10 years after Vatican reform, Legion in new abuse crisis

Associated Press – World

10 years after Vatican reform, Legion in new abuse crisis

By Maria Verza and Nicole Winfield       January 19, 2020

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, tears well up in Ana Lucia Salazar's eyes as she tells her story of abuse, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says that she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest when she was eight. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, tears well up in Ana Lucia Salazar’s eyes as she tells her story of abuse, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says that she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest when she was eight. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

 

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The administrator of the elite Catholic school in Cancun, Mexico, used to take the girls out of class and send them to the chapel, where the priest from the Legion of Christ religious order would sexually abuse them.

“As some were reading the Bible, he would rape the others in front of them, little girls aged 6 to 8 or 9,” said one of his victims, Ana Lucia Salazar, now a 36-year-old Mexican television host and mother of three.

“Afterward, nothing was the same, nothing went back to the way it was,” she said through tears at her home in Mexico City.

Salazar’s horrific story, which has been corroborated by other victims and the Legion itself, has sparked a new credibility crisis for the once-influential order, 10 years after the Holy See took it over after determining that its founder was a pedophile.

But more importantly, it has called into question the Vatican reform itself: The papal envoy who ran the Legion starting in 2010 learned about the case nearly a decade ago and refused to punish or even investigate the priest or the superiors who covered up his crimes, many of whom are still in power and ministry today.

The scandal is not the story line the Legion was hoping for as it opened its general chapter Monday in Rome, a weeks-long gathering to choose new leaders and approve policy decisions going forward.

The assembly was supposed to have shown off the Legion embarking fully on its own after 10 years of Vatican-mandated reform. The Holy See imposed structural changes after revelations that the Legion’s late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his double life.

The Cancun scandal, though, has exposed that the Vatican reform failed to address one key area: to punish known historic abusers and the people who covered for them, and change the culture of cover-up that enabled the crimes.

From the outset, the late papal envoy who ran the Legion, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, refused to hold complicit Legion superiors accountable or investigate past abusers.

“De Paolis said there would be no witch hunt, explicitly, and the consequence is that abuse and its cover-up have remained unpunished,” said the Rev. Christian Borgogno, a former Legion priest who co-founded the “Legioleaks” Facebook group where Salazar first went public in May. Borgogno said De Paolis’ decision to leave in place Legion superiors, many of whom were close to Maciel, “made reform impossible.”

“The only way out was to foster charismatic leaders, and they were even repressed,” he told the AP. “That’s the main reason why many of us left.”

Following the AP story, the Legion announced on Monday it would conduct an investigation with the Vatican into the cover-up of the case, and vowed all superiors involved would cooperate.

Salazar, whose story has made headlines in Mexico, wants more: “What I want is for the pope to get radicalized,” she said. “There’s only one position, to be on the side of the violated children,” not a religious order that has among its priests “villains, delinquents, rapists, accomplices and victimizers.”

“The Legion of Christ has no reason to exist,” she said, echoing calls from even within the church that the Vatican should have suppressed the order 10 years ago. “It’s like taking apart a cartel; you have to remove the ringleaders and dismantle it.”

Legion spokesman the Rev. Aaron Smith argued that the Legion’s leadership had indeed changed over the past decade, noting that 11 priests are participating in the 2020 general chapter for the first time, and that most of the 66 participants are new to the assembly since the Vatican reform began. More than a dozen others, however, belong to Maciel’s old guard.

Smith said the power structure of the Maciel era had been dismantled, with more decentralized authority and systems of checks and balances put in place.

“It would be practically impossible today to have actions like the ones which occurred during Maciel’s tenure to go undetected,” he said in emailed responses to questions, after declining an on-camera interview.

The scandal has struck the Legion at its core — Mexico — and cast a discrediting light where it hurts most: the Legion’s prestigious private schools, which cater to Mexico’s elite and are the order’s main source of income. Former Legion priests say the scandal is a devastating blow that they long warned about, since a loss of credibility among wealthy Mexicans would deprive the Legion of its key base.

Already, the Mexican bishops conference has ended its silence about the Legion to denounce the newly revealed abuse and the Legion’s failure to provide “a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims” even after it acknowledged the crimes, vowed more transparency and pointed to its child protection policies in place now.

The archbishop of Monterrey — a Legion stronghold — denounced the group’s “criminal silence” and treatment of victims, and led recent calls from Mexican bishops for an end to the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. It was a remarkable turnabout, given that Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy long supported the Legion and benefited from the once-wealthy order’s largesse.

Even the Vatican’s ambassador to Mexico, Monsignor Franco Coppola, broke the Holy See’s tradition of diplomatic discretion to publicly criticize the Legion’s handling of the case and call for the Vatican to investigate the “web of cover-up” behind it. That too was remarkable, given that the Vatican itself has been implicated in the Maciel cover-up.

Coppola also echoed calls from victims and the archdiocese of Monterrey for the Legion superiors implicated in the cover-up to at least stand down from the general chapter, calling it a “great gesture of humility,” though until Monday none had accepted.

But on Monday evening, the Legion announced that the Rev. Eloy Bedia, who had been the Mexican superior who handled the complaints in the 1990s, had agreed to not participate in the meeting. But he also defended himself in a letter released by the order and noted that all personnel movements in the 1990s were decided by Maciel, not him.

Asked about the criticism from the Mexican hierarchy, Smith said the Legion welcomed the input as it seeks to improve its handling of past cases of abuse and prevention efforts going forward.

He said the general chapter would evaluate current child protection practices, ensure proper outreach to victims, and could mandate a continuation of the investigation into other cases of abuse of power by Legion superiors.

However, victims see such promises as nothing more than lip service, and dismissed the letters they received from the leadership after the scandal broke promising reparations and change. The Legion hasn’t yet settled all requests for financial compensation from eight of Maciel’s original victims, who made formal requests in 2018.

Salazar’s case is particularly grave since her parents went to the bishop, himself a Legionary, to denounce the priest, Fernando Martínez Suárez, as soon as Salazar told them in late 1992 that he had digitally raped her. Then aged 8, she had been jumping on her parents’ bed one night when she revealed that Martínez would sit her on his lap, pull her panties aside, penetrate her and masturbate himself.

“My mother says that while I was jumping, it seemed like I was a butterfly, as if I were lifting the weight off, as if I were flying,” Salazar said.

But Martínez had friends, chief among them Maciel, who it turns out had sexually abused him. Martínez was one of nearly a dozen Legion priests who were childhood victims of the founder and went onto molest other minors, a multi-generational chain of abuse that the Legion acknowledged last month.

Last week, the Legion announced that Martínez had asked to be defrocked, after an outside investigation determined he molested at least six girls in Cancun and that a series of Legion leaders, from the original bishop who took Salazar’s complaint to De Paolis himself, decided against reporting him to police or even the Vatican. Martinez had been transferred from Cancun to a seminary in Spain, with no formal restrictions imposed after the Legion received the first reports.

De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s top canon lawyers, then essentially became part of the cover-up: He had learned of the case between 2011-2013 when he was asked to take action against Martinez since no proper investigation had ever been conducted. But at the moment in which Martinez could have finally been brought to justice, De Paolis settled on inaction since no other complaints had been received, according to the investigation by the Praesidium firm. Martinez was subsequently transferred to Rome in 2016.

The current Legion superior, the Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, apologized to Salazar for how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent “deficiencies.”

“I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn’t reexamine it,” he wrote her in November.

He forwarded a letter from Martínez to Salazar, in which her abuser begged her forgiveness “for the grave harm I caused you.” He termed his behavior “faults” that were the result of an “uncontrolled sexuality.”

Salazar was deeply offended, feeling the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. “It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting.”

After Salazar came forward, other Martínez victims broke their silence.

Their stories were no surprise to Beatriz Sánchez, an English teacher at Cancun’s Colegio Cumbres in the early 1990s who heard about the rapes after discovering a group of his victims whispering — and weeping — in the bathroom.

“When one approached me she said: ‘Miss, each time Father is doing it harder with the littlest ones and we don’t want this to happen to them, please help us,’” Sanchez told AP.

She urged them to write it down — and then was promptly fired when she reported him to Martinez’s then-superior, Bedia.

After Salazar went public, the school official who used to take the girls out of class to offer them up to Martinez was fired from her job at another Legion school.

One of the young victims was Biani López-Antúnez, whose mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993.

Irma Hassey said she hadn’t pried for details when her daughter first revealed Martinez’s abuse as a child, not wanting to hurt her further, and only learned the full extent in November.

Now, she said, she realizes with horror that for two years “I was leaving my daughter at the door of a rapist.”

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar shows a photo of herself when she was 8-years-old, on her smart phone during an interview with the Associated Press in Mexico City. At the time Salazar says she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar shows a photo of herself when she was 8-years-old, on her smart phone during an interview with the Associated Press in Mexico City. At the time Salazar says she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds the letters that Legion of Christ's new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, and her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says she was deeply offended by the way the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. "It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting." She said. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds the letters that Legion of Christ’s new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, and her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says she was deeply offended by the way the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. “It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting.” She said. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo, then Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican. It was revealed that Maciel sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his crimes. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo, then Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican. It was revealed that Maciel sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his crimes. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds one of the letters that her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Her abuser begged her forgiveness "for the grave harm I caused you." He termed his behavior "faults" that were the result of an "uncontrolled sexuality." (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds one of the letters that her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Her abuser begged her forgiveness “for the grave harm I caused you.” He termed his behavior “faults” that were the result of an “uncontrolled sexuality.” (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this Jan.19, 2020 photo, Biani Lopez-Antunez, shows a copy of the letter she wrote describing the sexual abuse she and others suffered when they were children at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest, at park in Mexico City. She wrote the letter at the behest of a teacher she had asked to protect her and her classmates. Her mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)In this Jan.19, 2020 photo, Biani Lopez-Antunez, shows a copy of the letter she wrote describing the sexual abuse she and others suffered when they were children at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest, at park in Mexico City. She wrote the letter at the behest of a teacher she had asked to protect her and her classmates. Her mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, Legion of Christ's new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, right, prays during a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis at the Legion of Christ main headquarters, the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, in Rome. Robles Gil apologized to Ana Lucia Salazar for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest when she was a child, on how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent "deficiencies.""I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn't re-examine it," he wrote her in November. "Today, I am ashamed I didn't." (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, File)In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, Legion of Christ’s new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, right, prays during a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis at the Legion of Christ main headquarters, the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, in Rome. Robles Gil apologized to Ana Lucia Salazar for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest when she was a child, on how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent “deficiencies.””I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn’t re-examine it,” he wrote her in November. “Today, I am ashamed I didn’t.” (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, File)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican bishops conference, takes his hand to his forehead after speaking during a news conference in Mexico City. The Mexican bishops conference ended its silence about the Legion of Christ to denounce the new revelations and the Legion's failure to provide "a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims" even after it acknowledged the crimes. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican bishops conference, takes his hand to his forehead after speaking during a news conference in Mexico City. The Mexican bishops conference ended its silence about the Legion of Christ to denounce the new revelations and the Legion’s failure to provide “a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims” even after it acknowledged the crimes. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2011 file photo, the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, papal delegate for the Legion of Christ, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Vatican City. The latest scandal has exposed that the Vatican reform of the Legionaries of Christ charted by De Paolis failed in at least one key area: rooting out the culture of abuse and cover-up that enabled father Marcial Maciel's double life and allowed his crimes and the crimes of others to go unchecked for decades. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)In this Aug. 25, 2011 file photo, the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, papal delegate for the Legion of Christ, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Vatican City. The latest scandal has exposed that the Vatican reform of the Legionaries of Christ charted by De Paolis failed in at least one key area: rooting out the culture of abuse and cover-up that enabled father Marcial Maciel’s double life and allowed his crimes and the crimes of others to go unchecked for decades. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)

Winfield reported from the Vatican.

Newlyweds died together in the plane crash in Iran a week after their wedding

CNN

Newlyweds died together in the plane crash in Iran a week after their wedding

(CNN)The celebration of a new life together turned to loss when newlyweds died in the Tehran plane crash as they traveled home to Canada.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji tied the knot on January 1 in Tehran in front of their family and friends, according to CNN news partner CTV News.
A week later, they were two of the souls to lose their lives when a plane crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians. The Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines flight crashed in Tehran minutes after takeoff.
Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji
The Victims Wednesday included the  newlyweds, a family of four, a mother and her daughters, “bright students and dedicated faculty members,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“They were basically the kindest souls that I knew,” friend Amir Forouzandeh told CTV News. “Honestly, if you met them even once you could tell that these two belong together for sure.”
Pourzarabi and Gorji had traveled to Iran for their wedding, Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, told CNN news partner CBC.
“It’s devastating and shocking,” Akbari told CBC. “It’s a tragic moment.”
Akbari said the couple and others in the Iranian community are being mourned on the messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran. He said he knew at least eight of the victims.
“When you go from top to the bottom, it’s hard to believe — all these wonderful people … these people who really were actually impactful in our community, they’re not among us anymore,” he told CBC. “And in one incident all of them are gone.”
Photos of the bride wearing a white, strapless gown and the groom in a black tuxedo smiling as they walked hand-in-hand flooded the bride’s Facebook page with messages of condolence. They were only in their mid-20s, according to CTV News.
‎Sima Hamzehloo‎ talked about Gorji as an intelligent, talented and polite woman, in a post on the bride’s Facebook page. “Although you wanted to leave for a better life, it was the Middle East that couldn’t leave you my dear,” Hamzehloo wrote.
Another friend of Gorji’s posted a photo of the pair when they were teenagers competing at a math tournament.
“Time could have get frozen back there, but well it didn’t,” Yasamin Rezaei wrote in a Facebook post.
The University Of Alberta community also is in mourning. Pourzarabi and Gorji were graduate students studying computer science, the school said.
Ten students, faculty and alumni of the school died in the crash, the university said.
“These individuals were integral to the intellectual and social fabric of our university and the broader community,” University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor David H. Turpin said in a statement.
“We are grieving for lost colleagues, classmates, teachers, and mentors, as well as loved ones, family, friends, and roommates,” Turpin said. “We will feel their loss — and the aftermath of this tragedy — for many years to come.”

 

Trudeau says Canadians ‘deserve’ answer on the fatal Iran plane crash.

Yahoo News Canada

‘Something very unusual happened’: Trudeau says Canadians ‘deserve’ answer on the fatal Iran plane crash

Elisabetta Bianchini        January 8, 2020

Canada reacts after 63 Canadians are killed in Iran plane crash

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko confirmed Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800, crashed on its was from Iran’s capital, Tehran, to Kyiv and there were no survivors.

“Tehran airport is anything but a simple one. Therefore, for several years UIA has been using this airport to conduct training on Boeing 737 aircraft aimed at evaluating pilots’ proficiency and ability to act in emergency cases, Ihor Sosnovsky, Ukraine International Airlines vice president of operations said in a statement.

“According to our records, the aircraft ascended as high as 2400 meters. Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”

Messaging from the Canadian government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was joined by other government officials for a press conference to discuss the events of the tragic crash. The prime minister said that 138 passengers on the plane were connecting to Canada on PS752.

“I want to express my deepest condolences to all who are mourning a loss of a love one,” Trudeau said.

He also confirmed that the Canadian government will ensure that the crash is thoroughly investigated.

“We’ve had many countries step up to provide their assistance and support,” Trudeau said. “[Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne] will be engaging directly with his Iranian counterpart…to request a presence from Canada in Tehran and in the investigation.”

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau told the media that the investigation is in the early stages but the crash happened about two minutes after takeoff, which occurred in a “normal fashion” before contact was lost. Garneau said this suggests that “something very unusual happened.”

Trudeau and Garneau both could not confirm the cause of the crash, with the prime minister saying that Canadians “deserve” answers he cannot categorically say that the plane was not shot down.

“It is too early to speculate. I would encourage people not to speculate, we are certainly aware that this is a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Trudeau said.

The transport minister also confirmed that Iran is leading the investigation but Canada has “offered to the Ukrainians all the technical assistance that they may wish.”

“It’s also true that the transportation safety board…is also going to be involved because there were Canadian nationals won this particular flight,” Garneau said. “They have indicated that if it was the desire of the Ukrainian or the Iranians…that Canada would be prepared to assist in terms of black box data interpretation.”

Details about the victims

There were 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainian passengers and crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons on board. The airline has released a list of passengers on the flight. More information continues to be revealed about the victims of the fatal crash.

Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, Darya Mousavi and Darina Mousavi. (CBC News)
Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, Darya Mousavi and Darina Mousavi. (CBC News)

 

Reuters has reported that 30 Edmontonians were on the plane, including University of Alberta professor Pedram Mousavi, his wife Mojgan Daneshmand and their daughters Daria and Dorina. Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Northgate Centre Medical Clinic in Edmonton, and her two daughters were also killed, according to CBS News.

The University of Guelph released a statement confirming that two students from the school were aboard the plane, Ghanimat Azhdari and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, who was pursuing a PhD in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of two of our students,” University of Guelph president Franco Vaccarino said in a statement. “Our thoughts go out to the families of these two students and to anyone else affected by this tragedy. Any loss to our campus community touches all of us.”

What we know so far

The crash follows increased tensions in Iran following the killing of Iranian military leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. last week.

Global Affairs Canada has alerted all Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Iran “due to the volatile security situation, the regional threat of terrorism and the risk of arbitrary detention.”

“Canadians, particularly dual Canadian-Iranian citizens, are at risk of being arbitrarily questioned, arrested and detained,” the advisory from the government agency reads. “Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Canada will not be granted consular access to dual Canadian-Iranian citizens.”

Reuters is reporting that a Canadian security source said the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies is that the plane was not brought down by a missile. It is believe that the plane crash was caused by a technical malfunction.

trump wags the dog

TRUMP WAGS THE DOG

Claytoonz

cjones01052020

First thing: Don’t let anyone say questions shouldn’t be asked right now. This morning on CNN, I heard one analyst say Senator Chris Murphy should “shut up” with his criticism of this attack on an Iranian government official. Wrong. Now is the time to ask questions. It’s important. Being told to shut up and go along was exactly what they said in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq.

Another reminder of the invasion of Iraq: This morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this move will be celebrated in Iraq and Iran. That’s reminiscent of the claim by Dick Cheney that we’d be “greeted as liberators.”

Now, when they come out with bold claims like that, it means there’s something wrong. It’s when I smell bullshit. The first thing wrong with this is that it was a decision made by Donald Trump. Any decision by Donald Trump should be questioned. The man is irrational, stupid, and has never had preparations for after. This was a decision made between rounds of golf at Mar-a-Lago.

Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, one of the top figures in Iran’s government. The hit occurred in Iraq at the international airport in Baghdad. This was an assassination of a foreign official on the soil of a third nation. Whenever anyone talks about Iran’s proxy wars today, keep that in mind.

Here’s the thing, kids: Assassinating a foreign official is illegal. It’s illegal in the U.S. and internationally. The only way Trump has the authority to do this is if there was indeed an imminent threat that would be eliminated by this guy’s murder. This may be why the Trump administration doesn’t want questions asked. We know one thing and that is Donald Trump is not above abusing presidential authority and breaking the law.

Soleimani was a bad guy. This is not a defense of him. U.S. intelligence (the same intelligence Republicans call “deep state” and have accused of masterminding a coup against Trump) has blamed the general for the deaths of at least 600 Americans. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations considered him a terrorist, but they held back on taking the guy out. Now, you can’t say Trump is more decisive in taking him out because it took him three years.

This morning, Pompeo claimed Soleimani initiated an attack on Washington, D.C. in the past that never materialized or was thwarted. If that’s true, then why wasn’t that the time to take him out? Why now? Because there was a protest at our embassy in Iraq or because there were massive revelations on the same day that Donald Trump directed the withholding of military aid to Ukraine? What we saw yesterday was more evidence that Donald Trump and his Attorney General, William Barr, engaged in a coverup.

If there was an imminent attack on American lives, then the administration needs to provide the details. Pompeo claimed this assassination saved American lives and that the region is safer today for Americans…all while the U.S. government is screaming for Americans to get out of Iraq. All while the world is warning of a reprisal attack from Iran. How exactly has this made anyone safer?

Donald Trump did not consult with the Gang of Eight before this attack, which are the leaders of The House and Senate. But, he had time to talk to Senator Lindsey Graham about it Monday in a golf cart. That doesn’t add up.

The Trump administration saw an opportunity to kill this guy and they took it. They’ve had opportunities before, so why now? There have been constant attacks against Americans in Iraq, so why now?

Now, we’re hearing very little talk about impeachment. The irony is, this may be another reason to impeach.

Australia Wildfire Forces 4,000 to Flee to Sea

EcoWatch – Austrailia

Australia Wildfire Forces 4,000 to Flee to Sea

         The remains of burnt out buildings are seen along Main Street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on Dec. 31, 2019, after bushfires ravaged the town. Thousands of holidaymakers and locals were forced to flee to beaches in fire-ravaged southeast Australia. SEAN DAVEY / AFP via Getty Images

An out-of-control wildfire in the Australian state of Victoria forced thousands of people to flee towards the coast Tuesday.

Residents of the town of Mallacoota hunkered down in their homes or headed for the relative safety of the beach when a siren sounded around 8 a.m., BBC News reported. Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said 4,000 sheltered by the water.

“It’s mayhem out there, it’s armageddon,” evacuee Charles Livingstone told The Guardian Australia. He said he had evacuated to the town’s jetty Monday night with his wife and 18-month-old baby, but moved to the community center to escape the smoke.

The fire that prompted the flight to the coast sparked Sunday in Wingan, according to The Guardian, but CNN reported that there were more than 10 fires burning Monday in the East Gippsland area where Mallacoota is located. Three of those fires have been burning for more than a month, and several new blazes were started Sunday by dry lightning and then spread because of hot, dry, windy weather.

Mallacoota was not evacuated along with the rest of East Gippsland Sunday, and by Monday it was too dangerous for anyone to move, The Guardian explained.

Instead, residents fled to the water’s edge, and the fire followed them around 1:30 p.m.

“It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring,” local business owner David Jeffrey told BBC News. “We were all terrified for our lives.”

He said residents planned to jump off a sea wall into the water if the flames came too close.

Luckily, a change in the wind redirected the fire away from the town.

“I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced,” chief fire service officer Steve Warrington told BBC News.

However, residents will now have to deal with fire damage. Warrington told CNN that “a number of houses” were destroyed or damaged. Mallacoota residents estimated on social media that around 20 homes, the school, golf club and bowling club had been burned, according to The Guardian.

“I just don’t know how we’re going to pull through this, really,” Maisy Roberts, who works at the town’s Croajingolong Cafe and thought her home was destroyed, told 3AW’s Nick McCallum. “It’s just absolute devastation.”

Mallacoota is not the only place in Australia feeling the heat from a devastating fire season. Four people are missing in East Gippsland as a whole, 3AW reported. Initial aerial investigations show that 19 structures have been destroyed in Sarsfield and 24 in Buchanan, but authorities think the final tally for the region will be higher.

There are fires burning in every Australian state, CNN reported, though Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) have been the hardest hit. More than 900 homes have been destroyed in NSW alone.

Twelve people have died in the blazes so far, BBC News reported. On Tuesday, bodies believed to belong to a father and son were discovered in Corbargo, NSW.

Three of the dead were firefighters. Two, both fathers to young children, died in NSW a little less than two weeks ago. A third, 28-year-old Samuel McPaul, died Sunday when fire-created winds lifted his truck and flipped it over. He was newly married and expecting a child.

The fires have been linked to the climate crisis.

“Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said, according to Time.

It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

Common Dreams

Published on       November 20, 2019 by OtherWords

It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

If we end wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

by Lindsay Koshgarian       November 20, 2019
Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re following the presidential race, you’ve heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we’re told we simply must afford it—no questions asked.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

According to one study, even if universal health insurance didn’t bring health care prices down—an unlikely worst-case scenario—we’d need an extra $300 billion a year beyond our current spending to provide full insurance for everyone.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

Right now, only about one quarter of the $738 billion Pentagon budget goes to our troops. The rest is mainly three things: the cost of maintaining 800 military installations all over the world; lucrative Pentagon contracts, which account for nearly half of the entire Pentagon budget; and, of course, our never-ending wars in the Middle East.

According to my research, if we end those wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

As experts of various political stripes will tell you, the U.S. military is carrying out a costly 20th-century security vision in a 21st century world. For instance, the Pentagon still keeps tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Italy. Maybe 75 years after the end of World War II (and nearly 20 years into our ill-fated Iraq adventure) is a good time to finally bring those troops home?

Closing 60 percent of our foreign bases would save $90 billion a year. There’d be enough left over for more than one foreign military installation in each country on earth, if we insisted.

Right now, those bases enable our endless wars. Troops rotate from Germany into the Middle East and Africa, and tens of thousands are stationed in the conflict-ridden Middle East at any given time. Yet our wars have only further destabilized the region. It’s time we brought our troops home for good—and saved $66 billion each year in the bargain.

Then there are those highly paid contractors. For instance, the F-35 fighter jet is projected to cost more than the entire military budget of Iran. But even after many years and massive cost overruns, the lead Pentagon tester just reported that the F-35 is still “breaking more often than planned and taking longer to fix.”

We should halt the F-35 boondoggle, cut back on 20th century war technology like the aircraft carrier, and freeze nuclear weapons spending, with the eventual goal of eliminating these weapons that could wipe us all out at a keystroke.

All told, we could cut $100 billion from outdated, ill-conceived, or outright dangerous programs like these. The contractors will howl, but they’ve run things long enough.

None of this is as radical as it sounds. Today, military spending higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam War. Even with a $350 billion cut, it would simply return to levels from the late 1990’s.

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All.

Which would make us safer: Medicare for All or endless wars? The choice is ours.

Lindsay Koshgarian

Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Scoop.me – Europe

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Finland’s new head of state caused enthusiasm in the country: Sanna Marin (34) is the youngest female head of government worldwide. She leads a centre-left coalition in which all 5 government parties have women at the top. Her aim: To introduce the 4-day-week and the 6-hour-working day in Finland.

Sanna Marin is the new Prime Minister of Finland. The 34-year-old social democrat was celebrated internationally because of strong women-led government: It is a coalition of five parties – and in all of them, women are the leaders.

For Sanna Marin, the fact that she is young and female doesn’t play a big role:

“I have never thought about my age or gender. I think more about the motivations that brought me into politics.”

Marin wants “much shorter working hours”

More important for Marin is the question, how long the Finns should have to work. She demands much shorter working hours on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Turku. In her position as Minister of Transport and Communications, she said:

A four-day work week, a six-hour workday. Why couldn’t it be the next step? Is eight hours really the ultimate truth? I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.

In Finland, 8-hour-days for five days a week are common in peoples’ work life. The left-wing alliance, with which Marin has formed a coalition recently, demanded a test run for the 6-hour-day.

Göteborg proves it: 6-hour-days keep you happy and healthy

The 6-hour-day already works in Finland’s neighbour country Sweden: In 2015, Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, reduced working time to six hours a day in the old peoples’ homes and the municipal hospital – while still full paying their employees. The results two years later: The employees were happier, healthier and more productive. With the reduction in working hours, services were expanded and patients were more satisfied.

And the costs were stable: More employees were hired, which resulted in more tax revenue. In Addition to that, fewer sick days, fewer invalidity pensions and fewer people unemployed saved money.

Swedish Tech Industry as Pioneer

In the Swedish tech industry, the 6-hour-day has been default for many years. First and foremost, the automobile manufacturer Toyota proved how it works. As early as 2003, the Gothenburg plant switched to shorter working days with full pay.

Not only were Toyota’s employees more satisfied and motivated, they could also increase their productivity – and in the end: Toyota’s profits. The reasons for this are simple: First, unnecessarily long meetings were discarded or made more efficient. And second, there are much fewer idle times in the working day that are filled with social media or Internet surfing.

People go to work and do it more focused and concentrated. Then they go home and have enough time to spend the afternoon with their families, friends and hobbies.

The social democratic magazine Kontrast.at covers current political events, both in Austria and in the rest of the world. We view society, state and economy from a progressive, emancipatory point of view. Kontrast casts the gaze of social justice on the world.

Surprise Medical Billing Drives Up Health Care Spending by $40 Billion a Year

The Fiscal Times – Health Care

Surprise Medical Billing Drives Up Spending by $40 Billion a Year: Report

By Michael Rainey       December 17, 2019

Getty Images/Joe Raedle

It looks like Congress won’t be doing anything about surprise medical bills this year, but a new study in Health Affairs shows why the issue will likely remain font and center next year.

Analyzing reams of insurance data, researchers found that many out-of-network bills come from a small percentage of medical specialists who typically work in emergency rooms at for-profit hospitals and who therefore cannot be avoided by patients. While out-of-network charges are produced by only a small percentage of hospitals and practitioners, the bills that do emerge are sometimes much higher than average and push up spending by private insurers by billions of dollars – costs that are eventually reflected in everyone’s premiums.

“When physicians whom patients cannot avoid can work out of network from in-network hospitals, it exposes patients to significant financial risk and raises physicians’ in-network payments,” the study says. “Anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, and assistant surgeons are out of network in approximately 10 percent of cases [in the study]. We estimated that these specialists’ ability to bill out of network raises total health care spending for people with employer-sponsored insurance by approximately 3.4 percent ($40 billion).”

Dan O’Neill, a health policy fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, did some quick back-of-the-envelope math to calculate the average cost for policyholders, based on the study in Health Affairs: “To boil this down to a headline: The business practice of surprise billing costs a typical American family on a private health plan about $1,000 per year (+/-).”

Trump’s proposed Social Security disability cuts could end benefits for thousands.

USA Today – Politics

Trump’s proposed Social Security disability cuts could end benefits for thousands. What to know

This is why Social Security is running out of money
USA TODAY

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Trump Administration is proposing new rules for the nation’s safety net program for people with disabilities that could end benefits for tens of thousands of people.

The rules would require more frequent paperwork checks of people getting Social Security disability payments in a process known as a “continuing disability review.”

The proposed new rules have alarmed some advocates for people with disabilities, who call it a “backdoor way” to cut people from a program already under scrutiny for taking years to review disability claims and wrongly denying benefits.

Social Security Administration officials say the plan would “enhance program integrity and ensure that only those who continue to qualify for benefits will receive them.”

Whose Social Security disability benefits would be impacted?

More than 16 million adults and children currently receive disability benefits, but the Social Security Administration isn’t saying how many people the new rules would affect.

The agency has said it expects to conduct 4.4 million more continuing disability reviews over ten years if the rules take effect. The reviews would add $1.6 billion in administrative costs, but save $2.8 billion in benefits when people are cut from the program.

Using those figures, national advocates for people with disabilities estimate tens of thousands of people stand to lose disability benefits each year.

Alan Chrisman holds medical bills and records near the McDonald's where he worked at as a maintenance employee before being diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. This photo has been altered to blur the address on the envelope.

What is Social Security disability?

The Social Security Administration is best known for retirement benefits, but it also oversees two programs for people living with disabilities:

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is for low-income individuals without a work history. The maximum payment for an individual is $783 a month beginning in January.

Social Security Disability Insurance is for workers who become disabled. Payment amounts depend on past earning. In 2019, the average payment was $1,234 per month.

To qualify for either, individuals must show they have a long-term medical, psychological or intellectual impairment that prevent them for working.

Children who are blind or have severe functional limitations expected to last at least a year or result in death also qualify.

Tennesseean investigation: How some Tennessee doctors earn big money denying disability claims

The fine print on disability reviews

Once on disability, adults and children are subject to “continuing disability reviews” by Social Security staff.

The reviews require recipients to submit medical, income and asset records as well as documentation of living arrangements. Social Security staff then decide whether someone still qualifies for benefits.

How frequently anyone is required to go through a review depends on which of three categories Social Security has placed them in. Individuals whose conditions are expected to improve — babies born prematurely, for example — are in a category called “medical improvement expected” and reviewed every six to 18 months.

Victory for disability advocates: Supreme Court won’t hear Domino’s Pizza accessibility case

People with debilitating or terminal conditions are in a “medical improvement not expected” category, reviewed every five to seven years.

Those in the “medical improvement possible” category are reviewed every three years.

Social Security officials are proposing a fourth category, “medical improvement likely,” to be reviewed every two years.

Children would also be automatically reassessed at age 6 and 12. The Social Security Administration would also change some of the criteria for deciding in which category to place individuals.

You can read the rules here.

How applying for disabilities works in Tennessee
How applying for disabilities works in Tennessee

Disability docs: Doctors speed through disability claims, make millions: 6 takeaways from our investigation

Why the Social Security plan is controversial

The reviews require recipients to submit large volumes of paperwork, a complicated and burdensome process for people living with a disability.

People go through a similar process when they first apply, which can take two or more years to complete.

Advocates are concerned people would lose benefits because they are unable to navigate the process, even though they did not experience any medical improvement.

A Tennessean investigation earlier this year found that some doctors hired to review disability claims raced through the paperwork at an implausible pace while billing six figures annually.  Experts say it’s impossible to review disability claims so quickly without wrongfully rejecting claims. The report prompted an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which is ongoing.

Advocates have also questioned the Social Security Administration’s projected savings.

The new reviews will save about $1.50 for every dollar spent, according to agency estimates.

Those projected savings, however, are significantly lower than what the Social Security Administration says it saves on current disability reviews: about $19 for every dollar spent.

What happens next?

A public comment period is open until Jan. 31 before the rules can be approved.

Congressional Democrats, in a letter to the Social Security Administration on Dec. 19, requested the comment period be extended to March 16.

Comments may be submitted online here or mailed to the Office of Regulations and Reports Clearance, Social Security Administration, 3100 West High Rise Building, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, Maryland 21235-6401.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Social Security disability benefits program may change: Things to know