawmakers a good sense of how voters across the state feel about it for future policy decisions.

How do you feel about legalization of marijuana, either for medical or recreational use? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

 

 

Missouri Drug Company Hikes Drug Price More Than 400%

Nirmal Mulye Hikes Price of Nitrofurantoin to $2392 per Bottle - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Nirmal Mulye, CEO of a Missouri drug company, might be the new Martin Shkreli. And while Shkreli might be known for having the world’s most punchable face, Mulye could well take the award for most punchable personality.

Mulye, who heads Nostrum Laboratories, is responsible for jacking up the price of a life-saving antibiotic by 400 percent. The decades-old drug, nitrofurantoin, is classified as an essential drug by the World Health Organization. Nitrofurantoin is often used to treat urinary tract infections caused by E. coli and other Gram-negative bacteria.

If you look back farther, the average price for one nitrofurantoin pill was just $0.05 in 2010. In July 2018, the price for a bottle was $474.75 – but by August, it was $2,392 per bottle.

It’s not just the price hike, though.

It’s that Mulye said it was a “moral requirement” to “sell the product for the highest price. He went on to say that he was “in this business to make money.” Certainly every business owner can relate – but when it comes to an essential drug, that might not be the best course of action.

And perhaps worse, Mulye publicly aligned himself with Shkreli’s principles.

“I agree with Martin Shkreli that when he raised the price of his drug he was within his rights because he had to reward his shareholders… If he’s the only one selling it then he can make as much money as he can… We have to make money when we can. The price of iPhones goes up, the price of cars goes up, hotel rooms are very expensive,” Mulye said.

Later, he walked back his statement and said that he wasn’t defending Shkreli; he was simply condemning the FDA.

The Food and Drug Administration disagrees with Muley. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted, “[T]here’s no moral imperative to price gouge and take advantage of patients. FDA will continue to promote competition so speculators and those with no regard to public-health consequences can’t take advantage of patients who need medicine.”

What Do You Think?

Do you think Mulye is right in agreeing with Shkreli, or should he have done what he could to keep the price of this essential drug down? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

West Virginia Impeaches Its Entire State Supreme Court

West Virginia Impeaches Its Entire State Supreme Court - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

West Virginia is no stranger to marching to the beat of its own drum, but in mid-August, the state’s House of Delegates voted to impeach all its justices on its Supreme Court of Appeals. Three of the four – Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Elizabeth Walker and Allen Loughry – will face impeachment trials in the state senate. The remaining justice, Robin Davis, announced her retirement mere hours after she was impeached; the court’s fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned well before impeachment proceedings began.

Why West Virginia Impeached Its Justices

The four impeached justices were charged with failing to carry out their administrative duties. Additionally, Loughry, Davis and Workman were impeached for paying retired senior status judges more than they were legally allowed to, and Loughry and Davis also fell into hot water for spending state money to renovate their offices. Finally, Loughry was also impeached for using state vehicles and computers. (Just for a sense of scale, the justices spent over $3 million of taxpayer money for those office renovations.)

West Virginia is already a cash-strapped state.

Now, all four remaining justices are facing impeachment trials in the state senate.

How Does Impeachment Work?

Impeachment doesn’t always mean you’re removed from office. Instead, impeachment is the beginning of the process that could remove an elected official from office. It’s like an indictment; it’s someone saying, “We believe you did this wrong, and now we’re putting you on trial. If we find you guilty, we’re going to see if removing you from office is a fitting punishment.”

West Virginia’s Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to remove a justice from office.

If a justice who has more than two years left in his or her term is removed from office less than 84 days before a general election, he or she can be replaced by an interim justice who will serve until the next election. In West Virginia, that occurs in 2020.

You can keep track of the proceedings in West Virginia here if you’re interested.

What Do You Think?

Do you feel like these are impeachable offenses, or do you think that because taxpayers elected these officials, they shouldn’t be facing charges in West Virginia’s state senate? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

 

California Wildfires Still Burning Out of Control

California Wildfires Still Burning Out of Control - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Several firefighters have died fighting huge blazes in California, but the fires aren’t over yet – and in fact, they could get even worse before they get better.

The Mendocino Complex Fire is the largest in the state’s history, spanning almost 500 square miles; the Holy Fire forced more than 20,000 people from their homes, and more than a dozen other fires have pulled in over 14,000 firefighters from around the country to help. The fires, visible from the International Space Station (here and here), have the potential to get even more serious.

“Last year and this year we’ve seen giant outbreaks of fires in areas where you wouldn’t have expected it based on the soil-moisture balance,” said Park Williams, a professor of biology and environment at Columbia University. “The factor that clearly made the difference in 2017, and again in 2018, is heat. Last summer was record-breaking, or near record-breaking, hot across much of the West, and I believe July 2018 will break records or come close to it again this year. Even if the deep soils are wet following winter and spring, a hot and dry atmosphere seems to be able to overwhelm that effect.”

July 2018 was California’s hottest month ever recorded – as a whole, the state was 5 degrees F hotter than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And in Death Valley, where the temperature averaged 108.1 degrees F across day and night, scientists recorded the hottest temperatures ever seen on Earth. Ever.

Scientists suggest that wildfires are going to become harder to predict because they’re driven more by temperature and humidity in the air than they are by moisture in the soil, as many previously thought. Extreme air temperatures can cause major wildfire issues.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that the wildfires in California and elsewhere across the West are going to spread, becoming worse with each passing year? If you were a firefighter, would you travel to fight them? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

What Was Behind the Teacher Strikes Across the Country?

What Was Behind the Teacher Strikes Across the Country - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Teacher strikes have rolled across five states – West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado – and other states are starting to toy with the idea, too.

But what was really behind the teacher strikes, and could they happen here?

What Was Behind the Teacher Strikes?

Many of the teacher strikes in each state have been more about school funding than anything else, although in some – West Virginia and Arizona – teacher pay was also on the table. School conditions have deteriorated in recent years, and funding has declined. People in favor of higher funding for public education cite several reasons – including the fact that in the U.S., we pay about three times more for each prison inmate than we invest in each child’s education every year.

A new study says that nearly all teachers pay for school supplies from their own pockets, despite the fact that many work for very little money. On average, a teacher will spend about $480 per year on classroom supplies that, before the 2008 recession, were typically provided by schools. Teachers in high-poverty areas are far more likely to spend their personal money on school supplies.

In Milwaukee, the average public school teacher earns just over $55,000 per year. (That average accounts for teachers who have been in the profession for decades and brand-new teachers in their first year.) Governor Scott Walker has cut school funding dramatically, but he’s experiencing a lot of pushback from groups that want to save public education.

“Today, the Wisconsin Public Education Network is at the forefront of a statewide effort to support Wisconsin’s public schools and the 860,000 students who attend them,” says Jennifer Berkshire, co-host of the education podcast Have You Heard. “A small army of parents, teachers, school officials, and ordinary citizens are shining a relentless spotlight on the $2 billion in cuts made to the schools here by Walker and the GOP-led legislature, and demanding a fix to Wisconsin’s deeply inequitable school funding system.”

What Do You Think?

Could this lead to teacher walk-outs in Wisconsin this school year? What are your thoughts on how much teachers are paid, whether schools receive enough funding and whether we’re providing adequate education through public schools? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

My Favorite Weird News Headlines from August

Weird News From August 2018 - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I enjoy weird news every now and then. These are the headlines that really caught my eye over the past month.

Florida Woman Captured by Cows

Officers in Sanford, Florida attempted to stop a woman who had stolen a white Subaru SUV using stop sticks. The sticks caused the vehicle to crash near a pasture, and two of the three passengers in the vehicle took off running into a pasture filled with more than a dozen nervous bovines. One woman was quickly caught by a K9, but the other was “It” in a game of tag the cows started. There’s video of the cows chasing the woman through the pasture and running her toward a fence, thanks to a helicopter flying overhead, which you can see here.

Paris Installs Public Urinals Downtown

Dubbed uritrottoir – a combination of the French words for urinal and sidewalk – public urinals are now sprinkled across Paris. Some have showered the move with criticism, saying that they’re immodest and ugly. Paris apparently has a problem with what locals call “wild peeing,” where people heed nature’s call regardless of location. Proponents of the street urinals say the idea is absolutely golden because it saves buildings, minimizes odor and the urine lands on hay, which can eventually be used as compost.

CDC Issues Suggestion About Not Washing or Reusing Condoms

Everybody knows that condoms are single-use, right? Apparently not, because at the end of July, the Centers for Disease Control tweeted, “We say it because people do it: Don’t wash or reuse condoms! Use a fresh one for each sex act.”

Goats Take Over Boise Neighborhood

A company called “We Rent Goats” (not to be confused with their competitors, “We Sell Lawnmowers”) allowed someone to borrow 118 ravenously hungry mammals that went rogue, mowing down rosebushes, eating low-hanging leaves and generally not caring about boundaries as they broke through a fence and started meeting the neighbors.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to read the weird news stories you’ve discovered, so please share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter with the hashtag #WeirdNews.

Carlos Gamino

July 2018’s Weirdest Stories

July 2018’s Weirdest Stories - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know I love weird stories (and stories about criminals who just can’t get things right, but that’s another topic for another day). There were a lot of them in July, so I thought I’d do a round-up of the weirdest ones to catch my attention – so here they are.

July 2018’s Weirdest Stories

Rogue Squirrel Mistaken for Robber

A wild squirrel caused a London woman to call police about a break-in, and police said he was released with no charges. It brings to mind the story of Joey, a pet squirrel in Idaho who defended his home by scratching a real burglar. When the burglar entered the home, the squirrel pounced and scratched him until he left.

Florida Man Wants His Meth Tested by Police

A Florida man thought that some crystal meth he had purchased was tainted – and he thought he’d been ripped off. He contacted the sheriff’s office and asked to have the drugs tested because he said he’d had a bad reaction, so cops invited him to bring them in for testing. Then, they posted a public notice about being available to test bad drugs on the station’s Facebook page. (Have you seen FloridaMan.com?)

Man Gets Receipt That Instructs Cooks to Spit in His Food

Last Father’s Day, a NYC man went out to eat with his family – and when he got the receipt for the meal, it said:

“Well Done

TOAST BREAD

PLEASE SPIT

IN IT TOO”

The man said that he complained to the manager and the server who typed it was fired. He got a refund, but he said, “I ate my burger already. I felt like I was going to throw up.”

Margarita-Drinking Bear Chills in a Hot Tub

Just before July 4th, a California bear dove into a family’s hot tub in Altadena. The pool and spa’s owner had already brought out a margarita, which the bear knocked over and drank. The whole scene was caught on video.

Siri Chimes in at British Parliament

Gavin Williamson, a British parliament member, had his new iPhone in his pocket while giving a speech about Syria – and Siri misheard him and tried to give him more information. Interruptions are nothing new during the meetings, but Williamson said, “It is very rare that you’re heckled by your own mobile phone.

What Do You Think?

Have you read any crazy news stories we can all share a laugh over? I’d love to hear them, so please share on my Facebook page or on Twitter!

Carlos Gamino

Blood Pressure Medications Recalled Over Cancer Concerns

Blood Pressure Medications Recalled Over Cancer Concerns - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recalled several blood pressure medications that contain the active ingredient valsartan.

“This recall is due to an impurity, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which was found in the recalled products,” said the FDA in a mid-July statement. “However, not all products containing valsartan are being recalled.”

NDMA is classified as a “probable” human carcinogen. That means it could cause cancer, based on what officials have found in a multitude of studies. The carcinogen’s presence is, according to the FDA, “thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured.”

How to Tell if Your Medication Has Been Recalled

Check your prescription bottle and look for the drug name and manufacturer’s name. If that information isn’t there, call the pharmacy that issued it.

These are the medications and companies affected by the recall:

  • Valsartan by Major Pharmaceuticals
  • Valsartan by Solco Healthcare
  • Valsartan by Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.
  • Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) by Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.
  • Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) by Solco Healthcare

Janet Woodcock, M.D., who is the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says, “We have carefully assessed the valsartan-containing medications sold in the United States, and we’ve found that the valsartan sold by these specific companies does not meet our safety standards. This is why we’ve asked these companies to take immediate action to protect patients.

If you are taking one of these medications, contact your doctor or pharmacist immediately.

Other Recalls

The valsartan recall joins several others over the past few months. You can check recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts on the FDA’s website here, but this is a short list of other medication recalls that are still in effect:

  • Daptomycin by Hospira
  • Naloxone hydrochloride by Hospira
  • Birth control capsules by Taytulla
  • Fluticasone Propionate nasal spray by Apotex

Were You Affected by This Recall?

If you were affected by this or another medication recall, I’d love to hear what happened – how did you find out, and what did you do? Share your story on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino