Processions in South Florida honor Sgt. La David Johnson’s sacrifice

U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s final farewell Saturday will include two processions in Broward County.  

At 8 a.m., authorities will escort Johnson’s body from the Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home at 6301 Taft St. in Hollywood, to the Christ the Rock Community Church at 1100 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. 

The funeral will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a procession to the cemetery and interment. The Hollywood Fire Department will fly a U.S. flag at the entrance of the cemetery.

Johnson died while serving with Green Berets in Africa. Islamic militants ambushed them Oct. 4. The military located Johnson’s body in the desert of Niger Oct. 6, returned him to the Dover Air Force Oct. 7 and to Miami International Airport Oct. 17. The Pentagon is conducting an investigation on the attack that killed Johnson, 

FIRST PROCESSION

They will turn right and travel westbound on Taft Street. They will make a right at N. University Drive and travel northbound. They will make a left on Stirling Road and travel westbound and stop at the church’s entrance at 110th Avenue.

 

FINAL PROCESSION

Following the funeral service, the procession will travel from the church to Fred Hunter’s Hollywood Memorial Gardens for interment at the Hollywood Memorial Gardens at 3001 N. 72 St.. The procession will travel eastbound on Stirling Road. They will right on University Drive and travel southbound. They will turn left on Taft Street, then travel eastbound. They will make a left towards the cemetery. 

 

 

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Grieving family says final goodbye to Sgt. La David Johnson

Heartbreak surrounded Christ the Rock Community Church in Cooper City.

U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s body was inside a closed flag-covered casket, and nothing could comfort his aunt Sharon Wright Friday. She wore a military green U.S. Army T-shirt and sat on a bench outside weeping.

Wright couldn’t see the body of the 25-year-old Miami Gardens’ native who was formerly known by thousands on social media as “Wheelie King 305.” It was a partial viewing.

The body of the fallen soldier with the U.S. team of “Bush Hogs” from the 3rd Special Forces Group arrived at Dover Air Force Base Oct. 7.

The morticians and staff at the Dover Air Force Base are trained to carefully wash the remnants of war — blood and sand — away from the bodies of the fallen. They are trained to meticulously prepare them before they are placed in the casket. 

Experts from the FBI usually examine the fingerprints of the diseased. DNA samples are compared and there is an autopsy. The mortuary has a database. When the injuries are severe and a reconstruction isn’t feasible, there is a different process.

There have been many improvements made to honor the fallen at Dove Air Base after The Washington Post reported in 2011 that Air Force officials incinerated the remains of some U.S. soldiers and dumped them in a Virginia landfill.   

The morticians wrap the remains. The staff pins the uniform on top. They shine the buttons and pay attention to every detail when they fold the flag over the casket. Despite all of the obstacles faced in Africa, the military returned Johnson’s remains to his family in Miami Tuesday.

His pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, his 6-year-old daughter Ah’Leesya and his 2-year-old son La David Jr. were waiting at Miami International Airport. His aunt Cowanda Jones-Johnson — who raised him as her own son — was inconsolable. When Johnson’s mother, Samara Johnson, died in 1999, she and her husband, his paternal figure, were there for him. 

Johnson’s family and The Pentagon are waiting for the results of an ongoing investigation. His relatives want to know what happened to him during the 48 hours he was in an African desert. They want to know what his last moments were like.

Dozens of questions are also torturing his friends:

“Did he die alone?”

“How did he end up so far away from where the ambush happened?”

“Did jihadist torture him and take him there?”

“Did he run there wounded?” 

Much of what happened remains secret. Johnson was serving with Green Berets when a group of Islamic militants ambushed them Oct. 4 in Niger, where ISIS affiliates like Boko Haram operate raising funds through a black market of gold from mines in the area. 

What continues to trouble those who love Johnson is that he didn’t leave in the French helicopters during the first evacuation, after the ambush that also killed Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. 

Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said Thursday U.S., French and Nigerien forces didn’t leave the battlefield until they recovered Johnson’s body. Nigerien forces found his body Oct. 6. The U.S. military returned his remains to the U.S. a day later.

About 10 days after his body arrived to Dover, his body was in Miami-Dade. Before Johnson’s pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, met his casket at MIA, President Donald Trump spoke to her. He said Johnson knew what he had signed up for.

Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, said Trump did the best he could during the phone call and his words were twisted.  Rep. Frederica Wilson, who was with the family when Trump called, disagreed. She was enraged and told reporters Trump was insensitive.

Kelly said Wilson was behaving like an “empty barrel” making noise. Wilson defended herself. The White House defended Kelly. The political conflict snowballed. But at the church Friday, no one cared about politics. Honoring the American hero was the priority.

Mike Pacheco, who wore a U.S. veteran hat, never got to meet Johnson. He watched the images of his widow mourning his death at MIA and he showed up to the church to pay his respects. He wants his family to know they are not alone.

Pacheco leaned down and cried outside of the church by himself.  

Johnson’s casket returned to the Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home, 6301 Taft St., in Hollywood. At 8 a.m. on Saturday, the casket will make its way back to the church at 11000 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. The interment will be at the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, 3001 N. 72 St.

Police officers and deputies from the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office will escort the processions.

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Deficit for 2017 hits $666 billion

The federal deficit for fiscal year 2017, which ended last month, hit $666 billion, according to new numbers released Friday by the Treasury Department and White House budget office.

That’s $80 billion higher than the year before.

The deficit reached 3.5% of the size of the economy, or GDP. In 2016, the deficit was 3.2% of GDP.

The deficit reflects the gap between how much the government brings in and what it spends.

Accrued deficits over the years contribute to the country’s debt held by the public, which in 2017 rose to $14.667 trillion. But as a share of the economy, it actually fell slightly to 76.3%, down from 76.7% in the year-ago period. (Those figures don’t include the money owed to government trust funds like Social Security.)

Money in: Tax receipts rose by $48 billion — or 1.5% — to $3.315 trillion, although they fell as a share of GDP to 17.3% from 17.7% a year earlier.

As always, individual income taxes made up the biggest piece of the total revenue pie. They rose by $41 billion to $1.587 trillion. Payroll tax receipts were also up. The combined increase “largely reflects increases in wages and salaries,” according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Corporate income taxes, meanwhile, fell by $2.5 billion year over year to $297 billion.

Money out: Spending also rose but faster than tax receipts. It went up by $129 billion — or 3.3% — to $3.98 trillion. Despite that, it too fell as a share of GDP to 20.7%, down from 20.9%.

Unsurprisingly, given the aging of the population, spending on Social Security and Medicare were up by 2.5% and 1.5% respectively.

Among the biggest changes: Payments for interest on the debt climbed 6.3% to $457 billion. Outlays, meanwhile, for the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, fell by more than 7% to $8.73 billion.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney attributed the fact that spending growth outpaced revenue growth to “historically subpar” growth in the economy.

And they interpreted the budget results as proof of the need for the Trump administration’s push to reform the tax code and reduce regulations.

“These numbers should serve as a smoke alarm for Washington, a reminder that we need to grow our economy again and get our fiscal house in order. We can do that through smart spending restraint, tax reform and cutting red tape,” Mulvaney said.

At the same time, they are also promoting a tax reform framework that could add trillions in debt if its tax cuts are not offset and don’t generate the kind of growth that the most optimistic estimates may suggest.

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MGM ordered to preserve evidence connected to Las Vegas shooting

A Nevada judge granted a temporary restraining order against MGM on Thursday, ordering the company to preserve all evidence in its possession related to this month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Judge Mark Denton ruled in the favor of lawyers representing a California woman wounded in the October 1 attack, when Stephen Paddock made a sniper’s nest out of a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 58 and injuring more than 500. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The hotel, managed by MGM Resorts International, is required by the exhaustive order to preserve everything from the hotel’s video surveillance to Paddock’s gambling record to the broken glass in the hotel room, and any other evidence in connection to the shooting.

“This order prevents MGM from sanitizing and destroying evidence of the hotel room the shooter used before victim’s representatives have their one chance to inspect and photograph the room,” said attorney Brian Nettles in a press release.

Nettles and several others represent Rachel Sheppard, who was hit by bullets three times and had to undergo multiple surgeries, the release says.

According to CNN affiliate KLAS, MGM’s lawyers argued the order would be unnecessary, because the evidence was already being preserved for investigators.

“What remains will be preserved, but it’s frankly unsafe to keep (the hotel room) in its current condition,” said Brad Brian, an attorney who argued on behalf of MGM Thursday.

MGM also owns the Las Vegas Village, the site of the Route 91 Harvest Festival that shooting victims were attending when Paddock opened fire.

But the order isn’t exclusive to MGM Resorts International or the hotel. Defendants also include Live Nation Entertainment — which promoted the country music festival — as well as Slide Fire Solutions, a Texas company that develops bump stocks, an accessory police say Paddock had outfitted his weapons with to mimic automatic gunfire.

MGM Resorts International, Live Nation and Slide Fire Solutions did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Hotel: ‘No intention’ of renting out hotel room

But earlier Friday, MGM Resorts International said in a statement sent to CNN it has no plans to rent out the suite from which Paddock conducted the mass shooting.

“We have no intention of renting that room,” MGM Resorts International said in the statement, noting the massacre “was a terrible tragedy perpetrated by an evil man.”

“We’ve been cooperating with law enforcement from the moment this happened, which includes preserving evidence.”

It’s unclear whether MGM’s statement indicates the hotel room will remain off limits to guests forever.

Room 32135 provided Paddock with a sweeping view of the Las Vegas Strip, and the crowd of about 22,000 country music fans was clearly visible some 400 yards away from of two of the suite’s smashed windows.

In the wake of horrific crime like the Las Vegas massacre, the question inevitably arises of what should happen to the scene of that crime, and it’s one that’s handled differently.

The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 in June 2016, is to be made into a memorial in honor of the victims. Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, was completely torn down and rebuilt after a man killed 20 schoolchildren, his mother and six staff and faculty in December 2012.

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After decades of trouble, replica of New York’s José Marti sculpture makes it to Cuba

New York sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington’s 19-foot tall equestrian bronze statue of José Marti aimed to capture the moment when he was killed in 1895. A replica of an oil painting by Esteban Valderrama — that the Cuban painter destroyed himself — was her inspiration for the piece. Trouble followed the sculpture from the beginning. 

After she finished it in 1958 and donated it to Fulgencio Batista with the condition that it be kept in New York City, Batista paid $100,000 to Clarke & Rapuano to build a pedestal for the sculpture. But the sculpture disappeared.

When Fidel Castro took power, the U.S. State Department intervened and the sculpture remained hidden under a canvas in a Bronx storage yard for years. The pedestal remained empty.

The inscription on the plaque read: “Jose Marti: Apostle of Cuban Independence. Leader of the people’s of America and defender of human dignity. His literacy genius vied with his political foresight. He was born n Havana on January 28, 1853. For fifteen years of his exile, he lived in the City of New York. He died in action at Dos Rios in the Oriente province on May 19, 1895.”

Enrique Abascal and about 14 other Cuban exiles tried to place a temporary replica of the Marti statue made out of on the marble pedestal in New York City in 1964, but their failed attempt was a disaster

It was a short time setback. Officials placed the original at the south entrance to Central Park with great fanfare May 18, 1965.

In 2014, the Bronx Museum of the Arts gathered $2.5 million in donations and made a replica that was delivered to Cuba earlier this month. The fundraising started as an effort to support President Barack Obama’s new policy of normalizing relations with the Cold War foe.

The museum director, Holly Block, faced criticism. Chair Laura Blanco, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, quit. She was also unhappy with a project with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba. Three other trustees also resigned. Block died Oct. 6.

Despite President Donald Trump’s recent accusations that the Cuban government was complicit in a “sonic attack” that injured 24 Americans, Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal celebrated the sculpture’s New York City connection.

It is part of its interesting history. The replica stands facing the Florida Straits, he said. It’s 90 miles away from the country where Marti also lived. Leal is looking forward to the official inauguration Jan. 28, the 165th anniversary of Marti’s birth.

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Amid uncertainty, America’s uninsured rate climbs

The number of uninsured Americans has risen to a three-year high after falling for years thanks in large part to Obamacare.

Overall, 12.3% of American adults lacked insurance in the third quarter of 2017, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index. That’s the highest figure since the end of 2014, when the rate was at 12.9%.

The latest figure marks an increase of 0.6 percentage points — or 1.5 million Americans, by Gallup’s count — from the second quarter of this year.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the share of uninsured Americans fell to a record low of 10.9% in the second half of 2016, according to Gallup.

But starting this year, rates began rising — and have been climbing since.

Since the end of 2016, the number of uninsured Americans has gone up by nearly 3.5 million. Still, the uninsured rate remains well below its peak of 18% reached in 2013.

Gallup, which has been tracking the share of uninsured Americans since 2008, outlined a few possible reasons for the recent spike.

One could be the departure of some insurers from the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem and Humana have all scaled back their presence on the exchanges this year. Gallup suspects that the decreased competition could mean higher prices for consumers — which may have encouraged people to opt out of insurance altogether.

The poll found that the percentage of adults who bought their own plans, like those offered by Obamacare, fell from 21.3% to 20% between the end of 2016 and the third quarter of 2017.

Another factor could be the uncertainty surrounding the GOP’s healthcare plans. Currently, Obamacare’s individual mandate penalizes people who don’t have insurance. If people think the Trump administration will do away with the penalty, they might not bother buying insurance at all.

Americans ages 35 to 64 were the most likely to drop insurance between the end of 2016 and the third quarter of this year, an increase of 1.8 percentage points in uninsured adults, Gallup found. The uninsured rate of young Americans, ages 18 to 25, went up by 1.5 percentage points.

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