The Senate on Wednesday stripped from the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill language directing the Defense Department to privatize up to five commissaries through a two-year pilot program.Lawmakers also passed a second procedural vote to end debate on the annual policy bill, setting up a final vote for passage which likely will take place Thursday. The 84-14 vote also signaled the Democrats’ decision not to filibuster the authorization bill over its reliance on DOD’s overseas contingency operations account to exceed the Budget Control Act spending caps. Instead, Senate Democrats will resume that fight over the defense spending bill. The party is expected to block a vote, which could come today, to debate the spending measure in the Senate.Before voting to invoke cloture on the underlying bill, the Senate approved language requiring DOD to assess the costs and benefits of privatizing military grocery stores prior to launching a pilot program to evaluate privatization. The amendment was offered by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), but it was modified to include the text of a related amendment from Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), reported CQ.“This amendment puts all efforts to prioritize commissaries on hold, requiring instead an assessment on privatizing before we make significant changes to our service member’s commissary benefits,” Inhofe said in a joint press release. “There are too many unknowns as to whether privatization could directly impact military members’ ability to provide for their families as well as the potential for it to affect retention,” he stated.The House bill does not include language requiring DOD to test privatization.On Tuesday, the Senate rejected an amendment from David Vitter (R-La.) that would have established a floor of 32 Army brigade combat teams (BCTs) in the active and reserve Army components. That is the number of BCTs the Army will have at the end of the current fiscal year when it reaches an end strength of 490,000. Officials shortly are expected to announce further cuts that would shrink the Army by up to 70,000 additional troops and 10 to 12 BCTs. Dan Cohen AUTHOR
Google announced a program to help people discard of opioids. Getty Google says it wants to give people information to help them beat opioid addictions. The search giant on Thursday said it will begin listing places on Google Maps where people can discard unused medications. Those places include pharmacies, hospitals and government buildings. The app will locate drug disposal centers. Google If you type in queries like “drug drop-off near me” or “medication disposal near me,” Google Maps will display local places that have drug disposal services year-round. In all, there are 35,000 locations on the app, with a focus on seven states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania. For the project, Google partnered with those state governments, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency, Health and Human Services, and retail pharmacies Walgreens and CVS. Google said it eventually wants to expand the program beyond those seven states. The search giant said the data from the new Maps feature won’t be used to go after people for illegal drug possession. The company said the data from the DEA and other partners will only be used to show people drop-off locations. The disposals are confidential and no-questions-asked, Google said. The news comes as health professionals and government officials try to figure out how to deal with the opioid epidemic. More than 130 people die each day in the US from opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the tech industry has been under intense scrutiny over the positive and negative effects its products could have on society. Google has been criticized for its policing of disinformation, data collection practices and abuse on its platforms. Lawmakers have also called upon tech giants to help contain the opioid problem. After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg traveled across the US in 2017 on a “listening tour” to get out of his Silicon Valley bubble, he said one of his biggest takeaways was the severity of the opioid crisis. At a hearing before the House of Representatives last April, David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, grilled Zuckerberg on why illegal opioid listings weren’t removed from Facebook. “There are number of areas of content that we need to do a better job,” Zuckerberg replied. In June, the social network said searches for opioids would be redirected to a federal crisis help line. Tags 0 Tech Industry Google Alphabet Inc. Post a comment Share your voice
Share Eric Risberg/APA 2010 photo shows the interior of the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif.In 2016, 30 people were sentenced to death in America, and 20 people were executed.Those numbers are the lowest in decades, according to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, which collects data on capital punishment in the United States, and advocates against the death penalty.The 2016 numbers fit with a multi-decade trend. Death sentences and executions have been declining steadily since the mid-1990s.But 2016 also generated seemingly contradictory information about how the public views capital punishment. Even as jurors have increasingly voted for life in prison instead of execution, voters in three states rejected propositions that would have eliminated the death penalty.In California, Nebraska and Oklahoma — states with widely varying electorates – people voted by large margins to retain the death penalty.Geographic IsolationAnother trend is clearer than ever: for years, just a handful of states have accounted for most of the death sentences in America. In 2015 and 2016, Texas, Georgia and Missouri carried out 85 percent of executions.In fact, the geographical isolation of capital punishment in America goes down to the county level. This year, just 27 of the more than 3,000 U.S. counties are responsible for every death sentence this year.Even in states that impose the most death sentences, the overall trend away from capital punishment holds true. “Texas juries imposed only four new death sentences in 2016, and juries in Georgia and Missouri did not impose any [new death sentences] in 2015 or 2016,” the report notes.Death Row Numbers DownOverall, the number of people on death row – who are waiting to be executed after being sentenced to die – decreased this year, because the number of prisoners either dying in custody or having their sentences reversed outpaced the number of new death sentences.California has by far the most people on death row, with 741, followed by Florida with 396, Texas with 254 and Alabama with 194. However, when you consider each state’s population, Alabama rises to the top, with nearly 4 people on death row for every 100,000 residents. In Texas, which the Marshall Project has reported carried out more than a third of nationwide executions since 1976, that population-adjusted number is less than one per hundred thousand.The Marshall Project tracks the cases of those on death row in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.Sentencing Challenges2016 was also a busy year for court challenges related to the death penalty. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty sentencing system, which allowed judges to disregard the jury’s sentence to impose the death penalty even if jurors recommended life in prison.In October, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that juries must vote unanimously in order to sentence someone to die. “It’s not clear how many people on Florida’s death row will get the opportunity to change their death sentence to life in prison,” as a result of the decision, Nick Evans of member station WFSU reported.At the beginning of this year, Delaware and Alabama were the other two states that allowed judicial overrides of jury decisions in death penalty cases. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Delaware’s court struck down its law, and this month the state’s Supreme Court said all 12 men on Delaware’s death row would have their sentences automatically converted to life in prison.In contrast, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the judicial override statute in September, reported Kent Faulk for The Marshall Project. If Alabama followed Florida’s lead, and required a unanimous jury decision to impose the death penalty, it could have a large effect on the number of death sentences in the state.“Of the 57 executions in Alabama since the death penalty was reinstated in 1983, 29 involved non-unanimous jury votes, ranging from 11 to 1 for death to 11 to 1 for life, according to an AL.com, Marshall Project review of each case,” Faulk reported.Lethal Injection Protocol States also struggled with challenges to lethal injection protocols, and with where to get the drugs used in executions.In May, Pfizer joined other drug companies in its decision not to allow its drugs to be used for lethal injections. Pfizer was the last open-market source for execution drugs, as we reported. More than 20 other U.S. and European drugmakers had already blocked their drugs from being used to kill prisoners.After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that using the sedative midazolam was constitutional in 2015, multiple states moved forward with executions using that drug as part of multi-chemical protocols for executing people.The Death Penalty Information Center says three executions used the drug this year – one in Florida and two in Alabama. As we have reported, the Alabama defendant Ronald Smith, “unsuccessfully argued that midazolam was an unreliable sedative and could cause them to feel pain, citing its use in problematic executions including the botched execution of an Oklahoma man in 2014. A federal judge dismissed the case in November.”Smith was executed in December. Witnesses said he, “appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist,” for 13 minutes after he was injected with midazolam. It took 34 minutes for Smith to die.On Tuesday, Arizona announced it would stop using midazolam for executions. In 2014, Arizona prisoner Joseph Randolph Wood died slowly, over the course of nearly two hours during which he gasped and snorted after he had been injected with the drug.And, after a botched execution in Oklahoma in 2015, a state investigation released this year found prison authorities had “ordered the wrong execution drugs” from a pharmacist.Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
By PHOEBE SUY, Beaumont EnterpriseBEAUMONT, Texas (AP) — From its beginnings in the years after the Civil War, Beaumont’s oldest Black church has witnessed the establishment of the area’s first Black public school, weathered desegregation and this year will celebrate 150 years as a “beacon of light in the community.”“Born and raised” in St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Walter McCloney said he strives to keep his “commitment (to the church) palatable.”Walter McCloney is one of the oldest members of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Beaumont. (Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)The Beaumont Enterprise reports the 79-year-old church trustee said St. Paul A.M.E Church is a part of the legacy and vision of the “spiritual builders” who founded the church in 1868.“We’re the beneficiaries of what they did,” said McCloney, pointing to the vaulted ceiling and colorful glass windows that adorn the Waverly Street sanctuary.McCloney, the third generation in his family to attend the church, said St. Paul was “very special” to him as one of the oldest Black churches in Beaumont.St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church grew out of a Methodist church organized for Blacks three years after the end of the Civil War, according to historical church documents.Members of the young church met on alternative Sundays in the basement of the Jefferson County Courthouse.A Beaumonter since “the close of the War between the States,” church founder and former slave Woodson Pipkin was known for his “quaint old timey ways and self-respecting habits,” according to church documents.Pipkin formally became the group’s first pastor in 1872 and moved the church to the second story of his residence once located in the 900 block of Market Street. The church soon outgrew the upper story of Pipkin’s home and moved to a larger location on Beaumont’s north side at the site of what is now Alice Keith Park.On Sundays, the church doubled as a school where many church members learned to read and write, according to an account by local historian Judith Linsley.Pipkin later donated a lot on Wall Street that was the “center of activities for Blacks,” witnessing countless births, deaths, weddings and civic ceremonies. St. Paul remained at the downtown location until the early 1960s, when the old building began to give way to “age and decay,” according to church records.When the upper story of the church’s structure caved in, church members made do and held services in the basement. But when a fire destroyed the two-story building, the congregation raised funds to purchase the Waverly Street property.St. Paul “stands on their shoulders” of longtime church members who have “kept the faith,” McCloney said.In the 1940s and 1950s, St. Paul’s was one of the largest Black churches in Beaumont, McCloney said, recalling the days at the downtown location when he and his friends would run to Fowler’s Drug Store after Sunday school to get ice cream before the sermon.While McCloney said he believed all churches that preached a “positive message” during the civil rights era were a part of the movement, St. Paul’s played an active role in the community in the 1960s as a meeting spot for activists and NAACP members.Alice Jefferson Tiller, whose family were longtime members of St. Paul, was one of the first African-Americans to enroll at Lamar University in 1956, according to McCloney.While its membership has slowly dwindled, McCloney said he looks forward to reaching out to families and communities to become a part of the church’s legacy.“This is our family,” said Bobbie Williams, who joined the church in the 1980s after moving here from Louisiana.Williams said she joined St. Paul after feeling “so at ease” in the church.Years ago, women weren’t seen in church without hats or gloves, Williams recalled, adding that St. Paul’s “down-to-earth” and no-frills atmosphere made her feel welcome.Williams used to sit in the same pew as the late Fayetta Donovan, one of Pipkin’s descendants, who Williams said was “a lot of fun.”Whenever the preacher would “preach too long,” Donovan would begin to shake her keys to signal the end of the hour.“Ms. Donovan always said, if they preach too long, the people will lose their spirit,” Williams said.Church founders and organizers “kept the faith for so long,” McCloney said. He is proud to be a part of the tight-knit congregation and “a lifelong member of that legacy.”___Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com